Tar Heel Fan

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Neutral Court

Among the many controversies that surrounded the brackets for men's and women's tournament none was as perplexing at the treatment overall top seed North Carolina got in their regional setup. UNC got handed what amounted to the "bracket of death" by placing should have been #1 seed Tennessee as #2 followed by Big East regular season champ #3 Rutgers and #4 Purdue. This is not how it is supposed to work for the overall #1 seed. By definition you face the lowest possible seed on that line at each step of the tournament. In other words if Tennessee is #2 in UNC's region that means they are #8 overall which is ludicrous. Aside from the stiff competition there was also the matter of the sub-regional location. There were two possible sites for UNC go to to, Nashville and Norfolk. Being the overall #1 seed one would think that UNC would go to the closest location which would have been Norfolk. The committee operates in a different reality and sent them to Nashville instead and permitted #1 seed Duke, who UNC beat twice, to go to Norfolk. So, no big deal, Nashville is not too far except the committee in all their inifinite wisdom seeded home team Vanderbilt as the #8 seed. Assuming seeding hold the overall #1 seed in the whole tournament would be forced to play a second round opponent on their home court. And silly as I was I thought all tournament games were suppose to be neutral court affairs. Now UNC won the game last night by 19 but the game was tight at points and I am sure playing Vandy at Vandy made their job a little more difficult. And perhaps I should not complain too much since it is essentially no harm, no foul. However it a slow day so I will. 1. Why does the women's selection committee permit lower seeded teams or any team for that matter to play tournament games on their home floor? I tried to come up with a reason as to why the home team would need to be present at a sub-regional to make that particular sub-regional work. The only one I could come up with was crowd support. The women's tournament does not enjoy the same following as the men's tournament. In fact I would surmise that more UNC fans probably traveled to Dayton to see them men play than the top four seeds in Nashville combined to see the women play. So in one respect I can see why having the home team present would raise the crowd levels some. That being said I would conclude that the team that really got screwed in this arrangement was #9 Louisville. As much griping as UNC fans did about playing Vandy on their home court in the second round, it really was not that big of a deal because UNC was so much better than Vandy. Did it disadvantage UNC to have to deal with a hostile crowd and possibly created a more competitive game than they would have faced on a neutral court? Probably, but the effects should not linger. Louisville, on the other hand, is already disadvantaged as a lower seed and that is compounded by the fact they are playing an opponent they could beat on their home court. Are having people in the seats or some other logistical issue more important than perserving some semblance of a neutral court? Apparently so. On the men's side, the pod system puts teams close to home, but never on their home court. Also, in the case of the men's tourney the higher seeds not the lower ones are rewarded with proxmity to home in the sub-regional and also in the regional if it works out that way. #1 Duke played in Greensboro, #1 Villanova played in Philly, and #2 Texas played in Dallas. The locations are all fairly close to home for these teams and though in Duke's case it can actually backfire since UNC and NC State fans can crash the party and create a hostile environment. In the women's tournament I think the real reason behind permitting lower seeds to play at home is an effort to facilitate upsets of higher seeds. Sounds crazy? Take a moment to think about what makes the men's tournament the single greatest sporting event in this country. It captures the very essence of the American spirit by having the little guy rise up and beat the giant. It has the drama of young kids from small schools fighting and scrapping their way to a win over some well known big school. We identify with that because one of the greatest upsets in history was 13 colonies pushing out the British empire. The women's game is largely devoid of this aspect, so by having the #8 seed play on its home floor, it creates a some parity where none previously existed. I also think the support factor is a part of this since no one wants a women's game seen on television with very few people there and the crowd not at least cheering for someone. 2. Shouldn't the courts all be the same? The other issue I have with Vanderbilt as a tournament site is that it has a design that is vastly different than other courts. At Vandy there is more space around the out of bounds and the benches are in the end zones and not on the sideline. This is not really that big of an issue but one that was commented on by UNC players was the location of the shot clock. At Vandy the shot clock is underneath the basket. In other words the shot clock is not located in the same spot as it is in other gyms around the country. One key aspect of tournament play is that all 65 teams play games on courts that a relatively the same. Bench locations might be different, the courts will obviously look different, but one would expect that the shot clock, the game clock, and scoreboard would all be in roughly the same location. In the interest of having a fair tournament, the court environment should be the same. Now granted everyone playing at that site deal with the same issues, but this kind of issue also gives Vandy an advantage playing on their own floor versus other teams. The courts all need to be the same and if Vandy wants to be a NCAA host then they need to make sure their shot clock and game clock are located in the same place as other game and shot clocks at other tournament sites. UNC moves on the Cleveland to face the Purdue-UCLA winner. Tennesee has George Washington.

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