Sports

Picking Splinters: Wintry Mix Mailbag

Mike,

What’s your take on the potential 96-team NCAA Tournament? Is it a good idea? Can’t be such a thing as too much good college basketball, can there?

Bob K.

I think the key there, Bob, is the word “good.”

Adding 32 additional teams to the NCAA Tournament would essentially incorporate the entire N.I.T. field into the Big Dance. You know the N.I.T., right? That’s the tournament for teams that stunk too bad to make the real tournament everyone cares about in March. Are there good teams that would be included? Sure. Maybe four of them. And yes, it would eliminate the debate about the final four or five teams that missed the NCAA field on Selection Sunday. But what about the other 28 thoroughly mediocre teams that now get a pass for not performing during their regular season or conference tournament?

In such a scenario this year, North Carolina would likely still make the field. Maryland, itself no lock for the NCAA Tournament this season, just ran the Tar Heels out of their building with a 21-point drubbing. And you’re telling me they should get to play for the national title? Please. There are only 347 Division I basketball teams. So more than a quarter of them get a shot at the championship? Who cooked up this plan, Karl Marx?

The biggest problem I have with any potential expansion is that it flies in the face of just about every argument the NCAA cooks up to defend the BCS system for its football teams.

A 96-team tournament would require some schools to miss an additional week of classes, in addition to the current three weeks, to accommodate travel. That’s almost a month of classes. But the NCAA steadfastly refuses to even have a Final Four-style playoff in football for fear of depriving its teams of time in the classroom. We know the NCAA is a cash-hungry organization that has little to no interest in its athletes beyond their immediate revenue-generating potential, but please, guys, at least get the rationale for your money-making schemes to be consistent before you float the idea to the public.

 

Hume,

We’ve heard plenty about the Hoyas. But what about the Patriots? George Mason is at the top of the CAA again. What can we expect in March?

Jim L.

I don’t think the Patriots are a lock for the NCAAs just yet, particularly after losses to Georgia State and Drexel, but they have a lot of good assets in place for the future. The CAA isn’t the beast it was a few years back, but there are some good teams in there with Old Dominion and Northeastern chief among them. And the Patriots have more than a few statistical shortcomings. Namely, they can’t shoot from the field (just 46.5 percent inside the arc), don’t rebound on defense (269th in the nation per KenPom.com) and can’t shoot from the foul line (65 percent).

GMU’s biggest problem this year, but biggest boon for beyond, is their youth. Mason ranks as the 324th most experienced squad in the country. That factor has shown up in their lack of consistency, beating Indiana, Creighton and ODU, but losing to Radford by 27. That was a similar story with, wait for it, the Georgetown Hoyas last year, and just look at their season in 2009-10. I’d be excited to see Mason next season and like their chances as a NCAA Tournament contender.

 

Mr. Hume,

You’ve often advocated for the Caps to trade for a defenseman, but through Sunday they’d won 14 in a row, including two against the rival Pittsburgh Penguins. Still think they need something extra?

Bruce B.

Here’s the thing about the epic, legendary, superlative-rific clash with Pittsburgh on Sunday: The Caps defenders got abused for the first 40 minutes. The Penguins forecheck was buzzing and turnovers by Washington blueliners unable to clear the zone directly resulted in two goals.

I know the Caps have been hot, but I still think they need a positionally sound, puck-moving defenseman to round out their roster for the playoffs. The price tag on such players is always high though, and if George McPhee feels the Caps’ window for the Cup extends well past this season, he may decide to stand pat at the trade deadline and see what happens. If the price were low enough for a guy like Tomas Kaberle or Scott Niedermayer though, I’d strongly think about pulling the trigger.