March Madness Times Three

There were no real surprises when the 65 team field was announced for the NCAA Tournament yesterday, except the fact that the Georgia Bulldogs earned an automatic berth by winning the SEC Championship Game.  Of all the teams, give the now 17-16 Bulldogs credit.  They won two games on Saturday, then came back on Sunday to beat Arkansas, getting a 14 seed and a matchup with Xavier in the first round.

After the NCAA had first dibs, the NIT then took 32 more teams with Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Arizona State and Ohio State getting number one seeds.  The advantage here is that these four teams—provided they win—get three games at home before the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden.

The NIT is not the only consolation tournament these days.  The inaugural College Basketball Invitational (CBI) begins Tuesday with 16 more teams in the mix.  The CBI will play single elimination for rounds one, two and three, with the championship being a best two out of three.

Are there too many teams playing postseason basketball?  If some call the NIT the no-interest-tournament, what are they going to call the CBI?  There are 341 schools playing Division I basketball, so when you add up the NCAA, the NIT and the CBI, 113 of 341 are playing some type of postseason basketball, roughly 33 percent.

As long as there are schools willing to play and fans willing to buy tickets, the CBI is probably a good thing for college basketball.  College football has 32 bowl games, meaning more than half (54 percent) of the Division I football schools get a postseason opportunity.

The only problem I have with the CBI is that they took a few teams with .500 records and one, Cincinnati, with a 13-18 overall record.  Washington and Virginia come in with 16-16 and 15-15 records respectively, while Western Michigan, at 20-12, 12-4 in the Mid American Conference stays home.

The CBI is designed more like the old NIT, before the NCAA bought it and made it a real seeded tournament.  The CBI figures that Cincinnati is more of a marquis than Wagner, Western Michigan or other teams with better records.  Once they establish viewership, their mission statement may change.

If you like college basketball, this is what you wait for.  The regular season of college basketball has been rendered almost meaningless, but this is the moment sports fans embrace.  College football has the exact opposite problem:  a fantastic regular season and a more-than-ho-hum postseason.  At the end of the college football season, nobody really feels good about the ending as it is highly anti-climatic.  In three weeks, college basketball will crown a true champion and nobody will dispute who’s number one on April 8.

If I had to pick one formula, I would pick the one used by college basketball.  Yes, the regular season is too long, and too saturated with games on TV, but the end result is more than good.

Let the Madness begin.

John Furgele

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