I know, I know, it's a wee bit early to think about brackets already when neither the men or the women have played a single game in the Patriot League tournament. But it's March, it's officially when the Madness starts to take hold, and - well - people are talking about it. (more)
Start with the Lady Hawks, who probably should have earned the nation's respect with a school-record 26 regular-season wins and with only one loss outside the RPI Top 100 (in overtime, on the road, vs. American). Where does ESPN's bracketology have them? Try a 14 seed, facing Xavier basically on their home court in Cincinnati. While I would like a higher seed for the Lady Hawks, the thought of them putting their unbeaten record against the Atlantic 10 on the line in the tournament - they've already beaten St. Joe's, LaSalle and Duquesne this year - is intriguing.
But that's not half the disrespect Lehigh's getting in the bracket department.
Both Bracketology 101 and ESPN are assigning Lehigh the dreaded play-in game versus Jackson State - which would be played in Dayton, Ohio the Tuesday after the Patriot League championship, should the Mountain Hawks make the Big Dance.
There is one notable voice that disagrees: John "The Last Amateurs" Feinstein, on his blog today:
When Mike Brey was coaching at Delaware he often said that winning The America East Tournament was the equivalent of getting to The Final Four for Duke—which was where he had coached prior to moving to Delaware. “And winning a game in the NCAA Tournament is like winning the national championship,” he added.He's right. First of all, Lehigh is a team that could make a first round opponent cry - they have their vulnerabilities, but they are not a 16 seed. (The Mountain Hawks are also a team that could certainly lose against Army tomorrow, like they've done for the last three years running.)
The real one bid leagues are the one where no one even discusses an at-large bid, where the committee has already penciled the champion in as a No. 15 or No. 16 seed most years. Of course there can be exceptions going in either direction. In 2006, coming off a first round upset a year earlier over Kansas, Bucknell came out of The Patriot League as a No. 9 seed—and promptly lived up to it by beating Arkansas. This year, the opposite is true in the league. The only conference team likely to avoid being sent to the dreaded play-in game in Dayton is top-seeded Lehigh. Anyone else wins the PL Tournament—which begins tomorrow but doesn’t end until March 12th because of (you guessed it) television—and they’re probably headed for Dayton. At the moment that teams cuts the nets down though, it won’t be thinking about Dayton. It will be nothing but pure joy.
Second, he knows that teams will fall that are currently sitting ahead of the Mountain Hawks should they make the tournament - UNC-Asheville winning the Big South tournament, say - and they'll be shuffled to the back of the line to play-in game territory. Upsets happen in these conference tournaments, and should benefit the Mountain Hawks (as long as they don't happen in the Patriot League tournament.)
Quite frankly, it's a bit strange for me to be looking at bracketology before a single game has tipped off in either tournament. (I hope I'm not cursing them.) But on the other hand, it's nice to actually look at bracketologies and see, for a change, Lehigh on the screen. Let's hope it's not like seeing Halley's Comet or something.