Two years ago this week, I undertook a nightly exercise I dubbed “Chalke Talk.” I did this for two reasons. One, because it was an amusing (to me, anyway) play on words and it gave me an excuse I didn’t need to post pictures of Scrubs knockout Sarah Chalke. And two, because I convinced myself the Flying Dutchmen, who were knocked out of the CAA Tournament in the quarterfinals by Old Dominion, had a shot at an NIT berth.
Looking back, I was wasting my time, other than the time I spent Googling Sarah Chalke (sounds like the sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Though the Dutchmen finished the season 21-11, they had just 20 wins against Division I foes, only finished fifth in the CAA during the regular season and played a famously weak non-conference schedule in which their best win was a one-point decision the opening weekend of the year over eventual Atlantic Sun champion East Tennessee State, which was 111th in the final RPI. In addition, I had to be on some kind of magic peyote to think a fifth-place team that didn’t get beyond the quarterfinals of its conference tournament.
This year, such an exercise would seem to be particularly useful, since the Dutchmen finished third—technically, tied for second—during the regular season and advanced to the CAA semifinals before they were eliminated by eventual champion Old Dominion. But I’m more convinced than I was 104 weeks ago that it’d be a waste of time—partially because those damn kids over at the CAAZone beat me to the discussion, but mostly because it appears the Dutchmen are in danger of getting squeezed out of the field by at least one and as many as TWO teams that finished below them this season.
Of the five mock NIT brackets I’ve found, two have Hofstra in: “Brad-ketology” at MVN.com has the Dutchmen as a sixth seed, as of tonight, while our good friend Patrick Stevens of the D1scourse blog at The Washington Times had the Dutchmen as a seventh seed as of Monday (which means they are almost surely out now, as several regular season champions of mid-major conferences have lost in their tournaments since then and will receive an automatic bid to the NIT).
Two other sites—Chicagonow.com and Nitology.com—have the Dutchmen as one of the first handful of teams out of the field as of their most recent update (Wednesday for Chicagonow.com, Sunday for NITology.com). A fifth site, The Bracket Project, doesn’t even have Hofstra in the discussion. Boooo!
Meanwhile, Drexel—which finished fifth in the CAA at 12-6, two games behind the Dutchmen, and lost the biggest joke of a quarterfinal game in tournament history when the refs gave VCU a 62-60 win Saturday—is slotted in four of the five mock NIT brackets and among the teams that just miss the field at Chicagonow.com. And James Madison, which finished sixth in the CAA at 10-8 and was upset by 11th-seeded William & Mary in the quarterfinals, is listed as a sixth seed at Chicagonow.com and is among the last teams out of the field at Bracket Project.
If the Dutchmen do in fact miss out on the NIT (this is presuming George Mason makes the NCAAs), it will mark only the second time since the CAA expanded in 2001-02 that the CAA’s highest-seeded non-NCAA participant did not make the NIT. Second-seeded VCU lost to eventual NIT participant Drexel in the semifinals of the 2003 tournament, but the Rams were just 18-10 that season and finished in a tie for second with Drexel.
How is this possible? How is the third-place team in an outstanding mid-major that will send at least two and possibly three teams to the NCAA Tournament sweating out an NIT bid and, we presume, making contingency plans with the CBI and/or the CIT while a fifth-place team that failed to get out of the quarterfinals and a sixth-place team that didn’t even get there are in the discussion?
The common explanation I’m getting—other than the fact nine mid-major regular season champions have earned automatic bids to the NIT by virtue of losing in their conference tournament, which has drastically cut the number of available at-large spots—is that the Dutchmen’s non-conference schedule pales in comparison to those played by Drexel and James Madison.
No argument there: Much like two years ago, the Dutchmen are sorely lacking a Signature Win outside the CAA. They went 0-3 against non-conference opposition currently ranked in the top 100 (North Carolina, Nebraska and Iona) and their best non-conference win is over Rider, ranked 108th as of today. And just like two years ago, this team finished the CAA Tournament at 21-11 with 20 wins over Division I opposition.
Drexel, meanwhile, went 2-2 against top 100 foes, shocking Louisville on the road and beating Kent State in the BracketBuster, while James Madison was 3-2 against the top 100 with wins over Princeton, Marshall and Kent State prior to the New Year.
But as well as Drexel and James Madison played out of conference, and as unimposing a schedule Hofstra played, shouldn’t their performances during the league season—which represents more than 50 percent of the schedule—play a bigger role when trying to establish NIT at-large candidacies?
In addition to finishing comfortably ahead of Drexel and James Madison, the Flying Dutchmen went 3-5 against top 100 CAA foes (beat George Mason, Drexel and James Madison, lost twice to Old Dominion and once each to George Mason, Drexel and VCU). Drexel and James Madison each went 3-6 against top 100 CAA foes.
Granted, a half-game difference is not that much. But two and four games in the standings and advancing one and two rounds farther, respectively, in the conference tournament is a big deal. Should the Dutchmen be punished because they are a far better team in March than they were in November and December? Should they be punished because they didn’t draw a top 100 team in the BracketBuster (Wright State—which, admittedly, hammered the Dutchmen—is currently 126th). Shouldn’t they be rewarded for being better over the longer haul of the conference season?
Over on the NCAA side of the bubble, our good friends at George Mason seem to be getting rewarded for their outstanding CAA performance. The Patriots were 2-1 against current top 100 foes during the non-conference season, beating Harvard (34) and Duquesne (94) and falling to Dayton (79).
That’s a solid, if not world-beating, performance, but the Patriots became America’s media darlings and a Top 25 team again (bleeech) by going 6-3 in games against top 100 CAA foes. Six of their 14 straight conference wins to end the season were against current top 100 teams. It is very fair to say that if Mason had lost two of those games—to fall to 4-5 against CAA teams in the top 100 and 14-4 in the league overall—they’d likely be a lot more nervous about their at-large hopes right now.
(I, of course, can hope they’ll get screwed anyway, not so much out of Schadenfreude—I am selling out people, I’m either taking pictures or corresponding on Twitter with a whole bunch of one-time mortal enemies—but so they FINALLY FREAKING UNDERSTAND what pissed me off so much about Tom O’Connor’s placement on the Selection Committee five years ago. OK it is still out of Schadenfreude. But I digress)
Speaking of 2006: If Hofstra ends up missing the NIT this year, I won’t go crazy over it, toss and turn at night and declare lifelong war upon the schools and forces that kept the Dutchmen out. It’s the NIT, man, you can’t get that upset about it.
Plus, as I’ll write tomorrow, I’m actually more intrigued by the possibility of a multiple-game run in one of the smaller tournaments. But still: If the Dutchmen miss out, and Drexel and/or James Madison make it, I will, in a less angry way, be just as bemused as I was five years ago this weekend and wonder why this stuff makes less sense the more we are informed about it.