CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- We all love BracketBusters, and there's no denying that the event had a gigantic impact on the college basketball-o-sphere over the weekend. Southern Illinois was able to make a big road statement in a showcase game (a win
at Butler that would have been 44-41 without all the free throws); Drexel and the Creighton Assassins Association (apologies to Jim Larranaga) benefitted; Appalachian State and Winthrop aren't "whodats" to the hoops fans who get their news from SportsCenter
But peel back the first onion-layer, and there's absolutely no denying that this fifth-year event is suffering from some serious growing pains, especially when it comes to travel. Consider the case of America East contender Albany, which lost to Boise State on Friday night. First, the east coast ice-storm caused a last-minute change of plans for the Great Danes. Thankfully not stuck on a JetBlue plane on a runway, head coach Will Brown and the five starters left out of Reagan Airport in D.C. to Boise via Denver on Thursday afternoon. The other travelling party, including six bench players, left from Dulles Thursday afternoon, stayed over in Minneapolis, and arrived at Taco Bell Arena in Boise just in time for a 2:45 pm shootaround. And that doesn't include the missed Chicago connection the second group had on the way home.
So that's 5,477 miles and 69 hours of travel for the Scoobies, between departure 6:00 am Thursday and re-arrival at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, all for a 83-82 loss on ESPNU. (Thanks to the America East office for the info.) After that, could you blame anyone for wondering if BracketBusters is really worth the hassle? Top Five Tuesday!
This week, it's the top five things that can be done to improve BracketBusters, to keep the event from scaling back to the 16- or 32-team field of yesteryear... or worse yet, imploding upon itself.5. Make non-TV games non-returnable.
If you're in the TV portion of the BracketBusters, that means you've had a solid season and have attained a somewhat higher level of mid-majorness. These are the teams that will have trouble filling out their 2007-08 schedules, as high-major coaches don't like to schedule mid-majors that can beat them. The non-TV schools, however, generally don't have this problem, and can generally go out on the road to pick up $50,000 guarantee-game checks anytime they want. It's hard to imagine how a BracketBusters return game benefits those folks -- even if you're an upwardly mobile OVC team trying to upgrade your lot in life, a mandated return game (home or away) against a Big South school that was just as mediocre as you were last year isn't going to help you very much.
So here's the idea: if you're on TV, you return the game. If you're not, you can talk to your new friends after the game to see if you want to resume the series, and you're guaranteed to alternate from home to road (or verse-visa) the following year. This will also assure that schools will never have to prepare for two essentially meaningless "BracketBusters road games" in a year -- the road return from last season in November or December and the Saturday afternoon trip in mid-February.4. Help out, ESPN!
The Worldwide Leader makes money off BracketBusters, and believe it. It gets title sponsors and secondary sponsors and sells advertising during the 12 non-broadband games. If ESPN is going to send Albany thousands of miles, why can't it kick in a little to keep the journey from turning into the farce it became? It's not November, and the Great Danes aren't exactly getting a money-game check from Boise State for their long-distance troubles. And for that matter, why not help out the Colgates and Cleveland States a little if they have to go long distances? I propose that there be a travel fund that far-flung road teams can apply to use, and that preference be given based on ascending athletic-budget order (we have that list right here
).3. Announce the pairings a few days earlier.
The Monday announcement is 19 days before the event itself. If schools aren't going to get help with travel expenses (and realistically, that's not going to happen), at least give programs that have to go long distances the opportunity to take advantage of 21-day advance airline fares. Remember, Northwestern State and Loyola (Md.) don't exactly have private planes... they're going to have to check bags, take their shoes off for security and sit around in the terminal like the rest of us.2. Don't shut the door.
Sixteen conferences now participate in the Busters, either in whole or part. Why not have all 21 mid-major conferences involved? OK, the Ivy won't do it (if they won't do a conference tournament, they won't do this), and the MEAC and SWAC are, well, very resource-conscious leagues and do women's-men's doubleheaders to save travel costs. But the Sun Belt isn't in it anymore, primarily because the travel has damaged its belief that it's a worthwhile enterprise; according to NEC officials, champion Monmouth was told that there was no room left. None of this should happen.
Let's have a 126, 170, 200-team BracketBusters event, let's bring in everybody. And those conferences that are in it halfway, come all in. More participation will result in more travel flexibility (there'd be an increased number of eligible matchups nearby), and it would cover unforeseen eventualities like Davidson and Vermont being really good (both names weren't forwarded to the Buster by their league commissioners this year). But things will have to change in order to get everybody more comfortable about the format.1. Make promises.
