Monday, March 15, 2010

Two Number Ones in Year Two of Seeding

Selection Sunday has always provided a lot of highs and lows. Its always fun to see the reaction of some small school with little or no NCAA tournament experience who has won their conference's automatic bid when their name is called by CBS.Even though they are paired against a team seeded one or two and will in all likelihood throttle them, that team is ecstatic to make the tournament. Other teams, more accustomed to making the field, may be disappointed in their seeding feeling they should have been seeded higher. Of course there are those who didn't make the NCAA tournament and are disappointed ,feeling they were as worthy as another "at-large" seeded 10th, 11th or 12th. Another fairly new wrinkle (at least since 2004), is the seeding of the number one seeds. Some analysts take the time to dissect why one number one seed was seeded higher than another one.However, since seeds two through sixteen in each regional are not collectively ranked, it seems odd to get too worked up about how a "one" falls out since its impossible to determine how the other common seeds stack up against one another.

The seeding of teams was implemented for the 1979 NCAA tournament. When the NCAA got around to allowing two teams from one conference to participate in the tournament in the 1975 tournament the conference winners, or representatives were still placed in that conference's 'historic' region such as the SEC and Big 10 winners placed in the Mideast and ACC winner in the East, some regions would be too 'top heavy' with strong conference winners and strong geographically located independents. Other regionals like the West and Midwest were relatively weak with lesser basketball conferences geographically located filling out the regional. The most glaring tended to be the Mideast Regional. In the first year that the tournament 'opened up' ,which also created one additional round for major conference winners, a first round game pitted AP #5 Marquette vs AP #6 Kentucky. The next year was even more top heavy for the Mideast with four of the AP's final seven bunched together in the Mideast. Seeding would attempt to spread out some of the better teams, especially independents which were still strong in number.

#9 Seed Penn upset #1 seed North Carolina in the second round proving that the new tournament seeding wasn't an exact science. Penn's Tony Price is shown here scoring a layup over North Carolina's Dudley Bradley (22) , or Bradley Dudley as NBC analyst Al McGuire called him,and Al Wood in the Quakers' stunning 72-71 upset in March 1979

But seeding was still based on judgement and initially teams were still placed in their historic regionals. Right off the bat the ACC's "Black Sunday" proved that seeding,while a good concept,wasn't going to prevent upsets. After winning their first round games, #9 seed Pennsylvania from the Ivy League upset #1 seed North Carolina ,72-71 in Greensboro and #10 seed St John's, an independent who would be an original member of the new Big East that fall, upset #2 Duke, 80-78 in the second game of the double header denying the ACC behemoths a trip to the East Regional in Raleigh and ready made slot for one of them in the Final Four.

Like the initial expansion , seeding ,while a good idea,would need some tinkering. And,starting with the 1980 tournament ,some big changes were made. The tournament expanded from 40 teams to 48 teams ,allowing for 'an unlimited' number of teams from a conference instead of conferences being capped at two since 1975. Each bracket was seeded competitively eliminating previous geographic concerns ( like #1 UNC and #2 Duke in the East the prior year). Also, seeding of teams would be focused more on the teams themselves instead of looking at their conference's strengths as well. This of course , was due primarily to Penn's magical run to the Final Four (which was ended by Magic Johnson and Michigan State) who was 22-5 entering the tourney and was dealt a nine seed based primarily on the perception of the Ivy League,when indeed the Quakers were a very fine basketball team.

Following the 1979 SEC season, regular season champion LSU received a three seed in the Mideast Regional marking the Tigers' first NCAA appearance since 1954.After beating Bobby Cremins' Appalachian State squad,LSU was eliminated by eventual National Champion Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Tournament Champion and automatic qualifier Tennessee was an 8 seed in the same Mideast Regional where the Vols defeated Eastern Kentucky for its first ever NCAA tournament win after four tries in three trips. Tennessee lost 73-67 to #1 seed Notre Dame in the second round at Middle Tennesssee State's Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.

