Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tournament "Home" Games

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a Georgetown fan. The collapse on Sunday against Davidson was brutal, but to those of us who watched the Big East championship game against Pittsburgh, not altogether unpredictable. Also, as a Minnesota Vikings fan, I'm used to my favorite teams coming up short in important games.

But I do have a problem with (at least) one aspect of the NCAA tournament committee and their rules. There's this idea that teams can't play on their own home court, regardless of seed. That's lovely, and I get that you shouldn't have most teams play on their home courts. But #1 and #2 seeds have earned the right to play some games in "their house." With at least one set of games almost always in North Carolina (one first round and second round set this year), it's obvious that Duke or UNC is going to get what essentially constitutes a home game if they grab a #1 seed. Nobody has really questioned the fact that UNC doesn't have to leave the state of North Carolina until the Final Four, but Georgetown and Duke played on courts substantially closer to their opponents' schools.

Davdison is just over 100 miles from Raleigh, where they faced Georgetown. Georgetown's campus, meanwhile, is 250 miles away. And the "in-state" versus "out-of-state" difference is more substantial than you might think. When #15 Coppin State defeated #2 South Carolina in 1997, I didn't care where in Maryland Coppin State was located, just that a Maryland team had pulled a big upset. At these games, where the underdogs already get extra cheers, an in-state team will get even more support, and the only people cheering for Georgetown on Sunday were students, alumni, and people who had a lot of money riding on the Hoyas.

I include Duke in this argument because I really hate Duke, and I hope their inclusion will give some merit to my point of view. Duke is only about 80 miles farther from Washington, D.C. than West Virginia, but DC happens to be very close to College Park, where the University of Maryland takes residence. You'll be hard-pressed to find a Maryland fan who wouldn't cheer for a North Korean team against Duke.

But then where should these #2 seeds played? How about at each other's locations? Put Georgetown on their home floor in DC, and let Duke play down the street from their campus at N.C. State's gym in Raleigh. The "pod" system from a few years ago that has apparently been scrapped wasn't a bad idea. Giving the top 4 seeds in the tournament the opportunity to play in front of friendly crowds was a reasonable goal, and generally an attainable one. I get that the logistics behind scheduling true home games for these teams on 2-4 days notice is daunting, but when you've already got the locations booked, I think the tournament committee should do their best to put those top seeds in their local regions.

Would it have made a difference if Sunday's game was played in DC? Maybe, maybe not. Stephen Curry is obviously a tremendous talent, and it seemed like he became unstoppable when he figured out Georgetown's defense in the second half. And even in DC, you'd find a lot of those classic underdog fans, so Davidson would still get plenty of cheers. So maybe I'd still be lamenting the Hoyas' lack of second half defense and frustratingly frequent turnovers today. And it certainly looked like West Virginia was simply the better team against Duke.

But as it stands, #1 and #2 seeds are only marginally valuable in that you get a very winnable first round matchup. An entire season of extremely high caliber performance should warrant a little bit of accommodation in the championship tournament. And make no mistake, your #2 seeds were all tremendous teams this season. Georgetown, Texas, and Tennessee all won at least a share of their conference's regular season titles, and Duke won 27 games and finished the ACC regular season behind only the overall #1 seed in North Carolina.

In most other sports, you get to play at least your early postseason games in your own gym/stadium. It's not unreasonable that NCAA basketball go in a similar direction.

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