Monday, March 28, 2016

Selection Committee’s decisions still can’t be validated

The Twitter takes got hotter and hotter. As the Syracuse Orange won game after game in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, discussions started about the validation of the at-large bid the Orange received. On Selection Sunday, many thought Syracuse was on the wrong side of the bubble and smaller programs like Valparaiso, Monmouth and St. Bonaventure had a better chance of making the field of 68. The committee went with the big program in a power conference and now that team is headed to Houston for the Final Four.

When you look at the path in the Midwest region that Syracuse was fortunate to even be given the opportunity to travel down, other than yesterday’s 68-62 win in the regional final against Virginia, there aren’t many impressive victories. Beating a Dayton team in the first round that was coming into the tournament playing relatively inconsistent basketball and then beating two double-digit seeds in the next two rounds doesn’t sound all that difficult.

But that’s not even relevant really. The principle remains that what bubble teams do once they get into the tournament should have no effect on if they earned a bid. There is no more adding to resumes once the field is picked. Syracuse’s resume was not good enough to warrant an at-large bid and that still has not changed. Wins out of conference against Texas A&M and Connecticut are nice, but losses to Georgetown, Clemson and Florida State are not so nice.

Valparaiso has rolled through its three games so far in the NIT, winning each by double digits and is in the NIT Final Four, which tips off tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden. If there aren’t going to be discussions now about the legitimacy of an at-large selection for Valparaiso, then there shouldn’t be discussions about the validation of Syracuse’s. Ultimately, there are always going to be unhappy teams, but there was a clear bias from the selection committee to choose bigger bubble programs like Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Michigan over smaller schools like Valparaiso, Monmouth and St. Bonaventure. Did we forget so quickly about that run to the Final Four from Virginia Commonwealth in 2011? A small school that won the hearts of the country that many thought did not deserve an at-large bid.

                                                   Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today
Jim Boeheim cuts down the net in Chicago at the United Center
after clinching a trip to his fifth Final Four.
Syracuse feels nothing like a traditional underdog in this tournament, and now, the NCAA gets what it wants. Syracuse and North Carolina in primetime on Saturday night in the second game of the National Semifinal doubleheader and two of the most historic coaches in college basketball, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, facing off for the right to play in the National Championship game. It may feel right, but it’s not.

On a much smaller note, the committee is probably taking solace over the fact that it got the final number one seed right. Oregon made it to the West Regional Final, while Michigan State was the victim of arguably the greatest upset in the history of the tournament in the first round losing to Middle Tennessee State.  In my opinion, this is more of a debate than if Syracuse belonged in the tournament, but this was still the wrong call too.  If history of the program is a criterion for a bid, which apparently it is if Syracuse gets in, then I’d say Michigan State has a lot of going for itself there instead of Oregon. But what do I know?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The best time of year in sports

What’s your favorite sport? For someone like me, that may seem like a pretty easy question to answer. But from now until the middle of June, it’s also easy to see why that’s such a hard question to answer. Not much happens in February. The weather is cold, football is over and sports fans are left looking forward to the spring.  But once the second week of March arrives, things start happening again.

It’s championship week in college basketball with conference tournaments being played across the nation this week with the field of 68 released Sunday evening.  The big dance is the best postseason tournament in all of sports if you ask me. But with some of the games we’ve seen this week in the conference tournaments, it’s safe to say the madness has already begun. As I watched the four-overtime thriller between Cincinnati and Connecticut, and saw Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield drain a half court short at the end of regulation against West Virginia, only for the shot to be waved off, the same three words kept running through my head. Only in March.

With conference tournaments still to be decided this weekend, and then the big dance starting on Tuesday, there should be many more photo finishes and instant classics. Of course everyone fills out a bracket, but one of the best parts about championship week is that it allows you to just watch game after game come right down to the wire and just enjoy it and that’s always fun.

But after it’s all over, there’s more fun for sports fans. The NHL and NBA regular seasons both have about one month left. This year, the Golden State Warriors are chasing the record for most wins in an NBA season. The playoffs, particularly in the NHL, bring plenty of parity and excitement. This all leads to champions being crowned in both leagues by the middle of June.

The free agent frenzy kicked off this week in the NFL as the new league year started Wednesday. Teams begin to shape rosters for the following season and scouting efforts ramp up with the NFL Draft looming on the horizon. The hypothetical scenarios fans dream about what their team should do to ensure a bright future are endless.

Golf’s first two majors will be played during the next three months. There is truly nothing like the tradition that comes with The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in early April.  The second tennis major of the year comes at the end of May in Paris at the French Open.

Now if I had to answer the question and tell you what my favorite sport is, I would probably say baseball. It was the first sport I started playing and watching as a kid. The season is about three weeks away and opening day is certainly one of my favorite days in sports.

But these next three months are just why answering that simple question can be so hard for me. So while February can be very boring for sports fans, March, April, May and the first couple weeks of June are just the opposite. It all starts now and it’s not slowing down. So buckle up and enjoy the ride sports fans.