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

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