King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Billy Packer talks smack, and sort of makes sense. That and other scary thoughts from NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday.

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My 16-team bracket of observations from Selection Sunday:

No. 1: In March, I find myself agreeing with CBS analyst Billy Packer way too often. I don’t know why that happens but it worries me. Almost the first thing that happened on the CBS selection show was Packer saying St. Joseph’s shouldn’t be a No. 1 seed. “If you put together a tournament,” he said, “just as we have, and you’re gonna take Pitt and Connecticut, and you’re gonna take Oklahoma State and you’re gonna take Texas, and you’re gonna take Duke and you’re gonna take Maryland, and you’re gonna take Kentucky and you’re gonna take Florida, where does St. Joe’s fit in that tournament, or in a league made up of those kind of teams?”

I know: Huh? The real meaning of Packer’s comment is that if you say the words “and you’re gonna take” seven times in one sentence on TV, all anyone is gonna hear is “and you’re gonna take blah blah blah and you’re gonna take blah blah blah and you’re gonna take bla-bla. But putting that aside, and putting aside Florida, who are just kind of lousy, I agree with Packer’s basic point that if St. Joe’s were in a tough league, they wouldn’t be anything like undefeated. He said Oklahoma State should have been a No. 1, and I agree. This worries me. But I would have made St. Joe’s a second seed, and egos aside, there’s no difference between a 1 and 2.

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No. 16: Nice whizzing match between Packer and St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, who responded to Packer later in the show by saying, “I just want to check, is Billy Packer playing for a team? We’d like to play against them. He’s got a lot to say. We’d like to play against him.” The next time Packer was on, his partner Jim Nantz teased that he wouldn’t be invited to the St. Joe’s basketball banquet, and with a little heat, Packer said, “I may lend a little history lesson to Phil Martelli. The last time I played against St. Joe’s it was in the NCAA Tournament. St. Joe’s lost. I won’t talk about how well I played” — here Nantz mentioned Packer, who played for Wake Forest in the early ’60s, hitting a couple of shots to send the game into overtime — “but he needs to learn a little history about the school where he coaches.” Nantz gently changed the subject to what they were supposed to talk about, the St. Louis bracket.



Meow, boys!

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No. 8: The 8 vs. 9 games are always the dogs of the NCAA Tournament, because those middle-of-the-bracket seeds tend to be underachievers from big conferences or OK teams from medium-size conferences. This year’s crop is no exception: Alabama vs. Southern Illinois, Texas Tech vs. North Carolina-Charlotte, Seton Hall vs. Arizona and Washington vs. Alabama-Birmingham. These 8s and 9s are better than the double-digit seeds, but when a double-digit seed wins, it’s an exciting upset, the very thing that makes the NCAA Tournament so great. Who cares if a 9 beats an 8? Especially when that team’s next task is to go lose to the top seed.

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No. 9: Having said that, I really like that Washington-UAB game. Washington’s one of the hottest teams in the country, and as middling medium-conference teams go, the uptempo Blazers are a lot of fun to watch. How about the Huskies going from a no-way, not even on the bubble team two weeks ago to an eighth seed.

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No. 2: This is the first time the NCAA has ranked the No. 1 seeds, so that the top two teams in the country, by the Selection Committee’s estimation, can’t meet until the Championship Game. In the past, when the Final Four matchups were scheduled in advance by region and the No. 1s were all considered equal, the top two teams in the public’s mind could have met in the semifinal. This was a problem that didn’t need solving. It’s better to have the two best teams meet in the semis than to have one of them lose in the semis and they never meet. But, you know, no big deal.

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No. 15: It’s taking all of my strength to type this, but I think Stanford got jobbed in those top-seed rankings, which went Kentucky, Duke, Stanford, St. Joe’s. Kentucky and Duke are both great teams, but they both keep losing. During the regular season the Wildcats never won more than seven games in a row, and even that streak was at the start of the year when they were playing Winthrop, Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky. Their three-game SEC tourney run gives them a nine-game winning streak now. The Blue Devils lost three of their last seven, to good teams, but not great ones — North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Stanford lost one game all year, and it was the last regular-season game, and though that was to Washington, it was when Washington was on fire and trying to play its way into the Tournament, and the Cardinal avenged the loss a week later. I believe the RPI system, which the NCAA uses to rank teams for seeding, somehow undervalues West Coast teams.

If you don’t trust this Cal man to give it to you straight after that last paragraph, I don’t know what I can do for you.

