The NCAA Tournament: March Madness at its Maddest!
The March to Madness
Bring on the madness!
Another NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is upon us. From Selection Sunday to One Shining Moment, this sports spectacle has captured the heart of America since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dueled in 1979.
During the month of March, basketball fans first watch conference tournaments in search of upsets. Their attention is focused on top teams that lose, opening the door for some “bubble” teams and closing that same door on other squads hoping for a birth. When Selection Sunday finally arrives, the Tournament brackets are revealed among much fanfare, followed directly by Dick Vitale bellowing about the injustice of excluding a few teams he will deem worthy of the Big Dance. Meanwhile, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Bobby Knight and the rest line up on ESPN to “break down” the brackets, explaining why Kentucky is amazing for winning their close games while Kansas is struggling for letting games get close. Doug Gottlieb pops up ninety minutes later, telling us why KU is awesome but Kentucky is vulnerable. CBS wonders what’s wrong with the Big Ten for the fifth year in a row and extols the virtues of the Big East, pondering how their ninth or tenth place team could possibly have been sacrificed to the NIT. The true hoops junkie takes it all in (me included).
By Monday, serious and casual fans alike fill out brackets and join office pools. The savvy prognosticator always predicts the twelfth-seeded team to beat a fifth seed in the first round. The ninth-seeds are also a popular choice to knock off the number eights. No one ever predicts all four number one seeds to make the Final Four, and champions are never expected to repeat.
When play begins, the first weekend is the most special with every team enjoying their moment in the limelight. The sheer volume of games makes that Thursday and Friday magical, especially when a favored team is upset. American business grinds to a halt as workers become preoccupied with scores and updates, last-second shots, and underdogs battling the big boys to a standstill. The hardcore basketball addict skips work altogether to watch games from 11:00 AM until well past midnight—all weekend long. It is hoops heaven, and the euphoria lasts for two more weekends after this one.
On that third Saturday, four teams meet to determine who will play for a championship. The excitement is unmatched in all of sports, as players battle on the hardwood for their place in history. One last game unfolds on a Monday night in April, when one squad is crowned National Champion. The tournament’s drama is highlighted a final time as One Shining Moment accompanies a montage of film clips from the tournament’s best games, and experts blithely begin making predictions for next year.
It’s almost perfect.
The road to Indianapolis
Making the madness madder
What would it take to improve on March Madness? There are actually a few things that could be done to make the NCAA Basketball Tournament even madder than it now is. Since so many are intent on fixing a wonderful event that isn’t broken, let me chime in with my twelve recommendations for improving the tournament:
1. Censor Dick Vitale on Selection Sunday. Don’t let him participate in the analysis of the selections if all he wants to discuss is the injustice of some team’s exclusion. Let’s face it—talking about a team that was left out is irrelevant to any meaningful analysis. Let him come up with all-new material or don’t ask his opinion—his ranting got old a long time ago.
2. Make Clark Kellogg stop using the word “spurtability.” It sounds obscene.
3. Respect teams outside the ACC and Big East. The now-retired Billy Packer one year suggested every regional needed an ACC team “for fan interest.” How can ESPN analysts claim there is no dominant teams when Kansas is 30-2, Kentucky is 29-2 and both have spent most of the year rated number one and two, respectively? What does it take to satisfy these guys? Oh yeah, I forgot—they are convinced, as long as the dominant team comes from the Big East or the ACC.
4. Give teams with injured players their due. The “Kenyon Martin Rule” is a sham. Remember when Martin was college Player of the Year in 2000 for #1 Cincinnati, only to break his leg in the C-USA tournament? As a result, the NCAA Selection Committee made the Bearcats a #2 seed. If seedings are about a team’s accomplishments, don’t punish them for a late-season injury.
5. Don’t allow coaches to lobby on-air for inclusion into the NCAA Tournament, or for a better seed. John Calipari reached a new low in 2009 when he pointed to Memphis’ record after inserting Tyreke Evans into the starting lineup as justification for a higher seed. The insinuation, of course, was that his record prior to wising up and starting his best player should be ignored. Coaching decisions shouldn’t make a difference.
6. Eliminate all talk of expansion. The tournament is fine the way it is. At the very least, don’t use the exclusion of some conference’s eighth- or ninth-ranked team as justification for expansion. It has recently been said that the field should be expanded because the last expansion was over ten years ago. Huh? Who cares when it was expanded last?
If expansion is inevitable, quadruple the teams invited and play an extra weekend. 256 teams would require two more games for everyone and one extra weekend of play. Let games be televised locally and played on college campuses. A team that cannot make a 256 team tournament should not be allowed a forum to state their case for inclusion, and it is unlikely that even Dick Vitale would care if they got in.
