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NCAA March Madness

It is easy being mad when your school doesn’t make the March Madness field, but not easy for the NCAA selection committee to fill the field Getting angry doesn’t cut it, for it’s a no-win situation

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

March Madness”. Whoever thought of it had several reasons, mainly that it was the time to piece together the brackets for all three NCAA divisions, plus the NAIA, and have a fun time speculating on who would hoist the championship trophies, especially Division I, of hoops nation.

That’s that, but there’s more to it, namely that once the schools are chosen, it makes some people mad, mad because their school wasn’t on the list that now totals 68. It’s over, the seeding and the brackets, but it brings controversy every year. And for those that voice their complaints, it’s a no-win situation.

There are two roads, one is getting in and the other is falling short, and there’s no way the NCAA is going to make any changes.

Here in New Mexico, the NMAA has the same system. It’s not what you have done lately, it’s what you have done during the regular season. Check it out, have your own version of the bubble teams, but a district champion automatically makes the field, and then comes the at-large schools.

So if a district champion loses in its district tournament, it’s already in. It’s what you’ve accomplished during the regular season, and a school that won district will get the higher seed. If a school has put together an impressive resume, but falters down the stretch, that school will make the field.

The NCAA thinks the same way.

So for those complaining about schools that didn’t deserve getting in, it’s not politics, it’s not favoritism within the selection committee, it’s not taking a stand against rival schools just for the sake of it, it’s minutes, hours and days of putting heads together and picking the field.

My long-time friend, Tom O’Connor, is the athletic director at George Mason University in Virginia, where he’s been since the year 1995 when he had the same role at Dartmouth, his alma mater. In 2007, he was named the selection committee chairmen and been a member since 2000.

“It is a privilege,” he says, “and puts a lot of pressure on you. You can’t favor your own school, you can’t keep a school out because you don’t like it, you must abide by the system we’ve employed for years, and be prepared for all questions that comes later.”

And he added that the committee members are well prepared for this. There’s no escape he says, especially in this day and age of social media. If a school wasn’t chosen, there’s always a reason why.

This time, the doubting Thomases are puzzled by the likes of Syracuse, Oklahoma, Arizona State and UCLA. All three had roller coaster rides, with
Orange, the last team picked, defeating some ranked teams, but otherwise taking off on most occasions.

The Sooners were once No. 4, the Sun Devils No. 5, the Bruins once No. 9, and that’s why they got in. You know, better earlier than late, and not what you haven’t done lately.

So this quartet from power conferences that provided tough competition snuck in, Syracuse and Arizona State were given the 11th seeds and will have a play-in game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, to bring an opponent for 6th seeded TCU. Same with 11th seeds UCLA and St. Bonaventure. They meet up Tuesday in Dayton and the survivor will hook up with 6th seeded Florida.

As for Oklahoma, the committee said its early success offset it losing eight of its last dozen games, and that it had nothing to do with the Sooners’ having flashy freshman point guard Trae Young, no, it had to do with the impressive early part of the campaign that brought Oklahoma a berth along with seven other Big 12 schools, one less than the ACC, and the same as the SEC and the Big East.

But these schools from the power conferences could boast of tough conference competition, not so with conference tournament champions LIU-Brooklyn and Radford, and North Carolina Central and Texas Southern.

These are mid-majors that do not come near the power conferences and that’s why this quartet was given 16th seeds, with the survivors meeting up next with top seeds Villanova and Xavier, both out of the Big East.

The chosen four that were the last on the bubble were Notre Dame, Southern California, Baylor and St. Mary’s, which made them No. 1 seeds for the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). The Irish came the closest, but Davidson defeating Rhode Island for the conference title kept them out.

O’Connor said that St. Mary’s just didn’t have the strength of schedule despite a win over Gonzaga, and that the Gaels turned down non conference contests that would have given them more strength,

USC not getting in was also a mystery after it lost to Arizona in the conference final. Same with Baylor, which came on strong midway through the season, but were inconsistent in the early part.

But the NIT is very happy with this. It now has perhaps its strongest field since it originated as the first national tournament. There’s a quality team in Marquette, a perennial power in Louisville, and the Golden Eagles are coached by Steve Wojciechowski and Harvard is coached by Tommy Amaker, both who played for Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski of Duke.

The big prize for the NIT is gaining the semifinals at Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of arenas, the place where teams and players dream of, and that’s the road they want to take. For the NCAA, the last stop is San Antonio, Tex., and that’s not bad either.

Football school Alabama made the NCAA tourney at 19-15 because of some quality wins, was seeded 9th and will face No. 8 Virginia Tech. Eight versus nine is always a stellar match-up, so check in to the others, Seton Hall versus North Carolina State, Missouri against Florida State, and Creighton facing Kansas State.

Only one school comes in with a losing record, and that’s Texas Southern at 15-19. Thirty three schools have 10 or more losses, 59 have 20 wins, four have won 30 times, Villanova, Virginia, Cincinnati, a 2nd seed, and Gonzaga, a 4th seed.

University of Pennsylvania won the Ivy League title over Harvard, and is the first 16th seed from that conference since Princeton came within a point of shocking top-seeded Georgetown on a controversial no-call when the Tigers got off a shot at the final buzzer and thought a foul should have been called.

Teams that come in riding impressive win streaks are Kentucky, San Diego State, Michigan and New Mexico State, while Houston, Providence, North Carolina and Kansas have been faring well of late.

It’s interesting that Arizona State under head coach Bob Hurley, and Rhode Island coached by his brother, Dan, are in the field. Both hail from the successful St. Anthony of Jersey City program coached by their dad, Bob led Duke to a pair of national titles and is the all-time assist leader. Dan played for Seton Hall and left the squad because of indifferent issues with head coach P.J. Carlisimo.

And they are both in the same draw and could meet up in the Region quarterfinals.

That leaves the mad people to the television screens. They can gripe forever, and the NCAA is not perfect, but that’s the field that will take the court.

They should think of this, will a member of the selection committee come to their place of employment and be upset by the way things are done?

Today, the NCAA will announce the seeding and brackets for the women’s DI field and no one will take offense with the undefeated UConn team being the overwhelming No. 1 seed.

The remarking program put together by Geno Auriemma is in quest of its record 12th national championship and currently stands at 31-0. The lone loss in two years was via buzzer basket by Mississippi State in last season’s semifinals, and abruptly halted the record 111 straight victories.

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