So now that the dust has settled from the first 48 games, who is this year's George Mason?
That's the question that was being batted around before the NCAA Tournament by media outlets counting on their audience not realizing that most years don't have a George Mason, which is what made George Mason's 2006 run to the Final Four so spectacular.
The answer before the first round was "probably nobody," and the answer after the second round is -- Marist!
Or Florida State.
I'm sorry to say I've been ignoring the women's Tournament, which is tough luck for me because if I'd been paying attention Monday night I could have seen Stanford, the second seed in the Fresno region, get upended on its home floor by the No. 10 Seminoles.
My excuse is there are only so many hours in the day, and I just haven't been able to keep up with women's basketball in even my usual just-barely way this year. However, reading Kansas City Star writer Mechelle Voepel's piece for ESPN.com about Stanford's decade of painful postseason failure more than made up for it.
"Some Stanford fans probably feel like they simply can not take any more," Voepel writes.
And let's have one more chorus of that 1998 game when Stanford became the only top-seeded NCAA Tournament team in history, men or women, to lose to a No. 16. And it was a home game.
No. 13 Marist made this year's Sweet 16 by dumping No. 4 Ohio State and then No. 5 Middle Tennessee. There are still some potential Cinderellas playing Tuesday night. No. 8 Pittsburgh has to play Tennessee in the Dayton region, but the game's in Pittsburgh. Nine-seeds Notre Dame and Wisconsin-Green Bay will look for miracles against North Carolina and UConn, respectively, and 8-seed Temple only has to beat Duke in Raleigh, N.C. That's all.
Double-digit seeds making the Sweet 16, top seeds being tested before the Final Four. The women's Tournament is improving year by year.
There are still too many wildly lopsided first-round games that make it clear there aren't 64 teams in the nation worthy of being in the same tournament as North Carolina, Duke, Tennessee, UConn et al. I suppose that's true on the men's side too, but not quite as true.
There were nine games in the first round this year decided by 30 or more points, compared to four in the men's Tourney. In the last five years, there have been 35 30-point blowouts in the women's Tournament, eight in the men's.
But overall, the talent is spreading and the play is improving. More teams have a chance to win than even in the recent past. The stranglehold of Tennessee and one dance partner -- UConn now, Stanford before that -- seems to be over.
And it's still hard to make it a priority, at least for those of us who are paying attention to the men's Tournament. It's not just a men vs. women thing. It strikes me every March that the NBA isn't worth much effort while the Tournament's going on either. But the NBA has a real season starting in a few weeks.
All I can do is refer you to my argument in this space a few years ago that the NCAA would be wise to run the women's Tournament at some time other than nearly simultaneous with the men's Tournament. I'm sorry life's like that. It is.
What I'm not sorry about is Marist having a chance to become the George Mason of 2007. Go ... [quick Google search] ... Red Foxes!
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Rules we hate: The double bonus [PERMALINK]
We were talking Monday about fouling strategy at the end of college basketball games, and I had a forehead-slapping moment while trading e-mails on the subject with Roland Beech of the fabulous NBA sabermetrics site 82Games.com:
The double-bonus rule is really stupid.
Starting with the 10th team foul of the half, the fouled team gets a double bonus. That is, two free throws. Before that, in the plain old bonus situation starting at team foul No. 7, the fouled team gets a "one-and-one." In other words, make the first foul shot to earn a second one.
The double bonus was introduced in college basketball in 1990-91. The idea was to create a disincentive for the trailing team to commit intentional fouls in the endgame.
Well, that worked wonders, didn't it?
It should be obvious by now, more than a decade and a half later, that that second free throw doesn't stop teams that are trailing from fouling. Of course it doesn't. They have no other way to catch up late in a game because the basketball authorities have foolishly ignored my elegant proposal to eliminate free throws and make the shot clock 10 seconds in the last two minutes of the game.
All the double bonus does is make it harder for teams to stage comebacks. With the one-and-one, there's the pressure of making that first free throw to earn the second. Miss it and the trailing team can get the rebound and try to score. With the double bonus, the shooter just gets another shot. Chances are the fouled team is getting at least one point out of the deal.
The NCAA allows and even encourages teams to foul at the end of a game. The rule book refers to it as a "strategic foul."
"The strategic foul is not defined in the Rules but has been a part of coaching for many years," the rule book reads. "It involves the act of committing a foul to stop the game clock and thereby prolong the game. Supplemental to the strategic foul is the fervent hope that the opponent miss his free throw(s)."
Either outlaw the strategic foul for real by creating a severe enough penalty for committing it, or embrace the strategic foul's purpose, which is to allow a trailing team to mount a comeback in the last minute. Making it easier for the trailing team to come back seems a little unfair to the team that's been better for the first 38 minutes or so, but the fans dig it. I'd vote for encouraging comebacks, but either approach is legit.
The double bonus does neither. It clearly doesn't discourage fouling, but it makes comebacks more difficult. So we get just as many stoppages in play and fewer fantastic finishes.
Nice work, NCAA.
Previous column: Foul! Ya gotta foul!
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