Cal is in. A lot of people will gripe and moan about it, but they are in. Winning the Pac-10 put them in. Winning the first two games of the tournament made it even clearer they deserved to be in. Winning seven of their final eight in the conference play to clinch their first undisputed Pac-10 title in 50 years put them so far in. Yet for some reason we seem to have to keep on justifying ourselves to the rest of the country. Crazy.
The fact that we're even discussing this is due to the spewing hatefest coming from the rest of the country, which is quick to disparage the Pac-10 for not being a land of Kevin Loves and Brandon Roys this season (Hey, rest of country, word of advice: Other than the top three, you're not that great either.). This group includes Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI and CBSSports.com who no longer has us as a lock (WTF?), Rivals taking us out of the lock category, the CBS jokefest at the Pac-10 tournament final halftime show which had the Cal/UDub loser as the first one out (UDub, maybe; Cal???), some of the morons on the ESPN shows including Dukie shill Jay Williams (who believed MIGHTY RHODE ISLAND has a better resume than Cal), etc. etc. I normally try to be objective about this nonsense, but the idea that Cal has somehow moved back to bubble territory after losing by 4 points in a highly contested Pac-10 title game is becoming a joke. Thankfully, reasonable people are on the NCAA Selection Committee, and the Bears will be traveling somewhere this Thursday or Friday.*
*For your health and sanity, root for Kentucky and Ohio State to win today. Then you can certainly breathe easy.
So let's focus on tournament seeding, and the arguments for giving Cal a poor seeding and the counterarguments for giving Cal a fair one.
Argument for seeding Cal low: Cal is 1-6 against top competition.
Counterargument: Let's revise this. Cal is 0-4 against four of the TOP TEN team in the countries (#1 Kansas, #3 Syracuse, #5 Ohio State, #8 New Mexico), and three of those losses were without Theo Robertson, who was basically a fourth of their offense. I see people giving Ohio State credit all the time for losing games against Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin without Evan Turner. Do we not get the same benefit of the doubt for being competitive in what amounted to huge road games against teams being considered for #1, #2 and #3 seeds in the tourney?
From this, the Bears have also played the hardest OOC schedule of any major conference team. They've played six conference winners (Kansas, Syracuse, Ohio State, New Mexico, Murray St., UCSB) and gone 2-4 (include Ivy League's 2nd place Princeton and it's 3-4). The Bears deserve to be rewarded for these quality wins. They've beaten several teams in the tournament, even if they're not the greatest in the world.
Argument for seeding Cal low: The Pac-10 sucks. It's no better than a midmajor and only deserves one bid.
Counterargument: The conference might be down, but it's not horribly down to the point that other conferences have bypassed it. The Pac-10 might be the worst of the sixth major conferences, but it's still way ahead of any of the midmajors according to Pomeroy.
The next nearest conference, the Mountain West, is in all likelihood sending four teams (New Mexico, BYU, UNLV, SDSU). The next nearest, the Atlantic Ten, is sending three (Richmond, Xavier, Temple). Are those conferences that much more deserving or superior in their resumes that they deserve two or three more teams than the Pac-10? Sure, the Lobos, Cougars and Rebels earned bonus points from facing off against each other, but Cal did have two pretty good squads in Washington and Arizona State they faced off with.
Speaking of which...
Argument for seeding Cal low: Even if the Bears had no luck against good teams, they have not faced real competition in over two months.
Counterargument: This isn't something California can realistically control. The Bears have only had one bad loss this season (UCLA at home), and one "somewhat bad loss that can be explained because we don't matchup well against that team at all" (Oregon State). Other than that, Cal has either taken care of business or lost a few close ones to good teams at the wire--Washington, Arizona and USC were all games the Bears could've won in the final seconds. And despite the fact they've played bad teams, they haven't struggled against many of them, they've won 11 of their 15 conference victories by double digits.
The SEC has generally not had good teams the past few years and is the fifth best conference--they're still sending three teams at the least (Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, maybe Mississippi State). We're not that far behind the SEC in terms of quality. It's hard to see us being two teams worse.
Finally, keep this in mind--a big conference has always sent at least one at-large team in the history of the tournament. There would be no precedent for this kind of omission. None.
Every participant in the Bracket Project has Cal in, and their predictions aggregate to the (gulp) dreaded 8th seed.
Brackets of notice (i.e. brackets to really consider, ponder, or point and laugh at):
ESPN's Joe Lunardi (who is generally right on who gets in but not terribly accurate as who gets in where) has Cal as a 7 seed in Buffalo facing Georgia Tech (hey it's just like last year!), with West Virginia the likely 2nd round opponent. Not a terrible bracket, probably one of the nicest ones for Cal. Even if it's in Buffalo.
SBN's Blogging the Bracket's Saturday outlook had Cal as an 8th seed in Jacksonville facing Utah State, with Duke looming in the second round. Again, I don't hate this.
Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI and CBSSports also has Cal in Jacksonville with Duke looming in the second round. Only we're a 10th seed facing Oklahoma State and Duke is a 2nd seed. Yeesh.
Our biggest supporters are RealTimeRPI, which I believe are the only bracketologists to give California a 6th seed (in this case in New Orleans against UTEP). That's to be followed by Georgetown-Ohio winner. Even though this is the most respect we've gotten so far, this is probably the worst of the first week brackets I've seen. I'm not really interested in taking on the Hoyas right now, and UTEP is a dangerous team...
Rivals has Cal as a 10 seed facing Marquette. I have no feelings about this.
Oh, but I do have strong feelings about this one. Andy Glockner must really hate us, because he has Cal as a 12 seed in a rematch with Maryland in Spokane (at least it's better than Oklahoma City). Then if we somehow scrape ourselves past Vazquez, a faceoff with the Purdue-Murray State winner. Yuck. I don't care how badly Purdue played Saturday, I want no part of them that early.
Our biggest detractor is something called The Bracket Board, who hands us a 12 seed. TBB has us in Spokane against 5th seed Tennessee, with the winner to take on Michigan State-Murray State. Maybe getting hated on isn't the worst thing after all--these are pretty good first week draws.
.There are plenty of places Cal can end up this upcoming week. The only question left is "will we like what we get?"