One of the great things about NCAA is basketball is that the championship is settled on the court, in a grand tournament between the 68 most deserving* teams in the nation. While this is commonplace in almost all American sports, it does stand out from the convoluted method whereby college football selects the participants of their championship game. We took the time earlier in the year to look into what a vastly expanded NCAA tournament might look like; now we're going to go the opposite direction and see how the collegiate basketball history books might look if the BCS had been installed back in 2003.
First, a word on our methodology. You're probably wondering why we chose 2003 for our beginning point; simply put, it was the earliest year for which we had all the data we would require for this study. The BCS formula is a proprietary blend of three factors: the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and an amalgamation of six computer rankings. Because the Harris Poll is college football-specific, we swapped in the AP Poll for it in our results. Additionally, we used the Massey Ratings, Ken Pom's rankings, Jeff Sagarin's rankings, and a couple of other "sabermetric" basketball rating systems to replicate the results of the computer ratings. We pulled these numbers from the week prior to the conference tournaments, effectively eliminating them and rebooting the post-season in the BCS format. Finally, we gave equal weight to each poll and the combined computer ranking to spit out the final college basketball BCS standings for each year in question. "Bowl" berths were handed out by following the BCS' rules for such as closely as possible.
What we would have missed:
The 2003 tournament was a pretty entertaining event. In the East region, twelfth-seeded Butler and tenth-seeded Auburn made it the the Sweet 16 before capitulating, and only clutch free throw shooting by Syracuse kept Auburn from advancing further. Michigan State went to the West regional final as a seven seed before bowing out to Texas, but Xavier dropped a round early, only advancing to the round of 32 as a three seed. The Midwest was chalk except for Tulsa knocking off fourth-seeded UD, at least until Steve Novak and Marquette knocked off UK to with the Final Four berth. Out West, Arizona and Gonzaga met in the second round and treated all observers to the game of the tournament. Only when Blake Stepp's leaner rattled out in double-overtime did the Wildcats escape with a one-point victory.
In the Final Four, freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony dropped 33 to lead Syracuse past Texas despite TJ Ford's 12 points and 13 assists. On the other side of the bracket, Kansas dusted off Marquette, thanks in large part to 24 from Keith Langford. With Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams each out to capture their first national title, Hakim Warrick's block with less than a second left sealed the deal for the Orange. After the game, Williams mentioned in an interview that he wasn't even thinking about leaving Kansas. The next season would see him on the bench at UNC.
What we would have gotten:
Texas and Florida would have squared off in the Sugar Bowl, if you will. TJ Ford led Texas with 15.0/3.9/7.7; he had more than half of the team's assists. Brandon Mouton threw up 14.8 PPG, and James Thomas added 11 and 11. The Longhorns played an up-tempo style and were third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Florida was third in the nation in offensive efficiency to Texas' eighth, but they did with with the 238th fastest pace in the nation. Matt Bonner led the Gators with 15.2 PPG, while David Lee threw up 11.2 and 6.8 on .648 shooting from the floor. Florida was a weak defensive rebounding team, which may have been the difference if this game had happened.
Kansas and Syracuse would have met in the Fiesta Bowl. The Jayhawks were beastly that year, with Nick Collison and Wayne Simien combining for 33.3/18.2/2.8. Kirk Hinrich and Keith Langford were almost as effective on the perimeter, combing for 33.2 points and 5.5 assists to go with 2.8 steals per game. Kansas also boasted the number one defense and the number six offense in the country. Carmelo led 'Cuse with 22.2 and 10, and fellow freshman Gerry McNamara 13.3 points and 4.4 assists. Hakim Warrick added 14.8 and 8.5 and helped the team lead the country in blocked shot percentage.
Pitt and Wake Forest would come together for the pretend Orange Bowl. Pitt had a balanced offense featuring six players averaging between 12.2 and 9.7 points per game. Brandin Knight kept everything ticking over with 6.3 assists per game. The Panthers were second in the nation in AdjD and fourth in effective FG%. The mercurial Josh Howard led Wake with 19.5/8.3/1.9 to go with 2.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. Wake was number one in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and had three players averaging at least 6.8 RPG. The Demon Deacons dominated the glass in '03.
The Wisconsin Badgers and your very own Xavier Musketeers would have faced off in the Rose Bowl, owing to the fact that the Muskies were the non-BCS team with the highest BCS ranking that year. Wisconsin was very dependent on its top five players, all of whom averaged at least 10.2 PPG. The immortal Kirk Penney led the charge with 16.2 per and shot .385 from beyond the arc. His 6 boards per game were second to Mike Wilkinson's 6.8, and Alando Tucker averaged 12.0 and 5.9 as a freshman. David West posted 20.1 and 11.8 that year, and volume scorer Romain Sato dumped in 18.1 and 7.1. Future tourney hero Lionel Chalmers dished out four assists per game. Both teams played crisp ball, with X 20th in the nation in turnover percentage and Wisconsin 5th.
The National Championship game would have been contested between Arizona and Kentucky. Led by Kieth Bogans (15.7/3.8/2.7) and Gerald Fitch (12.3/3.0/2.8), UK was the fifth most efficient offensive team and fourth most efficient defensive team in the country. Marquis Estill and Chuck Hayes combined for 20.4 and 12.8 inside for the Wildcats and also added 2.8 blocks per game. After three losses before the calendar turned, the Wildcats ripped off 26 straight wins before bowing out of the tournament. Arizona also depended on two dynamic guards, with Jason Gardner (14.8/4.0/4.9) and Salim Stoudamire (13 PPG) leading the way. Channing Frye posted 12.6 and 8.0 in the middle, and Rick Anderson and stat stuffer Luke Walton rounded out the other Wildcats' double-digit scorers. Arizona played the seventh-highest tempo in the nation, in marked contrast to UK's middle-of-the-pack pace.
So what did we learn? I'm not sure if we learned anything. If the NCAA ran basketball the same way they do football, we would have swapped a highly-entertaining national tournament for five games between some of the best teams in the country. That's not exactly a ground-breaking revelation. I think the exact nature of how these games would have been lain out is both instructive and entertaining enough (at least for me to research and write) that I'll continue on through with the 2004-2011 seasons. Who knows, maybe some surprises are in store for us/me along the way.