While students were away from campus over winter break, coach Kyle Smith and the Dons men’s basketball team continued to build their March Madness resume. The Dons are having one of the best seasons in years and on pace to post their best winning percentage since the 1976-77 season, when the team went 29-2 overall and lost in the Round of 32 to UNLV.
To borrow terminology from television sports pundits, we can break the Dons’ season into four broad categories: good wins, bad wins, good losses and bad losses. While the logic is flawed and not exactly intuitive (how can a win be bad, or a loss be good?), it is generally considered to be the thought process undertaken by the NCAA selection committee, who will select and seed the teams competing in the tournament.
So far this season, the Dons have yet to win a “statement game” — a big, news-making win against a nationally ranked team that puts the Dons on the national radar. The majority of the Dons’ opponents have been outside of the top 100 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). Some of the most notable wins for the Dons have come more in the form of reputation rather than rankings. The Dons beat the California Golden Bears (UC Berkeley) 79-60 on the road, the Stanford Cardinal 74-65 at home, and Pepperdine Waves 72-69 on the road. While that sounds impressive, the numbers tell a different story. The NET ranks the Golden Bears, Cardinal and Waves (oh my) at #269, #117 and #168 respectively. The Dons, on the other hand, are currently #47, having fluctuated between #30 and #50 for most of the season.
There is, of course, no such thing as a bad win at the end of the day. That being said, a bad win can be considered a game which the Dons should have won handedly, but instead struggled a bit more than expected. The most notable of these is the Dons’ 53-52 win over the Pacific Tigers on Jan. 17. The Tigers are ranked #184. In the eyes of the Selection Committee, the Dons should have dominated this game, winning by double digits and, ideally, surpassing the 65-point threshold.
Much like a bad win, a good loss is rather counterintuitive. A bad win is always better than a good loss. Generally, a good loss could be any time the Dons are the losing team in another team’s bad win. The Dons’ best loss, so to speak, would be their 96-83 loss against No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs on Jan. 12. The silver linings in this could be that the Dons put up 83 points against the tenth-best defense in the country. Additionally, the Dons held on and lost by 13 points against a Gonzaga team who leads the country in margin of victory, winning games by an average of 25.1 points.
The Dons have only lost four games all season, so there aren’t many options for a bad loss here. They have respectable losses against No. 2 Gonzaga and No. 20 Buffalo. The other two Dons losses have been against UC Santa Barbara and the University of San Diego. San Diego are ranked #100, whereas UCSB are ranked #148. The Dons lost to Santa Barbara 73-71 on the road, — a blemish on their record which the Selection Committee will not ignore.