The Glorious Madness of the NCAA Tournament
The Glorious Madness of the NCAA Tournament
With tip-off at Key Bank Center in Buffalo, New York on Thursday, millions of basketball fans around the world will be glued to televisions, online live streams and score tickers.
The NCAA tournament – or March Madness as it’s called – is the collegiate basketball equivalent of the FA Cup, complete with big teams, Cinderella teams, upsets, fervent fans and tons of money involved.
Millions of Americans become fairly unproductive in the middle of the workday during tournament time. According to outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, between time spent filling out tournament brackets and watching the games live, the total loss of employee productivity in America during March Madness is close to $4-billion.
On the other hand, the NCAA (the collegiate governing body) earns close to $1-billion in revenue from the tournament (mostly from lucrative broadcast rights sold to major networks), while the tournament itself brings in about $10.7-billion in bets from legal and illegal gambling on the tournament games.
History of the tournament
The allure of the tournament to television networks broadcasting the games, to the fans fixated on filling out tournament brackets and enjoying the action, requires an understanding of the subplots within the 64-team tournament.
The schools battle through a 30-plus game regular season to end up in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings, which in turn gives each school ranked on the list a better chance of being selected to play in the tournament, regardless of victory in the individual conference tournaments. (Each college plays in a conference and plays teams in and outside of the individual conferences. At the end of the regular season, there are conference tournaments).
The top four teams usually get selected for one of the top four seeds in the tournament, otherwise known as number one seeds.
The tournament teams consist of the champions from the individual conferences (automatic selections) and 36 other teams chosen by a selection committee and awarded at-large berths. Four of the 36 teams participate in earlier weekday games called play-in games, in order to advance to the actual 64-team tournament.
All 64 teams are divided into four regions and participate in the single elimination games, advancing to face other winners in their brackets. The teams are seeded in each region from #1 to #16 and play games at pre-selected neutral sites around the country.
Over the course of three weeks from the middle of March to the first week in April, the teams advance from the first round to the round of 16 (called the ‘Sweet Sixteen’) and eventually the final weekend of the tournament, known as the Final Four.
One and dones
For much of the early years of the tournament (1940s) to the 1960s (the great UCLA teams coached by the legendary John Wooden featuring players like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton) and the 1990s (Duke teams coached by Mike Krzyzewski and featuring players like Christian Laettner and Grant Hill), the tournament was about seeing the progression of talented young players maturing into third- or fourth-year college players preparing to enter the NBA as seasoned college stars.
With the inception of the one and done rule in 2005 (whereby players must turn 19 in the same calendar year as the yearly NBA draft and be a year removed from high school graduation) in order to prevent players from skipping college and jumping into the NBA straight from high school, the NCAA tournament is the last opportunity to watch and get familiar with young, talented, but unseasoned players gracing the college game with their abilities before moving on to play in the NBA.
Previous one and dones include Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse), Kevin Durant (Texas), Derrick Rose (Memphis), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Kevin Love (UCLA), Kyrie Irving (Duke), Joel Embiid (Kansas) and Ben Simmons (LSU).
Schools and coaches
Part of the lure of the tournament involves the blue-blood schools and larger- than-life coaches involved in the tournament. Programs like UCLA (11 national titles), Kentucky (eight national titles), University of North Carolina, Duke University (five national titles), Kansas, Florida and Villanova (two national titles) all made it into the tournament this year.
Villanova are the defending national champions, led by their dapper coach Jay Wright. Kentucky will be led by John Calipari (long considered a great coach for one-and-done prospects), while Duke will have the legendary Mike Krzyzewski (‘Coach K’) on the sidelines after he missed seven games earlier in the year due to back surgery.
Fans will have their eye on Kansas coach Bill Self to see if he will finally be able to lead his team back to the mountain top after failing to get back to the Championship game despite No 1 and No 2 seeds over the past eight years. Watch out for Steve Alford as his UCLA team possesses the talent to match Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, but will need their coach to guide them to the championship.
Cinderellas and upsets
Much like it is with the FA Cup, fans enjoy watching small, plucky teams come into a game as underdogs and upset larger teams. The upsets can be considered the most fun part of March Madness, despite the havoc it wreaks on the brackets of millions of fans.
With 16 seeds in each of the four regions of the bracket, the lower half (8-16 seeds) have their work cut out getting to the Championship game, much less the Sweet Sixteen. Throughout the history of the tournament, only one lower half seed has gone the distance to win the tournament and that was Villanova in 1985.
The No 8 ranked Wildcats of Villanova were as unfancied as it gets but made it to the Championship game and proceeded to dispatch the No 1 ranked Georgetown Hoya’s en route to the first NCAA title for the school. The only teams to come close to that accomplishment were No 8 seeds Butler (2011) and Kentucky (2014), who both lost in the Championship game.
University of North Carolina and Wisconsin both got to the Final Four from the No 8 seed in 2000. The furthest a ninth seed has finished in the tournament is the Final Four by Wichita State in 2013.
Syracuse in 2016 were the lone 10th seed to reach the Final Four, while the furthest 13th, 14th and 15th seeds have reached is the Sweet Sixteen.
Despite the expansion of the tournament to 64 teams in 1985, no No 16 seed has ever upset a No 1 seed. Could this be the year … ?
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