Numbers never lie, right? In college basketball this year, that motto certainly seems open to debate. Just look at the season strength of schedule numbers so far: Top dog in the land, Indiana, is ranked No. 78. No. 3 (Michigan) is really No. 76. And Syracuse, despite being a top-ten club all season, is not even ranked in the top 50.
We've heard a lot about how awful Syracuse's non-conference slate was, but it's really just as bad as some of the other so-called best teams in the nation. Take, for instance, Indiana with its 78th rated SOS. While that number will eventually look better, especially as the Big 10 has proven to be the best conference in the country, the Hoosiers loaded up on the Byrants (freakin' Bryant!) and the Sam Houston States of the world in November and December. Even a neutral court loss to Butler isn't helping IU's schedule case.
And while this argument may best have been brought up months ago, I'm reminded of it now because of what seems to be a trend. You see, I have this elaborate theory on what's taking place this season. Without getting to technical it goes something like this: Numbers and rankings be damned, college hoops be crazy!
Case in point: TCU 62 - No. 5 Kansas 55.
But really, I started to think about this season, and how we gauge teams after watching Florida on Tuesday. The Gators, ranked No. 2, were riding an 11 game win streak, winning its first 8 SEC games by an average, AVERAGE, of 26 points. Unheard of in a power conference. Well, Florida was rolling -- as in past tense. That's because the Gators got smacked in the mouth by 5-4 in the SEC Arkansas. 80 - 69 and it wasn't even that close.
An unranked team with zero road wins on the season pounded one of the hottest teams in the nation. Who could have seen it coming?
Well, maybe everyone, actually. That's because Florida, despite quality wins at home against Missouri and Ole Miss, hasn't beaten ANYONE. The numbers say No. 2 but Florida's strength of schedule ranks in the triple-digits. That didn't guarantee an L to the Hogs, as I just explained, a ton of teams have horribly rated schedules. And it's certainly not Florida's fault for beating up on inferior teams; inferior conference teams. One good number (its ranking) was hiding a bad number (its schedule).
But if the Gators loss tells us anything, it says just how little we know of any team...elite or otherwise, this season. Florida was probably due a big-fat-loss because it was, for the most part, untested. The same can be said for a lot of teams out there. Even teams like IU, considered one of the nation's best, but how do we know? Tournament games aren't played in Assembly Hall. What about Duke? The Blue Devils have major quality wins but are dealing with a major injury. Syracuse may have the best win of the season in beating Louisville at the KFC Yum(!) Center, but the Orange are depleted, too.
For the last few years it seems like we hear the same thing over and over again: There are about ten teams that could win the national title. While mostly true in seasons past, this year it is definitely the case. A lot of college basketball followers would have told you Florida was so on fire, so dominant, it was a lock to win the title -- or at least get to the Final Four. And while the schedule may have told us otherwise, the rankings backed that claim up.
Florida is just one example. All season top teams have been losing to other top teams and to inferior teams. Villanova beats top ten Louisville and Syracuse at home, then follows that up with a home loss to Providence. Arkansas losses four of nine SEC games, but blasts Florida. Teams can claim top spots in the polls, and, at the same time, have other rankings in the 50s, 60s, or even worse.
I get that strength of schedule isn't the end-all be-all, but I guess, what we all can take away here, is that the NCAA tournament, maybe more than ever, is a just-get-in type of crap-shoot. Maybe not for a sixteen seed, but eight and better? Giddy Up! It's similar to the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens had issues, injuries, and wound up winning the Super Bowl because it got into the playoffs.
Get into the dance by any means necessary...then it's anyone's game, numbers...or seeds, be damned.