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The Decline of the Regional

January 22, 2002 Columns No Comments


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by Bill Thayer

One of the biggest stories of college basketball somehow flew under the
radar this summer as the NCAA decided that first and second round sites will
no longer be set by region. For example, Washington DC, who was supposed to
host first and second round East Region games, could end up hosting games
for both the West and South regions.

Based on last year’s Boise region, this seems like it could be a good idea.
With four teams from the mid-atlantic (Georgetown, George Mason, Maryland
and Hampton) playing in Boise, attendance was down. Had the region, which
consisted of those four teams along with Iowa State, Arkansas, Georgia State
and Wisconsin, been played in the MCI Center, there could have been
sold-out, energetic crowds for all six games. Even if half the region, with
Maryland, Mason, Georgetown and Arkansas, was played there, the NCAA could
have made more money.

It appears that the NCAA is trying to appeal to fans and alumni, while also
padding their pockets. For a George Mason fan trying to see his team play
in the tournament, booking a trip to Boise only days in advance can be
costly, not to mention very difficult. However, for that same fan, a quick
trip into the nation’s capitol would be quicker and most cost effective. At
the same time the NCAA will not only save face by not having empty seats on
national television, but also bring up revenues by filling arenas around the
country.

This rule is not all good, however. As early tournament projections are
shaping up, it looks like the MCI Center will end up hosting first round
games for the East and South, with Duke and Maryland the marquee teams.
Fans will be treated to a pair of 1 vs. 16 and 8 vs. 9 contests. I’m sure
the arena will be filled with Terrapin faithful cheering on their squad.
But that takes away from the fun of the tournament. Had this game been
played in Pittsburgh or Greenville, the Terrapins could have faced a hostile
environment as the crowd pulled for the underdog.

Last year Hampton got the backing of everybody in Boise, which helped lift
them to their win over Iowa State. Differences in talent can easily be made
up if the lower seeded team has the crowd behind them. Every year, there is
always one team that puts an early scare into a Final Four contender. With
the new rule, they will not only have to overcome the possible lack of
tournament experience, but 16,000 fans as well.

Coaches will have to deal with problems of their own. By splitting up
possible Sweet 16 opponents, they are limiting scouting time even further.
Coaches used to be able to watch the other teams at their site to get a feel
of who they may be facing in the regional semifinals. That may not hold
true in all regions.

In addition, some squads may have to face huge travel demands. If UC Irvine gets placed in West Region games being played in Pittsburgh, they could have to deal with flying across the country to play their first two games, then back out west for the regionals. Not an easy task considering they’ll be playing up to four games in a ten day span.

Somehow, the NCAA passed this rule with very few people noticing. Maybe
they didn’t understand what it meant, or maybe they didn’t understand the possible consequences. If I had my way, the NCAA would (much like the Patriots this past weekend) get a mulligan and correct their mistake.

Assorted Musings:

• One of the great aspects of my job is that I get to see lots of
basketball on the weekends. This Saturday I had the pleasure of watching two Big East wars, as Miami beat Providence in a thriller and Pittsburgh knocked off Georgetown. This is a conference that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It isn’t as top heavy as the Big 12 or Pac Ten, but it could end up with three or four sweet 16 teams …

• Watching the Oklahoma-Missouri game on Monday, one thing struck me. Each team is very athletic and can put the ball in the hoop, but Kelvin Sampson’s squad seems to be much more unselfish. There was more than one occasion in which I saw a Tiger forcing a shot after going one-on-one with a defender even though he had an open teammate. At the other end, the Sooners made the extra pass almost every trip, and it paid off. I was on the Tiger bandwagon to open the year, but they have not looked like a tournament team thus far …

• Speaking of the Sooners, it seems like they have lost to Kansas every time they’ve played going back to the ’88 Championship game. I think Oklahoma will go farther in this year’s tournament, but they won’t beat the Jayhawks head to head …

• If I were to choose right now, the #1 seeds in the tournament would be Duke (East), Kansas (Midwest), Maryland (South) and Cincinnati (West). With the new tournament rules I wrote about earlier in this column, the regions really hold little meaning anymore …

• The Patriot League is shaping up to be quite the race. Entering this week, every team was within two games of each other. American has really helped shake up the balance of power there, while Holy Cross has slipped a bit due to some losses from last year. My pick to steal the automatic bid though is Colgate. Pat Campolieta has been a great player for four years and deserves a trip to the dance before he’s through …

• The Dan Hauptman fan club is taking applications …

• I’ve got two words for you: Dwyane Wade …

• It’s easy to knock Pat Kennedy, but DePaul has lost some talent the past few years due to early entry into the draft. Imagine a starting five of: Imari Sawyer, Quentin Richardson, Stephen Hunter, Eddy Curry and Bobby Simmons, with explosive Paul McPherson as the sixth man. Quite the lineup …

• Congratulations to Cal State Northridge for their win over Utah State this past week. Bobby Braswell has somehow stayed under the radar despite the quality job he’s done for the Matadors. In the last four years, he’s led the school to their first 20-win season, their first Division I conference regular season title (in the Big Sky), their first NCAA tournament bid (last year as Big Sky champs), and is now making the transition to the Big West after losing the school’s all-time leading scorer Brian Hainle. I’m shocked that his name hasn’t appeared when speaking of coaches on the rise.

     

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