Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March Madness 2007 Redux

To get ready for March Madness 2008, I brought back my personal favorite post from 2007, reorganized to be read from top to bottom. Hope you enjoy!

March 12: Let the Madness Begin!

One of the highlights of any American sports fan's year is the NCAA (registered trademark) basketball tournament, popularly known as "March Madness" (among other trademarked nicknames), even though it climaxes in April with the "Final Four" (another registered trademark). "Madness" applies well to the March part as two 64-team fields (men's and women's) are pared to a pair of "Final Fours" over the course of three extended weekends. (Please note registered trademark status of NCAA logos, both above and below. Please continue reading to understand appearance of Tinactin logo).

Baton Rouge's interest in the 2006 tournaments approached football level (though nothing can equal a sport where "National Signing Day" (unsure of trademark status), the day when high school recruits make their college choice public, attracts thousands to a ballroom to watch a fax machine), as all four local teams, the LSU Tigers and Lady Tigers, and the Southern University Jaguars and Lady Jags, qualified, with both Tiger squads highly ranked and expected to win a few games--in the case of the ladies, even compete for the national championship. Another great story was that almost all of the LSU men's team hailed from Baton Rouge or from within 50 miles. The teams didn't disappoint, as the Southern men played powerhouse Duke to a close game before succumbing, and both the LSU men and women won four games to reach their respective Final Fours. (I think that Southern's gals were more or less wiped out in their first game.)

This year's tournament starts with considerably less hoopla (not sure of origin, but a made-to-order basketball marketing word) in Baton Rouge. The Southern teams fell from their relatively high perches to last place in their leagues. The LSU men struggled through a trying 17-15 season that started well, but finished "stuck in the mud" of a south Louisiana swamp rather than on "The Road to Atlanta" (CBS trademark, I think--Atlanta's Georgia Dome is where the Final Four will be held this year). Only the Lady Tigers, lacking four-time All-American and WNBA Rookie of the Year Seimone Augustus, but still led by formidable Sylvia Fowles, played near their potential, and still lost as many games (7) as they had in the previous two years combined. Even their regular season ended in an uproar as young, successful coach Pokey Chatman resigned under a cloud of suspicion about "inappropriate contact" with a former player.

Still the tournament is a feast for basketball fans, particularly on the first weekend as sixteen games on each of Thursday and Friday are followed by eight games matching the winners on each of Saturday and Sunday (for the arithmetically-challenged, that's 48 games in four days--actually about 76 hours--for just one of the tourneys). Many are mismatches as the nation's best teams are matched with the marginal qualifiers, but many are close and a few upsets surprise the fans and oddsmakers every year. CBS works hard to cover all the action, and there are often magic moments when they switch from close game to close game, catching the game-deciding shots of each.

There's also a hackneyed search for which lowly-ranked team will be the "Cinderella" (perhaps trademarked by Disney?) of this year's "Big Dance" (another trademarked nickname, or at least often used) and wear "the glass slipper" (likely beyond trademark status). Last year it was the George Mason University Patriots of Alexandria, VA (many sports fans, even basketball fans, outside metro-DC didn't know such a university existed until about mid-March 2006) and the mid-major Colonial Conference. "Cinderella" has to reach the "Sweet Sixteen" (the teams that survive the first weekend--and definitely trademarked--Louisiana had to change the "Sweet Sixteen" name of its high school championship after protests from the NCAA--this didn't seem like such a big deal since the Louisiana tournament had since grown to 28 teams), and her status is enhanced by any wins thereafter--one of which will elevate them to "Elite Eight" (most likely trademarked). FOX Sports, who have tagged the event "Hoops Hysteria" (pending trademark, I imagine) are touting Creighton (from Omaha, NB), New Mexico State, Nevada, Old Dominion (Norfolk, VA), and Southern Illinois (the wonderfully-nicknamed Salukis of Carbondale, IL) as 2007's most promising Cinderellas (though this begs the question as to whether a Cinderella can be so after being identified before the dance.) (I'm back with my bracket--look for Winthrop (of South Carolina) to beat Notre Dame in Round 1 and Long Beach State to beat Tennessee. My "I didn't even know there was a college by that name" is Albany--I'm not sure if they're from NY or Georgia, but I expect them to lose to Virginia right away. I'll be back with later round predictions)

As yet, a true "Cinderella" hasn't won the "whole enchilada" (currently not a trademarked nickname--future status uncertain). Mason got the closest by reaching the Final Four before being crushed by eventual champ Florida. Other upset winners have been big-name basketball schools that have won the tournament with apparently less than their best team (Villanova in 1985; NC State in 1983; Kansas in 1988). For the most part, winning six games in three weekends against quality opponents is a task that only the cruel stepsisters, I mean elite programs and teams, can handle.

This year's men's field features defending champ Florida with a top ranking and a likelihood not to repeat as champ (Duke was the last to repeat 15 years ago); perennial powers North Carolina and Kansas, and "upstart" Ohio State (as much of an upstart as an athletic powerhouse of 40,000-plus students can be--but OSU has been much more successful in football than basketball since John Havlicek graduated in about 1962). Other highly regarded teams are UCLA (over whom the visage of 10-time champion coach John Wooden still looms, though they have won once since the now 95-year old Wooden retired 30 years ago); Wisconsin (better known for cheese and swing state politics than either basketball or football); Georgetown (now coached by the son of their championship-winning coach John Thompson); and Memphis (who win a lot of games every year but toil in relative obscurity in Conference USA, a mid-major stepsister (ooh, another Cinderella allusion) to the more glamorous Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Big East, Southeastern, and Pac-10 (the so-called "power conferences"--schools like Louisville fled C-USA to get into the Big East). (My Round 2 upsets include Arizona over defending champ Florida; Butler doing it vs. Maryland; Indiana (my summer 2007 home) knocking off UCLA; Louisville over Texas A&M and Nevada over Memphis)

Another treat of so much basketball in so little time is the opportunity to see the best players from across the country. National player of the year Kevin Durant, a freshman of eye-popping ability at the University of Texas, will get a lot of attention as long as Texas keeps winning. When they stop, Durant will move on to the NBA, where he would have played this year if not for a new NBA rule requiring high schoolers to play at least one year at the NCAA level before becoming eligible for the NBA draft. Ohio State has a similar freshman phenom (or "diaper dandy" in the hideous phraseology of ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale--fortunately we are spared his histrionics during CBS's tournament coverage--unless we stray to ESPN to watch highlights) named Greg Oden--I haven't seen him play yet. Florida has a team full of talent, but no new names as they all played for last year's champions. More exciting will be seeing the players I don't even know--last year it was Mike G-something (Gansey!) from West Virginia and Tyrus Thomas of LSU (unknown outside Baton Rouge and NBA scouts--Thomas was picked about 4th in the ensuing NBA draft).

Much of the nation prepares for the March Madness by engaging in Bracketology (ESPN trademark), the science of predicting the winners of each game and the entire tournament by filling in a printed (or electronic) "bracket" showing all the first round games and the progressions to the later rounds. The completed brackets are then entered in various office pools and online contests, though the stakes are usually small $5 or $10 per bracket. March Madness can also lead to a "gambling problem" for the hardcore as Las Vegas offers betting lines on the overall tournament winner, winner of every game, and a variety of sub-events within the games (most rebounds, first basket, over/under totals--you name it). I heard a writer being interviewed about March Madness on NPR refer to the tournament as the "high holy days" of sports gambling. In fact, I should be filling out my bracket (deadline is before the first game begins at noon Eastern on Thursday) rather than writing this article. (I'm filling it out now, Round 3 features Oregon over Wisconsin, leaving them to play Pac-10 rival Arizona in the "Midwest Regional Final" (probably trademarked, note that neither team is from the Midwest); Kansas and Indiana in the West Regional Final (some geographical dyslexia working here); Texas and Georgetown battling for the East Regional (as Georgetown holds up its region); and newly-Dixified Ohio State vs verifiable Cinderella Nevada in the South Regional final)