Like "we won't send you more than 750 miles if you're not on TV" or "you won't be a road team two years in a row." Granted, most of the decisions are handled by conference commissioners, but ESPN should step in and create a better structure that doesn't punish lower conferences. Teams that are out of contention in January are familiar with "the fax," which is a questionnaire from their conference office about what fellow low-RPI schools they'd prefer to play. Great idea, but only one of the 10 schools I polled got who they wanted and were sent further afield than they wanted to go. It's ESPN's event, they should take more control over the proceedings, even with the non-TV games.
Because when it comes down to it, the essential core of BracketBusters is a simple promise: if you're having a good season in late January, you'll get to go on national TV in mid-February and state your case to Hoops Nation. We need to change it so that it both helps the true "bracket busters" and doesn't put conferences' "basement busters" on the hook for unexpected travel expenses and logistical hassles. A bad season is punishment enough, don't you think?Conference Shootaround!
Just another MEAC
Monday. League leader and the best team in black college basketball, Delaware State (16-11, 13-2), survived a scare from Norfolk State but won the final ten minutes of a 72-61
roadie with the Spartans. A combined 35 from the Bluntt
combo there. The (Hornets!) are three games clear of Florida A&M, and are assured of at least a tie for the postseason-clinching regular-season tourney, and could clinch on Saturday with a home win over the second-place Rattlers... In the Swickity-wickity-SWAC
, there are two ten-win teams, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State. JSU is 10-4 and MVSU is 10-5, and will stage an Itta Bena battle on Saturday. Jackson won the first meeting
, and Trey Johnson
has slipped from the nation's scoring lead (five straight games under his average will do that), but still scores 28.1 a game.
All you Southern
Conference fans and mid-major-come-latelies, I want you to take a deep breath. Then I want you to check yourself before you wreck yourself. The Southern Conference is not getting two bids. I'm sorry, but it's just not. It will be either App-State or Davidson, or perhaps neither if North Carolina-Greensboro and SoCon leading scorer and rebounder Kyle Hines
or the team in No. 3 seed position, College of Charleston, ruins the party in Charleston. When there are all sorts of non-deserving 7-9 power conference teams to choose from, they are simply not going to let in the second team from the RPI's No. 19 conference. Remember Davidson's 18-0 league record in the RPI No. 20 league, five-point semifinal loss, and NIT bid from two years ago? Yeah, it's like that.
That being said, watching Davidson (23-4, 15-1) and Appalachian State (22-6, 13-3) excel has been exciting; both won last night to extend their respective win streaks to eight and five. And a brief shout-out to my game last night: Chattanooga toughed out a home win over Elon 62-59
. Why is the conference so low in the RPI? Those guys, and the five other teams with .500 or worse records that have provided plenty of chum for the big fishes.
Vermont evened up its schedule last night, defeating Binghamton in the America East 77-67
to extend its record to 13-1(21-6 overall, nine straight wins). That earned the Catamounts the No. 1 seed in the league tourney, which is super-important because the championship game is played at the highest remaining seed... Folks watching the Monday television special in the Southland
got to see Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 91-72
at The Stage
, home of plush and comfortable theater seating. And finally, an RPI alert from the WCC
: No. 71UMPFN
is just four slots above No. 75 Santa Clara, which is one game ahead of the Unnamed Major Program at 10-2 and defeated San Diego 80-72
when others were bustin'. K-Dub's Krazy Fact of the Day!
In honor of my well-documented
visit to Big Ten Wonkland, the season's first KFotD shout-out to the stat that John Gasaway helped label and legitimize
, Points Per Weighted Shot. PPWS is perhaps the best measurement we have of an individual or team's shooting efficency, counting the number of points that result for every time he or it flings the orb towards the goal. That equation, again: PPWS = PTS/(FGA + (0.475 x FTA))
I don't bring this up just as a reason for thanking Mr. Gasaway for springing for Sunday brunch at Patachou
(what are you waiting for? get in a car! get in a plane!), it's actually timely. There were two fantastic PPWS-formances on BracketBusters Saturday -- in a hidden Buster far away from the TV cameras, Evansville hurt slumping OVC-ers Samford with an impressive 1.64 PPWS in a 69-65
road win. It was the fourth-best mark for the season in D1-on-D1 action, and the third-best number in road games (Brown's 95-82
home win over Hartford back on Dec. 22 remains the tops overall at 1.76).
The individual performance came in a non-Buster game, but because I live in a Navy-centric household (The Official Wife of the Mid-Majority™ is in the Reserves), it has to be mentioned. Last Saturday was the all-important Army-Navy Star Game, and the Midshipmen won their fifth straight SG 76-68
. Greg Sprink was the star with 19, but don't discount the performance of freshman Trey Stanton
, who had 15 of the most efficiently-scored points you'll see all year. He went 4-for-4 from the floor (all 3's), and 3-for-4 from the line -- that's a super-sweet 2.5 PPWS. Among players who logged 20 minutes or more, that's the 13th best mark of the 2006-07 season.