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The NCAA Tournament: March Madness at its Maddest!

The March to Madness

Who will win this year?

Who will win this year?

Bring on the madness!


Another NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is upon us.  From Selection Sunday to One Shining Moment, this sports spectacle has captured the heart of America since Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dueled in 1979.

During the month of March, basketball fans first watch conference tournaments in search of upsets.  Their attention is focused on top teams that lose, opening the door for some “bubble” teams and closing that same door on other squads hoping for a birth.  When Selection Sunday finally arrives, the Tournament brackets are revealed among much fanfare, followed directly by Dick Vitale bellowing about the injustice of excluding a few teams he will deem worthy of the Big Dance.  Meanwhile, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Bobby Knight and the rest line up on ESPN to “break down” the brackets, explaining why Kentucky is amazing for winning their close games while Kansas is struggling for letting games get close.  Doug Gottlieb pops up ninety minutes later, telling us why KU is awesome but Kentucky is vulnerable.  CBS wonders what’s wrong with the Big Ten for the fifth year in a row and extols the virtues of the Big East, pondering how their ninth or tenth place team could possibly have been sacrificed to the NIT.  The true hoops junkie takes it all in (me included). 

By Monday, serious and casual fans alike fill out brackets and join office pools.  The savvy prognosticator always predicts the twelfth-seeded team to beat a fifth seed in the first round.  The ninth-seeds are also a popular choice to knock off the number eights.  No one ever predicts all four number one seeds to make the Final Four, and champions are never expected to repeat. 

When play begins, the first weekend is the most special with every team enjoying their moment in the limelight.  The sheer volume of games makes that Thursday and Friday magical, especially when a favored team is upset.  American business grinds to a halt as workers become preoccupied with scores and updates, last-second shots, and underdogs battling the big boys to a standstill.  The hardcore basketball addict skips work altogether to watch games from 11:00 AM until well past midnight—all weekend long.  It is hoops heaven, and the euphoria lasts for two more weekends after this one.

On that third Saturday, four teams meet to determine who will play for a championship.  The excitement is unmatched in all of sports, as players battle on the hardwood for their place in history.  One last game unfolds on a Monday night in April, when one squad is crowned National Champion.  The tournament’s drama is highlighted a final time as One Shining Moment accompanies a montage of film clips from the tournament’s best games, and experts blithely begin making predictions for next year.

It’s almost perfect.

The road to Indianapolis

A dream realized:  The Final Four

A dream realized: The Final Four

Making the madness madder

What would it take to improve on March Madness? There are actually a few things that could be done to make the NCAA Basketball Tournament even madder than it now is. Since so many are intent on fixing a wonderful event that isn’t broken, let me chime in with my twelve recommendations for improving the tournament:

1. Censor Dick Vitale on Selection Sunday. Don’t let him participate in the analysis of the selections if all he wants to discuss is the injustice of some team’s exclusion. Let’s face it—talking about a team that was left out is irrelevant to any meaningful analysis. Let him come up with all-new material or don’t ask his opinion—his ranting got old a long time ago.

2. Make Clark Kellogg stop using the word “spurtability.” It sounds obscene.

3. Respect teams outside the ACC and Big East. The now-retired Billy Packer one year suggested every regional needed an ACC team “for fan interest.” How can ESPN analysts claim there is no dominant teams when Kansas is 30-2, Kentucky is 29-2 and both have spent most of the year rated number one and two, respectively? What does it take to satisfy these guys? Oh yeah, I forgot—they are convinced, as long as the dominant team comes from the Big East or the ACC.

4. Give teams with injured players their due. The “Kenyon Martin Rule” is a sham. Remember when Martin was college Player of the Year in 2000 for #1 Cincinnati, only to break his leg in the C-USA tournament? As a result, the NCAA Selection Committee made the Bearcats a #2 seed. If seedings are about a team’s accomplishments, don’t punish them for a late-season injury.

5. Don’t allow coaches to lobby on-air for inclusion into the NCAA Tournament, or for a better seed. John Calipari reached a new low in 2009 when he pointed to Memphis’ record after inserting Tyreke Evans into the starting lineup as justification for a higher seed. The insinuation, of course, was that his record prior to wising up and starting his best player should be ignored. Coaching decisions shouldn’t make a difference.

6. Eliminate all talk of expansion. The tournament is fine the way it is. At the very least, don’t use the exclusion of some conference’s eighth- or ninth-ranked team as justification for expansion. It has recently been said that the field should be expanded because the last expansion was over ten years ago. Huh? Who cares when it was expanded last?

