Sports

Blanchette: Chilling lesson for WCC

When Edward Snowden or Julian Assange leaked the NCAA Tournament bracket over Twitter, Charles Barkley was still on CBS trying to distinguish Virginia Commonwealth from the Virginia ham he’d had with his breakfast eggs.

And now no matter how the games turn out, March Madness 2016 will be notorious for – sorry – Se-leak-tion Sunday.

Yup. The bracket went viral before it went video.

Blame it on the proud network of Murrow and Matt Dillon inflating its strictly-business basketball show into a two-hour, cash-cow clownfest. When an hour passed with but half of the bracket revealed, some insider decided Karma should be the No. 1 seed and spilled the rest on social media.

So most of the Gonzaga Bulldogs knew long before they saw their name come up on the big screen as the last of the 68 teams slotted that their destination was Denver, their opponent was Seton Hall and that it was a very good year to have their invitation stamped on Tuesday.

Well, they’d known that all week.

The bubble bloodshed reached an all-time high because college basketball this season trended toward the ordinary and not the exceptional. Depending on the talking head you heard or the keyboard jockey you read, Saint Mary’s –the Zags’ victim in the West Coast Conference title game – was out, was in, was out, was maybe. Wichita State lost early in its tournament, a carcass for hungry buzzards. St. Bonaventure or Syracuse, Valpo or Vandy, Monmouth or Michigan – who could definitively determine their at-large worth?

Interns have meatier resumes.

“I don’t want to think about what it would have felt like,” said Gonzaga senior Kyle Wiltjer. “We would have been very nervous.”

And when the Zags were assigned an 11-seed, it was obvious they would have felt lousy, too. Given the butchery performed by the committee on teams not in the Power 5 or the teacher’s pet Big East, A-10 and American, the Zags would have been bucking up to host an NIT game without their all-access pass earned last week.

As it stands, the draw of Seton Hall is the kind of opponent Gonzaga teams have had a good history with in the NCAAs. And an 11-seed without the play-in whoopee-cushion of Dayton was as good as the Zags could have imagined given “the bed we made for ourselves,” as coach Mark Few put it.

Then he put out a challenge.

“Our league needs to really step back and take notice,” he said. “It’s time for some of these other institutions to start picking it up. They’re really dragging the top three down.”

Saint Mary’s was the dragee in this case, but a couple of buckets difference last Tuesday night and the pain is closer to home. The Gaels’ resume was pilloried for its soft underbelly of 18 victories over the sub-200 set of the Ratings Percentage Index – but the real shame is that 13 of those came against the WCC’s bottom six schools.

Now, a few caveats. The RPI can be gamed a bit with nonconference scheduling that is less daunting than it appears (think good teams in mid-level leagues, playing at your gym for a price). A good RPI didn’t save the likes of St. Bonnie or Valpo. And it’s just not in Saint Mary’s DNA to schedule outside the WCC boldly – which has hurt the Gaels on Selection Sunday before.

Gonzaga’s nonconference lineup would include four tournament teams – though one slipped away in Okinawa – and another that would have been if not for NCAA probation. There were other “name” opponents that didn’t hit for high average – and, of course, neither did the Zags, whose only marquee win out of the league was UConn.

But the point is, they scheduled.

“Absolutely – but ours is more complicated than that,” said Few. “We’re trying to make single-digit seeding – we’ve even tried to make an argument for No. 1. It’s deeper than just ‘getting in.’ It’s a way to attract recruits. It creates incredible exposure for the university and the community. There’s more to it than the tournament — but that’s big in my mind.”

Seems big in the committee’s mind, too – when it’s convenient. There’s not much solace for a Monmouth, however, which sought out and won neutral-site games against Notre Dame and USC, and also won at UCLA and Georgetown, only to see those teams tank a bit. Apparently, the Hawks were expected to run the table to overcome the conference company they keep.

And that’s starting to be an issue in the WCC, where too many schools seem content to hand out participation medals.

“We need to talk long and hard about (NCAA Tournament) money distribution that we’re making for the league,” Few said, “and if they’re not spending it on basketball, we don’t need to be sponsoring swimming at those schools or whatever they’ve got going. They’re not all in.”

And on Selection Sunday, that’s going to get somebody left out.



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