LSU and Tennessee returned to the tourney in 1980 ,along with traditional kingpin Kentucky . Don DeVoe's Vols were sent to the East Regional as a seven seed. LSU was sent to the Midwest Regional (although trips to Denton,TX and Houston generally don't make one think of the Midwest) and Kentucky was sent to the Mideast Regional. The Tigers and Wildcats were each seeded number one in their respective regionals.
Tennessee was eliminated by Bernard King's little brother, Albert(scoring over UT's Reggie Johnson) and Maryland in the second round of the 1980 NCAA tournament. Still,after going winless in the Vols first three NCAA trips,they won a game for the second consecutive season

LSU and Kentucky had quite a battle in the 1979-1980 season.The two teams were ranked in the top 10 all season long. In the first of three meetings between the two, after securing their first win in Lexington the prior year, LSU made it two in a row with a 65-60 win in Rupp Arena.The season finale could not have been more dramatic. On the same afternoon ,after having believed in miracles, the US Hockey team won the Gold Medal vs Finland, Kentucky and LSU had their own Gold Medal game for the SEC regular season title in Baton Rouge.

The two entered the game 14-3 in SEC play. The winner would win the title outright. #5 LSU led #3 Kentucky 36-35 at halftime.UK's Sam Bowie tied the game at 74 and LSU's Greg Cook missed a shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Kentucky All-American Kyle Macy nailed a 20 foot shot at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 76-74 and the SEC regular season title. The shot was the only field goal attempt in overtime. After a UK turnover, LSU held the ball for 3:52. After a jump ball call, Kentucky won the tip and set up a play for Macy with :21 left. Working off screens and picks, Macy passed up plan B, a pass inside to Bowie.Macy was only 4 of 14 for the game,but made the shot that mattered.

UK's Dirk Minniefield and LSU's DeWayne Scales (31) battle for the ball in 1980 SEC Tournament Final in snowy Birmingham

Six days later the two met for the SEC Tournament title in Birmingham.In last year's SEC tournament DeWayne Scales was the goat for LSU in its 80-67 semifinal loss when Scales showed off his passing skills a little too much for comfort allegedly from suggestions from an agent. Scales was subsequently held out of the '79 NCAA tournament by Coach Dale Brown and LSU. This time he was the hero scoring 26 points and winning tournament MVP honors in an 80-78 win over the Wildcats, played before mainly Kentucky and LSU fans due to a freak snow storm in Birmingham that afternoon. LSU led most of the game and Kentucky tied it with less than ten minutes remaining . The lead switched back and forth ten times before Scales put LSU up for good at 71-70 with 2:21 left.

In addition to entering the tournament as one seeds, LSU finished the regular season ranked #2 in the final UPI poll and #3 in the AP Poll. Kentucky finished #3 in the UPI poll and #4 in the AP poll. As the first two teams from the same conference to get coveted one seeds, the SEC tandem was joined by DePaul as the one seed in the West and Syracuse,in the Big East conference's first year, as the one seed in the East Regional.

In the 1980 NCAA tourney, seeds one through four were given first round byes. In LSU's first game, in round two, the Tigers held off #8 seed Davey Whitney's Alcorn State Braves, 98-88 in a wild game. In Bowling Green,KY , one seed Kentucky faced off vs #8 seed Florida State in the Wildcats' first tourney game in the Mideast second round. Two years earlier in UK's National Title run the Wildcats opened with the Seminoles in the NCAA tourney. Kentucky defeated Florida State once again, 97-79 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the Big Blue's very own Old Kentucky Home at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The opponent was the Duke Blue Devils, whom the 'Cats also faced in the 1978 title run,defeating the Blue Devils in the championship game.

Kentucky opened the season with Duke in the Tipoff Classic in Springfield,MA. Duke won in overtime, 82-76.Unfortunately, Kentucky ended the season vs Duke. Kyle Macy was unable to duplicate his heroics in Baton Rouge three weeks earlier as his jumper with :05 left missed and so did Dirk Minniefield's put back as Duke eked out a 55-54 stunner.

