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Mike Sorensen: NCAA tournament is great but needs some tweaks

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 8:00 p.m. MDT

Connecticut's Shabazz Napier (13) celebrates after his team defeated Michigan State 60-54 in a regional final at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in New York. Napier scored 17 points of his 25 points in the second half. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Frank Franklin II, ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY — We’re almost through with March Madness — the month ends Monday and the NCAA tournament finishes a week from Monday.

It’s certainly one of the best sports times of the year, beginning with Selection Sunday in mid-March, followed by the first week of games and all those 12-5 upsets every year, followed by the mostly competitive Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games.

It’s a time when you discover players you never knew about (like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky or UConn’s Shabazz Napier), you learn where Stephen F. Austin is located (it’s in Nacogdoches, Texas, in between Houston and Dallas), and you realize they play pretty good basketball at North Dakota State and Mercer.

As fun and exciting as the NCAA tournament is, it can always get better. Here are a few thoughts after the first couple of weeks of the tournament.

Get back to 64

These play-in games or “First Four” games, whatever they want to call them, just detract from the symmetry and tradition of the round of 64.

Do we really need four more at-large teams from the major conferences in the tournament? Couldn’t we have done without Iowa or Xavier or Colorado in this year’s event?

Of course, some will argue, what about Tennessee, one of this year’s “First Four,” which made it all the way to the Sweet 16?

Sure, there are going to be teams that get hot every year and go further than they’re supposed to. But you’ve got to draw a line somewhere. Who knows if SMU and Minnesota, two of the first teams supposedly on the cut line, would have made a run in the tournament if given the chance.

First or second round?

Why must the traditional first and second rounds be called the second and third rounds? I guess so those teams that have to play on Tuesday and Wednesday won’t have the shame of being in one of the “play-in games.”

So now we have more than 90 percent of the field starting off in the second round. To me, it’s confusing as well as deceiving to say a team is playing in the second round when it hasn’t even played a game yet.

Of course, this problem can be solved by going back to 64 teams

More mid-majors

Wouldn’t we rather see more teams like North Dakota State and Mercer than the seventh team from the Big 12 or the sixth team from the Pac-12? Of course we would, but the trend in recent years has been to take more middle-of-the-pack teams from the big conferences than second-place teams from the “mid-majors.’’ This year, BYU was the only team outside one of the major conferences to get into the tournament as an at-large team. And you could argue the West Coast Conference is on par with the Mountain West Conference, which usually gets more berths but only got two this year.

Late-game delays

Aren’t we all a little tired of these long, drawn-out delays at the end of games while officials stand hunched over a monitor trying to figure out who touched the ball last?

Of course, we want the call to be right, but why must it take five minutes, as it did in Saturday night’s Arizona-Wisconsin game, to check out a call? About half the time it seems the officials don’t even get the call right anyway, despite a long look at the replay.

My solution is to let the official at the scorer’s table (there’s always a backup official for NCAA games) take a look and immediately rule on the obvious calls. If it’s questionable, he could make a decision and call the other officials over to confirm it. If it’s just too uncertain, let the original call stand — but do it quickly.

There are already enough late timeouts in these games to have to waste another five or 10 minutes trying to figure out whose fingernail the ball last touched.

SEC tops

If it’s not bad enough that we hear every year that the SEC is the best football conference in the country, now we have to say it’s the best in basketball. At least it is in the NCAA tournament. With Kentucky joining Florida in the Final Four and Tennessee making the Sweet 16, the league has had an impressive 10-1 record in the NCAA tournament.

The Big Ten had a chance to get three teams in the Final Four, but both Michigan and Michigan State failed in their bids Sunday afternoon and the league ended up with a 10-5 mark in the tourney.

The most disappointing conference had to be the Big 12, which was ranked No. 1 by most experts after the regular season and put seven teams in the tourney. However, none made it as far as the final eight and the league went just 6-7 in the NCAAs.

The other disappointing league was the Atlantic 10, which put six teams in the tournament, but ended up with a 4-6 record with three of those wins coming from fifth-place Dayton.

The American Athletic, the new league that includes Louisville and Final Four surprise Connecticut, has done very well with a 7-3 record so far.

The Pac-12 won the third-most NCAA games of any conference with eight victories thanks to two teams (UCLA and Stanford) making the Sweet 16 and Arizona the Elite Eight.

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