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Brennan: Five observations from the week

3/7/2011

Five observations from the week that was:

1. It’s time, once and for all, to shelve the no-great-teams line. You’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it a lot, in fact. The line has been ubiquitous: “There are no great teams in college basketball this season.” If hearing the line is tedious, constantly arguing against it isn’t much better. I don’t want to be the guy who keeps bringing this up, trust me. But now that the regular season is over, the entire concept deserves one last thorough dismissal, because the Ohio State Buckeyes are definitively a great team.

If we needed further evidence to this effect, see Sunday’s insane offensive effort against Wisconsin in which Jon Diebler and the Buckeyes only put on the single greatest long-range shooting display in Division I hoops history. (Ohio State shot -- get this -- 14-of-15 from beyond the arc. They scored 1.63 points per possession. Their effective field goal percentage was 83.0, which is as historically insane as anything we’ve seen in the past five years, and probably longer.)

Thing is, we didn’t need further evidence. We certainly didn’t need one of the greatest offensive performances in college hoops history to convince us. Why? Because even if the Buckeyes had merely beaten Wisconsin by, say, 10 points -- even if Thad Matta’s team had simply added another win to their docket -- that was enough. Ohio State would still have finished the regular season 29-2 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Those two losses would still have come at two of the toughest places to play in the country versus two top-10 teams. In other words, they were the kind of losses that even a “great” team can suffer without losing much of the sheen of its greatness. Short of an undefeated regular season, the Bucks did just about everything right.

Of course, a national championship is often our best -- sometimes only -- retroactive barometer of greatness. Ohio State may have to win it all in early April to get the sort of historical credit it deserves. But if the Buckeyes fall short of a national title -- if they, like so many other teams, fall victim to the oh-so-crazy nature of the NCAA tournament -- don’t listen to the eventual no-great-teams naysayers. After 31 games, what better adjective do we have to describe this team than, well, great?

2. Virginia Tech really, really likes to be on the bubble. It was a tough week for the Hokies. Last Saturday, Tech fans were storming the floor in Blacksburg after a résumé-making win over then-No. 1 Duke. Nine days later, those fans are back in a familiar early-March position: rooting for a team sitting squarely on the bubble. Consecutive losses to Boston College (by 15) and Clemson (by 9) assured as much. Now Seth Greenberg’s team will almost certainly have to get at least one win in the ACC tournament to stay on the right side of the cut line. And depending on the constantly shifting bubble, will just one be enough?

3. But hey, it could be worse. Sure, Virginia Tech fans might be feeling a little bummed right now. You never want to sink back to the bubble just when it looked like you were headed to the tournament for only the second time in 15 seasons. But if Tech fans ever need a little perspective, they should go ahead and phone their friends in Winston-Salem, N.C. Yes, that’s the home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and yes, anytime you think your team couldn’t be any more frustrating, feel free to take a gander at what Jeff Bzdelik’s team went through this season. Sunday’s 84-68 loss at BC dropped the Deacons to 1-15 in the ACC, the worst record in the conference since Maryland’s went 1-13 in the league in 1989.

Even worse, this Wake team hasn’t been losing tough, close games. It hasn’t been getting unlucky. No, this team has been getting thoroughly trounced just about every time it takes the court. The Demon Deacons scored .88 points per possession in conference play this season, which ranks them No. 334 in the country in ppp vs. conference foes. They’ve allowed 1.15 points per possession, which ranks No. 336 in the nation. Yes, only eight teams -- eight teams! -- in college hoops have played this poorly relative to their conference opponents this season. Bzdelik might yet get the Deacons on the right path in the years to come.

But first on the agenda is forgetting this season ever happened.

4. Indiana State is no bid-stealer. Ah, yes, the notorious bid-stealers. They come out of nowhere in otherwise inconspicuous one-at-large leagues, besting the prohibitive favorites and snatching a bid from the hands of the desperate teams hovering around the bubble cut line. It happens every year. But it hasn’t happened yet. Yes, Indiana State’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament title was a surprise to most. Still, because Wichita State fell flat late in the year, and regular-season conference champion Missouri State lacks any notable nonconference results on its résumé, the MVC was always likely to be a one-bid league. Whoever that bid belongs to -- and we now know it belongs to the Sycamores -- it won’t exactly shrink the bubble picture.

5. Virginia Commonwealth, however, could be. The Rams seemingly fell off the bubble for good a few weeks ago, so Shaka Smart’s team likely needs to win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to get back to the Big Dance again this season. After Sunday’s CAA semifinal win over George Mason, they’re in excellent position to do so. If VCU beats Old Dominion in the title game Monday night, they won’t just earn an automatic berth -- they’ll be the first legitimate bid-stealer of Champ Week. Old Dominion and George Mason would sure seem to have résumés good enough to get them in the tournament. But one team along the bubble will be hoping for a big Monarchs win Monday night, because a VCU victory will only make the bubble that much tighter as we race toward the completed bracket on Selection Sunday. In other words: big game. And not just for the Rams.