Archive for Saturday, March 17, 2007

Commentary: NCAA could use better travel agent

March 17, 2007


For all the complaints about who they invite and how they seed them, what the NCAA selection committee really needs is a better travel agent. Or maybe just an intern who knows how to use the Internet.

Every year, the committee angers a half-dozen schools that get left out. But it doesn't always treat those it lets in much better. Take Thursday's first-round game between Louisville and Stanford.

The players' dorm rooms in Louisville to the court on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington is a trip of about 80 miles. Stanford traveled 2,400 to get there. The Cardinal left the band, their cheerleaders and, from the sound of things in Rupp Arena, every one of their fans back on the West Coast, where it was still 9:30 a.m. Once the ball went up, the outcome was no longer in doubt.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino's relentless pressure defense is tough to crack anytime, but never moreso when you feel like you've just rolled out of bed. The Cardinals opened with a 12-2 run, widened it to 41-13 and switched to cruise-control en route to the 78-58 final. The best thing to be said about Stanford's sloppy, turnover-filled performance is that nobody trotted out the "sleepwalking" alibi afterward.

Louisville was a No. 6 seed in the South Regional, and Stanford was an 11, so the score might have been the same no matter where these two played. And some people argued no matter how short the ride, Rupp Arena would be anything but a friendly environment for Louisville. That's because Pitino won a national championship while coaching the Wildcats a decade ago, and the rivalry between the two schools isn't the kind where people easily forgive or forget.

When Pitino first strolled onto the floor, it might have been hard to separate the fans in Cardinals' - as opposed to Stanford Cardinal- red. But any lingering doubts about which shade it was were erased during an early timeout.

A replay of Christian Laettner's last-second shot that propelled Duke past Kentucky in the 1992 regional final popped up on the video board - probably the first and only time the highlight has ever been shown in Rupp Arena - and it got a long, loud ovation.

That's what people mean by home cooking. A few teams benefit from it every year and this one is no exception.

Remember how UCLA rode a No. 2 seed all the way to the championship game last year, most of it without leaving California? Memphis sure does, since all the No. 1 seed at the time got them was a trip to the West Coast and a spot in the Bruins' highlight video from last season.

So guess what? The Bruins, supposedly disappointed at getting a No. 2 seed again this year, could play their first four games without leaving the state again.

Then there's Texas A&M.; The Aggies have to play Louisville at Lexington next, which seems unfair since the Aggies are the No. 3 seed in the same region. But if they do get past the Cardinals and make the regional final, the road suddenly gets a lot friendlier. The Aggies would play in San Antonio, close enough for fans to quit worrying about spring football long enough to make the drive. That could be worth plenty in a tight game in a tournament that's wearying enough.

The selection committee claims to use a mapping program to avoid home cooking as much as possible. Then humans scan the brackets to check for other conflicts, including delaying matchups between conference members as deep into the tournament as possible.


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