Let the Madness begin! With the dance cards officially punched, the best three weeks in sports are set to begin. Among the participants:
- Georgia, who battled fatigue and tornados, not to mention four SEC opponents, to claim the Sec Tournament crown. The 17-16 Bulldogs completed their surprising run, which included two buzzer-beaters, by knocking off Arkansas on Sunday, in front of a small crowd on Georgia Tech’s campus. With fans, media and tournament officials all scrambling after the severe weather in Atlanta on Friday night, somehow the Bulldogs kept their poise and earned a date with Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tourney.
- USC and Kansas State, in a 6-11 match-up figures to be one of the better ones, as two young teams follow their freshman leaders. OJ Mayo and Michael Beasley both figure to be wearing NBA uniforms at this time next year, so advancing to the tournament gives college basketball fans at least one more weekend to enjoy these phenomenal talents.
- South Alabama, who earned at-large bid from the Sun Belt. The Jaguars, who own wins over Mississippi State and San Diego, and two over conference foe Western Kentucky, earned a 10 seed, marking the first time in 14 years the Sun Belt has sent two teams to the Dance.
- Arizona, who despite a mediocre 19-14 record, sneaks into the tourney as a 10 seed in the West. The Wildcats, who battle injuries to guard Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless as well as the Lute Olson distraction all year, apparently did enough to sway the committee. With the team back at full strength, and with Olson set to return next year, the Wildcats have a great chance to pull off the upset against West Virginia in the first round.
- Hats off to the selection committee – easily one of the toughest jobs in sports. To anyone who thinks they could be a part of it, sit down and draw up your own brackets, complete with the 31 conference winners and 34 at-large teams. Keep in mind the travel conditions, conference affiliations, team schedules (possible rematches, etc) and injury situations. Also, be sure to at least glance at the RPI, the polls, conference standings, tie-breakers, non-conference schedule and injuries for each of the teams. Now, after you spend all that time, add in a surprise conference winner (i.e. Georgia) at the last moment. Finally, be prepared to be ripped and criticized by anyone and everyone with an opinion. Not quite so easy is it? This isn’t to say they don’t make mistakes, but all in all, they get it right more often than not.
- As a final note to all the coaches and fans pushing for an expanded tournament, such as 128 games…give me a break. If your team hasn’t done enough after 30-35 games to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re among the best 34 teams in the country, they probably don’t deserve to be there. We can argue RPI and non-conference schedules all day long, but the bottom line is that teams have all season to prove themselves. Expanding the field to 128 would mean nearly every one of the 73 BCS-conference teams would make the tournament, as well as fifth and sixth-place teams in smaller leagues…providing for such ground-breaking first round match-ups as Oregon State-Duquesne. The bottom line is that each year, 4-6 teams will feel that they deserved a berth, and they may be right, But to advocate adding another 63 teams to accommodate these bubble teams is just plain ridiculous. The tournament as it is now places enough importance on the regular season to make it relevant, but also allows for enough leniency to mean a loss here or there won’t kill you. I’ll argue all day that the system works the way it is, and doesn’t need to change. Let the Madness begin!