Sunday, March 15, 2009

Aaaaannnd ... It's Official

Florida is left out of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Actually, a more accurate statement would be that Florida PLAYED ITSELF OUT of the NCAA basketball tournament for the second year running. Ken Pomeroy's ratings have them as the 44th-best team in Division I when there are only 34 at-large spots. Defensively, Pomeroy has the UF rated 88th, giving up 63.2 points per 65 possessions when adjusting for quality of opponents (the top teams are normally well under 60), and they lost 10 of their 32 games despite playing a shamefully-putrid schedule: 292nd out of 344 by Pomeroy's numbers. Part of this was the decline of the Southeast Conference as a whole. Strength-of-schedule rankings are not unlike house prices; what your neighbors are doing matters, and Florida's in-conference neighbors were so weak that the league finished dead last among the six major conferences. And even surrounded by po' folks, the Gators couldn't crack the SEC's top five, finishing tied for fifth at 9-7 with a Mississippi State team that a) beat them head-to-head and b) won the SEC tournament when UF was bounced in the second round. So call them sixth in the weakest SEC in years.

So .. 44th overall, 88th in defense, 292nd in schedule, and sixth in the number-six major conference. Is this deserving of a bid to the national championship tournament? Lessee ... Pomeroy's #44 teams the past three years:

2008 -- Missouri. They missed the tournament (but were much better than Florida '09 at the defensive end, ranking 70th) and played a vastly tougher schedule: The Big 12 was the nation's toughest that year, and Mizzou's 180th-ranked non-conference schedule was *112 spots better than UF's this year*.

2007 -- Boston College. The Eagles were invited as a 7th seed, but played the #117 non-conference schedule and were fourth in the ACC, the nation's toughest league. BC fell in the second round to Georgetown

2006 -- Air Force. A 13th-seed invite that was 24-6 and lost its first-round NCAA game to Illinois.

The number-six teams in the number-six major conferences the last three years:

2008 -- Wait, that was Florida again, finishing sixth in the number-six SEC (two years straight the SEC has been the weakest of the power six). They missed the tournament.

2007 -- Missouri from the Big 12. They missed the tournament.

2006 -- Nebraska from the Big 12. They missed the tournament. Let's just run this back a bit farther.

2005 -- Arizona State from the Pac 10. They missed the tournament.

2004 -- Southern California from the Pac 10 (which was actually the number-eight league that year, ranking below the Mountain West and Conference USA). Guess what. They missed the tournament.

2003 -- Southern California from the Pac 10. And the beat goes on.

2002 -- Syracuse from the Big East. One of the very few seasons that Jim Boeheim's Orangemen were denied a chance to dance.

2001 -- Ah, never mind.

The lesson here is pretty simple: When you're conference is the weakest of the six majors, you had better crack that league's top five to have even a prayer of being in the conversations when ESPN's herd of talking baboons surrounds Jay Bilas and pontificates on the selection committee's choices and snubs. Two straight years now, the Gators have been unable to do that.

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