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Thread: Tournament Randomness and Perspective on Greatness

  1. #1
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    Default Tournament Randomness and Perspective on Greatness

    I was devastated by our loss, as were so many others who pour their hearts into Gonzaga basketball. I had told myself that GU finally had the talent to win a national title, but we got slightly outplayed in a bad matchup in the 4th round of the tournament by a hot team and some iffy refs. Some here have gone so far as to comment that the whole season was retroactively a waste.

    Results of the other 3 elite 8 games have reiterated to me how much being a college basketball fan should be about the games that occur prior to the final game of the year for your team, because luck and randomness will play a bigger role in the NCAA tournament than many of us like to think, and a larger role than in any other sports playoffs that are not single-elimination over the course of 6 rounds. The tournament is a great format to draw in the casual viewer, give hope to fans from dozens of teams, and maximize gambling and publicity. It's a hell of a lot of fun. But it's just not a good way to get the year's best teams to be playing during the final weekend or final game of the year.

    The 2018-2019 Gonzaga team was great.

    • Beat the #1 team on a neutral court to win the premiere non-conference tournament
    • Spent multiple weeks in early season and in late season ranked #1
    • Went undefeated in conference regular season, setting a record for scoring margin
    • Earned a #1 seed and 3 tournament wins
    • Set player records for individual single-season blocks, shooting percentage, and career assists
    • Had players earns All American and Cousy Award finalist nods
    • Will likely have two players in the first round of the NBA daft, continuing to draw attention to Gonzaga domestically and globally



    But in many years, maybe most years, the best team will not win the title or make the title game. Some years they get lucky and they do. Mediocre teams don't win titles, but neither do top-5 teams not aided by some luck. Last year Villanova, the champions, didn't face a top-10 team until the final game against #9 Michigan. Villanova was the only team in Kenpom's top-8 to make the final 4. In '17 teams ranked 17th and 30th in Kenpom made the final 4, while poor WVU (#3 in Kenpom) and Gonzaga (#1) battled in the third game of the tournament. That's a game I bet GU losses nearly half the time, and it was the third round slugfest. I feel right now that Gonzaga would win at least 3 of 7 against any top-10 team in the nation in a best of 7 series, but I don't think they'd ever go undefeated in such a series, and winning 6 games in a row means going undefeated. A favored team given a free trip to begin the tournament in the elite 8 with outrageously high 3-1 odds against all three of their remaining opponents still has just a 42% chance at winning a title (.75x.75x.75). And by the time the second weekend rolls around, even the lopsided matchups are much closer than 3-1 odds. I've been guilty of placing too much evaluative emphasis on the final game to determine the worthiness of a team despite how much luck is involved, and it has meant that I've overlooked the ways in which a team can be great and have a great year despite not winning a title or making the final 4.


    This year's final 4 is an example of the chaotic nature of going deep in March. Getting to the final 4 is not simply a function of being among the best:

    • There were 4 different teams ranked #1 this year. Each was #1 for at least 4 weeks, so none was a fluke or pretender. None of the 4 teams is now in the final 4.
    • Of the 4 teams in the final 4, only UVA was EVER ranked a 4th or better and with 5 seconds left in their E8 game, their win probability was low single digits. The next best team by rankings, MSU, had a single week at #5.
    • 2 of 4 teams in this year's FF were unranked for multiple weeks, Auburn was unranked 3 weeks ago, was a lucky bounce from losing to a 12 seed in their first game, and has now eliminated #1 UNC and #2 UK, and beat #2 Tenn in their final pre-tournament game.
    • If UVA didn't make their crazy circus-shot buzzer beater against Purdue, or hold off Oregon with some lucky bounces, the final four teams would have spent more time unranked this year than ranked anything above 9th.



    Since 1999 when GU has been nationally relevant in Basketball here are some comparisons of teams that undeniably have fielded rosters far more talented (on average) than GU, and how that has translated into titles:

    • Kansas has 10 Elite 8s, 9 years as a #1 seed, and a 1 title
    • Kentucky has 10 Elite 8s, 5 years as a #1 seed, and a 1 title
    • Entire current PAC-12: 15 Elite 8s, no titles
    • Entire current Big 12 (outside Kansas): 20 Elite 8s, no titles
    • Gonzaga has 4 Elite 8s, no titles



    If your team is making it to the 2nd weekend of the NCAA tournaments, being ranked #1, is beating or evenly playing other top-ranked teams (we played and clearly belonged in games among 4 of the other top 8 seeds in Duke, Tennessee, UNC and MSU this year), dominating traditional rivals (BYU, UW, SMC) and recruiting high-caliber likable players coached by high-character coaches in beautiful team-oriented basketball, you've arrived at the mountaintop. Doing all of the above with not a single whiff of scandal or dishonesty with players who stay and get to be known by each other, by fans nationally, and the community for 2-5 years is the cherry on top.


