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Sports Then and Now

2011 NCAA Tournament: Let the Madness Begin

Posted on March 13, 2011 by Dean Hybl

It is that time of year again with brackets being completed and the debate heating up in preparation for the most enjoyable three weeks of the college basketball season, the NCAA Tournament.

In the first year of the 68 team tournament it has been proven that even adding three additional at-large teams doesn’t ensure happiness with the system.

In a year that college basketball experts say is filled with mediocre teams, there continues to be disappointment with some of the selections into the NCAA tournament field. Most specifically, the inclusion of Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth has some experts scratching their head and calling foul.

While both teams certainly have warts, the difference between them and some of the power conference teams that just missed the tournament isn’t significant.

What the NCAA Tournament committee seems to be saying is that conference success isn’t enough to get into the dance. Both UAB and VCU play in solid conferences and had a number of quality victories.

In particular, VCU had victories over UCLA, Wofford, Wichita State and Wake Forest with six of their 11 loses coming against teams that are in the 68-team field.

While the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) isn’t the best known conference in college basketball, the league has developed into a top shelf league in recent years and the inclusion of three teams in the tournament this year attests to that.

VCU was one of six teams from the CAA to win more than 20 games and even teams in the bottom of the league in William & Mary and Northeastern recorded wins over teams appearing in the tournament.

A victory over George Mason in the CAA Tournament semifinals helped lift VCU into the NCAA Tournament.

Because we were not in the room and have no idea what exactly led to the decisions of the committee, it is not really productive to try and analyze each game and potential tournament team to try and figure out why VCU and UAB are dancing and Virginia Tech, St. Mary’s, Colorado and others are preparing for the NIT.

However, it seems clear that with the expansion of the tournament the 2011 committee decided they were not going to use those extra three picks simply to select three additional big conference schools.

Because schools from smaller conferences, especially those with a proven track record, have such a tough time securing contests against the top teams from the power conferences, I hope the NCAA committee will continue to reward those schools and conferences that make every effort to play a challenging non-conference schedule.

But the reality is that even if they expanded to 96 teams there would be someone on the bubble and someone feeling like they didn’t get a fair shake.

The system may not be perfect, but the next three weeks will be filled with exciting basketball and athletes playing for pride and glory rather than a paycheck.

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