If expansion is inevitable, quadruple the teams invited and play an extra weekend. 256 teams would require two more games for everyone and one extra weekend of play. Let games be televised locally and played on college campuses. A team that cannot make a 256 team tournament should not be allowed a forum to state their case for inclusion, and it is unlikely that even Dick Vitale would care if they got in.

7. While on the subject of expansion, do not suggest more play-in games. In fact, get rid of the ridiculous game that’s already played. Does anyone really watch that thing? Does the losing team feel as if it were part of the NCAA Tournament? For 2010, what if North Carolina was matched against Quinnipiac or Lehigh in the play-in game? Does anyone believe the Tar Heels would agree to a play-in? It’s doubtful, and abolishing it would simultaneously eliminate the accompanying condescension of play-in games.

The tournament should never create a scenario where one team has to win more games than another to take the title. If they want to make it impossible for smaller schools to make the Final Four, just shrink the tournament down to 16 teams and leave everyone but the top-ranked teams at home. It wouldn’t be fair, but it wouldn’t be hypocritical, either. If you want a representative tournament, keep the playing field as level as possible.

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8. Limit the number of teams in a conference that can make the NCAA Tournament. Is there a reason why more than four teams in a conference should be invited? Why should the ninth-place team in the ACC be let in? Let them do better in their conference if they want to be included, and give their berth to a mid-major team. This will eliminate indignant coaches defending their 8-8 conference record, and will do away with citing teams left out as a reason for expansion.

9. Give the automatic berth to the conference regular season champion instead of the conference tournament champion. Why let a .500 team on a three- or four-game hot streak bump a more deserving mid-major team? Conference tournaments should be for at-large bids, not automatic inclusion.

10. Eliminate talk of re-seeding the Final Four. If the best teams play each other on Saturday instead of Monday night, so be it. Why should they further stack the deck against an underdog that has crashed the Final Four?

11. Bring back the third place game. Just because Bill Walton didn’t want to play for third place in 1974 doesn’t make it a bad game (or idea). I like the notion of playing for third place. It allows two Final Four teams to end their season on a positive note, it gives us another good matchup, and it just makes sense. It’s absurd to “tie” for third place. There are no ties in basketball.

12. Allow every school (except those penalized for NCAA violations) to defend their title. This would mean Florida would have made it in 2008, and North Carolina would be invited in 2010. If you win the NCAA Tournament, you are automatically invited to next year’s tournament.

Think my proposals are crazy? Perhaps they are, but they’re no crazier than a lot of schemes that have been thrown around over the years by so-called experts. (At least I didn’t suggest Isiah Thomas be hired to provide commentary at the Final Four.) If you don’t like my ideas, I suggest a compromise—don’t do anything to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s just enjoy it.

And let the madness begin!

Bracket Impressions

A few hours ago, the NCAA Tournament brackets were announced, and there were some decisions that surely caused some of the coaches to scratch their heads. Kansas was predictably announced as the number one seed in the tournament, but their regional was loaded with Ohio State, Georgetown, Tennessee, Michigan State and Maryland.

Syracuse seemed to get the easiest bracket, filled with many at-large teams and relatively few conference champions. Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Vanderbilt are hardly imposing as the other high seeds. Kansas State could get the opportunity to make the regional final and perhaps get a shot at the Orangemen. A few ESPN pundits suggested K-State could make the Final Four and set up a fourth meeting with Kansas. This seems the easiest regional of the four, and Syracuse should not feel slighted by being designated the fourth number one seed.

Duke appeared to draw the second easiest region, with Villanova, Baylor and Purdue in their bracket. Louisville wasn't a lock to make the tournament until a week ago, but could be a sleeper. Texas A&M is a physical team that defends well, and will also play tough against anyone. I have not been a solid believer in Duke this year, and several teams here could give the Blue Devils a challenge. However, the relatively weak bracket leaves open the possibility of Duke crashing the Final Four.

Kentucky has a very challenging regional. They drew a tough second round game with their likely advancement to play the winner of the Texas / Wake Forest matchup. A regional with West Virginia, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Marquette and Temple will not be easy, even for the talented Wildcats.

Final Four Predictions: Kentucky beats Villanova to play for the championship, while Kansas will defeat Kansas State for the fourth time this season on the other side of the bracket. KU will defeat UK for their second championship in three years.

Here we go!

March Madness 2012: An Update

It has been several years since I wrote this article, and upon reflection I am shamelessly forced to conclude that my suggestions, big or small, were correct. Since my words were first seen here, the NCAA elected to create three more superfluous play-in games. Their recent selections put more teams from the so-called power conferences in the Tournament, as well. Did the NCAA fear that two Final Fours with Butler playing for the championship was hurting their product? It is difficult to say. In 2012, a sense of normalcy returned with Kentucky beating Kansas for the NCAA championship. Was the game better, though?

