Shaka Smart has become one of my favorite college basketball coaches. He certainly is one of the best, having taken the unfashionable Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams to four straight NCAA tournaments and to the Final Four in 2011.
Recently, Smart and Duke’s legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski had an exchange about whether VCU’s conference, the Atlantic 10, deserves its six bids to this year’s NCAA tournament. Coach K started the controversy with this statement:
I’ll get in trouble probably for saying it. [I] like the Atlantic 10, they’re a really good conference. I hear people saying there are six teams in there. Come on. I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through.
Actually, Duke’s conference, the ACC, wasn’t much of a meat grinder this year. A third of its 15 teams were sorry and several more (including Maryland, I’m sad to say) were mediocre.
But Smart rebutted Krzyzewski not so much with basketball arguments as with epistemological ones:
First of all, comparing your own league to someone else’s league is like me saying that my daughter is cuter than your daughter. There’s a level of bias that comes into play that you shouldn’t even make those comments.
Secondly, coaches are too busy to be an authority on someone else’s conference.
You kind of want to stand up for your league. . .a lot of this league solidarity, like a Duke guy standing up for N.C. State, that’s all self-serving too. Let’s be honest. ‘Our league is great because it’s our league.’ It’s a lot of that.
Did the A-10 deserve six bids? I follow George Washington University basketball, and thus observe the conference fairly closely. I thought that five bids might have been more appropriate. But this afternoon, Dayton, the last A-10 into the tourney, upset sixth-seeded Ohio State.