Saturday, March 28, 2009

Memphis Basketball Was Overrated

In this year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, Memphis should not have been a No. 2 seed. There. I said it.

Of course, it's easy to say that now, given that Memphis got blown out by Missouri Thursday night. Missouri was a No. 3 seed, so money was on Memphis. Except Memphis lost.

However, I have been critical of Memphis ever since the field of 65 was announced. Heck, I was critical of them a year ago in a post on this blog. Why? Because Memphis plays in a weak conference.

I noticed what I call the "hyperbole trend" in college basketball more this year than any other. When a team wins big, the analysts on TV seem to forget the team may have played a weak opponent. Most apparently, I watched portions of the Conference USA championship a few weeks ago with my brother Brett. Memphis is in Conference USA, and they played Tulsa in the championship. The announcers could not pile enough praise on Memphis.

"They are sending a message," Gus Johnson proclaimed. "You don't want to face this team come Thursday!" [The NCAA tournament was to begin that coming Thursday.]

Johnson overlooked the fact that Memphis was playing Tulsa. Tulsa did not make the NCAA tournament, even though they were the runners-up in Memphis' conference.

Tulsa lost by 19 points in the second round of the NIT to Auburn. Yet the fact that Memphis defeated them easily was Memphis "sending a message."

This calendar year, Memphis played three competitive teams. I will give you that they won two of them, beating Gonzaga during the regular season and Maryland earlier in the NCAA tournament. In contrast, UCONN played an entire Big East conference schedule during that same time; arguably 12 or 13 competitive games. UCONN lost three of those games, meaning their winning percentage this calendar year in competitive contests was higher than Memphis.

And yet, everyone I know had Memphis winning the region and going to the Final Four [UCONN and Memphis were competing for the same Final Four spot in this year's tournament]. In reality, Memphis didn't even make it to the Elite 8. And to me, that's not a surprise.

Because Memphis spent most of its season beating up on teams that couldn't play against my high school's squad, commentators and observers fell victim to the hyperbole trend. They inflated Memphis in the standings. They bought into mid-major arguments that they deserve respect with the big boys.

Memphis was given a No. 2 seed. Memphis is good enough to ride that seeding to the Sweet Sixteen. I would argue they caught Maryland, a team that could have taken Memphis, on an off day for the Terps. Then Memphis was dismantled by Missouri, a better team.

If Memphis had been seeded where it should have been-- No. 3 or 4, it might have lost sooner. There's no question to me now that some lower seeded teams, like Villanova, Xavier and even Syracuse, are better than Memphis.

My heart goes out to mid-major conferences. Some mid-major conferences are far more competitive than others. The Atlantic 10 (Xavier being one member) is far better than Conference USA. But there's just no question that the major conferences have better teams. And when they spend the entire year playing against each other, getting tough skin for the post season, the mid-majors just can't compete.

Enjoy the Elite 8. I will, of course, be rooting for UCONN. By the way, of the eight teams remaining, not a single one is from a mid-major conference. While we all love the Cinderella story, that's the way it should be.

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