My favorite memories of past madness include the 1979 tourney when Ivy League champ Penn beat North Carolina to earn a spot vs. Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the Final Four (Penn got wiped out; MSU won it all over Larry Bird and Indiana State); the 1983 tourney when NC State upset "Phi Slamma Jamma" Houston with a last-second air ball by Derreck Whittenberg and put back by Lorenzo Charles (I had to watch this one on the highlight shows as we were busy winning my one and only recreation league softball championship in Orangeburg, SC); Syracuse (my birthplace) winning it all with freshman Carmelo Anthony (in 2003, I think); and the best of all--Philly team Villanova (I almost went to college there) beating Georgetown in 1985 in the "perfect game" (Villanova made 22 of 28 shots from the field. I missed this one too, but that's another story). Villanova also made it to the final game (just called the "NCAA Final"--once you've declared a Final Four, what's left, the "Really Final Two"?--maybe the "Titanic Two", but images of the Titanic may not be that welcome--perhaps Tinactin could sponsor the final game as the "Tinactin Two") in 1971, my second year living in the Philadelphia area, losing to UCLA and then forfeiting their second place trophy when the NCAA learned that their star player had an agent. (An interesting sidelight is that Villanova was the third best team in Philadelphia that year as city schools Penn and St. Joseph's had great teams that didn't advance as far in the NCAA tournament. ) I'm not sure if that one was a highlight or lowlight. It felt like a highlight at the time. Rooting for my alma mater, the University of Delaware, hasn't been much fun--in their last appearance about 15 years ago they got stomped by Cincinnati--so I have to adopt other favorites. (The Final Four will be Oregon vs Kansas and Georgetown vs. Ohio State--all Cinderellas change back into scullery maid wear)

The ladies' tournament has become more and more interesting the last few years--a direct result of Baton Rouge native Seimone Augustus play at LSU (she declined the blandishments of perennial women's powerhouse Tennessee to suit up for four years at her hometown school--she'll be long-remembered and admired in BR for that), and a secondary result of the ever-improving level of play in women's college basketball. During her career the team made three straight Final Four appearances, though the "brass ring" (not trademarked) eluded them; once when Baylor overcame a large first half deficit to win, and another time due to a crucial and uncharacteristic error by their star point guard Temika Johnson, whose otherwise sterling play and tiny stature (about 5'2") made her easy to forgive. This year the women's favorite are North Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut and Duke. Tennessee and Connecticut have won the most championships over the years, though Baylor and Maryland broke through the last two years.

If you're a basketball fan, I don't have to convince you to tune in (CBS for the guys; ESPN for the gals). If not, try it anyway--root for the team with the higher number in front of them, they'll be the underdog, a possible "Cinderella" at the "Big Dance", seeking the "glass slipper", and a spot in the ""Sweet Sixteen", the "Elite Eight", the "Final Four" or even the "Tinactin Two" (OK, that's enough Dave) before "the clock strikes midnight" (not trademarked, but that's what happens when a Cinderella team loses--oh yeah, their "coach (the four-wheeled kind) turns into a pumpkin" too--though if rotund former coach Rick Majerus donned the orange blazer of the University of Tennessee he'd bear a striking resemblance to a pumpkin) on "The Road to the Final Four" (one final trademark, whew!) (Enjoy the "TT" matchup of Georgetown and Kansas (featuring two of college basketballs best and most inscrutable cheers "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!" and "Hoya Saxa!"), and join the celebratory car door slamming in beautiful Lawrence, Kansas as Coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks claim their first NCAA basketball crown since 1988. As for me, I'll be looking forward to enjoying March Madness 2008 on the 60" HDTV I'm going to win by entering my bracket at foxsports.net contest.

Thanks for reading this epic (at least in length) post. Let the games begin! (if they can fight through all the marketing and trademark protection)

March 16 Update: Indiana guard Roderick Wilmont and VCU guard Eric Maynor were the stars of Day One's play. Wilmont sank six three-pointers to lead Indiana to an easy (and predicted) win over Gonzaga. Maynor scored his team's last six points and 22 overall to lead No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth to an upset win over No. 6 Duke. The Blue Devils couldn't play defense or make free throws at the end, and it cost them a game that they led most of the way--the Rams two-point winning margin matched their largest lead of the game.

VCU takes the early lead in the Cinderella sweepstakes, fitting given that reached the NCAA tournament by beating last year's Cinderella George Mason in the Colonial Conference tournament. Their next game is against Pittsburgh, which usually underplays their ranking in the tournament, and could be butted out by the Rams. Otherwise, higher ranked teams won on Day One, except for a very mild upset of No. 8 BYU by No. 9 Xavier.

More from March 16: Winthrop beat Notre Dame (again as predicted) to join the Cinderella-hopeful ranks in Round 2. All the top 5 seeds won, including my upset target Tennessee, who nipped Long Beach State by 121-85. The Volunteers scored 57 in the first half and then got hot. Arizona will not be knocking off Florida in Round 2, as they lost by nine to Purdue. Virginia Tech saved one of my picks by coming back against No. 12 Illinois. Early on the announcers alluded to Illinois's offensive problems, even as they were scoring well and building a lead. The problem showed up late, as the Illini didn't score for the last five minutes, allowing the Hokies to climb out of a hole and get the win. Kevin Durant was great in Texas's win over New Mexico State--he scored 27 points, including 17 free throws.

March 17: Despite being a No. 5 seed, Butler University of Indianapolis seems pretty Cinderellaish after beating No. 4 Maryland 62-59 this afternoon. Brandon Crone was the star, sinking four three pointers, including a key basket late in the game after he missed a layup. Butler will probably face Florida next, although a win by Purdue over the Gators would set up an all-Indiana matchup in the Midwest semifinal.

More March 17: VCU's party got a five-minute extension this afternoon, but still came to a bad end with a 84-79 overtime loss to Pitt. The Rams did themselves proud, however, erasing a 19-point deficit to send the game into the extra session. Their last three point attempt to tie the game just missed, and then ensuing back tap went to a Pitt player, who was fouled and made both free throws. First round hero Eric Maynor had an another strong game, including a beautiful left-handed bank shot to help get VCU into overtime. As an No. 11 seed, Winthrop now leads the Cinderella sweepstakes comfortably. Their next challenge is my Final Four pick Oregon.

My upset pick of Louisville over Texas A&M fizzled when freshman phenom Edgar Sosa, who to that point had made 7 of 8 field goal attempts and all 15 free throws, missed two free throws and then a potentially game-winning three-point shot. A&M, led by senior guard Acie Law, looks like a good candidate to advance deeper into the tourney.

My wife's doing great with her pool--too bad it's entered with tens of thousands of others at Fox.net rather than in a small pool at work where she'd have a chance. Her only miss in Round 2 was Maryland's 3-point loss to Butler. Her best pick was Vandy's upset of Washington State, which was accomplished in double overtime.

March 18: Virginia and Tennessee play the first game. Tennessee's hot shooting in game one wasn't a fluke as they again shoot well to win 77-74. They'll play Ohio State next in the South Regional semifinal.

I had Florida losing in Round 2, but they won't, not to Arizona, or to their vanquisher Purdue, whom the Gators just beat 74-67. Kay's second round upset pick is a good one as UNLV beat Wisconsin, 74-68.

Winthrop's 75-61 loss to Oregon clears out the double digit seeds from the bracket. Revived power UNLV and their in-state rival Nevada remain as the lowest ranking survivors, although Nevada is in jeopardy (they lost by 16) against Memphis. Despite their No. 3 seed, Texas A&M is a good underdog story. Just three years ago they lost every game on their Big 12 conference schedule. They get Memphis next.

Round 2 is over; the Sweet Sixteen are set--Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Memphis give the Volunteer State the largest representation; UCLA and USC go in from California. Other states get one each: Florida, Oregon, UNLV, Kansas, Southern Illinois, Pitt, North Carolina, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Texas A&M.

My wife had a great second round--14 and 2; by woeful comparison, I was 8-8, with two sure losers (Nevada and Arizona) in the next round. UNLV over Oregon is her most adventurous pick in Round 3. My picks don't really matter. The best thing I've got going in Kansas to win it all; they've looked great so far in wins over Niagara and Kentucky. Right now, my view is that the winner of a Florida vs. Kansas Final Four matchup will win it all.

Texas A&M and Memphis should be a good matchup--both have strong, athletic teams with good leadership. Vandy and Georgetown is an offense vs. defense matchup. Vandy will have to make a lot of outside shots to overcome Georgetown's strength inside. USC has looked terrific so far; they embarrassed Texas and sent Kevin Durant on "to the next level" as the sports talk show hosts say.

After the LSU women devastated UNC-Asheville in their first game, 77-39, the Baton Rouge Advocate's sports columnist wrote a column titled "Dear Pokey", telling the missing former coach about the game. The early matchups in women's tournament are even more lopsided than the men's games, as there aren't really 64 championship caliber programs in the country.

March 30: HDTV Dreams Shattered as Picks are Toppled

Unless we buy our own 60" HDTV, I'll be watching the 2008 Final Four on our old reliable 27" non-HD. My NCAA picks soured in Round 2; my wife's collapsed with the emergence of the actual Final Four, which did not include her Tinactin Two choices of UNC and Kansas, or Memphis. I'm still alive with Georgetown and Ohio State, though my national champ Kansas fell to UCLA. Hoya Saxa!

I heard on ESPN that they had over 161,000 correct Final Four entries in their online bracket game. Last year with George Mason getting in, they had less than 100.