7. While on the subject of expansion, do not suggest more play-in games. In fact, get rid of the ridiculous game that’s already played. Does anyone really watch that thing? Does the losing team feel as if it were part of the NCAA Tournament? For 2010, what if North Carolina was matched against Quinnipiac or Lehigh in the play-in game? Does anyone believe the Tar Heels would agree to a play-in? It’s doubtful, and abolishing it would simultaneously eliminate the accompanying condescension of play-in games.
The tournament should never create a scenario where one team has to win more games than another to take the title. If they want to make it impossible for smaller schools to make the Final Four, just shrink the tournament down to 16 teams and leave everyone but the top-ranked teams at home. It wouldn’t be fair, but it wouldn’t be hypocritical, either. If you want a representative tournament, keep the playing field as level as possible.
8. Limit the number of teams in a conference that can make the NCAA Tournament. Is there a reason why more than four teams in a conference should be invited? Why should the ninth-place team in the ACC be let in? Let them do better in their conference if they want to be included, and give their berth to a mid-major team. This will eliminate indignant coaches defending their 8-8 conference record, and will do away with citing teams left out as a reason for expansion.
9. Give the automatic berth to the conference regular season champion instead of the conference tournament champion. Why let a .500 team on a three- or four-game hot streak bump a more deserving mid-major team? Conference tournaments should be for at-large bids, not automatic inclusion.
10. Eliminate talk of re-seeding the Final Four. If the best teams play each other on Saturday instead of Monday night, so be it. Why should they further stack the deck against an underdog that has crashed the Final Four?
11. Bring back the third place game. Just because Bill Walton didn’t want to play for third place in 1974 doesn’t make it a bad game (or idea). I like the notion of playing for third place. It allows two Final Four teams to end their season on a positive note, it gives us another good matchup, and it just makes sense. It’s absurd to “tie” for third place. There are no ties in basketball.
12. Allow every school (except those penalized for NCAA violations) to defend their title. This would mean Florida would have made it in 2008, and North Carolina would be invited in 2010. If you win the NCAA Tournament, you are automatically invited to next year’s tournament.
Think my proposals are crazy? Perhaps they are, but they’re no crazier than a lot of schemes that have been thrown around over the years by so-called experts. (At least I didn’t suggest Isiah Thomas be hired to provide commentary at the Final Four.) If you don’t like my ideas, I suggest a compromise—don’t do anything to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s just enjoy it.
And let the madness begin!
A few hours ago, the NCAA Tournament brackets were announced, and there were some decisions that surely caused some of the coaches to scratch their heads. Kansas was predictably announced as the number one seed in the tournament, but their regional was loaded with Ohio State, Georgetown, Tennessee, Michigan State and Maryland.
Syracuse seemed to get the easiest bracket, filled with many at-large teams and relatively few conference champions. Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt are hardly imposing as the other high seeds. Kansas State could get the opportunity to make the regional final and perhaps get a shot at the Orangemen. A few ESPN pundits suggested K-State could make the Final Four and set up a fourth meeting with Kansas. This seems the easiest regional of the four, and Syracuse should not feel slighted by being designated the fourth number one seed.
Duke appeared to draw the second easiest region, with Villanova, Baylor and Purdue in their bracket. Louisville wasn't a lock to make the tournament until a week ago, but could be a sleeper. Texas A&M is a physical team that defends well, and will also play tough against anyone. I have not been a solid believer in Duke this year, and several teams here could give the Blue Devils a challenge. However, the relatively weak bracket leaves open the possibility of Duke crashing the Final Four.
Kentucky has a very challenging regional. They drew a tough second round game with their likely advancement to play the winner of the Texas / Wake Forest matchup. A regional with West Virginia, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Marquette and Temple will not be easy, even for the talented Wildcats.
Final Four Predictions: Kentucky beats Villanova to play for the championship, while Kansas will defeat Kansas State for the fourth time this season on the other side of the bracket. KU will defeat UK for their second championship in three years.
Here we go!
March Madness 2012: An Update
It has been several years since I wrote this article, and upon reflection I am shamelessly forced to conclude that my suggestions, big or small, were correct. Since my words were first seen here, the NCAA elected to create three more superfluous play-in games. Their recent selections put more teams from the so-called power conferences in the Tournament, as well. Did the NCAA fear that two Final Fours with Butler playing for the championship was hurting their product? It is difficult to say. In 2012, a sense of normalcy returned with Kentucky beating Kansas for the NCAA championship. Was the game better, though?
What do you think?
Should the NCAA Tournament feature more "mid-major" teams or draw more heavily from the "power" conferences?
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