What do you think?


Read more hubs about NCAA Basketball

One Shining Moment

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Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 21, 2013:

jeolmoz2, thanks for stopping by. The Madness has begun again, and I can't wait to get into it. Hope you enjoy the Tournament.


Julio E Olmo Sr from Florida, USA on February 28, 2013:

NCAA Basketball's shining moment indeed

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 23, 2010:

Hey Tom. Yeah, I think this team ranks behind all the teams you mentioned. They were actually very similar to the 78 squad, but this team reminds me a great deal of the 1990 team with Pekka Markkanen, Rick Calloway, etc. that ended their season in a second round loss to UCLA. Deep, talented team--beat Kentucky 150-95 and LSU with Shaquille O'Neal, etc. Lost some key players and played for the title in 1991. The 1990 club is rarely listed with the great teams, but they were just a notch below them, which is where I think the 2010 team ended up.

I still think too often Self was coaching effort this season, and I often got the impression Henry was trying to prove he was too good for the college game--as if he believed that if he exerted himself fully and still lost, he would be exposed somehow. What would KU have looked like if Henry played as hard as Paul Pierce? I think the difference would have been profound. I think a player good enough to go pro should be able to take over a game in a clutch situation at least once in a season. Henry never dominated anyone good.

I know it sounds as if I'm picking on Henry. It would help if the Morris twins could finish around the rim, also. Since I made the analogy to the 1990 team, maybe the twins will complete the cycle--get to the championship game in 2011 (30 years later) and blow a title game to Duke by missing a million layups, reminiscent of Alonzo Jamison and Richard Scott.

I sure would like to see Aldrich and the Henry brothers come back, but I think they will all be gone. Carl Henry is actively campaigning for his sons again--I suspect someone from KU told Carl to shut up until the season was over, but now he's even talking about C.J. playing pro ball again, as if the guy showed anything in the 35 minutes or so he was on the court this season.

I realize Self doesn't seem to like coaching pressing teams, and he was taking advantage of Russell Robinson's and Mario Chalmer's defensive skills when they pressured the ball a few years ago. However, when you have fast, finesse big men like the twins and Thomas Robinson and guards with the athleticism of Taylor and Elijah Johnson, I think you should press--especially if you have a lot of depth. I wondered if Self pressed selectively this year because Collins, Aldrich and Henry weren't as quick as advertised. Collins was quick with the ball, but wasn't a quick defensive player. Aldrich was good for his size, but not the type of player you set up a full-court press with. Since we seemingly never saw Henry go all-out, well--we don't know how quick he was.

I think KU could be really good next year, even without Aldrich and the Henrys. If any of them returned, so much the better. We only have one new recruit, but are in the running for two great recruits, and getting one or both would be a big help. However, since we didn't really use this year's recruits, next year will be like adding Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Mario Little and Travis Releford to the team. It will seem like a whole new squad.

Should be interesting, especially if they can gain that spark you refer to.

ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on March 22, 2010:

Well, like I said--biggest NCAA debacle--not biggest personal disappointment. The 1981 Jayhawks were a fun team and it was great to see them grow through the course of the year, becoming a really fine team (growth was something we saw precious little of from this team). They probably weren't going to compete for the title, however, as good as they were. Yet, they WERE a better team than Wichita State (though maybe not quite as talented), and, had they beaten them, would have had a real shot at defeating LSU, and if they had, they would have met Indiana in the semis. Beating them was unlikely, but stranger things have happened. In any case, those possibilities went for naught due to an incredible series of unlikely turns which resulted in that miserable close defeat to Wichita. No question, however, Wichita was at least in the same league (figuratively speaking) with KU that year. The same cannot be said of N. Iowa. And I don't mean to put UNI down. They've got a nice little team that plays well together, that makes few mistakes, that hits their free throws, that doesn't get rattled, that are well coached, and that play with emotion--controlled emotion. It's just that they do not have nearly the level of talent KU has. At not a single position do they have KU's talent. KU's second 5 is almost certainly more talented than Northern Iowa's starting quintet. But they play with desire. KU did not. Not in the 2nd round. Not all season, save for a few spurts here and there. It wasn't any particular player's fault--it was a team malady, though there were a few players who did seem to play with some desire, at least most of the time--like Tyrel Reed (which is probably why he saw more and more minutes late in the season--that and his uncanny ability to hit 3's), and Morningstar. Others played with effort off and on. Collins was sensational at times--so was Aldrich--but too often they seemed to be going through the motions, content to let their talent do the work. Henry, indeed, seemed to be rather lackadaisical most of the time, though I always suspected that his smoothness belied some of that (much like--though definitely not exactly like--the dancing of Fred Astaire whose moves seemed so light and effortless that the thousands of grueling hours of practice were hidden from view). Still, at those rare times when he seemed to really bear down--like late in the UNI game--the difference was obvious. I would hope that this experience might make the returning players hungry. I hope that Cole and Henry are among them--especially if they return with renewed determination, with desire. Whatever their liabilities, they are extremely talented players (I peg Aldrich in my blog about KU's best defensive players in history as the best in almost 3 decades, and 4th best of all-time) and could do nothing but help KU's tournament chances next year. In any case, whatever their line up, I doubt that KU will be a consistent pressing team. It just isn't Self's style. He had the tools to do it this year (Cole wouldn't be much help on the press itself, but he would have made a great goalie--the stopper if the other team managed to get past the press with advantage). He had a long bench, pretty good speed, and some defensive wizards. But the press was rarely seen. I don't look for it to happen.