Since I'm so far behind on this blog, I'll work my way through the regions and see what I can remember. First, it's no news that Cinderella is long-gone from the dance. Vanderbilt came the closest to fitting the slipper as this 6th seed lost their Sweet 16 game to Georgetown in the last few seconds on a fabulous move and shot by Georgetown forward Jeffrey Green that many folks thought might have included an extra step. In a show of class, the Vandy coach and players never complained. Georgetown went on to "upset" top seed North Carolina in the Eastern final in overtime. The Hoyas hot shooting kept them within range of the Tarheels almost-as-hot shooting and surprisingly superior rebounding. When North Carolina slumped near the end, the Hoyas tied the game on three-pointer by guard Jonathan Wallace (a walk-on transfer from Princeton) and held on as the Heels last shot hit the rim. Overtime was, as Dick Vitale might ejaculate, "No contest, baby!" as the the Heels bricked their way to a combined 1-24 shooting perfomance (even that a meaningless shot after the game was decided) in the last few minutes of regulation and overtime, while the Hoyas cruised to a 96-84 win.

The Hoyas will face the upstart (but No. 1 seeded) Ohio State Buckeyes, who just seemed to have a little too much for Memphis. They held the lead most of the game and won by 12 to take the Southeast Regional. Texas A&M came within a whisker of beating Memphis; they probably would have given Ohio State a better game.

On the other side of the bracket, perennial powers UCLA and Kansas matched up in the Midwest final. This game was close, but UCLA's superior defense and guard play by Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison put the Bruins into the Final Four. There, they'll have to pick up their game even further to get past their 2006 conqueror, defending champ Florida. The Gators survived a gritty effort by second-best Cinderella, Butler, but finally prevailed behind the substantial backside and deft touch of forward Al Horford. Against the run-and-gun Oregon Ducks, the Gators' focus shifted to guard play, and sharpshooters Taureen Green and Lee Humphreys came through with 20+ apiece. The do-it-all Gators appear to be pretty tough to beat at this point.

A possible distraction is the University of Kentucky's high interest in hiring current Florida head coach Billy Donavan as their new top man. Veteran Wildcat mentor Tubby Smith read the tea leaves and accepted a new position at the University of Minnesota before Kentucky could fire him after the schools ninth straight non-NCAA championship-winning season. Double figure losses and a galling SEC Tournament semifinal loss to Mississippi State, in which a Smith miscoaching move (asking his player to step back from the free throw line after the ball was handed to the shooter--the shooter made the shot, giving Kentucky a 4-point lead with about 2 seconds left--but the shot was disqualified. Mississippi State next sunk a 3-pointer to tie the game and went on to win in overtime) cost his team very hard-fought game.

Getting back to Florida, their main enemy in their match with UCLA might be overconfidence, as essentially these same two rosters played in the 2006 final, which Florida won with ease, 73-57. I imagine that Donovan will talk to his team about UCLA's 11 NCAA championships (all but one of which were won at least 10 years before any of his players were born).

I like Florida by a narrower margin, as UCLA gives a pride-driven, but still inadequate effort. Georgetown and Ohio State goes to the Hoyas--no change from my original view. Both teams survived a scare, but Georgetown's was more impressive--overcome a deep and talented North Carolina team; the Buckeyes nearly fell to Cinderellaesque Xavier (which as Dave Barry says, would be a good name for a rock band).

On the womens' side, Tennessee and North Carolina predictably rolled to Final Four spots. Not so expected were successes by Rutgers and LSU.

Rutgers lost 2005-6 national player of the year candidate Cappie Poindexter to graduation and started the current season 2-4. Their Elite Eight upset of Duke amazed all who saw it as Duke All-American Lindsay Harding missed two free throws with 0.1 seconds on the clock and her team trailing by one. This came after an earlier Duke turnover that allowed Rutgers to score the go-ahead basket. Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer saluted the amazing progress, particularly defensively, that her young team made during the year. She also noted their "naivety", saying that her girls really didn't know how big the Duke game was when they went out to play it.

LSU's late season saga is well-known and recounted in here, but they pushed on to the Final Four berth with a quintessential defensive squeeze on Florida State in a 55-43 win (this game started at 10:30 CDT/11:30 EDT), and then wiped out five-time national champ Connecticut 73-50 behind a dominating 23-point, 15-rebound performance by junior center Sylvia Fowles. An interesting pre-note to the Connecticut win was their coach's glib admission that while he might be a better coach, a better dresser, and funnier than LSU interim coach Bob Starkey, "he's (Starkey) got Sylvia Fowles," an advantage that no combination of coachly advantages (including 5 national titles for Auriemma vs 3 career wins for Starkey) could overcome.

LSU and Rutgers, being seeded 3 and 4 respectively, aren't quite Cinderellas, but the winner of their defense-oriented game will definitely be an underdog to the Carolina/Tennessee survivor. Carrying the honor of the entire ACC along with the basketball-crazy state of North Carolina, the Lady Tarheels will be led by senior All-American guard Ivory Latta. I haven't seen much of their play, but UNC's women seem like the short, quick and solid types who depend on shooting, teamwork and passing. Legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who won her record-setting 900th game this year, stresses all of the above, but has her triple-threat version of Sylvia Fowles in sophomore All-American Candace Parker. The 6'4" Parker is listed as a G/F/C on the Tennessee roster. She jumps center, brings the ball up on offense and scores both from the post and from one-on-one moves. Carolina will be dissecting tape of LSU's SEC Tourney win over Tennessee, in which they held Parker to about 6 points.

I'm afraid that the Lady Tigers are due for a cold-shooting game, and with one they'll fall to Rutgers. I'll pick Tennessee to analyze what LSU did vs. Parker, straighten the problems out, and beat North Carolina to get to the Women's T______ Two. (I've never seen a women's athlete's foot medicine commercial--I'll have to come up with another alliterative title sponsor for the ladies' championship game. Suggestions are appreciated.

And so the search begins for an appropriate title sponsor for the NCAA Women's Basketball Final game. "Tough Actin'" Tinactin Two (get it..two Tinactin logos) is already in place for the men's game on Monday night. I can hardly wait for John Madden's big rollout. There's a part where he jumps off a trampoline and tears down the fungus-covered. . . oops, better stop here or Tinactin's lawyers will be after me. Just make sure to tune in. So, here's a "true inside look" at the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Madness marketing.

March 30: This has become quite a challenge--so far I've found Tilex, Tide, Toilet Duck and Ty-D-Bol--these from an NIH site to help one identify the toxic properties of many household products. I'm pretty sure that none of these would be acceptable from an image enhancement standpoint--can you see the Ty-D-Bowl man sailing in a toilet tank with the bottom painted as a basketball court (which you could barely see through the blue water)?

My daughter suggests the Tasty Two (presented by Tastykake, perhaps. . . thanks, but the Delaware Valley-based snackmaker is a very regional brand at best), the Terrible Two (sounds too bratty, and could imply that these teams play terrible basketball--talk about the wrong message) or the Tenacious Two (she thanks Jack Black for this one; his band is called Tenacious D.) Now that I think about it, I'm surprised that Terrific Two hasn't popped up somewhere (heads off to Google this phrase. Turns out that the online New York Sun used this phrase in this context in a December 2004 article about the elimination process in "The Apprentice" TV show of that time. Otherwise, it appears in counterpart to "terrible twos" regarding 2-year old toddlers. Donald Trump is overexposed so I will not be including his picture to illustrate "The Apprentice" angle. Now off to find a sponsor's name that includes "terrific".

The first hit is terrificpets.com, a website for pet owners. They probably don't have deep enough pockets for the NCAA. Also online is travelterrific.com--same problem, maybe worse. Computerrific Technology, a network and web consulting company for small businesses--again, small business, small pockets. Terrific Scientific sounds good, but is based in Australia. Terrific Toys might be a little too cerebral. Mister Terrific (wrong gender, sorry) is a superhero in the DC Comics line. Terrific New Theatre is a small troup in Birmingham, AL. I don't like the "TNT" enough to fight Ted Turner for it.

This search led me back to Tom Terrific, a cartoon TV series that ran on the Captain Kangaroo show from 1957-9, and that I remember watching as a little kid. Tom's sidekick was Manfred the Wonder Dog and his nemesis was Crabby Appleton. Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Tom Seaver was known as Tom Terrific, no doubt tagged by a sportswriter whose kids watched the same show. Fun, but no help.

Next on the list is a shampoo from the '70s and '80s, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific. This could be the one, assuming that Jergens wants to revive the brand (they discontinued it in the late '80s). www.everything2.com says that it can only be found in The Philippines, and that the product was discontinued for "mysterious reasons", which may include the presence of formaldehyde in the formula (the site also also "humorously" mentions newt eyes and some part of a bat--yuck! I need a break after reading that.)