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No. 7: Don’t think the college basketball establishment ignores the West Coast? Dick Vitale doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of BYU’s Rafael Araujo, who’s a medium-shot NBA prospect.

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No. 10: For the first time this year, the regions aren’t called West, East, Midwest and South, but are named after the sites: Phoenix, East Rutherford, St. Louis and Atlanta. Another problem that didn’t need solving. Was there anyone who was really confused by the fact that, say, Syracuse might be playing in the West or Arizona in the East? Was it so tough to figure out that the region was named after the site, not the teams playing in it? No and no. West and East, people can remember. Phoenix and East Rutherford? Wha? Watch the old names come back next year. Even the TV people who have no problem saying things like “USF&G Cotton Bowl” are saying things like, “In the Phoenix — oh, let’s just call it the West region.”

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No. 3: I came up with this cheesy bracket gambit as a way to keep this column short and sweet. It isn’t working. I’m only halfway through and I’m over 1,000 words already.

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No. 14: The days of the NCAA Selection Committee underestimating the so-called mid-major conferences is a thing of the past. It wasn’t long ago that mediocre Big Ten teams were getting 4 and 5 seeds while terrific medium-conference schools — Gonzaga was the poster child for several years — were finding themselves around No. 12. The committee is doing a much better job these days. In fact, two years ago, when Gonzaga was ranked sixth in the nation but only got a No. 6 seed, the nation was outraged, but I thought the seeding was just about right. This year nobody jumps out at me as being severely mis-seeded, with the possible exception of Florida, which I don’t think is good enough to be a fifth seed.

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No. 6: The “pod” system keeps high seeds close to home in the subregionals, and that’s a fine, fan-friendly idea, but I think teams shouldn’t be able to get what amount to home games in the early rounds. Even high seeds shouldn’t be able to play within — I admit this is random but I’ll say — a two-hour drive of their home court. Duke and Wake Forest in Raleigh, Kansas in Kansas City and Cincinnati in Columbus all have too much of a home-court advantage in the first two rounds. The Tournament is supposed to be played on neutral courts. What’s even worse is when teams that aren’t seeded high enough to get the favorable treatment end up in their own backyards anyway. Sixth-seed Wisconsin playing in Milwaukee and No. 11 Air Force in Denver: That’s just wrong.

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No. 11: Nobody had better luck with their draw than Air Force. A lot of people, most notably Jay “Thurston Howell III” Bilas on ESPN, are offended that the Falcons even made the Tournament, but not only did they end up as an 11 seed 68 miles from home, they drew North Carolina. The Tar Heels are wildly talented, but young and inconsistent. It’s not ridiculous to picture them going all the way. But it’s also not ridiculous to picture them flopping against Air Force, which calmly runs an excruciating slow-down Princeton offense. Just the thing to befuddle an immature team.

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No. 4: Four things I’m really sick of: 1) The Tournament referred to as “The Big Dance,” and teams “goin’ dancin’.” 2) Announcers reacting to great plays by shouting, “Are you kidding me?” 3) Officials going to the video to double-check calls that weren’t even particularly close. 4) That “King of Queens” guy on CBS promos. Actually, I’m just anticipating becoming sick of him in the next three weeks.

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No. 13: I’m feeling a little better about this agreeing with Billy Packer thing. He said Connecticut is the best team in the country. I don’t know who the best team in the country is, but it’s not Connecticut. On paper maybe, but not in real life. Was he talking about the women?

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No. 5: We’ll have the whole Tournament to figure this out together, but what on earth is supposed to be going on in that ad for the investment company where people are finding their way to their seats at a ballgame? It asks where you’ll end up, in the box seats or the upper deck. I get that. But who’s that kid? What’s with the hand signals to that bald guy? Who’s he? Who’s the kid? What does any of it have to do with whether you end up in the box seats or the upper deck? Help me out, here, people. I’m worrying about this because I know that starting Thursday, I’m going to have to sit through this commercial 465 times a day.

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No. 12: The Tournament actually starts Tuesday with the play-in game in Dayton between Florida A&M and Lehigh. The NCAA has to figure out a way to make this play-in deal more interesting and exciting. Maybe there should be a play-in for all four 16 seeds, with all four games happening in one day at one site. It might become kind of a thing, a big day for whacked-out hoops junkies. It could be one last chance for bubble teams that got left out, like Utah State and Notre Dame this year, though they’d have to start the Tournament by playing a No. 1. Not that I care about bubble teams. Got a better idea? Or are you looking forward to that big night in Dayton?

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