I had to do it in the title. It was right there.
When Belmont was announced as a 15-seed during last night’s selection show, two things immediately went through my head:
- I was hoping for a 14-seed.
- Virginia? A 2-seed? Oh…
As a 15-seed, there’s not going to be a matchup that seems favorable on paper. And looking deeper at Virginia, they’re a team whose narrative doesn’t fully reflect…well, reality.
They’re not a very good offensive team, you’ll hear at least half a dozen times between now and Friday. Sure, they don’t score a lot of points, but they’re 27th nationally in offensive efficiency. The offensively-minded, hot-shooting Bruins? 64th. But when you’re 349th (out of 351 Division I teams) in tempo — you don’t score a lot of points. Doesn’t mean the offense isn’t good.
The defense, though, is every bit as good as advertised. The Cavaliers lead the nation in defensive efficiency, holding opponents to sub-40% shooting on the season, and 31% from three-point range. And to make matters worse: all three of Virginia’s losses are against teams ranked in the top-20 of Ken Pom. Belmont’s ranked 149th. You don’t really want to know what they’ve done to teams outside the top-100 this year, but…
- won at James Madison (208th) 79-51
- beat Norfolk State (197th) 67-39
- beat South Carolina State (335) 75-55
- beat Tennessee State (342) 76-36
- beat LaSalle (101) on a neutral court 64-56
- beat Rutgers (219) 45-29
- won at Boston College (112) 66-51
- won at Virginia Tech 2x (188) 50-47, 69-57
- beat Wake Forest 2x (126) 61-60, 70-34
- beat Florida State 2x (103) 51-41, 58-44
- beat Virginia Tech (188) 69-57
So, to recap: only one team outside the top-100 managed to score 60 against Virginia. (And it was exactly 60) And only two teams managed to play Virginia within 10-points.
So, where’s the good for Belmont? Despite Virginia’s lofty defensive totals, good three-point teams have actually still shot the three fairly well against them. Notre Dame (39.2% on the season) hit 10-24 in their matchup. Virginia Tech (38.9%) hit 9-19 in their first game against the Cavaliers, although it’s worth mentioning they were 5-19 in their second game. But those are the only two teams Virginia has faced all season that shoot the three better than the Bruins, and they had moderate success. Turnovers, which Belmont has struggled with, is one area Virginia doesn’t especially excel in. And while the Cavaliers may be a 72% free-throw shooting team, they actually don’t get to the line all that often.
Any time you have a team like Belmont, a team that can flat-out shoot, you have to give them, at worst, a punchers chance.
But in other seasons, Virginia would have been a one-seed: a three-loss, regular season ACC champion.
Games aren’t played on paper, and as we saw in Nashville, Rick Byrd has found a way to get the most out of a team that many, including myself, wrote off in early February. He’s got five days to gameplan…for an opponent unlike any the Bruins have faced this year.
It’s an uphill battle, for sure.
Those are often the best kind.
At-large Fallout: Here’s what I took from Selection Sunday: a lot we thought might matter, really didn’t. Over seemingly everything, the committee this year valued wins against the RPI-top 50. Doesn’t matter how many you lost, doesn’t matter how many chances you got — across the board, really good mid-majors were punished because teams like Indiana, Texas, and UCLA had better wins, and it didn’t matter how many “good” teams you beat, or “bad” teams they lost to.
This had nothing to do with Murray State. Dayton was nearly kept out, (if UCONN won the American) and the first four out were all mid-majors. For the 11th straight year, the two top teams by RPI left out were mid-majors.
I’m not sure it would have mattered if Murray scheduled “better.” Because they weren’t scheduling multiple top-25 teams.
I will say, I don’t think the problem is necessarily “mid-major bias.” I don’t think the committee purposely left-out smaller schools. But the playing field is clearly tilted. Opportunity didn’t matter to this committee, just wins. And that benefits larger conferences 100% of the time.
What does that mean for the OVC? In my mind, it means they’re further away from being a true two-bid conference than some thought. The conference needs four to five teams in the top-100 of the RPI, not one or two. And they need a top-50 team or two.
That’s not easy. At all. Even Murray State didn’t break into the top-50 this year, and they had just four losses.
I don’t think, though, this means the OVC won’t ever be a legitimate two-bid conference. But there’s work to do, and changes that must be made. Whether the conference is willing to make those changes becomes the real challenge.
…but the OVC is listening: On Friday, the OVC finally posted something on one of their sites about #RacersDeserveABid and even the commissioner appeared on a the Jeff Bidwell Show. Given how they approached the whole week, it’s hard not to see either as a reaction to the outcry from some. (Like me) Regardless of what you thought about the post, or the interview, it’s a clear sign they’re in tune with what’s going on around them, and they’re willing to address it.
Racers given no breaks in NIT: Murray is guaranteed just one-home game in the NIT, earning a three-seed, and they face a potentially brutal opponent in UTEP. The Racers and Miners have four like opponents this year, including one the Racers would like to forget:
- Alcorn State (both UTEP, Murray won big)
- Western Kentucky (Murray won at home, UTEP lost in overtime at WKU)
- Middle Tennessee (Murray won at MTSU; UTEP split, winning at home, losing in the CUSA Tournament)
- Xavier (Murray lost by 27 at Xavier, UTEP won on neutral floor)
Many Murray State fans have said that if the Racers played Xavier again, it would be a closer game, and I agree. UTEP also has inexplicable losses, including losing at 9-20 Southern Miss at the end of February. We’ll have a bigger preview tomorrow, but this is far from a pushover for the Racers.
EIU, UTM on the road to start the CIT, EKU at home: Eastern Illinois travels to Oakland tomorrow night, Norfolk State hosts EKU tomorrow as well, and the Skyhawks will travel to Northeastern State (which is neither north or east of Martin) on Thursday night. We’ll have previews of these tomorrow as well.