March 31: Sorry for the interruption to this segment. Research will resume and a decision announced by Tuesday, April 3, when the final NCAA womens' matchup is set. Lots to do between now and then--checklist: choose name, contact potential sponsor, contact NCAA, negotiate naming rights fee, develop and disseminate appropriate logos and other content, contract high-profile spokesperson for rollout, arrange transportation and lodging for self and family for appearance at T____ Two game on Tuesday evening. Yikes, no nap for Dadlak today.

Brainstorming--the "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Two" isn't quite getting the job done. David Cassidy would be OK as a spokesperson, but he hasn't had a hit record in about 30 years. The manufacturer discontinued the product almost 20 years ago. Filipinos may not even like basketball (note: check this out--possible tie-in for Filipino women's basketball (or other sport) championship).

Think! Do the last two teams have to be "two"? Why not duo, pair or brace (too obscure--and it makes me think of a brace of dead quails in the mouth of the hunter's Golden Retriever (ooh, he's so cute)). The Dynamic Duo--already taken by Batman and Robin. The Precious Pair; the Perfect Pair (basketball shoe tie-in???; Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as celebrity spokespair--could work). After the game, one of the two won't be perfect (the teams, not Torvill and Dean, who will always be perfect--I can hear "Bolero" in my mind), but The Final Four isn't really final, now is it--it should be the Semifinal Four, but I realize that's not very alliterative. The Penultimate Pair (more accurate, but too pedantic--and in fact, this is the ultimate game--Penultimate Four would be more accurate, but it's not alliterative either and it sounds like a second-rate set of superheroes (brain tells fingers "it's not what were trying to name, dummy!").

How about Del Monte's Perfect Pair-- a pun! The logo could look like a pear with basketball laces. Torvill and Dean could still be the "spokespear"--I see their costumes as pear-meat colored, but obviously not pear shaped--although pear-shaped could appeal to the ever-widening baby-boomer population that makes up the biggest part of the March Madness audience. It might also encourage younger fans to eat more fruit to avoid becoming pear-shaped in the future (although I've read that female middle-aged pear-shapedness may be unavoidable--genetic; let's just hope that's "bad science"). Oh my god, looking at this picture, I just noticed another tie-in. Pears are packaged in "halves", just like college basketball games. This is getting spooky--I may have tapped into the marketing order of the universe.

Back to the checklist:

Name: "Del Monte's Perfect Pair" (followup note--are there any brand name fruit companies that begin with P?--Dole, Chiquita, the United Farm Workers...heading for pantry; back from pantry with no luck; actually I didn't go; wife is instructing me to rest). We could work in another alliterative "P" by going with "Del Monte Presents the Perfect Pair", or "The Perfect Pair, Presented by Del Monte"--that comma is kind of stark, though--but, is it any worse than the apostrophe?). Ooh, I just thought of Pepsodent Perfect Pair, but I think time is too short to start again--maybe for the second 10-year term...get a little competition going between Del Monte and Church & Dwight, who market Pepsodent...one Google hit indicates that Pepsodent is big in Nepal...I've notice that people from the area have really white teeth, at least the ones they still have...maybe Pepsodent is their secret. But that's a project for 2015 or so. And I finally thought of a good "T", the Taster's Choice (coffee) Two--get it, choice of two? But again, that's another "next decade" angle to explore.

Spokespair: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. I'm still a little shaky thinking about how great they will be, even 23 years after their ice dancing triumph in Sarajevo.

Naming Rights Fee: Should be worth $10 million to Del Monte for a 10-year deal. My 10% upfront and off the top comes to a cool million. My daughter gets a small share for logo development. Sweet!

Logo: Here's an inside look at the development process for the soon-to-be-famous "pear-shaped basketball" logo. My daughter her photo editing skills to help with Version 2.0. "Basketball-shaped pear" yielded only 186 hits on Google, and none that I could find with a picture of some proud pear farmer's giant basketball-shaped pear.

Version 1.0

Version 2.0

Version 3.0

Version 3.1

The real version will use the Del Monte brand font. We didn't have this one on our photo editing program. We might even use a different color (Del Monte yellow?), but we couldn't figure out how to change from black.

We also figured out a marketing giveway--a drink container in the Del Monte Perfect Pair design with the straw sticking out the top like a stem. Featured flavor--PAIR JUICE, of course!

Transportation and Lodging for Self and Family: on to Orbitz. (Might be a cute cross-marketing tie-in--me (or Jayne and Chris) doing a Orbitz search for this trip on a commercial to appear during the game--gotta check with Wink Martindale).

The Perfect Skating Pair and the Perfect Pears bring you The Perfect Pair. I'm giddy!

To the phones!

March 31: Gators and Buckeyes Put Best Foot (Feet?) Forward to Step Into Tinactin Two

The Tinactin Two are set. Florida and Ohio State, the two most dominant teams in the country for most of the season, will meet for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship on Monday night.

The two games featured eerily similar and ugly first halves. OSU held a 27-23 lead despite sending their heralded freshman center Greg Odom to the bench with two fouls after only two minutes of play. "I Can't Believe He's a Freshman" guard Mike Conley held things together for the Buckeyes. Roy Hibbert (4 baskets) and Jonathan Wallace (two 3-pointers) provided the little offense that Georgetown mustered. Star forward Jeff Green chipped in five points near the end, but was MIA too long for a Big East player of the year.

Florida had no offense (7 points in the first ten minutes), but UCLA had no Arron Afflolo (0 points and 3 fouls in the first half). Corey Brewer found the range late and led the Gators to a 29-23 halftime lead. Josh Shipp gave it his all (oxygen at halftime) to fill in for Afflolo, but the hill to victory still looked steeper and scarier than those burning Hollywood Hills as the Bruins started the second half.

Georgetown started the second half with more fire, and actually took a lead at 34-33, and tied the game at 44-44. But Conley continued his steady play and Oden revived his game to pour in 13 points and grab 9 rebounds. The most exciting play of the game was Oden's attempt to tomahawk jam over Green. Green appeared to be still, but in the opinion of the announcers (and apparently the refs), established that position while Oden was airborne (understandable given that Oden appeared to takeoff somewhere south of Macon), a defensive no-no. OSU played steady defense throughout and made enough free throws to win semi-handily, 67-60.

The Bruins must have felt like they were battling a brush fire or worse, as Florida raged out of the locker room to quickly expand their six point lead to 20. Afflolo drew a fourth foul before scoring. The rest of the game was an exercise in determining the final score (76-66, closer than last year's 73-57), although the Bruins continued to hustle on defense, and Afflolo found the range to eventually score 17.

Picking against the Gators was a fool's play. With their team chemistry established, Florida is as solid an NCAA basketball team as has played in many years--maybe going back to the Duke teams of Christian Laetner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. At least four starters will be drafted by the NBA; the fifth, sharpshooter Lee Humphrey, now owns the NCAA record for 3-pointers in the tournament. He even showed a little versatility by faking a 3-pointer, getting the defender to commit and driving and scoring for an old-fashion 3-point play. Corey Brewer, a ridiculously talented player who can drain 3-pointers, dribble through traffic and score, block shots by 7-footers, and make cross-court passes, somehow effectively subsumes his game into the team concept, but is ready to step up to give the team a lift when they need him too (see 10-minute mark of first half in UCLA game). With all his screaming, Joa-Kim Noah can get on your nerves, but he's a relentness player with a wide wingspan who contributes even when his funky-looking shot isn't falling. (When he enters the NBA, Ben Wallace will have competition for "worst free throw shooting form"). Point guard Taureen Green is a little inconsistent, but he's a good outside shooter and very fast and creative in the open court. Forward Al Horford has an old-fashioned game, reminiscent of the Malone boys--Moses and Karl. Top reserves Walter Hodge and Chris Richard are more than capable, they would start on most other NCAA teams.

April 1: Another Idea for Next Contract Cycle: The Tree-mendous Two sponsored by the U.S. National Park Service

April 1: April Asylum Arrives!

Scarlet Knights Peachy as Half of Perfect Pair

Orange Ya Glad: Volunteers Turnover Heels to Complete Finals Fruit Cocktail

The first Del Monte Perfect Pair half in the NCAA women's final is Rutgers University, who smothered the LSU Lady Tigers in a heavy syrup-like defense while slicing them into sections with a first half sharpshooting display. The final score was 59-35. LSU had no answers to Rutgers' coach Stringers preannounced intention to surround Sylvia Fowles and challenge the remaining players to beat them from outside. Along the way, LSU trailed 6-0; 12-2; 27-14; and 37-19 at halftime. Clanging away at a 26% accuracy rates, the Tigers never pressed the Knights in the second half as their season came to a bittersweet end.

