Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

March 8, 2013

March rolling on: Let the madness begin

BLUEFIELD — Seeds, bubbles, dancing, madness, brackets, it’s all part of the vernacular of March.

Conference tournaments in Division I college basketball have begun and all those phrases and many more will be used in the week ahead as the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68 is compiled, and announced on March 17.

Some teams will be celebrating like it is St. Patrick’s Day, and others will be feeling green with envy at having to settle for the NIT, CollegeInsider.com, CBI or whatever other postseason tournaments have been started in the hopes of making more money and making sure every team with a winning record or worse keeps on playing.

Sounds like college bowl games, doesn’t it?

What makes early March so much fun is suddenly every team that can qualify for its conference postseason tournament has hope.

Win the tournament and you’re in, even Grambling. All the Tigers have done is finish the regular season with an 0-27 record and didn’t even get as close as single digits in any of those defeats, but the Tigers could win three straight in the SWAC and play in the NCAAs.

Don’t laugh, it could happen. Every year it seems like a few teams get hot at the right time in March and make a miracle run to the ‘Big Dance.’

While the major conferences are going to get numerous teams in the NCAA Tournament, possibly as many as eight in the Big 10 and seven from the Big East, there are several smaller conferences that will get just one bid, and that will be the tournament champion from so-called lower-tier leagues.

Never mind that teams have worked for four months to capture a conference title, such as Louisiana Tech (26-4, 16-1 WAC), Middle Tennessee (27-4, 19-1 Sun Belt) and Akron (24-5, 14-1 Mid American), but lose in the tournament and those NCAA dreams are over.

Yet, that is the decision made by the conferences. They could allow the regular season champion the automatic bid and let the tournament be played for fun, but how profitable or interesting would that be? That is why Championship Week is what it is.

At least now the regular season champion — if it doesn’t make the NCAAs — gets a bid to the NIT, which is nice, but it kind of like being vice-president. Who really knows what those guys are doing, all anyone pays attention to is the man in charge. (Both are scary propositions right now).

That is why two teams from the Mid-American or WAC rarely get bids when big league schools with mediocre records like Villanova (19-12), Iowa (19-11), Tennessee (18-11) or my beloved Crimson Tide (19-11) seem to always get in and will again, at least according to current Bracketology ”experts” such as Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm from CBS.

Of course, don’t forget that Gonzaga (29-2, 16-0 West Coast) is in one of those “lesser” leagues, and the Bulldogs are the top-ranked team in America. Perhaps some of those teams can play with the big boys, but they can’t prove it if they never get the chance.

Thirty-one of the bids will be automatic for either winning the postseason tournament or the regular season in the Ivy League. The other 37 will be at-large bids, which always lead to a mixture of opinions after the field is selected.

It has to be difficult to pick those final teams, and then try to figure out a path to — in this year’s case — Atlanta. That is why so many of us try to do it too. I have made up my own brackets for years, and have rarely been close in my guesses, but I haven’t been at all much further off than the so-called experts.

Sixty-four used to be the magic number, but bids have grown to 65 and now 68 (and let’s hope it stops there). That allowed Virginia Commonwealth to get in a few years ago and the Rams made it all the way to the Final Four.

The Rams had to win five, not four, games to get to that point. That is the way it should have been. The play-in game, as they are known, should be for the final at-large teams. The conference champions, especially those from the small leagues, deserve to play on Thursday or Friday, not as part of the First Four on Tuesday.

Picking 37 teams can’t be easy. Both Lunardi and Palm change their opinions daily on who should get in and where they should be seeded. ESPN and CBS both talk about their so-called experts as if they will be in that selection room, but they’re guessing just like Brad Edwards, who tries to guess with the BCS each year for ESPN.

This has been a strange season in college basketball. It appears than anyone can win or lose on a given night, and the court is always in danger of being overrun after a game is over.

Virginia beats Duke and its entire student body storms to the court — which finally gets attention thanks to complaints from Mike Krzyzewski — and three days later the Cavaliers lose at Boston College. Texas Christian wins one game in the Big 12 all season and it is against then fifth-ranked Kansas?

Then there is Penn State, which recently defeated Michigan, and ESPN pointed out that most of the students that ran on the court celebrating after that game didn’t even arrive until late in the game when word got out about a possible upset.

That is how bad it has become. If you have ever been in the way of a court-storming, it isn’t fun.

I was in Knoxville in 2003 when Tennessee upset fourth-ranked Florida and the students ran toward the court, climbing over the press, the tables, computers, hands, heads, and anything else they could the get their feet on to get to the court.

Not sure what they got out of it, but it seemed fun at the time after you are out of the line of feet. That has happened way too often this season.

There hasn’t been a dominant team all season long. Gonzaga is the latest No. 1, but are they really just the next team waiting to fall? At least the polls don’t matter in college basketball. You have to prove it on the court.

Every team seems to have good wins and bad losses. Trying to figure out who has the best of the former and the worst of the latter is what the selection committee must do.

Over the next week their job could be made even tougher, depending on how the conference tournaments play out. There will be 31 teams in, another 37 to pick from.

Enjoy the next week. It is all the basketball you can stand, followed by the best basketball event of the year, all of which will end in a matter of weeks, and then us roundball fans will be saddled with LeBron and the Heat until the end of June.

Give me the brackets and lots of them.

It’s anyone’s ball game, as long as your team’s bubble doesn’t get burst and that invitation is received to dance.

Just do your dancing in your seat, and not on the court.

Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com.

1
Text Only
Sports column
Local Sports
Columns
Facebook
NDN Video
Tour Confidential: What Impact Will Tiger's Absence Have on Golf? Pujols joins 500 club Wall: 'This was a make or break year for me' Klatt's Mock Draft: Top 10 Klatt's Mock Draft: Late 1st round Marcus Spears: Cowboys Needs on Draft Day Could Bridgewater Make Scouts Look Foolish? NFL Draft: Will Manziel Be Off The Board By Pick No. 4? Manchester Utd sack manager David Moyes Race to avoid Premier League relegation heats up The many faces of Mike Woodson Draft Preview: Ego Ferguson Chelsea, Atletico set to do battle in Champions League With The Twelfth Pick, The New York Giants Select... Rosenthal: Trout's contract was a compromise Trail Blazers battle back, overcome Rockets in OT Martinez slams home run to help Tigers top Angels With The Thirteenth Pick, The St. Louis Rams Select... Knicks Fire Mike Woodson Dramatic Moments of the Week: 4/14-4/20