    Winning a national title, or even making a FF, is immensely luck-dependent regardless of talent and regular season success and Gonzaga's best teams have simply not been lucky as well as being elite. We've had 4 years to the Elite 8 or beyond, and all three completed years have ended in a loss to the eventual national champions. That's unlucky. Of the 3 Elite 8 games we lost, we were leading or just a few points down near the end in each one, proving we belonged with those eventual national champions. Each of these teams could have made the final 4 or the title game with some better luck, different matchups, or different bounces on a couple plays. Any other sweeping narrative or definitive judgement about Gonzaga or our best teams is simply foolish.

    It's hard not to look at that missing final hurdle and think it means we don't belong at the top or still have something to prove, but one day one Zags team with a little less skill and a little more luck may get a few bounces or matchups and do what these past teams each certainly could have done by bringing a title to the northwest. That won't make their GU predecessors any less great.
    Last edited by LTownZag; 04-01-2019 at 01:46 PM.

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    Big D gives a big thumbs up to your post.


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    I am disappointed by the loss, very much so. And I thought we had "pretty much" the talent to win it all (we really needed a 3 point specialist) but ….

    I think if you believe that losing to a top team in the E8 makes it a disappointing season, you need to find another sport to be a fan of. I would not say the same thing had we lost the first weekend, or maybe even the S16. But by the Elite 8 you are playing against the top of the top of the top.

    I can be disappointed, but I just can't be angry. This team was wonderful, gave us great excitement, accomplished a ton, and came up just a step short on an off-shooting day against a highly physical team that never got into the bonus. Just how it goes.

    I do not consider the season a disappointment. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.
    Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.
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    This team we had beat duke and the Koach. Illl cherish that forever. Thank you Zags!
    Qualified for 22 Straight Big Dances

    11 Straight Round of 32s

    10 Sweet Sixteens (5 Straight)

    4 Elite Eights

    2017 FINAL FOUR

    2 Winningest Players in college basketball history (Karnowski 137, Perkins 134)

    The Best Point Guard to ever play the game: John Stockton, most assists, most steals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DixieZag View Post
    I am disappointed by the loss, very much so. And I thought we had "pretty much" the talent to win it all (we really needed a 3 point specialist) but ….

    I think if you believe that losing to a top team in the E8 makes it a disappointing season, you need to find another sport to be a fan of. I would not say the same thing had we lost the first weekend, or maybe even the S16. But by the Elite 8 you are playing against the top of the top of the top.

    I can be disappointed, but I just can't be angry. This team was wonderful, gave us great excitement, accomplished a ton, and came up just a step short on an off-shooting day against a highly physical team that never got into the bonus. Just how it goes.

    I do not consider the season a disappointment. I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.
    In my view, those calling this season a disappointment are disregarding the value of the journey. If all you're focusing on is the destination, you're going to be disappointed far more often than not. I'll leave the focus on destination to the Blue Blood fans. I understand their message boards were predictably vicious over the weekend.

    I don't mind constructive criticism directed at our players, but I do take umbrage with the personal attacks that I've seen levelled at a few since our losses to SMC and Tech. These young men represented our school/community with class and excellence, and they're deserving of our respect and thanks.

    There were so many great moments this year that I'll never forget, especially the Duke and Creighton games. There must have been 50 of us in attendance at the pregame social in Omaha. The entire weekend was great fun, to include waking up to 5-6" of snow on the ground on Sunday morning.

    I'm already looking forward to next year's trip to College Station. Given our youth, it's going to be a tough game for sure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TexasZagFan View Post
    In my view, those calling this season a disappointment are disregarding the value of the journey. If all you're focusing on is the destination, you're going to be disappointed far more often than not. I'll leave the focus on destination to the Blue Blood fans. I understand their message boards were predictably vicious over the weekend.

