Unsurprisingly, we missed out on the NCAAs. While it's painful to make yet another trip to the NIT only two weeks after what at the time seemed like a season-defining win over Kentucky, it's hard to be too bitter over the way things turned out. While it would be easy to say that a 21-win team that shared the Eastern Division Title deserves better, our weak non-con resume and lack of quality conference wins just doesn't give us enough mileage to get into the Big Dance. Moreover, we had plenty of chances to lock down a bid over the last few games and simply failed to do so. In the end, this is a team that has beaten most of the teams it should beat and that has gotten a couple of minor-but-not-earthshattering upsets. Such teams are borderline NCAAs teams at best, and we ended up on the wrong side of a bubble that shrunk very quickly over the weekend.
Although I'm not surprised that we missed out on the NCAAs, I will say that I'm a little surprised we're only a three seed in the NIT. It seems to me that that's a little low, especially considering that Florida and Auburn, two teams with very similar resumes, got one seeds, and Virginia Tech, a team with 18 wins and that lost to Georgia (!) got a two seed. Still, you can't complain about our first opponent: Davidson. The Wildcats are, of course, led by last year's NCAAs darling Stephen Curry. Davidson and Curry will serve as a worthy opponent and should give us an exciting game. If we win that game, we'll face the winner of St. Mary's and Washington State. Personally, I think Davidson will be a much tougher test than either of those two teams. Washington State is plain bad and St. Mary's took a hard pounding from Gonzaga in their final game.
And, while on the subject, I say that if we're in the NIT, we should support our team and hope they can win it. Other than Zam Fredrick and possibly Devan Downey if Downey goes pro (I don't think he will), all of these guys are going to be back next year. A solid performance in the NIT could give them something to build on next year and will give Horn some much-needed exposure to tout on the recruiting trail.
A few more thoughts on South Carolina, the SEC, the NCAAs, and the NIT.
- South Carolina wasn't the only team from our conference that didn't get a lot of respect from the NCAAs committee. Florida and Auburn were also kept out of the tournament, and the three teams that got in got low seeds. LSU and Tennessee got eight and nine seeds, respectively; LSU must have gotten one of the lowest seeds ever for a major-conference team with 27 wins. With a 13 seed, Mississippi State obviously wouldn't have gotten in if they had lost today, meaning that the SEC would have only gotten two teams if not for the Bulldogs' upset victory over Tennessee. Like LSU, State got a very low seed considering their win total of 23. By comparison, UGA got a 14 seed last year after winning the SECT with only 17 wins.
- A lot has been made of how down the SEC has been this year, and when they talk about the SEC's low profile in the NCAAs this year, that's how the pundits will explain things. However, the idea of a down SEC is largely a media construction; the conference is down, but is it really much worse than the Big 10, the Big XII, or the Pac 10? Probably not. (The ACC and Big East, by the way, are different stories. Both are loaded.) The committee knows that, and they don't base their selection and seeding process on the thought processes of talking heads that like to stir the pot. However, when you compare the bubble teams from the SEC and teams like Arizona and Maryland, what you see is that 'Zona and Maryland played tougher non-con schedules and thusly have more quality wins. Quality wins is a stat that selection committee pays very close attention to, and it explains why a team like 'Zona with a low RPI and lots of losses beat out teams like Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina that played weak non-cons, all of whom possess relatively respectable RPIs and won-loss records. Again, these SEC teams have no one to blame but themselves. It was their choice to play cupcakes early in the season.
- While on this subject, though, I don't think Darrin Horn and South Carolina made a mistake by scheduling a light non-con slate. A team that has suffered through two abysmal seasons like we had coming into this year can oftentimes benefit from getting a few early wins under its belt. It's good for confidence. By comparison, last year we had, if memory serves me, five OOC losses. The team's confidence was shaken going into conference play, and it showed in all the close losses. Moreover, we broke in a new coach this year. The easy early schedule allowed the players to adapt to Horn's system. In this sense, our easy non-con helped this team build confidence and an identity, which benefited us throughout the season. It's also worth noting in our defense that Baylor and Clemson were considered to be much better at that point in the year than they are now.
That's all for tonight. It's rough to be relegated to the NIT yet again, but it's where we are and we should hope for the best now. I'll be back with a Davidson preview over the next couple of days.