Monday, March 23, 2009

My Trip to the NCAA's

Hello, college basketball fans!

This just in. The NCAA tournament played two games from Boise, Idaho. Since they are miles away from civilization, Xavier beat Wisconsin and Missouri beat Marquette. I'm sure you were all waiting for those scores. Why exactly does the NCAA insist on going back to Boise year after year? Sure, there has to be western sites, but ever heard of California where it's nice out? No one wants to fly all the way across the country to go to Boise (correct me if I'm wrong Xavier or Missouri fans). At least have some sort of tourist attraction. Seattle has the Space Needle, Denver has the Rocky Mountains, Phoenix has baseball spring training and the Grand Canyon, and Boise has ... a bunch of spuds? Now granted UCLA had a down year, but none of the top three seeds were in the Mountain or Pacific Time zones. I have no problem with a West Regional but the West should only get one 1st/2nd round site instead of two (especially if the supposed second best site is Boise). Of the 65 teams in the NCAA's this year, only 12 are in the Mountain or Western time zones (and that's in a year where the Pac 10 gets six bids, which doesn't happen too often). Assuming every western team got to stay in the west (impossible due to bracket rules), they would still need four teams from the Eastern/Central teams to fill the two west sites this year. Almost every year they have to fly in top 4 seeded teams from the Eastern/Central time zones to western sites to fill them. They never have to import high seeded teams to Greensboro or Philadelphia or Dayton. Each of these sites hosted #1 seeds this year (maybe Dayton isn't exactly a tourist attraction either but they are within driving distance of Louisville and Pittsburgh, both #1 seeds). If they moved the Boise pods to, say, Chicago or Texas, the traveling teams would be a lot happier. In addition, Boise's arena holds 12,542 seats (http://www.tacobellarena.com/maps.cfm?action=basketball). I'm pretty sure the arenas at Illinois and Penn State hold more than that and neither of them will ever host the NCAA's. I think they should have a policy of at least 15,000 for a 1st/2nd round site. Why would the NCAA want to limit attendance below that?

Those of you who read last week know I went to see my World Series Champion Phillies in Spring Training in Florida. I saw two games, including the St. Patrick's Day game where they wore green shirts. They won both of them. From a lifelong northener (living in Pennsylvania or Illinois all my life), it certainly is nice to be down where it is warm in March. Now all Philadelphia needs is an Eagles Super Bowl. Yeah right, the way they treat their players (Dawkins?) And if you are wondering why I never reveal my name, it's because I don't want to lose my job with the Eagles (they're looking me up now).

Well I got back and heard there were tickets available for the NCAA 2nd round games in Philly, so I went and got them. It was my fourth trip to the NCAA's (I went to Syracuse in 1997 and 2000 and Chicago in 2005, to see my Illini beat Arizona in one of the most improbable comebacks in NCAA history to advance to the Final Four). This was my first time seeing early round action and the mood was obviously not the same (lower stakes). Being in Philly, Villanova is quite popular so the Villanova fans went home happy. The second game involved Texas A&M and Connecticut. I kind of wanted to root against UConn being a Villanova fan but I had Connecticut fans on both sides of me. This falls under the "it's a small world" category. I was next to this couple. She is a UConn fan sporting a UConn jersey. She graduated from UConn. But her boyfriend graduated from the University of San Diego, the team that upset Connecticut in the first round last year. I thought that was funny. Obviously the action wasn't too competitive. You can't expect competitive basketball games when a #1 plays a #9. I did think the 'Nova/UCLA game should've been more competitive.

Not many upsets this year. All four 1 seeds, all four 2 seeds, and all four 3 seeds made the Sweet 16. To put this in perspective, the last time all four 1's and 2's made the Sweet 16 was 1995. Now #1's don't lose often in the 2nd round, but consider the last time all four 2 seeds made the Sweet 16 was 1996 (that year #1 seed Purdue lost in the 2nd round). Only one of the 16 teams is seeded below a 5. CBSSports had an posting which said it's a bad year for Cinderella when your Cinderella is Arizona. I'm not too happy with Arizona making the Sweet 16 as I was hoping to see them embarrass themselves to make St. Mary's, Creighton, and San Diego State happy. It reminded me of George Mason in 2006 after they got in over Hofstra.

Now there were some first round upsets. My Illini lost to Western Kentucky but after last year's debacle if you had told me at the beginning of the year Illinois would be a #5 seed and lose in the first round of the NCAA's, I would've been thrilled. Not to mention, it's pretty clear Western Kentucky has a proven track record (they made the Sweet 16 last year). I actually picked Cleveland State to beat Wake.

Then again, the lack of upsets led to some great Sweet Sixteen matchups. You have Duke/Villanova, Michigan State/Kansas, and North Carolina/Gonzaga (does Gonzaga count as a Cinderella?) As much as I like the occasional upset, I'd rather see high seeded teams in the Final Four than a bunch of lower seeded ones. I remember 2000 when the four Final Four teams were a 1 seed, a 5 seed, and two 8 seeds. Guess who won? Last year? All four #1's. Upsets may be fun, but they can lead to some blowouts in the Sweet 16 round. Often times a 12 seed makes the Sweet 16. Only one has ever won in the Sweet 16. It was Missouri in 2002 and they beat UCLA, who upset the #1 seed in round 2. A #12 has never beaten a #1 in the Sweet 16 round. 4 and 5 seeds? Now that's a different story.

Enjoy the Sweet 16!

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