    I don't mind constructive criticism directed at our players, but I do take umbrage with the personal attacks that I've seen levelled at a few since our losses to SMC and Tech. These young men represented our school/community with class and excellence, and they're deserving of our respect and thanks.
    +1
    Qualified for 22 Straight Big Dances

    11 Straight Round of 32s

    10 Sweet Sixteens (5 Straight)

    4 Elite Eights

    2017 FINAL FOUR

    2 Winningest Players in college basketball history (Karnowski 137, Perkins 134)

    The Best Point Guard to ever play the game: John Stockton, most assists, most steals.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gonzagafan62 View Post
    +1
    I probably would have been dissapointed if we lost in the sweet sixteen, but from the Elite 8 on in most games come down to just few moments and a few bounces this or that way. This was definitely our most talented team in my view.

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    I wasn't devastated at all....might have been disappointed for a couple minutes thinking they might have played better.... but TT was just that good in that game.. it was a awesome season.....so many thrilling moments.....the highlight for me was the Zack three that finished off the evil behemoth from Florida…. my dog hid under the bed for two days.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by bartruff1 View Post
    I wasn't devastated at all....might have been disappointed for a couple minutes thinking they might have played better.... but TT was just that good in that game.. it was a awesome season.....so many thrilling moments.....the highlight for me was the Zack three that finished off the evil behemoth from Florida…. my dog hid under the bed for two days.....
    LMAO!!! That’s about how my parents cats were when I visited for that game lol
    Qualified for 22 Straight Big Dances

    11 Straight Round of 32s

    10 Sweet Sixteens (5 Straight)

    4 Elite Eights

    2017 FINAL FOUR

    2 Winningest Players in college basketball history (Karnowski 137, Perkins 134)

    The Best Point Guard to ever play the game: John Stockton, most assists, most steals.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by bartruff1 View Post
    I wasn't devastated at all....might have been disappointed for a couple minutes thinking they might have played better.... but TT was just that good in that game.. it was a awesome season.....so many thrilling moments.....the highlight for me was the Zack three that finished off the evil behemoth from Florida…. my dog hid under the bed for two days.....
    Love this post. I'm with you Bart.

    All the joy and fun I've had in my life the past 20 years as a result of this program and school have a value that I can't calculate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ladyzag12 View Post
    I probably would have been dissapointed if we lost in the sweet sixteen, but from the Elite 8 on in most games come down to just few moments and a few bounces this or that way. This was definitely our most talented team in my view.
    I am not disappointed! I am not dissapointed! lol...…..No way this season was disappointed. We had a superior team. For years we've all known the anything beyond the Sweet 16 is chancy and requires some luck. TT though, the refs went blind when all the pokes, body contact and other hand to hand combat was ignored.
    It's over for us for another year. Now the suspense is who stays who doesn't. 7 months in the waiting..it's a long stretch to wait and wonder. Loved this team though. Just an amazing batch of kids and the highlights will be forever logged. So much part of our history. And so much part of our imagination.
    Good research is said to be good because it leads to other issues. In some ways this team was like that.....it leads to new highlights and new kids...……new warmth and such..

    How could anyone be disappointed with that??

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    TT probably had one of their best games of the year - we didn't. Team "vibe" from the very beginning struck me as very similar to the "vibe" I though they had from the start of the Saint Marys loss. They obviously played somewhat better than against Saint Marys but they just never seemed to have the flow or edge we saw when they played their best. To win it all in March, a team has to play at their best or close to it every game - and the winner of it all still often needs a moment of luck, a lucky call or an amazing play to get them there.

    I will remember this team with fondness as I do all GU teams. Josh for his dedication. Rui for his athleticism, his smile and his jumpshot (still think this shot has a place in today's college game despite the emergence of the 3 pointer and the seeming need of most players to attempt to get to the rim if the 3 pointer isn' there), Brandon for bringing it every night and for the astounding blocks and dunks he exhibited almost every game night, Tillie for sticking with it through some pretty dark times, injury wise-also JJ for keeping the faith when his minutes were short and for producing when those minutes finally materialized. This was a unique and highly entertaining GU team-will really miss what they, as a group, brought to the table.

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    This team was the most fun to watch when running and clicking on all cylinders in the history of Gonzaga Basketball.....mic drop.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zagceo View Post
    This team was the most fun to watch when running and clicking on all cylinders in the history of Gonzaga Basketball.....mic drop.
    Can't argue with that!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zagceo View Post
    This team was the most fun to watch when running and clicking on all cylinders in the history of Gonzaga Basketball.....mic drop.
    Exactly ...

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    Nice perspective and analysis, LTown. Thank you.

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