The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MARCH  2006

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







March Madness

By Jerry Keys

This time of year for sports fans is cruel.  The NFL just wrapped up its season, baseball has yet to play meaningful games, the NHL and NBA sloth along completing a ever-long schedule that is virtually meaningless due to more teams making the playoffs than not.

We hear trade rumors, holdouts, and how certain players cannot feed their family on $14 million a year.  Latrell Sprewell should seriously consider hiring a financial strategist.  Are games ever played just for the love of it?  Yes they are and we are about to again witness it.  College basketball at its finest.
  It's called March Madness.

For years I had wanted to touch on March Madness but it starts in mid-month, too early to write about in February and already completed before the next issue of The People News is printed.  What is March Madness?

Jerry Keys

The first national championship tournament was held in 1939, with only eight teams involved.  The tourney expanded to 16 teams in 1951, 22 in 1953, 32 in 1975, 40 in 1979, 48 in 1982, and the current 64 in 1985.  Two reasons for continued expansion were because not enough teams were being invited from major conferences and to broaden the chances of a championship to additional teams.

After the regular season each conference conducts a championship tournament.  Either all or most teams, regardless of their final regular season standings, participate in this.  The winner of each tournament is given an automatic bid into March Madness.  There are 30 automatic bids available and 31 conferences.  The winner of the lowest rated conference does not receive an automatic bid.

In 2005 the winners of the two lowest seeded conferences (Alabama A&M from the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Oakland from the Mid Continental Conference) participated in a "play-in" game.  The winner,

Oakland, went on to be the last #16 seed and was slated to play the #1 seed in their bracket, which was eventual champion North Carolina.

The remaining 34 openings are called "at-large" bids.  These are selected by a committee that take many things into account, such as RPI, record against top-ranked teams, last ten games, conference and non-conference records, and even injuries.

The 64-team bracket is split into four regions, the East, South, Midwest, and West.  In each bracket, the 16 teams are positioned as follows:

#1 - #16
#8 - #9
#5 - #12
#4 - #13
#6 - #11
#3 - #14
#7 - #10
#2 - #15

All four regions are set up to give the top-seeded teams the easiest schedule.  If all higher seeded teams were victorious the seeding would advance as follows:  #1 vs. #8, #4 vs. #5, #3 vs. #6, #2 vs. #7 for the second round.  The Sweet 16 would be:  #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3 (four teams from each region to make 16).  The Elite 8 would be the #1 vs. #2 and the Final Four would be all

four #1 seeds.  But if you have ever watched March Madness, you know that never happens.

A #16 seed has never knocked off a top-ranked team.  There have been several close calls but no upsets.  A handful of #15 seeds have shocked a #2 seed.  The last time this occurred was in 2001, #15 Hampton over #2 Iowa State 58-57.  Most giant killers like Hampton are quickly dismissed in the second round.

A trend that has been noticed in college basketball over the last five years is most superstars either skip college all together or just play a year or two (see Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse, 2003 NCAA champs).  Before the early exoduses by college players, a dozen or so college teams were constantly considered favorites to win it all (Kansas, Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Duke, etc.).  The coaches had their stars for four years and with a good nucleus, would contend for at least three of those four years (see Duke 1990-94).

The effects of this are great if you enjoy a certain amount of parity.  This had led to other large schools that once were only Sweet 16 hopefuls to become title contenders.  Schools that were at best fourth or fifth place finishers in power conferences (such as the ACC and Big East) are now legitimate title hopefuls.  This has led to more and more instances of small schools who have their players all four years, gaining continuity, cohesiveness, and maturing together, an increasing chance of toppling a nationally recognized team who may have two or three superstars but have only been together a year or two.

Conference tournaments will be held in the first two weeks of March.  The selection process for the "at-large" bids has always come under heavy scrutiny because some small conferences only send one representative, whereas a major conference will send as many as eight or nine.  Much of the debate stems from a small conference team winning their conference quite decisively but being upset in the conference tourney by a team they clearly defeated twice earlier.

Sometimes if the team's RPI index is high enough, they are still admitted into the 64-team field.  Yet the majority of teams are left out in the cold and if they are lucky, can receive a NIT (National Invitational Tournament) offer.  Last year's "play-in" game loser, Alabama A&M, won their conference, won the conference tourney, and lost the "play-in" game.  They received no invites to either the 64-team tourney, or the NIT, while teams with a .500 area record at least received the NIT invite.

With March Madness and the NIT, roughly 100 of the just over 300 Division-I schools participate in one of these.  Some say this is too many, while others say it would be a good idea to let every D-I school in (similar to the now defunct Indiana high school state tourney-think Milan, 1954, the movie Hoosiers).  There will always be a few teams left out of March Madness, therefore the debate will always continue.

If a team gets on a roll at the right time, the seeding can be very kind to them.  The teams to watch are seasoned bubble teams and small schools.  Syracuse, Maryland, Arkansas, Stanford, and Charlotte have deep benches and a savvy coach. These are the teams that just get in, either as a #7-10 seed, win the first round game and pull an upset on the #1 and #2 seeded teams in the second round.

Small schools that "accidentally" make it in and are apt to pull an upset would be Northern Arizona, Long Beach State, Butler, Marist, and Coppin State.  All 84 times the #16 seed has lost.  Maybe this is the year.