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NCAA DI Basketball Tournament (aka “March Madness”)
 
Why do I care?

This is traditionally the time of year where sports fans enter a mild state of depression.  Football is over, baseball hasn’t started.  The NCAA Tournament is the second biggest sports gambling event, behind only the Super Bowl.  With nearly $5 billion being wagered on the sporting event, you’ll surely have co-workers frantically filling out “brackets” as the tournament nears.  The brackets allow people to guess the winners through the championship game, earning points for correct picks.

Who’s in it?

Eventually, 64 teams.   There will initially be 68, but eight teams play for the last 4 slots .  The 64 teams come from a pool of 345 Division 1 basketball programs.  Unlike college football, there are not Division 1-A (now called FBS) and Division 1-AA (now called FCS).  There are 345  basketball programs that are affiliated with 32 conferences.  31 of the 32 conferences get an automatic bid for their conference champion.  The only conference that does not get an automatic bid is the Great West Conference.  That is fine, 99.9% of basketball fans couldn’t name a single school in the Great West Conference. Also, there are 6 Division 1 schools who are not affiliated with a conference.
 
Conference Championships:

30 of the 31 conferences that receive an automatic bid have conference tournaments at the end of the season to determine the conference.  This makes things interesting.  It is feasible that a school loses every regular season game, but wins the conference tournament and advances to the NCAA tournament (only to get their butts handed to them by Duke).  There is only one conference that determines their conference champion by regular season victories and that is the Ivy League.
 
What about the rest?

Once the conference tournaments are over, 31/68 slots for the NCAA tournament are set.  The remaining 37 slots go to the remaining 314 schools in what are referred to as “at large bids.”  This is done by the NCAA selection committee.  Typically, the best schools who do not receive an invite to the NCAA tournament will receive invites to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT).

One and Done

 The recent trend of “one and done” has become a polarizing debate.  Prior to the 2006 NBA Draft, teams were allowed to draft players directly out of high school.  There have been many success stories such as Moses Malone, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.  However, for every Kobe Bryant, there were at least ten Kwame Browns…the #1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.   Kwame was an all around bust having as many problems on the court as he did off the court.  For the 2006 NBA Draft, the player’s union decided that in order to be drafted, players must be at least 19 and at least 1 year removed from high school.  This has created the “one and done” problem.  Many talented high school players are going to college for one year, then leaving school for the NBA.  The extra year arguably makes the players more mature, but virtually forcing someone into an institute for higher learning in order to showcase their basketball talents can be counterproductive.  Many argue that it diminishes the reputation of the school.  From a recruiting standpoint, many schools are forced to recruit athletes knowing that they will only stay in school for one year simply because that is what the top tier athletes are doing.  You only have to look as far as the 2010 NBA Draft.  The #1 overall pick, John Wall (University of Kentucky) and 3 of the top 5 picks were freshmen.  It is a shame because John Wall was actually in the middle of his thesis modeling the global economic impact of climate change using the Mandelbrot set.  Actually, I made that up.  He used the university as a ticket into the NBA.  I’m not blaming him…the league forced him into it.  Unless the league is willing to let immature high schoolers fail miserably, there is no good solution to the problem.

Send Comments to: Lee@notasportsguy.com

Terminology:

Selection Sunday- Sunday March 13th 6:00pm on CBS. This is when the NCAA Selection Committee releases the 68 teams selected for the NCAA DI basketball tournament.

Bracketology-  The method at which people attempt to predict the teams that will make the tournament. 

The NCAA Selection Committee- Chooses the remaining 37 teams for the “at-large” spots.  These are typically the better teams that failed to win their conference tournament.  The selection committee will use the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) which leads to a few surprises every year…thus, forcing people to refine their “bracketology” for the next year.

Busted Bracket-  When the team that a bracket owner selected to win the entire tournament loses, crushing any chance of winning their office pool.  Therefore, they have a busted bracket.  Thank you, Northern Iowa, for crushing my dreams in the second round (Reference 2010 NCAA Division I tournament)

Snubbed-  With only 34 at-large bids (see Bracketology) there are teams that, despite having a good season or conference tournament, are not invited to the NCAA tournament.

Cinderella Team-  A team that unexpectedly makes it to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.  Gonzaga, Siena, and Valparaiso are all teams that have been considered Cinderella teams in the past decade.  In 2010, there were a few that had a shot. Cornell, Northern Iowa, and St. Mary's all made it to the Sweet Sixteen only to see their dreams end early.

NIT-  Officially stands for the National Invitational Tournament.  It is “the other tournament” for teams that didn’t make the NCAA tournament. Unofficially, basketball fans have referred to this as the “Not Invited Tournament.”