So, how do you think this team rates among the best in Jayhawk history? Clearly, the 1997, 1986, 2003, and 2008 teams were all superior. At the end of the year, the 1988 team was much superior as well. 1971 was another year that beats this one, and probably 1978 by a hair, and 1966 (and I suspect '81 would have given them a good run). And there were other KU teams under Williams that were probably better. Still, this was a good team that lost its chance to contend with the best in KU history--simply for want of a spark.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 22, 2010:

Tom! Coming from someone who watched the KU-Wichita State game in person, that is quite an indictment. (At least the Shockers had Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston!) I note that Michigan State's Kai Lucas is out for the rest of the season, so Northern Iowa could advance to the Elite Eight. Who knows, they might win it all.

Of course, there were a couple of issues about KU all season. First and foremost was that it seemed that Self was coaching effort too often this season. If you gotta keep telling your guys to try hard instead of coaching offensive or defensive strategies, eventually you're gonna come out on the short end, regardless of talent. The Morris' failure to finish at the rim is effort. Xavier Henry rarely driving or posting up smaller men, contenting himself to shoot jump shots is effort. Tyshawn Taylor doing all those things Tyshawn Taylor does--it's all about effort. Especially with Henry. Did he break a sweat all season? Was he any better in game 36 than he was in game one?

Might be sacrilege, but was Collins overrated? Was Aldrich slow and lacking on offense? Was any player more out of it mentally than Tyshawn Taylor? He publicly wondered what his role was--well, we did, too. He couldn't shoot, pass or dribble well enough to be trusted with the ball, so what is his role? If he can work on his shot and his judgment, he could be a very good player. If not, he will still be wondering.

I am writing a piece right now about KU's team next season. Withey or Markieff Morris at center will give KU more speed in the pivot, perhaps allowing KU to press next year. I liked the little I saw of Withey, and I think he could be very good, and more mobile than Cole.

Everyone wanted KU to press this year, but if Self didn't use all of his bench, you weren't going to press and play Collins and Aldrich big minutes.

Mario Little is a jump shot away from being a better collegian than Xavier Henry--he hustles, he rebounds, he posts up smaller defenders and drives on bigger players. If he can get an outside shot, he could be a better player. Really. Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson could be really good next year, and KU is in the hunt for two more great guards. If they get either of them, they should be fine.

If Northern Iowa plays Kentucky for the National Championship, I might have to put my money on Northern Iowa.

Well, thanks for your comment. Rock Chalk, Jay--

oops, too late for that now.


ThomasWMutherJr from Topeka, KS on March 22, 2010:

Not that it matters now, but it seems clear to me that KU was NOT the number one over-all seed. They SAID they were, but actions speak louder than words, and if they were really No. 1, why did Duke get the winner of the play-in game? Why was KU's bracket more difficult?

Of course, now it looks like they were right to NOT pick KU as the No. 1 overall seed. This may have been KU's biggest NCAA debacle ever.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 18, 2010:

rml, thanks for your comments. It was a very wild first day, with Texas and UNLV falling this evening on last second shots. Tomorrow should be crazy, also.

I would hate to say there is a conscious bias toward the ACC and Big East teams seeded number one, but it could certainly look like favoritism. They seem to have a much easier path to the Final Four than Kentucky or Kansas. It is enough to make one wonder.......