Tennessee and North Carolina slogged through their own heavy syrup in Game 2. A turnover and missed shot-filled first half ended with Tennessee up 22-21. Midway through the second half, the Tar Heels appeared ready to enjoy the fruits of victory, as they led 48-36. But a sticky Volunteer defense that extracted 29 turnovers and a revived inside game pulled Tennessee even and eventually to a sweet 56-50 victory.

The Del Monte Perfect Pair match halves on Tuesday night.

April 2: The "Fungus is Among Us", but not for long, as the country anxiously awaits tonite's NCAA Men's Basketball Final between the Tinactin Two - the University of Florida Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Questions fester like sores between untreated toes. Can the Gator guards provide fast-acting relief from rapidly-spreading Mike Conley? How many doses of the Gator "bigs" will be needed to neutralize Greg Oden? Will Oden be infected with foul trouble? Will Buckeyes introduce harmful side effects when mixed with the Gators' championship chemistry? Will the Gators complete a fast-acting, long-lasting "one-two knockout punch" to Buckeye athletic championship dreams?

But the big question for me is whether I'll be able to describe the game in here through the prism of athlete's foot fungus and the relief thereof. (A Google search on this phrase found a "Black Prizm" magnetic necklace that addresses a number of maladies, including lumbar pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, but not athlete's foot; the same site (http://www.herbalremedies.com/) offers a "new larger 2 oz. size" of their anti-fungal Alphacura, but let's just keep that to ourselves--and anyway, it's a herbal remedy, not real medicine like Tinactin). In any event, this magnetic necklace is a lot nicer to look at than an fungus-covered foot. (My mother has dissuaded me from providing even a link to an athlete's foot picture. If you'd like to see one, please e-mail me privately, or conduct your own Google search on "picture of athlete's foot".)

At least Ohio State has red as one of their school colors - red, sore, itching, cracking, burning, oozing, pus-filled, soothing, healing, cooling, medicated - will I be able to incorporate these fungal and antifungal adjectives effectively into a basketball story? Could I get pictures from the floor of the locker room? Of the players' shower shoes? Of their feet?

At http://www.atdamerican.com/ you can order these anti-microbial shower shoes, 24 to the case, for only $1.85 per pair. Of course, that might not be so good for the Tinactin business, given that we need some fungal microbes to survive long enough to develop into a case of athlete's foot (one per patient) that can be treated with Tinactin. Still, the shower shoe angle could prove to be a unique sidebar of my coverage. They come in tan and orange. It is too late for to switch Tinactin Two and Del Monte Perfect Pair?

April 2: Gators Enjoy Thrill of Victory While Buckeyes Suffer "Agony of De Feet" in Tinactin Two NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Final

Tinactin Two Halftime: To say the least, I'm irritated at CBS and the NCAA's total failure to acknowledge the Tinactin Two. I'd like to give out a few hotfoots, to the execs and to Ohio State, whose guards and forwards need to provide some outside support to the fine effort being made by freshman center Greg Oden. My other idea is for the NBA to conduct an emergency draft at halftime so Cory Brewer can move on to a league more in line with his ability. We'll see how the Buckeyes react with the "nuts" in the proverbial vise. More later.

Tinactin Two Postgame: Do you remember the opening to ABC's Wide World of Sports back in the '70s (and maybe later)? An unfortunate ski jumper crashed off the side of the downslope while host Jim McKay finished the phrase "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Some time later, I heard the apocryphal story that some fans of the show thought that the ski jumper's name was Agonie DeFeet (his actual name was Vinko Bogataj).

The just-finished Tinactin Two NCAA men's basketball final put me in mind of old "Agonie" as the Florida Gators sent the Ohio State Buckeyes crashing to an 84-75 defeat.

Another team effort by the Gators overcame a game effort by Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden, who stayed free of fouls all night and amassed 25 points and 12 rebounds. The rest of Buckeyes couldn't throw a shower shoe in an Olympic-sized pool--a late three-pointer brought their long range shooting accuracy to that point at 14% (3 for 21). After Brewer and Green carried the scoring for the Gators in the first half, Horford and Humphrey picked up the second half, with Noah adding six free throws late as the Buckeyes fouled to try to catch up.

I'm still a little miffed about the sponsorship thing. John Madden's not very happy either, and he's a big guy. When I cool down, maybe I'll be able to work a few more fungus-relief references into this story. Still I fear that the unfortunate oversight will result in needless "agony of the feet" by thousands of sufferers of red, sore, itching, cracking, burning, oozing, pus-filled athlete's foot fungus, still unaware of the cooling, soothing, healing, fast-acting, long-lasting medicated relief offered by Tinactin. Here's one last look at the logo. But I have to "move on" to the Del Monte Perfect Pair game tomorrow night. A marketer's work is never done.

April 3: Break-up News - Del Monte Perfect Pair Spoiled - Marketing Marriage Annulled

In a statement made less than two hours before opening tipoff, Kaldad2007 spokesman Dadlak Z. announced that the marketing agreement between Del Monte, ESPN and the NCAA had spoiled, and that "Del Monte Perfect Pair" would not be used in any capacity to describe tonight's womens' college basketball final game. "Never consummated, the agreement has been annulled," read the terse written statement distributed to the media.

"There were several contributing factors," explained an emotional Z. "Del Monte's internal research indicated a significant lack of overlap between women's college basketball fans and consumers of canned fruit, especially pears, which are primarily consumed by elementary school students, cafeteria customers and residents of senior citizen homes. Even if they were basketball fans, none of these groups have significant input into the brand selection by the institutions that feed them."

"The pear-shaped logo appears also to have been a factor in the spoilage. Focus groups hurriedly assembled to confirm the logo's marketing power reported that the pear-shaped basketball looked less like a pear and more like a basketball than had been left out too long in the sun, and that the image would surely not encourage them to eat canned pear halves, on the contrary, it made them wish for a nice, thick steak. When informed that what they'd seen was a prototype, one group member responded, "This is my gut feel--and right now I need a Pepcid AC." Another group member commented that the logo looked like a picture of a basketball bean bag chair altered on Adobe Photo Shop, an allegation that was later confirmed.

Z. continued with a reference to the disappointing last minute breakdown of the Tinactin Two sponsorship of the men's final game on Monday night. "Of course, we were devastated by the failure of both the NCAA and CBS to recognize the legitimacy and alliterative power of the Tinactin Two marketing arrangement. John Madden told me that by the second half he had almost eaten his way through an entire shower shoe in frustration. At this point, all options are being explored, but we would caution both entities to be very careful as they shower in their respective facilities in the near future."

Getting back to the "Perfect Pair", Z. noted that tonite's annulment will prevent "a lot of pain, hurt feelings, and spoiled food," in the morning. "Puns are fun," concluded Z, "but at the end of the day they're no substitute for solid market research. I feel we've learned a lesson here." Kaldad2007 is working with marketing experts to develop a suitable marketing campaign for the 2008 final game. Shoe marketer Nike (pair of shoes, get it?) has been suggested as a company with more overlap with basketball and with more money to pay exorbitant marketing rights fees.

"Perfect Spokespear" Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean expressed both regret at the dissolution of the agreement, and hope that their pear-colored costumes could be used in an future campaign for Fruit of the Loom. Representatives of Del Monte and ESPN could not be reached for comment.

Volunteers Slay Knights in Perfect Pair, Er, NCAA Women's Final Basketball Joust

In a contest and an outcome that would have been unthinkable only 1,000 years ago, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers defeated the Rutgers Lady Scarlet Knights 59-46 for the NCAA women's basketball championship.

In the male-dominated medieval world of the 11th century, women's roles were determined by men. Volunteering was not an option. And Lady Knights would have been an oxymoron, as the honor of the ladies of that time was defended from hordes of Huns and Goths by an entirely male rank of knights.

But nothing begets progress like time, as Coach Pat Summitt and her orange-and-white clad warrior princesses won Tennessee's seventh NCAA women's basketball crown with an impressive display of defense and rebounding. Time and again, the Lady Knights played as though they'd been knocked off their mounts, cold-cocked with maces, and run through by the lance. National player of the year Candace Parker scored 17 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Diminutive Shannon Bobbitt sparked Tennessee's 2nd half offense with four 3-point shots. Center Nikki Anosike pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to see you again for March Madness 2008! Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on this piece.

Monday, March 17, 2008

March Madness 2008: The Search for 65 - 65 In; Who's Out

March 16 - I took a nap through the selection show and now have to suffer with Digger Phelps and Bobby Knight analyzing the draw.

Of my 64, at least Illinois State, Ohio State, VCU, Houston, New Mexico and Arizona State didn't make it.

Now Dick is Vitale ranting about Arizona getting in over Arizona State.

