Dime Q&A: Doug Gottlieb On March Madness & Bad Hairlines, Part 1

By: 03.11.12

What is the main storyline this March?
“The overriding big storyline is this: We have this flawed – by my estimation – a flawed presumption that we have a weak bubble. We have over expanded the tournament, which is true, and because of it we have teams like South Florida, Seton Hall, Tennessee, and Northwestern and whether or not they deserve to get in. And because of it, it has created this big bubble, a weak bubble… for the high majors. For the mid-majors I look around the country don’t tell me the mid-majors are having a bad years. Look at Belmont, they are in and automatic qualifiers. Belmont played Duke to two points. I watched the game, there is not much difference between Duke and Belmont. It is Duke and Belmont. Duke is a two seed probably, right? Belmont is a 14 seed. Belmont was just as good as Duke and they played on Duke’s home floor. There is this prevailing wisdom that we have a weak bubble. Alright, well you tell me it is a weak bubble when I saw Iona has 25 wins, 25 wins. I saw them beat Maryland by 26 points, could have been 40. They called off the dogs. Ohio U has 25 wins. I saw them play Louisville to a virtual draw. They had the Louisville game and gagged it away at the end, they are 25-7 right now. Who else is out there? Oral Roberts is a team with 27 wins! Don’t tell me it is a weak bubble, it is a soft bubble at the middle of the high majors. At the top of the mid-majors, South Dakota State here is how good they are, they are likely a 14 seed. They ended up winning their conference tournament that is in South Dakota. They go in (early in the season) and beat Washington in Washington by 20… 20! Middle Tennessee State has 25 wins so because they lost two games in conference and a game in their conference tournament suddenly they are a bad team, they are not worthy? They had a great season and they are a good team. Is there a discernable difference between Middle Tennessee State and Northwestern? No, but I would much rather reward a team like Middle who has 25 wins than a team that goes 8-10 in conference and botches opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity to win games.”

Did Butler’s success raise the bar for Mid-Majors?
“No, no, no. Here is what they did.

For years we had a one-off mid-major make a run. Then it started happening more often. We started having Davidson, Wichita State, Kent State, and then all of the sudden George Mason breaks through goes all the way to the Final Four. By the way, when they went to the Final Four I don’t know if people remember they beat Michigan State, they beat North Carolina, and they beat a UCONN team with five NBA draft picks. They beat ’em! I see guys who I work with say this is not a trend and it’s a blip, it wont happen again. You know what happens since then? Butler gets to the National Championship Game twice and VCU goes to the Final Four. Everything you watch tells you parity has arrived. The only reason you don’t have true parity is because the high majors will not play enough neutral – they never play on the road against them, you know why? Because they will get beat. Like Carolina got beat by UNLV. You know who gets beat by UNLV that night? Everyone in college basketball. That is how good they played that night. UNLV is good, they are not great, but they are good and they are even better at home like most teams in college basketball. They are not even a mid-major they are kind of like a mid-high-major. Whatever. The point is we are all in denial about it. All of the signs are around that parody has arrived and we are in complete and utter denial about it. Like no, no Middle Tennessee State is not good. Really? Middle Tennessee went out and beat UCLA on the road by 20. Now UCLA is not very good this year, would we agree on that? (Me: Yes, absolutely) UCLA has been beaten at home by three teams this year those teams are in order, Texas a tournament team, Middle Tennessee State, and Cal. Washington didn’t beat them there, Arizona didn’t beat them there, and no one else in the PAC12 beat them there. I am not saying UCLA is good, but they are better playing in a home venue. People do not understand how hard it is to win a “guarantee game.” I would guess that 95 percent of the guarantee games are won by the home team, because they have their own refs and it is setup for them. For people who do not know what a “guarantee game” is a team plays 5-7 of them a year per year and no high major loses them at home. Of the “guarantee games” loses I remember this year are Presbyterian beating Cincinnati and Kent State beating West Virginia and that is about it.”

With the parity, has the gap been closed with recruiting and coaching?
“I don’t know if they are a major player. The fact is what changed is the one-and-done mentality and the massive turnover you have at the high level of college basketball. The proliferation of college basketball on TV, you can’t just say “we are on TV” because everyone is on TV. You have 338 teams, kids are spread out, there is not less talent there is more talent they are just spread out across the country. The best kids at the high level are there for such a short period time and they lack cohesion because they have not played together enough. Whereas a lot of these mid-majors have these three or four year kids who are more committed to the program than to themselves. I am not saying that they are winning National Championships. I don’t think any of them can beat Kentucky, but how many times do we need to see Northern Iowa make a run. Davidson make a run. Kent State make a run. George Mason make a run. Wichita (State) make a run. VCU make a run. Butler is in the National Championship twice. Here is what frustrates me. A 9-9 team from the Big East won the National Championship last year, that’s true. You know who they played in that game? A 12-4 team from the Horizon League that was a three-way tie for first place. So if the argument is the Big East is a great conference because a 9-9 team won a National Championship, shouldn’t the argument be that three teams should have gotten in from the Horizon League because Butler finished in a three-way tie in there league and got to the National Championship Game?”

Who is this year’s Butler?
“I can see Wichita (State) making a run. Wichita State is good, they are absolutely legit. I don’t think the Mountain West teams are mid-major’s, but I can see them making a run. Saint Mary’s could absolutely make a run. Gonzaga is very talented. A lot of it is match-ups. I give you this as my promise, barring some horrible seeding I think that you are going to see no less than five non-BCS teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and maybe more.”

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