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Sunday, March 15, 2009

March Madness

The Sporting News (which I read religiously as a kid because it was the bible of baseball, well before Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) published a survey in its March 16 issue regarding the NCAA Tournament. It polled 22 luminaries, including Mark Alarie (Duke), former Princeton coach Pete Carril, Kentucky star Kevin Grevey, Indiana's Scott May, and Carolina's Mike O'Koren, among many others. I'll list the questions and provide my own answers -- you'll have to subscribe to the magazine to get the quotes from the various former players.

1. Think a No. 16 seed will knock off a No. 1 in your lifetime? Suprisingly, 16 of the 22 said yes, and the coach who came the closest, Carril, said it is difficult, but it will happen. My view is that it will not happen for a while -- precisely because it hasn't happened in 20 years and because the seeding has gotten better. The NCAA's Men's Basketball Committee has at its fingertips all sorts of statistical analysis, and today a #1 seed is playing a team which, if the 64 best teams in the land made the tournament, wouldn't be there. Put differently, despite all romanticism about the "Little Engine That Could" or "Hoosiers", unless the No. 1 team gets food poisoning or has such a bunch of vain chuckleheads (which is unlikely because you have to be hardworking to get to a #1 seed), that type of upset is unlikely.

2. Is there any change you'd make to improve the tournament? The NCAA already did when CBS didn't renew Billy Packer's contract. Most of the recipients said no, but somehow having 65 teams is troubling to me, and I still don't know the justification any more for the NIT, which the NCAA owns. I don't like the concept of play-in games, especially when you single out two teams for a single play-in game. My view would be to expand the field to 72 teams, and then have the bottom-ranked 16 teams all play in to get to the field of 64. In this fashion, you'd have the conference champions of the conferences ranked in the bottom 16 play in (unless, of course, any of them are so good that they'd rate in the top 56, at which point you'd substitute an at-large team for a conference champion from the lower half of the conferences). That said, if this were to happen, you'd create a situation where a #16 or a #15, based upon the confidence they got from a play-in win, perhaps on a roll and having a better chance to upset a #1 or #2 seed. Now that I've said all that, despite the sore thumb that the play-in game is, perhaps the NCAA shouldn't touch this tournament.

3. Will you be cheering for North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough to win his first championship, as a senior? I will, because I'm a big Carolina fan and would like to see Carolina win a title, and, therefore, Hansbrough win a title. He's an outstanding player with a lot of grit. I had to laugh at the quote from Grevey, who was overall complimentary of Hansbrough but said "Tyler may be the most overrated player of the year in a long time." I don't agree, and, of course, people forget that Grevey knows what he was talking about -- he was pretty overrated too, perhaps because he played for the Kentucky dynasty. As for Hansbrough's pro prospects, I think back to when Carlos Boozer was coming out of Duke. I liked Boozer and thought he was a battler and a finisher, but he didn't go until the second round. And, since being in the NBA, Boozer has proven he's a battler and a finisher. Somehow, I think that if given the opportunity Hansbrough, for the right time, will prove he's both, too.

4. Who has a shot to create a special March memory this year? The voters were all over the place, and Stephon Curry, who got the most (3 1/2), won't be in the Big Dance because Davidson failed to win its conference tournament. I think it's hard to say, especially since last year the highest rated teams all made it to the Final Four. Is there a George Mason this year, and, if so, which team is it? I have my doubts about teams from the SEC (weak conference this year), Duke (not athletic enough), Memphis (not a strong enough schedule), but am wary of picking 3 Big East teams for the Final Four (a la 1985, when St. John's, Georgetown and Villanova all made it) because that league has been so bruising this year that you wonder if a single participant has enough gas left for a championship run. Something tells me that the Big East will make a lot of noise, that the Big Ten will disappoint, and that all four #1 seeds will not make the Final Four.

5. CBS pays the NCAA billions to televise the tournament. Should some of that go to the players? 12 of the 22 participants said yes, but I disagree, because college should be first and foremost about education. The players are getting scholarships, and that should be enough, but it's hard to say that when there are poor kids who are helping their school's athletic programs bring in millions and they don't have enough money to go out on a few dates. I think that the NCAA should increase its stipend and have a fund available -- payable out of the TV money -- to help players who've exhausted their eligibility go back and get their degrees when their playing days are over. The argument that the kids are getting scholarships and that the scholarships alone should be enough works for those schools who labor to ensure that the kids get meaningful degrees that lead to good jobs after the exhaustion of eligibility. Unfortunately, not all schools do that, which means that some kids make it through without sufficient skills to do more than park cars or do unskilled labor. That's just plain wrong, and, if that happens, the schools should be held accountable to make sure the kids get the benefit of their bargain.


Anonymous dance said...

Your #5 sounds like a good suggestion.

6:46 PM  

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