Tuesday Morning Rant: The Firsts Problem

from Nick Suss

March 11, 2014, 2:02 p.m.

As almost all of you probably know, in addition to writing for StoriesHouse, I do have a real job writing about sports. Since November, I have taken a specific interest in relearning the game of college basketball, as I was tasked with being a beat writer for UGA’s men’s basketball team. The sport of basketball and I had become estranged over the past half a decade, as it went from a true love of mine to something I despised with a deeper passion than any other sport. To this day, I still prefer not to follow the NBA with a fine-toothed comb, but my time covering the college game has reignited he spark that disappeared a few years ago.

That being said, I picked a bad year to start caring again.

I don’t think I’d be stirring any pot in saying that this has not been a good year for college basketball. While the talent pool is as deep as it has been in a long time, there has not been a clear-cut favorite or favorites all season team-wise. Don’t get me wrong, there are good teams in the NCAA this year. There are great teams as well. But there is not a favorite. Just look at the top of the rankings. The top-two teams in the rankings have serious scheduling doubts, the third-ranked team is one of the most under-the-radar and boring top teams in recent memory, the fourth-ranked team is riddled with injuries and everyone else in the top-10 either has five losses, six losses, seven losses, eight losses or is a worse version of Wichita St. If you want to drop down to 11, that team is in an utter free fall. I can’t remember a time where I’ve looked at a top-11 the week of Selection Sunday and seen maybe two teams at most deserving of a number one seed. That’s a problem.

The first question that comes to mind when I say that for most people is simple: what’s your problem with Florida? I’m glad you asked. Let’s start at the end of the season and work backwards. Let me start off by saying one thing: no matter what conference you are in, going undefeated is impressive. I give Florida all the credit in the world for that and look forward to getting the opportunity to see them live this weekend at the SEC tournament. All of that said, I’ve watched all of the team’s Florida played this year in conference, many of which in person, and I can say without a doubt that they played no one. Kentucky is perhaps the most overrated team in the country. I can say that with a lot of agreement behind me. They lack a cohesive team presence and play isolated from one another. Missouri was thought of as a Sweet 16 team preseason, but imploded in conference play. Yes, Arkansas and Tennessee are on the bubble, but being among the best 68 teams in the country isn’t necessarily a compliment. The rest of the teams in the conference, my somehow-tied-for-second-place Bulldogs included, kind of suck.

Which is why it is so puzzling as to how the Gators retained their number one ranking. Let’s work backwards from the end of February and skip around a little bit. Florida only defeated Vanderbilt by three points. Florida only defeated Ole Miss by four points. Florida only defeated Alabama by six points. Florida only defeated a dreadful Auburn team by seven points. It took Florida an overtime period to defeat Arkansas by just two points. What do all of these games have in common, you may ask? They all took place on the road. In conference play, Florida defeated opponents at home by an average score of 17.6 points per game. That is ridiculously efficient. But on the road, the Gators only blew out one team – South Carolina – and won by just a margin of 8.7 points per game. While highly unscientific, this does give a little insight into why Florida isn’t a viable threat moving forward and an upset liability in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

But let’s keep going. In non-conference schedule, Florida played four ranked teams. Two of those games were played on the road, one was at home and the fourth was played at a neutral location with Florida considered the home team. The team went 2-2 in those games. I bet you can guess which games were losses. While it was, and still is, impressive beating Kansas, the game was won by just six points at home. Memphis is just about as good as they were at the time that Florida beat them, but this was, again, just a two-point win in a neutral location. As for the losses, both UConn and Wisconsin remain ranked and both losses were by single-digit margins, but the fact remains that Florida struggled on the road against quality competition. With every game for the rest of the season being played outside the friendly confines of Gainesville, I am curious to see what this team can do. They finished the regular season strong, but will that be enough?

Then there’s Wichita. As many people have insinuated, Wichita St. suffers from a term I just coined called Gonzagitis. Also known in college football as the Boise St. Sickness and in Major League Baseball as the Small Market Migraine, Gonzagitis is a debilitating disease the afflicts underdogs at the ends of seasons. People have stopped buying in to these Cinderellas. Enough hearts have been broken and enough glass slippers have shattered. Moreover, enough wallets have been made lighter by making hefty bets on these shouldn’t-be-favorites. I want to be wrong. I want to see a mid-major take the title. But we won’t see it this year. Prove me wrong Wichita, but you have years of history betting against you. Also, you have me betting against you.

(This is the point where we at StoriesHouse would like to remind you that gambling, no matter how small or personal the wager is, on March Madness brackets is illegal and should not be done. Ever. Under no circumstances. No one here at StoriesHouse has ever gambled on sports and will never gamble on sports even if we believe that we have insider information and for all intents and purposes are currently typing up a Gambler’s Guide to March Madness. If you do feel compelled to gamble on March Madness, do not think it was because of what you read at StoriesHouse. Also, if you are asked to gamble on March Madness, report the gambling to the authorities. If you are an authority and you are gambling on March Madness I have two things to say to you: Firstly, for shame. Secondly, thank you for reading StoriesHouse. Pass it along to your friends. Legally.)

I don’t have time to go through why I think everyone is a viable dud for a first seed this year. I’ll use one sentence for a lot of them. Here we go. Arizona is as injury prone as the Patriots receiving corps. Michigan will not be able to make it out of the Big 10 tournament unscathed. Virginia and Duke will likely both be upset in the ACC tournament because that’s what always happens in the ACC tournament. Kansas won’t be worth a salt without a healthy Joel Embiid. Villanova bores me. San Diego State bores me more. Syracuse is playing worse basketball right now then the white guy wearing a dirty, white tank top and sports goggles heaving threes at your local park.

So who deserves a number one seed? You have to give it to four teams, don’t you? This is what I think it will end up being after this weekend is through. I think Florida has one locked up regardless of what they do in the SEC tournament. Wichita St. has one on lock simply because they went undefeated. I think Louisville gets one even though I have doubts about their ability to get out of their conference tournament alive. And I give my fourth one seed to Villanova begrudgingly. However, if I were to pick who I think the four best teams are, none of those four teams would be on the list.

But that is a different rant for a different Tuesday.


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