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Sports Talk

  • Published
  • By Mack Dill
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Hello Sports Fans. I was just sitting at the ballpark the other day, enjoying some Spring Training, when I realized that March has officially arrived! That means that we have reached the start of March Madness in the world of NCAA Basketball. For those of you who follow the sport closely, you're probably already filling out your brackets but you won't be able to finish the job completely until this weekend's conference championships are done. We have to get through championship week to get to the tourney.

Apparently, we live in a new age where we get to make up words as we go along and the word this week is "bracketology." Yes, that is the study of understanding the mysteries and mathematics of the NCAA Basketball Championship. For those of you who are interested in how this year's format works, but don't want to take the class, here are your crib notes.

First off, the field is made up of a total of 68 teams, not 64 as you're probably accustomed to from past years. Of those 68 teams, 31 of them get in by virtue of automatic bid. These are based on teams winning their conference tournament, or in the case of the Ivy League, the regular season champion gets an automatic bid. Easy so far, right?
Okay, that leaves 37 teams fighting for the remaining spots. This is where it gets a little dicey. The NCAA uses a ratings percentage index (RPI) to help decide the rest of the field. It looks at variables such as strength of schedule and winning percentage to determine where teams will rank. I started a campaign to also include color of uniform, effectiveness of team mascot and number of times a coach says, "we just let that one get away from us" as other parts of the formula, but the NCAA won't return my calls.

So once the field of 68 is chosen we're ready to start the tournament, right. Wrong. If a tournament has a Final Four, then it needs to have a First Four. Seriously, I'm not making this up. Before we really start playing through the bracket, tune in on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 13 and 14) to watch the last four at large selections play two games. Then the last four automatic qualifiers play two games. The two winning schools from each set of games make up the last four spots in the 64-team tournament. See? Simple.
Now that you know how the bracket is formed, plan on spending this weekend watching teams work to get their automatic bids by winning their conference championships. The ones I'll be watching include the Big East, the Big 12, the Big Ten, the ACC and the SEC.

Let's start with the Big East. Since all 16 teams in the conference play in the tournament, this is truly an anything-can-happen event, just ask UConn about last year. Watch for our local team, USF to put on a good show. It is the toughest defending team in the Big East and might play spoiler in this showdown. Amongst all conferences, it's the Big East that generally sends the most teams to the dance so even if your team doesn't take the title, don't be surprised to see them make the bracket. Watch for the championship to air Saturday evening at 9 p.m.

Next one to watch is the Big 12 tournament. I'm hoping to see one more match-up between the top two seeds of Kansas and Missouri. This 107-year-old border war is definitely one of the top 10 rivalries in sports. With Missouri moving to the SEC next year, a showdown in the conference championship would be an event you don't want to miss. That the championship is being played in Kansas City just adds drama. Plan on dinner in front of the TV on Saturday night since this game airs at 6 p.m. One important note is that there is no love-loss between these two teams. If they meet up in the finals, these guys might be able to hold it together on the court, but the fans will be going nuts. Can't wait.

Moving on to the ACC championship, you'll have the possibility of another North Carolina/Duke match-up in the finals. Judging by the thumping Duke just took from the Tar Heels, I'm sure they'll want the show-down. For me, I'm Hoping to see Florida State pull the shocker and beat Duke in the semifinal and take the UNC in the final. Notice that's Hoping with a capital H. The championship game is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Big Ten tournament is always a good show, so I'll be keeping a close eye on that action. While they won't get as many bids as the Big East, they'll be well-represented with up to 7 bids. With the regular season ending in a three-way tie between Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State, bragging rights to who rules the roost in the conference is at stake. The championship game is Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

Lastly, there is the SEC championship. Really, the biggest reason to watch this one is to see what the toughest team in the country looks like, and that team is Kentucky. They finished the season 30-1 and went undefeated in conference play. Teams keep throwing zone defenses at them, but the Wildcats have a pretty easy time picking them apart. Of course, you never know what can happen in March, so I'll be flipping channels on Sunday at 1p.m. to keep an eye on the action.

Well that's how it's looking for Championship Week in NCAA basketball. I have a feeling that we'll be seeing a few upsets, so if you can't catch the games, don't miss the highlights. March Madness is here! Enjoy the games and, as always, I hope your team wins.