Mike Gminski was one of 5 Blue Devils who had played in the '78 title game loss to Kentucky. Eliminating the 'Cats at Rupp Arena in 1980 soothed the pain somewhat.

14th ranked and #4 seed Duke never trailed in the game and led by 14 at halftime. Duke was led by Gene Banks and Mike Gminski,both whom had played in the title game vs UK two years earlier.Gminski scored 17 and Banks made a free throw with :22 left to break a 54-54 tie after Kentucky had tied it for the first time with :37 left in the game.

Meanwhile in the Midwest Semifinal in Houston, LSU fought off Missouri 68-63 . Again the Tigers were led by Scales with 17 and Rudy Macklin scored 16. Leading 52-50 with 13:00 left, LSU ,as they did vs Kentucky at home, went to their variation of "the four corners" ,made popular by North Carolina's Dean Smith. This time it worked for LSU as the Tigers quickly went up 58-52 as Macklin and Scales each made an old-fashioned three point play.LSU would now face #2 seed Louisville in the Midwest Final. The Cardinals had defeated Texas A&M in the other semifinal 66-55. The Aggies had advanced to the Sweet 16 with a double overtime upset win over #3 seed North Carolina and Dean Smith by seventeen points.

This would be Dale Brown's first regional final and LSU's second, its first since 1953. This would be Louisville head coach Denny Crum's third regional final. Each time the Cardinals advanced to the Final Four where they were eliminated by UCLA in the National Semifinal. The first time was in 1972 in Crum's first season after being hired off John Wooden's staff at UCLA. The other time was a heartbreaking 75-74 overtime loss in Wooden's final season on Richard Washington's buzzer beater.

In a choppy first half, Louisville got out to a 12-2 lead.But Louisville star Darrell Griffith got into foul trouble and LSU scored 16 straight points to go up 29-21.LSU then failed to score over the final four minutes of the first half and Louisville score ten straight to take a 31-29 lead into halftime.

Darrell Griffith, "Doctor of Dunk" was too much for LSU in MW Final in 1980

Griffith put Louisville up for good at 35-33 He then scored 9 of Louisville's next 17 to take a commanding 53-41 lead. LSU only could get the lead down to 11 as the Cardinals kept pulling away to win surprisingly easily, 86-66. Griffith scored 17 and was named the regional's MVP. Louisville was also helped by the play of Derek Smith and Wiley Brown who had 16 and 15.While Brown certainly had a solid career with the Cards on some fine squads, and NFL career where he played with the Eagles, he is remembered for his thumb, or rather his prosthetic thumb on his right hand,which was created after a childhood accident at age 4.

Again playing UCLA in the Final Four,this time in the title game, Brown sat at the hotel table in Indianapolis with his teammates eating breakfast the morning of the championship game.While eating ,as was his habit, he removed the mold of his thumb and sat it on the table. This time he forgot about it and left to go back in the room. Somehow his thumb was thrown in a garbage can and once Brown realized what he had forgotten,there was a mad scramble with coaches and trainers finally retrieving the prosthetic from the garbage. The story was told during NBC's airing of Louisville's 59-54 win over UCLA making Brown, or his thumb quite famous.

After losing to Indiana State and Larry Bird in '79 in the 1979 Final Four as a two seed in the first year of seeding, DePaul then went 0-3 in three straight years as a one seed in 1980,1981,1982 including this buzzer beating loss to St Joseph's

LSU and Kentucky weren't the only #1 seeds to lose and miss out on the Final Four. Syracuse lost in the East semifinal and DePaul lost to UCLA in the Blue Demons' first game ,which was in the second round, the first of three consecutive colossal upset losses in their first game as a one seed.In year two of seeding, no one seed would make the Final Four. This would not happen again until 2006, which was held in Indianapolis as the 1980 one was. Oddly enough, two SEC teams made the Final Four that season, LSU and eventual champion , Florida.

Still, the SEC was the first conference to place two schools as one seeds in the tourney . The SEC has had several one seeds since then,including LSU the very next year. But only once have two made it as one seeds, the second year of seeding, 1980.

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