Oregon, Arizona, Villanova, Kentucky, Baylor and St. Joseph's made it in against my prediction. Philadelphia got three of it's five city teams into the field (Temple as Atlantic 10 champ). The city's most consistent tournament team--Pennsylvania, had a rare bad season and missed as the Ivy League rep.

As predicted by many, UNC, UCLA, Memphis and Kansas are #1 seeds. Coppin State and Mt. Saint Mary's compete in the play-in game on Tuesday. The winner gets North Carolina.

Georgetown got a #2 seed rather than Wisconsin, who are #3 along with Louisville, Xavier and Stanford. I was way off on Louisville, placing them at #6. Davidson got a nice #10 seed, the highest of the so-called minor conference champs. Georgia's run thru the SEC tournament got them a spot, but at #14, in the same rank with Cal State-Fullerton, Cornell and Boise State.

I'll have to print and analyze the draw to comment much further.

March 14 - Bubbles and Seeds

Conference tournament week is well underway and the nature of the 65 team NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Field is coming into focus.

As I see it, the following 57 teams (some still unnamed) are in the field no matter what happens from here on out during the conference tournaments. (Tournament winners italicized)

ACCUNC, Duke, Clemson, Miami
America East – tournament winner (University of Maryland—Baltimore)
Atlantic SunBelmont
Atlantic Ten – Xavier, tourney winner Temple, and either St. Joseph's or Charlotte (or neither)
Big East – Georgetown, West Virginia, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette and Pittsburgh, who won the Big East tourney.
Big SkyPortland State
Big SouthWinthrop
Big 10 – Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana
Big 12Kansas, Texas, Kansas St., Oklahoma
Big West – tournament winner (UC Santa Barbara?) - Cal State Fullerton
ColonialGeorge Mason
Conference USAMemphis
Metro AtlanticSiena
Mid AmericanKent St.
MEAC – tournament winner - Coppin St.
Missouri ValleyDrake
Mountain West – BYU, UNLV
NortheastMount St. Mary’s
Ohio ValleyAustin Peay
Pac 10UCLA, Stanford, Washington St, USC
SEC – Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky - Georgia
Southland – tournament winner (SF Austin?) - Texas Arlington
SummitOral Roberts
Sun BeltWestern Kentucky
SWAC – tournament winner (Alabama St?) - Mississippi Valley St.
West CoastSan Diego, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s
WAC – tournament winner (Utah St?) - Boise State

This leaves eight spots open to a list of what by my count is 31 “bubble teams”.

In this group I include

Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State
St. Joseph’s, Charlotte
Syracuse, Villanova
Ohio State, Minnesota
Baylor, Texas A&M
California-Northridge, UCSB
Houston, UAB
Cleveland St.
Western Michigan
Illinois State
New Mexico
Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon
Florida, Mississippi
South Alabama
Utah State
New Mexico State

My eight from this group are:

Charlotte – decent season and good run in A-10 tourney; sure thing if they're the champs. - won't go with Xavier and Temple in the field.
Pitt – a dangerous club with their star Levance Fields back in the lineup (great name, by the way) - now in as conference champ
Ohio State
– late season wins over Purdue and Michigan State resurrected their hopes - Illinois win in Big 10 final would knock them out.
Texas A&M
– outperformed fellow Big 12 bubble team Baylor in conference tourney
VCU – had a great season before being upset by William and Mary
Houston or UAB (need more analysis to determine second Conference USA entry)
Illinois State – strong second to MVC powerhouse Drake
South Alabama – great Sun Belt regular season
Nevada (or other tourney runnerup from WAC)
New Mexico – Mountain West has had a great season
Arizona State - ESPN analyst convinced me that they should be in

Last four out were:

Baylor, UAB (or Houston), Nevada and Virginia Tech

Seed Pods

1 – UNC, UCLA, Memphis, Texas/KU winner
2 – Tennessee, Kansas/Texas loser, Wisconsin, Duke
3 – Georgetown, Xavier, Butler, Stanford
4 – Purdue, Vanderbilt, Drake, Washington State
5 – Michigan St, Clemson, Notre Dame, Indiana
6 – BYU, Kansas St, Gonzaga, Louisville
7 – USC, Miami, Kent State, Marquette
8 – Connecticut, St. Mary’s, Mississippi State, Arkansas
9 – West Virginia, Oklahoma, UNLV, San Diego
10 – George Mason, VCU, Kentucky/Georgia, Western Kentucky
11 – Pitt, Temple, Ohio State, South Alabama
12 - Boise St, Texas A&M, Houston, Illinois State
13 - CS-Fullerton, Davidson, Nevada, New Mexico
14 - Winthrop, Tex-Arlington, Portland State, Austin Peay
15 - UMBC, Cornell, American, Oral Roberts
16 – Siena, Belmont, Mississippi Valley St.
Play-in – Coppin St. and Mt. St. Mary’s

March 13 - First-Round Action - No new champs will be crowned tonight, but action begins in six more conference tournaments, including the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC, and continues in nine others, including the Pac 10 and Big East. Early round action last night produced no big upsets - Atlantic 10 sleeper Rhode Island bowed to Charlotte 75-73 to punch their NIT ticket.

March 12 - Northeastern Sky - The Northeast Conference and Big Sky Conference find champions tonite. Upset semifinal winners Mount Saint Mary's and Sacred Heart play for the Northeast championship. Regular season champ Portland State and Northern Arizona battle for the Big Sky championship. Other conferences, highlighted by the Big East, start tournaments.

March 11 - Will Butler Do it? Three tournament berths are at stake tonight. The Summit Conference final matches Oral Roberts and unpronouncable IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis--the abbreviation makes me think of Youppi--the original mascot of the Montreal Expos baseball team). The Horizon Conference final pits #10 Butler and upstart Cleveland State. At the same time, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State decide the Sun Belt championship. Butler gets in no matter what; Western Kentucky has a gaudy 26-6 record, but has been mentioned as a bubble team. Other bubble teams are rooting hard for Butler. Cleveland State and Middle Tennessee definitely need wins tonite to get in.

March 9 - Seek and You Shall Find -- Spoilers - The 65 March Madness Men's teams are slowly being identified. Other March 9/10 updates in this color.

Tournament-eligible teams are shown in basketball-colored orange.

As of 8 p.m. today, five teams are in - Cornell, undefeated winner of the Ivy League season (no conference tournament), Austin Peay (OVC tournament winner), Belmont (Atlantic Sun tournament winner), Winthrop (Big South tournament winner), and Drake (MVC tournament winner). All the tourney winners were regular season leaders. Drake beat Illinois State, who at 24-9 still has a good chance to get in as a second MVC team. Winthrop plays in their fourth straight NCAA tournament (they won a game last year) and could be a dangerous 12th or 13th seed; Belmont is in their third straight, but will still be near the bottom of the field. More conference tournament finals are being played today--the list of tournament eligible teams will grow.

CBS identified five "spoiler" teams--regular season leaders from mid-major conferences who appear to be in the big tournament no matter their conference tournament outcome--Butler, Kent State, South Alabama, Davidson and VCU. If one of these teams gets upset and an unranked team makes the tournament, a team somewhere watches their bubble pop.

VCU lost to William & Mary in the CAA tournament. W&M and George Mason match up in the CAA final. ESPN's "bracketologist" says that the loss burst VCU's bubble. I think they will still get in. George Mason pulled the CAA up with their Final Four run in 2006 to the point where both the regular season and tournament champions can get NCAA bids.

Defending champ Florida hopes they fit in this latter group--they may still be out even if all the spoilers stay fresh. The Gators are taking in on the chin in their regular season finale vs. Kentucky. Without a comeback today, word is that they'll need a win or two in the SEC tournament to get in the field of 65.

March 2 - Today's watchword is "bubble". Yesterday's action answered some questions about "bubble teams" (teams that are neither in nor out--therefore "on the bubble") and raised others. Another good set of games will tip off today. I've inserted updates below in this color.

With March Madness about three weeks away, the search is on for the 65 teams that will appear in the mens' college basketball championship.

I looked at conference standings and came up with the following estimates of how many teams will likely be chosen from each conference. Almost every conference is guaranteed at least one spot.

American East (1) - Maryland-Baltimore County or tourney winner

Atlantic 10 (1-2) - Xavier and St. Joseph's or tourney winner - Xavier rolls along to a potential #2 seed. St. Joseph's lost to St. Louis at home to hurt their chances. Temple and U Mass have moved ahead of St. Joseph's for the possible second spot from the A-10.

St. Joe's and Temple made it to the A-10 finals; St. Joe's upset Xavier; Temple beat Charlotte in the semis. My guess is that the winner joins Xavier in the NCAA tourne and that Charlotte is out.

