Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Does a Champion Designed by a Committee Look Like?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association regrets to announce there isn't going to be a men's Division I basketball champion this year. Too confusing.

But since there's all this gambling going on, the NCAA did decide to create a 65-team team field for the annual tournament so fans won't be disappointed, although going by recent form, all 65 teams will be eliminated before reaching the Final Four.

Three of the number one seeds, Pitt, UConn, and North Carolina, lost their last game. They didn't even reach the FINALS of their respective conference tournaments. UConn's on a two-game losing streak and missing a key player. No matter. The Huskies were sure great in January.

For that matter, two of the number two seeds, Michigan State andOklahoma, didn't reach the finals of their conference tourneys either, nor did two of the third seeds, Villanova and Kansas. That's 7 of the 12 top teams as rated by the selection committee who will be entering the tournament coming off a loss, in many cases, an unexpected and embarrassing loss.

The committee decided their wisest course of action was to stop time around March 1, and act as if the last week of the season hadn't happened at all. So, in SelectionCommittee world, the schools that were considered juggernauts of destiny two weeks ago were given all the perks of power allowed in the bracket process. They did move Louisville up, but it would have been very difficult to give Pitt and UConn number one seeds and not the team that finished ahead of them in both the conference regular season and tournament.

About the perks. They are mostly geographic, allowing top seeds to play their first and second round games a shortish drive from home -- that is, they get to play home games. In the case of Villanova, a three, that's literally true. It will start the tournament at the Wachovia Center in Philly, a 30 minute drive from campus, and where the team plays several regular season games each year.

The committee wants to sell tickets. But come on, gang, the price of gas is back down under $2 a gallon. Fans don't have to walk. Ohio State, an 8 seed, will open in Dayton. That's closer to their campus than any road game the team played this year.

But enough fulminating (OK, one more, Jay Bilas is an ass! Felt good to get that off the chest.). Time for the wild surmises. Such a more polite word that "guesses," don't you think?

I have traditionally broken my handicapping down by region, but am going for a different approach this year. Why? Boredom, lack of patience, change of luck, and probably in that order.

Final Four: Pitt, North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis.

First one seed to fall: UConn

First two seed to fall: Oklahoma

Teams most likely to make a hash of the Final Four just posted. Florida State, Butler, Wake Forest, Purdue. Not to make the Final Four themselves, mind you, just most likely to upset my picks.

Teams the committee had to seed higher than it really liked them, and hence punished with wicked opponents: UCLA, a six, gets Virginia Commonwealth. BC, a seven, get USC. In each case, the lower seed is better than even money.

It won't happen, but what a hoot if it did: Binghamton, which is breaking the laws of God, man, and academe to make its play for Division I, opens with Duke, the sanctimonious poster child for "doing things the right way." Oh, for a Binghamton win. Won't happen. America East has had any number of stronger conference champs.

A team you should watch for fun: Mississippi State

Chances all 7 Big Ten teams miss the Sweet Sixteen. At least 33 percent. Showing that knowledge truly can come from anywhere, Jim Nantz pointed out that Ohio State's 82-70 win over Michigan State on Saturday was the first time a team had scored 80 or more in the conference tournament since 2004! Knock the bottoms out of those peach baskets before the game, fellas. Speeds things along.

Local color: Boston hosts the East Regional. My guess is you'll see Pitt, Florida State, Villanova and Duke hanging around the Garden.

That's it. That's all the prognostication for 2009. From here on in, back to second guessing. So much easier.

Good luck with your own gambling, gang. And may the game you want to see not have Gus Johnson at the mike.


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