Well, more games tomorrow! Thanks again.


rml on March 18, 2010:

The first day has already produced some interesting and exciting games. I agree that Duke and Syracuse seemed to receive an easier draw. Perhaps there is a bias for their schools or conferences?

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 13, 2010:

Touchdown, it is indeed the best time of year. I will check out what you wrote. Thanks for visiting.


Touchdown from Michigan on March 13, 2010:

It's the best time of the year. Love March Madness. Posted a quick read on how I won $10,000 from a local radio station a few years ago:

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 13, 2010:

Maita, thanks for commenting. If you love college basketball, you are looking forward to the next few weeks. I have to admit I'm ready for some true madness (as long as my team doesn't lose!).

Thanks for reading, Maita. I appreciate your comments very much.

prettydarkhorse from US on March 13, 2010:

March madness indeed, I love basketball be it prof or college, Good job here Mike, I like your suggestions number 4 and 6.. Maita

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 11, 2010:

Megavitamin, thanks for reading! You're an Orange fan! You probably know that Georgetown just defeated them this afternoon, but Syracuse was a lock for a #1 seed, regardless of what happened there. This has been one of their best seasons ever, and they have a very solid tradition.

This could be a very interesting year, and I'm looking forward to it all!

Thanks for your comments.

Megavitamin on March 11, 2010:

Great hub! I'm all for locking Dicky V up--or at least charging him a fine every time he talks about Duke when they aren't even playing.

The idea about defending champs getting an auto-bid is interesting. It breaks my heart to say, but I doubt Carolina would have done much with it this year anyway.

Go 'Cuse!

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 11, 2010:

Truth! Glad to hear from you. I will be watching that first day or two also, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. Duke looks like they will be the fourth number #1 seed, and their inside play has steadily improved.

It should be a great time.


Truth From Truth from Michigan on March 11, 2010:

Great article Mike! I am definitely ready for the madness to begin. I have the opening day of it off from work, and I agree with you on the Clark Kellogg comment.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 10, 2010:

Lady_E, thanks for commenting. I have to admit, basketball has been a lifelong interest of mine, and I wasn't a bad schoolyard player when I was young. It is that time of year and many of my hubs recently have been sports oriented, so I thank you and all my other friends for commenting on topics you might have limited interest in. You are all wonderful people.

Thanks again.


Elena from London, UK on March 10, 2010:

Sounds very exciting and I have no doubt you are really looking forward to it. :)

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 09, 2010:

Curt, I appreciate the Stumple also.

I am a huge Michigan State fan--even when they beat KU. Villanova is a scary team and should go deep with that backcourt.

Thanks again, my friend! Let the madness begin!


Bizz from East Coast on March 09, 2010:

Thanks for the Stumble, I returned the favor.

I agree, I could listen to Gottlieb all day long. He's the Troy Aikman of college hoops.

Go Jayhawks (and go MSU Spartans and Villanova. A man can dream, can't he?)


Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 09, 2010:

Ghosty! You're here! How you doin' this evening??? Oh, you're right, it is morning!

Football--you always know how to get a chuckle from me!!!! I'm glad you said hello here, and if we can't draw them off sides, button-hook on the forty and I'll find you with the long pass.

Oops, more football talk.

Glad you said hello, and hope your day was a good one.


JG the IGNITER from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals on March 09, 2010:

You know I love the heck out of you but don't know anything about football...he he he...Good morning Mike! :) Was hoping I would catch you! XXX000

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 09, 2010:

Canklefish, thanks for reading! I'm all for locking Packer, Raftery and Vitale away until Easter. I usually find Jay Bilas to be reasonable, so he and Doug Gottlieb can provide all the content.

Thanks again for stopping by. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks!


Bizz from East Coast on March 09, 2010:

Amazing piece. Can we lock Bill Raftery and Billy Packer away for the next month, so I don't have to listen to either one of them?

And all the Coach K 'jock-riders' who will fawn over their successes with every possession, until they lose to an underdog in the second round...

The 4-day stretch of time between Monday morning and Thursday afternoon is the longest week of the year.

Thankfully, the defending champ doesn't get a pass; That way I can relish the fact that the Tar Heels will have the same seat for the tourney as I do this year... The couch!

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on March 09, 2010:

Paradise, thanks for reading. Some of my comments were tongue-in-cheek, meant to emphasize that the Tournament is fine, just the way it is. If they insist on changing it, I think my ideas are as good as anyone else's, though!

Thanks again for your comments, I appreciate it.


Paradise7 from Upstate New York on March 09, 2010:

I think I agree. I haven't followed the game in a while. You've captured some of the excitement, and some of the issues, too. Good hub!

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