Wiedmer: Tressel is now second biggest of Smith's woes

Wiedmer: Tressel is now second biggest of Smith's woes

March 14th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Until 6 p.m. Sunday, Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith's biggest worry was Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, who is now under investigation for deceiving both the NCAA and his own employers regarding improper benefits to several of his players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Thanks to Sunday's NCAA Tournament bracket announcement, however, Tressel's troubles should now be about as high on Smith's To-Do list as changing his vacuum-cleaner bag.

After all, Smith chairs the selection committee that arguably delivered the worst and most illogical tournament field in NCAA history.

Or do you think Virginia Commonweath deserved a bid over Virginia Tech, which knocked off then-No. 1 Duke within the last month and reached the semifinals of the ACC tourney?

Beyond that, the Final Four is slated for Houston, not Newark, N.J. But with top-seeded Ohio State, second-seed North Carolina, third-seed Syracuse and fourth-seeded Kentucky all shoe-horned into the East, it might be easier for the Buckeyes to win two games at the Final Four than the regional field they'll have to outlast to get there.

(A side note: As the Ohio State AD, Smith can't sit in on discussions about where to place the Buckeyes, so he had no hand in their No. 1 seed or, presumably, who they'd play. Then again, maybe their treacherous path shows just how little the rest of the committee thought if him.)

Of course, the committee always thinks highly of Duke. Yes, they're the defending national champs, they always play a tough schedule and they certainly humbled North Carolina in Sunday's ACC title game, but for the love of Dr. Naismith, can the Dookies just once get a regional draw that doesn't look like Coach K ordered it from GiGi's Cupcakes?

I mean, assuming they're not shocked by Hampton in their first-round game in Charlotte - that's right, despite supposedly being the weakest No. 1 for the second year in a row Duke gets to play its first two games in its home state - the Blue Devils will next play the Tennessee-Michigan winner, neither of whom really deserves to be in the field.

And I'm willing to say right now that Tennessee could cause the Dookies trouble if UT point guard Melvin Goins is allowed to get physical with Nolan Smith.

Tennessee has arguably more depth than Duke, can gain an edge inside if Brian Williams' tender back doesn't act up on him and can neutralize Kyle Singler with super freshman Tobias Harris.

Let Scotty Hopson have one of his rare regal performances and the Blue Devils could fall to the Big Orange.

But they shouldn't, and once past UT there's not another team in the bracket that should beat them.

There's also the matter of travel. For instance, why are Keystone State residents Temple and Penn State playing a first-round game in Tuscon? They couldn't have gone to Cleveland, Chicago, Charlotte, or even Tampa?

For that matter, why is Penn State even in this field and Alabama - the SEC West champ - out? Joe Paterno doesn't coach basketball so there's no need to coddle State one last time before the Nittany Lion in winter finally retires.

After all, Alabama has beaten Georgia twice in the last 10 days, yet the Bulldogs are somewhat comfortably in the field with a No. 10 seed, which they probably deserved. But so did Bama, which went 13-5 (including the SEC tourney) against the league.

Yet no one got dumped on worse than Kentucky, which entered Sunday with a RPI of 9, a schedule strength of nine and eight wins against the Top 50. Then they went out and beat Florida 70-54 in the SEC title game, the Cats' second strong win over the Gators in two weeks.

There was brief talk of that win earning UK a No. 2 seed. No one saw them falling below a No. 3. Yet not only are they a No. 4, but a No. 4 in Ohio State's region, which should make them the worst No. 4 in the field if the committee is following the S-curve philosophy they say they do.

"Kentucky is a very good ballclub," said Smith on a teleconference after the bracket wa announced. "But when it came time to vote, they slid a bit."

And that vote was when ... midway through their tough quarterfinal win over Ole Miss? UK torched Alabama on Saturday and thumped Florida - which was impressive enough to earn a No. 2 seed - on Sunday. So how did they slide?

Or is this a case of the NCAA being so mad at not being able to directly penalize John UK coach John Calipari for whatever role he might have had in Massachusetts and Memphis forfeiting Final Four appearances under his watch that they'll now do everything they can to keep his program from ever reaching the Final Four?

But at least Kentucky has a chance. Alabama, Virginia Tech and Colorado's chances to play on will slide to the Nobody's Interested Tournament.

If there's justice, perhaps Smith's lying, cheating football coach will soon become similarly irrelevant.

2011 NCAA bracket