Atlantic Coast (7) - UNC, Duke, Va Tech, Clemson, Maryland, Miami, Wake Forest - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Duke and UNC both won despite trailing by double digits in the first half. The Tar Heels survived a 46-point onslaught by Boston College guard Tyrese Rice. Miami scored 60 in the second half to nip Virginia 95-93 and improve their record to 20-8. Clemson and Maryland meet today. UNC, Duke, Clemson and Miami look solid. I've read skeptical reports about Va Tech, Maryland and Wake, but suspect that at least one of these three will get in.

Va Tech bowed to UNC in ACC semi. Clemson upset Duke on the other side. Neither outcome will change which ACC teams make the big tourney.

Atlantic Sun (1) - if this new conference qualifies for an automatic berth - Belmont or tourney winner Belmont is in as A-Sun tourney champ.

Big 12 (6) - Texas, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Bubble team Oklahoma got a big 64-37 win over Texas A&M. Texas Tech upset Texas 83-80, keeping the 'Horns out of short-term consideration for a #1 seed. Baylor whipped 100 on Missouri. Kansas dominated K-State for their 34th win the last 36 games of the series. Texas, Kansas, K-State and Baylor look solid. Kansas might still get a #1 seed by winning the Big 12 tourney and having Tennessee or UCLA lose in their conference tourneys. UNC and Memphis look impenetrable for two of the four #1 seeds.

Kansas and Texas meet in the Big-12 final. Both teams look solid as #2 seeds in the NCAA tourney.

Big East (7) - Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, Pitt - tourney winner other than these knocks one out - Georgetown nipped Marquette in OT. UConn beat WVU (a bubble team, others say, due to poor Strength of Schedule (SOS)). Pitt kept Syracuse NIT-bound. Notre Dame and Louisville are in action on Sunday vs. DePaul and Villanova respectively. Nova needs a win and then some. Georgetown won second straight regular season title--seem assured of a #2 seed. I've read that Syracuse still has a chance. The first four on the above list look like sure things.

Pitt found its stride and reached the Big East final vs. Georgetown. This is the seventh time in eight years the Panthers have played in this game. Their record for the period is 1-5, including a lopsided loss to Georgetown last year.

Big Sky (1) - Portland State or tourney winner - Portland State rolls on with a 108-56 demolition of Montana. Portland State got a well-deserved berth with an 67-51 win over Northern Arizona in the Big Sky final.

Big South (1) - Winthrop or tourney winner. Winthrop won tourney and will make fourth straight NCAA appearance.

Big 10 (4-6) - Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and maybe Ohio State or Minnesota. Tourney winner other than these knocks out one of last two - Minnesota took the bubble team matchup with Ohio State, 71-57. Last year's national runnerup looks more and more NIT-bound with 17-12 record. The first four are still solid. Ohio State slipped, then rallied with wins over Purdue and Michigan State. A Big 10 tourney win or two would put them back in.

First-place Wisconsin faces ninth-place Illinois in the Big 10 Championship game. A win by Illinois (16-18) definitely knocks out a bubble team.

Big West (1) Cal State Northridge or tourney winner

Cal State Fullerton faces UC Irvine in the final. Winner gets in. Maybe Fullerton does in any event at 23-9.

Colonial Athletic (2-3) - VCU, George Mason and maybe UNC-Wilmington; other tourney winner knocks one out - 2006 Cinderella George Mason couldn't overcome an 18-point first half and lost to Northeastern. UNC-Wilmington (19-12) beat Old Dominion to creep up in the standings. VCU rolls on at the top of the league. Running the table could earn them a #4 seed. CAA tourney final matches George Mason and William and Mary. I think that VCU and the winner will go. George Mason held off William and Mary for their first CAA tourney title since 2001. The Patriots become the sixth team in the big tournament.

Conference USA (2-3) - Memphis, Houston and maybe UAB; other tourney winner knocks out UAB - ECU nipped Houston. Memphis survived an upset bid by Southern Miss. UAB got a nice win over Tulane and could overtake Houston for second C-USA slot. ESPN bracketologist says that UAB needs more wins.

Horizon (1-2) - Butler and Wright State - other tourney winner knocks out Wright State - #14 Butler held Detroit to 31 points. Wright St. lost to Valparaiso, jeopardizing their at-large bid. Butler now #10 in national polls and likely #3 seed if they prevail in Horizon tourney. Butler did it, overwhelming Cleveland State 70-55 to complete a 28-3 season and earn a tournament berth as a likely #3 seed.

Independents (0)

Ivy (1) - Cornell has 3-game lead with four to play; should be first qualifier as Ivy has no tourney - Cornell ripped Harvard to clinch their first NCAA berth since 1988 (Penn and Princeton, Ivy League qualifiers for the last 19 years, are a combined 16-38 so far). Congrats to the Big Red for being the first team to officially qualify for this year's tournament.

Metro Atlantic (1) - Niagara or tourney winner - Niagara got spanked by Siena. Rider (20-9) might also challenge. Siena pounded Rider 74-53 to win the Metro Atlantic tourney and the seventh bid to the NCAA tournament.

Mid-American (1-2) - Kent State and maybe Akron; other tourney winner knocks out Akron - #23 Kent State's time in the top 25 will be brief. They lost to Bowling Green on Saturday. Akron helped their cause with a 20-point win over Buffalo.

Kent State and Akron meet in the MAC final. An Akron win drives out a bubble team.

Mideastern (1) - Morgan State or tourney winner

Morgan State and Coppin State meet in the final.

Missouri Valley (2-3) - Drake and Illinois State; maybe Southern Illinois or Creighton; tourney winner other than these knocks out SIU and Creighton - Drake and Illinois State roll on. Creighton won the game of the day, 111-110 in 2 OTs over Bradley. Creighton's Cavel Witter scored 42 and led his team with 7 assists. Drake clobbered Illinois St 79-49 to complete 28-4 regular season and claim both MVC regular season and tourney titles. This will be their first NCAA appearance since 1971, and likely as #4 or 5 seed. Very impressive! Runnerup Ill. St. also likely to get a bid despite bad last game. SIU and Creighton probably NIT-bound.

Mountain West (2-3) - BYU, UNLV and maybe New Mexico; other tourney winner knocks out New Mexico - BYU and UNLV won easily.

They meet in the MW final.

Northeast (1) - Robert Morris or tourney winner - Morris and Wagner are the class of this league, but only one will be NCAA-bound. It turns out that neither team is NCAA-bound. Both were upset in the Northeast tourney semifinals and Robert Morris conqueror Mount Saint Mary's prevailed over Sacred Heart to capture a tournament berth.

Ohio Valley (1) - Austin Peay or tourney winner - Austin Peay won again, but will still have to win the conference tourney to get in. Like Drake, Austin Peay won both regular season and tourney titles by clear margins. Unlike Drake, they'll get a double digit seed.

Pacific 10 (5-6) - UCLA, Stanford, Wash St, USC, Arizona State and maybe Arizona; other tourney winner knocks out USC or Ariz State - Arizona State won bubble matchup with USC, despite 37 from OJ Mayo. Stanford beat Wash. State, but Cougars are still OK. USC looked great clobbering Stanford. I can't seem them being left out.

UCLA and Stanford meet in the Pac 10 final. Both are entrenched as high NCAA seeds (1 and 3 most likely)

Patriot (1) - American U or tourney winner

Southeastern (6) - Tennessee, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Arkansas, Mississippi State; other tourney winner knocks out Arkansas - Mississippi needs more wins like Saturday's blowout of Alabama. Arkansas upset of Vandy helps them more than it hurts Vandy. Miss. State beat Florida at Gainesville. WIth 21-8 record and defending national champ status, you'd think that the Gators would be in easily, but I've read that they're a bubble team and need more wins. Tennessee and Kentucky play at noon in Knoxville today. Florida lost their last regular season game to Kentucky. They are probably the SEC bubble team most at risk of playing in the NIT.

The SEC tourney was delayed by a tornado that struck the Georgia Dome. Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi St and Georgia are still alive.

Southern (1) - Davidson or tourney winner Davidson faces Elon (14-18) in tourney final. Win by Elon will test NCAA committee's respect for Southern Conference.

Davidson takes care of business, 65-49 to take the eighth spot in the NCAA tournament and stretching their record to a gaudy 26-6.

Southland (1) - SF Austin or tourney winner

Southwestern Athletic (1) - Alabama State or tourney winner

Final matches Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State.

Summit (1) - also a new conference - Oral Roberts or tourney winner if they have auto bid. 3/11 update - This isn't a new conference; it's the renamed Midwest Cities Conference. Oral Roberts punched its ticket with a 71-64 win over IUPUI in the tournament final.

