Friday, December 11, 2009

Early Season Invitational Tournaments

Carrots and Sticks
The NCAA has lobbied its members to discourage guarantee games for over a decade, even pressured their low-major conferences to discourage their members from negotiating pay-to-play deals with high-major schools which have large arenas and fans to fill the seats (and their coffers). The NCAA has even gamed their RPI to encourage more out of conference (OOC) road games for their power conference members. A Federal court ruling which struck down the NCAA's "2 in 4" (an ill-conceived attempt to force exempt tournaments to reach out to more schools to fill their fields) set in motion a series of decisions that reshaped the look of early season D1 basketball. With the court's intervention, the NCAA revisited the framework for early season exempt tournaments, originally designed to provide a scheduling advantage to those members located on the edges of the NCAA's North American footprint. Lifting the requirement that these tournaments be sanctioned by the NCAA beforehand, and recalculating how participation would count against the season-maximum for games scheduled/played, the field for exempt tournaments (rechristened "Multi-Team Events" or MTEs) exploded, going from 28 events in 2004 to 58 events in 2009. No longer restricted to 2 tournaments in 4 years, a school can, if it chooses, participate in a tournament every season, restricted only to participating in the same tournament once every 5 years. The change has, as Chris Dobbertean over at Blogging the Bracket pointed out in a 2009 preview back in September, lured BCS schools out of their on-campus arenas and engaging other D1 member schools into a more balanced competition. 61% of the D1 member schools participated in an MTE this past November. With, as Dobbertean pointed out, a declining level of participation based on the status of the conference/affiliation. 94.5% of the BCS conference schools found a place in someone's field, while 64.1% of the multi-bid mid-major conferences had member participation and 43% of the members in low-major conferences and the ranks of independent schools found an invitation in their mail. Big East teams spread the wealth and the word, participating in 14 tournaments, compiling a 81.6% winning percentage.

LouisvilleHOF Showcase401.000
SyracuseCoaches v Cancer401.000
ProvidenceWorld Vision Inv301.000
St. John'sPhilly Hoops Classic301.000
VillanovaPuerto Rico Tip301.000
West Virginia76 Classic301.000
ConnecticutPreseason NIT310.750
MarquetteOld Spice Classic310.750
Notre DameChicago Invitational310.750
PittsburghCBE Classic310.750
CincinnatiMaui Classic210.667
DePaulParadise Jam210.667
South FloridaCharleston Classic210.667
RutgersLegends Classic220.500

Only 8 of the 14 teams lost, with only Rutgers losing 2 games. Everybody finished 0.500 or higher, a big reason why the conference racked up 40 wins so quickly.

Surveying the Hardware
In all, 6 teams took home their tournament's championship trophy, from places as exotic as Puerto Rico and as mundane as Anaheim, CA and Philadelphia, PA. Cincinnati, Connecticut, Marquette and Pittsburgh took 2nd place in their respective tournaments, while DePaul, Notre Dame and South Florida landed 3rd place finishes. Rutgers dropped 2 games in the Atlantic City bracket of the Legends Classic after taking both games in the pod they hosted. The sample may be small, which can skew the competition, but Oliver's four factors may nevertheless provide a few indications about these 14 teams...

West Virginia67.7119.
Notre Dame65.3111.248.517.040.246.899.046.614.826.823.60.123
St. John's71.397.744.518.731.842.788.944.723.230.833.80.088
South Florida68.3100.748.624.036.559.294.943.820.538.827.90.057

The Diff column shows the result of offensive efficiency - defensive efficiency. The table is ordered by the greater (positive) Difference.

What We Learned...
Syracuse -- Was underestimated by a few preseason previews (this one included). Wesley Johnson had a terrific run for the 4 games the Orange won. One team always seems to achieve more than anticipated in the Big East. The early season pick is Syracuse.
Cincinnati -- Most anticipated a move up for the Bearcats this season. Taking out Vanderbilt (an "upper division" SEC team) and Maryland (supposed to make a move in the ACC this season) before losing by 2 to the 'Zags is nevertheless proof they are ready to make a move in the conference. Their upcoming game with Xavier and then UAB -- both on the road -- should be very interesting. They lost to both (at Fifth Third) last season. Take both and you can expect quite a few bidders for the 4 elite spots in the Big East's top quartile.
DePaul & Rutgers -- Are about where we thought they would be, though it looks as if Rutgers may end up on the bottom this season. Losing to Massachusetts, an A10 team that is itself struggling with a new coach & system, cannot bode well for the Scarlet Knights.
St. John's -- Is another team hoping that this season they will be able vacate their old digs in the Big East cellar. While the Philly Hoops Classic did not throw power conference heavy weights at the Reds, Temple was certainly a handful, especially on their home away from home at the Palestra. The Johnnies did well. Taking this tournament does not guarantee a move to the conference penthouse, but losing in Philadelphia would suggest that optimism might be premature. They did not lose. Be hopeful.
West Virginia -- The opposing slate may not have been household names, but the 'Eeers differential (0.233) was. After downing a semi-local Long Beach State by 20+ points, WVU moved Texas A&M into the 3rd place game. The Aggies are not the cream of the Big 12, but they will finish in the upper division. For their finale, WVU trounced an upstart WCC club that had throttled a gimpy UCLA team. No name brands for the resume, but Portland and TAMU will probably dance in March.
Villanova -- Is deep, showed progress on the boards, has many weapons on offense...but is hardly a finished product. The 'Cats had a freshman hit the game winner in their first round game (a jumper by Isaiah Armwood) against George Mason, scored their last 10 points from the free throw line (10-10) to beat Dayton, and had the trio of Scottie Reynold, Corey Stokes and (the suddenly very hot) Antonio Pena carry the team home against Ole Miss. They dominated the boards in all three contests, somewhat surprising given who they lost over the summer.
The Big East Conference -- Is deeper than folks thought coming into the season. No one thought the conference would be as strong at the top as it was in 2009, but few anticipated this many solid teams. The season may hold a few more upsets than conference previewers thought.

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