Selection Sunday has come and gone with little to no controversy. Syracuse probably deserved a spot somewhere in the field, Wichita State could be seeded a bit higher and UCLA can’t be happy having to beat Kentucky a second time just to advance to the Elite Eight, but overall, the committee did a pretty solid job.
The only small controversy involves the first seed in the South Regional. Luckily for America, that controversy also involves college basketball’s biggest rivalry, Duke/UNC, dare I say the Hamilton-Burr of our generation, which makes it that much more controversial and fun.
The Tar Heels have been everyone’s darling, living as a one-seed in every expert’s bracketology for months now. They produced 27 wins, including five against the top-25 in the RPI and 11 against the top-50. Those are impressive digits.
Yet, out of nowhere, the Duke Blue Devils donkey punched their conference, rolling off four straight victories to win the ACC Tournament. Three of those W’s came against ranked teams, including a second victory over Carolina.
Just like that, everyone fell back in love with Duke and their bandwagon became as full as a Bangladeshian train during rush hour. Everyone in the know suddenly had the Blue Devils as a one-seed, most often at the expense of the Tar Heels. In all honesty, it was hard to see fault in the logic.
Between injuries, trips and whatever the hell happened at home against the Wolfpack, this Duke team certainly hit a couple rough patches this year. Yet, when the regular season and ACC tournament came to an end, few could offer up a better resume. Their 27 wins featured eight against the top-25 (the nation’s best) and 12 against the top-50 (the nation’s best). Most importantly, eight of those victories came away from Cameron.
Quickly, the Tar Heel faithful came out to fiercely defend their squad’s own body if work. They pointed to the simple fact that North Carolina won the regular season crown and they won it with room to spare (two games over second place Louisville). Meanwhile, Duke finished in 5th place!!!!
Sunday on the CBS Selection show, Mark Hollis, the committee chair, basically made this argument, putting a lot of credence into Carolina’s regular season title. He also said that on Wednesday, they had Duke only as the four seed and despite the four straight wins in Brooklyn, didn’t feel like it was enough to move them all the way up to a one.
Okay, I sort of get that. Prior to the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils had dropped three of four and were about as impressive as me in a thong. Yet, here’s the thing: all three of those loses were on the road and this is where Carolina’s argument starts to crack like the plot of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake.
You see, in the past, winning the conference regular season title meant something. This was during an era of balance when every team faced every other team twice; once at home and once on the road. While the good teams won at home, the great teams found ways to win on the road and earned those regular season crowns fairly and squarely.
However, a few years back the Atlantic Coast Conference decided to add nearly half the Big East because $$$ and now the league features 15 teams. They play 18 conference games, including nine road games. This season, the Tar Heels went a solid 5-4 on the road in conference. The Blue Devils only went 3-6. Yet, not all road games are equal. In fact, North Carolina’s conference road slate compared to Duke’s is down-right embarrassing.
Against the top ten teams in the conference, excluding themselves of course, the Blue Devils faced all of them on the road. Yes, all of them. They won three, at Notre Dame, at Virginia and at Wake Forest. They lost at North Carolina, at Louisville, at Florida State, at Miami, at Virginia Tech and at Syracuse. Except for the Cuse, all those road trips were against NCAA Tournament teams.
The Tar Heels had no such challenge. They not only avoided road trips to the three teams that finished directly behind them in the ACC standings (Louisville, Florida State and Notre Dame), but they also didn’t have to travel to Virginia Tech nor Syracuse.
Their three toughest road games; at Virginia, Duke and Miami were all losses, plus another defeat at Georgia Tech. All five of their conference wins on the road came against the bottom six teams in the conference (Wake Forest, Clemson, Pittsburgh, NC State and Boston College). Of that group, only Wake proved to be a tournament team. Meanwhile, of the bottom five teams in the conference, Duke had zero road games against those teams.
Now keeping in mind that North Carolina had zero wins on the road against the top-nine teams in the ACC standings, do we really believe they still would have walked away with a regular season championship if they had to travel to Louisville, Florida State, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Virginia Tech? Those five teams lost a total of six games at home in conference (39-6). Even if we give UNC the benefit of the doubt and say they would have gone 3-2 in those road games (a long shot), that would mean that this team would have finished with nine losses on the year.
It’s clear, none of this factored in with the committee. I know because not only did Duke not get the one-seed, but they weren’t even the top second seed. Who was? Kentucky with their six wins against the top-50 and Arizona with their five. Yet those teams couldn’t get past North Carolina, despite the fact those teams also won or won a share of their conference regular season title, plus their tournament titles. I’m assuming that Carolina’s SOS put them over the top, yet the same tool was applied to Duke?
Of course, before the Cameron Crazies go off to cry on their MBAs, let’s not forget that if Duke advances to the second weekend of the tournament, they’ll be playing in Madison Square Garden, aka Cameron-North, which might explain why the Blue Devils are the favorites, according to Vegas, the win it all. See, sometimes it pays off to be the two.