Sun Belt (1-2) - South Alabama and Western Kentucky; other tourney winner may knock out one of these - USA and WKU roll on, trying to become upset-proof. USA put themselves on the bubble with a 82-73 tourney loss to Middle Tennessee State. They have to hope that a 26-6 record with wins over San Diego, Mississippi State and Western Kentucky (2) will be enough. The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky got Tuesday's last tourney berth with a 67-57 win over Middle Tennessee.

West Coast (2) - St. Mary's and Gonzaga; other tourney winner jeopardizes bubble teams from other conferences - Gonzaga won Saturday's matchup of top 25 teams. Gonzaga is in the WCC final vs. San Diego. With a win, the Zags and St. Mary's will go to NCAA. A San Diego win would put them in too and put a non-WCC bubble team out, at least according to ESPN. I wonder if the WCC can be a three-team conference.

San Diego puts the decision in the hands of the committee with a 69-62 win over Gonzaga in the WCC final to take the ninth NCAA tournament berth. San Diego's coach served as an assistant at Gonzaga for 16 years prior ot this season.

Western Athletic (1) - Boise State or tourney winner

Adding the lower figures for each conference totals 65, meaning that most teams "on the bubble" will feel their bubble burst.

Boise State meets New Mexico State in the final.

Sure Things - Current No. 1 seeds would be UNC, Memphis, UCLA and Tennesee; next four are Duke, Kansas, Texas and Georgetown; 3-seeds are Indiana, Wisconsin, Stanford and Vandy; potential 4's are Butler, Xavier, Louisville, Notre Dame, Purdue, Michigan State, Wash State, St. Mary's, Gonzaga and Kent State. All of these teams are "sure things" for the field of 65. - Duke and Kansas stand ready to advance if one of the top 4 falters. Butler and Xavier push for Vandy's #3-seed. Gonzaga advances toward a #4 with their win over St. Mary's.

1's and 2's haven't changed much if at all. Georgetown and Wisconsin are possible 2's. Butler or Xavier could move up to 3. Kent State and St. Mary's have probably dropped out of contention for a 4 seed.

Bubble Teams - These teams need to win their own conference tournament or do well and root for other conference tourney favorites to hold form - St. Joseph's, Ohio State, Minnesota, UAB, Wright State, Akron, Arizona, Arkansas, Western Michigan, New Mexico, Southern Illinois, Creighton, Wagner, Western Kentucky - St. Joseph's, Ohio State and Wright St. took hits. Minnesota, UAB, Arkansas, Creighton, Wagner, and WKU helped their causes. Houston might have slipped to bubble status. Oklahoma and Arizona State, listed as bubble teams by others, got big wins to progress toward "sure thing" status. USC slipped to bubble status.

Villanova advanced to near-bubble status with a first round win over Syracuse in the Big East tourney. Syracuse is definitely NIT-bound.

Ripe for Upsets - These are mostly regular season leaders of minor conferences - UMBC, Belmont, Portland State, Winthrop, Cal State-Northridge, Niagara, Morgan State, Robert Morris, Austin Peay, American, Davidson, SF Austin, Alabama State, Oral Roberts, Boise State. As mentioned above, Belmont, Winthrop, Austin Peay, Davidson, Oral Roberts, and Portland State are clear of this risk. Robert Morris got bit. Others will decide their own fate this week.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Word Plays - March Madness Edition

I promised a glossary of March Madness jargon. Here's what I've come up with so far. (The image has nothing to do with basketball, but I liked the artwork.)

At-Large Selection - Champions of 31 conferences get automatic bids into the tournament. Of these conferences, 30 have conference tournaments to determine their conference champs. Only the Ivy League sends its regular season champ. The NCAA Basketball Committee selects the other 34 teams in the field of 65, known collectively as the "at-large" teams.

Big Dance - a once unofficial nickname for the NCAA basketball tournament, this year trademarked. Fits with "Cinderella" and "Glass Slipper" in the overall fairy tale metaphor.

Bracket Buster - an upset by double-digit seed over a higher-ranked seed in a first-round games. Most bettors trust the NCAA basketball committee and pick the single-digit seeds to win their first game. #16 has never beaten #1. A couple 15-seeds have beaten 2-seeds, most memorably for me, Southern (of Baton Rouge) beating Georgia Tech several years ago.

Bracketology - whether in print, on TV, in a bar or on your computer, it's the study of the prospective filling of the tournament bracket and then, after the NCAA committee does its work, laboring over which team will win each and every game. Practitioners are "bracketologists".

Bubble Team - Teams whose tournament status is at the mercy of the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee. Conference tournament champions have their "ticket punched" and are exempt from this "bubble" status. Also exempt are teams from "power conferences" who've had exemplary regular seasons. Generally, about the last ten at-large selections go to "bubble teams".

Cinderella - Any low-ranked team that wins its first game becomes a prospective "Cinderella"--the lowly stepsister who becomes the belle of the ball. Two wins brings on the fairy godmother to make the dress. 11th-seeded George Mason became the all-time Cinderella by beating North Carolina to reach the Final Four in 2006.

DelMonte Perfect Pair - unsuccessful attempt by Dadlak Marketing to establish nickname and title sponsorship for 2007 NCAA Women's final game. "Pair" and "pear", get it? See DelMonte Perfect Pair.

Elite Eight - The last eight teams left in the tournament play in the regional finals to advance to the Final Four, this year held in San Antonio. Alliteration is entirely responsible for this phrase; that and the need to bridge between Sweet Sixteen and Final Four.

Final Four - The four teams to advance to the national semifinals. As mentioned last year, even though there's a final location, "final" generally implies fewer than four teams (see "Tinactin Two")

Glass Slipper -- Bracketologists examine potential Cinderellas and speculate whether they will fit the "Glass Slipper", that is, advance to the Final Four or even beyond.
Mid-Major (Conferences) - A level below so-called Power Conferences, the Mid-Major Conferences (examples are Conference USA, Sun Belt, West Coast, Mid-American, Western Athletic) are sometimes relegated to just one team in the tournament, sometimes two teams and very infrequently three. A mid-major team is one from a mid-major conference. In the 2008 tourney, Conference USA got just one team in (Memphis; despite Houston and UAB having decent records), while the West Coast Conference got tournament champ San Diego and regular season leaders Gonzaga and St. Mary's.
Minor Conferences - Conferences such as the Northeast, Patriot, Atlantic Sun and Big Sky have no chance of entering more than one team in the NCAA tournament. If their regular season champ loses in the conference tournament, it will not make the NCAA field. Some of these conferences are relatively new. Others are populated by small schools with limited scholarships for basketball, or like the Big Sky, are located in remote and unpopulated areas.

NCAA Basketball Selection Committee - a group of athletic directors and conference executives who select at-large teams and determine seedings for the tournament. Often shortened to "committee".

On the Bubble - see "Bubble Team"

Play-In Game - the proliferation of new conferences has expanded the tournament from 64 to 65 teams, as 34 slots have been reserved for at-large teams (I don't know why this is a magic number.), and there are now 31 conferences. The two lowest ranked teams in the field play one extra game against each other on the Tuesday night prior to the beginning of the rest of the play on Thursday. This year's play-in game matches 20-game loser Coppin State, winner of the MEAC tournament, and 18-14 Mt. Saint Mary's, upset winner of the Northeast conference. At 17-15, Mississippi Valley State, winner of the SWAC conference, is the next lowest ranked team in 2008.
Power Conferences - Akin to BCS conferences in football, these conferences garner most of the at-large berths - ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC, and, ultimately almost all the championships. Twenty-eight of 34 at-large berths went to power conference teams this year.

Regionals - After the first weekend, surviving teams (see "Sweet Sixteen") advance to regional play at one of four sites: Charlotte (East), Detroit (Midwest), Houston (South) and Phoenix (West)

RPI - I'm not sure what the initials stand for, but RPI is a computer-based rating system that ranks teams based on their record, their opponents' records, and their opponents' opponents' record. The NCAA Basketball Selection Committee uses RPI as one of the basis for selecting at-large teams.

Strength of Schedule (SOS) - regardless of a team's won/loss record, SOS measures the difficulty of their schedule (based on wins and losses of opponents). Another factor used by bracketologists and the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee in determining at-large teams.

Sub-Regionals - former name for what are now even more mundanely called first and second-round games.

Sweet Sixteen - Teams surviving the first two games (the first weekend) of play. Alliteration and dance metaphor play a role here. NCAA has trademarked this phrase and prohibited its use by other tournaments.

Ticket Punched - A guaranteed spot in the tournament field, generally after winning a conference tournament. This year, Ivy League regular season champ Cornell was the first to get its "ticket punched." Later, this term will be applied to spots in the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight and Final Four.

Tinactin Two - sadly failed 2007 attempt by yours truly to establish new nickname and title sponsorship for the men's final game. (see DelMonte Perfect Pair") Sorry about that football in the logo. See Tinactin Two