A novel idea | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A novel idea

March Madness has been tinkered with before, so why not again?

Remember the play-in games, the 32- and 48-team fields and when a regular-season conference champion wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in the narrow tournament?

Obviously, it’s a shame that a team that loses only two games all season in one of the toughest conferences in the country doesn’t come any closer than Tennessee-Chattanooga from the Final Four.

Kansas, 34-2, should have played in last night’s NCAA championship game or met the winner of the Arizona-Kentucky made-for-TV title game.

That’s it! Match the regular-season No. 1 team against the “March” champion to determine a true national champion. No one can dispute Kansas’ claim to No. 1 during the first four months of the season. After all, they were ranked atop the polls for 15 straight weeks and didn’t drop a game until Scot Pollard went down with a broken foot in January.

Six NCAA tournament victories by KENTUCKY OR ARIZONA shouldn’t obliterate what Kansas accomplished during the first 30 games.

“I don’t think there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t say we’re the best team in the country, but we’re not going to be national champions,” said Kansas senior guard Jerod Haase, who was raised in South Lake Tahoe. “In my mind, without a doubt, we’re national champions.”

Everyone expected them to be there. Some residents of the South Shore even mortgaged attending the early tournaments venues to arrange their Final Four reservations.

But one off night deprived the Jayhawks of their rightful place in Indianapolis this past weekend. When Kansas went down, little mention was made of Haase’s broken right wrist, which sidelined him for all but 14 minutes of the Jayhawks’ 85-82 setback to Arizona in the Southeast Regional semifinals. Call me biased, but if a healthy Haase plays his customary in-your-face 30 minutes, Kansas wins by at least three points and goes on to wear the national crown.

For the basketball fan, nothing rivals the three-week-long NCAA tournament. What other sporting spectacle provokes office workers to dig into their lint-lined pockets for money they really can’t afford to wager.

CBS and ESPN commentators and analysts embrace the tournament like a 5-year-old welcomes Christmas morning. Of course, there never would be a 64-team tournament today if CBS didn’t pump enormous amounts of money into it.

The NCAA definitely isn’t going to mess with something that is raking in millions upon millions of dollars each spring.

Even so, the tournament’s top four seeds need better compensation than playing a 16th seed. Give them automatic spots into the elite eight or continually rebracket the teams after the first round so they can play the lower seeds throughout.

Prior to the Final Four, North Carolina coach Dean Smith suggested that the NCAA eliminate the seeding altogether.

“When we were a nine seed in 1990, that helped us beat Oklahoma, a No. 1 seed, I’m sure,” Smith told the Associated Press on March 23. “If they said, ‘OK, the first seed just go on in and play in the Final four and see what happens,’ well fine, I’ll accept that. Other than that, I think the seedings have no meaning.”

Of course, that’s easy for Smith to say this season since his Tar Heels were one of the four top seeds. Smith, college basketball’s all-time victory leader, also seemed to have the softest bracket, with only Fairfield, Louisville and California seriously threatening their trip to the Final Four.

Moreover, it appeared that the Tar Heels, not the Jayhawks, were bestowed as the 64-team tournament’s top seed. North Carolina played its first two games in a home away from home – Winston Salem, N.C., while Kansas was dispatched to Memphis, Tenn., even though the Jayhawks deserved a Midwest Regional location in the friendly confines of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo.

Despite the Jayhawks demise in the sweet 16, Haase remains a tournament supporter.

“I do like the NCAA tournament, but you do need a little luck in there … that’s maybe the ingredient we missed,” said Haase, who celebrates his 23rd birthday today.

But that’s just the point. Teams who win 34 of 36 games don’t rely on luck. And when they need it in March, it’s nowhere to be found.

Unfortunately, college basketball treats its postseason no differently than any other sport today. It’s not so much what you do during the first four months of the season, but it’s how you finish.

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