Category: US NCAA


March Madness is officially on, starting at the Division III level, whose Selection of the teams will be later today. I like how the NCAA tournament is set up (64 teams in four or eight different regions), but unfortunately, I do not like how conferences send their representatives to the tournament – in all but two conferences in the three NCAA Divisions combined, the conference tournament’s winner gets the automatic bid, and it’s hit or miss for the regular season champions who did not win the conference tournament (more often they miss the tournament, especially in the low and mid major conferences of Division I.)

I am a fan of both conferences who only use regular season play as a means of determining their conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. These conferences are the Ivy League, as mentioned earlier in this blog, and the University Athletic Association, the Ivy’s counterpart in Division III, though the latter is quite a high-major conference in their Division.

The conference tournament format for men’s basketball started in 1921 in the Southern Conference. It was later instituted by all other conferences throughout the years save for the two conferences stated above. Although the formats for the tournaments differ by conference, still, it gives the lower-ranked teams, often having below .500 records in their season and/or their conference season, potential to upset the higher-ranked teams to get the ticket many teams aim for. That’s the thing that makes conference tournaments often unlikeable for me. However, some of my fellow posters in the forums I post like the idea because it can make virtually anyone eligible a winner in the tournament that matters, the NCAA tournament. Some of the upsets and near-upsets that happened in the Big Dance were from conference tournament champions that were second, third or further below the regular season standings. However, it’s also unfair that the regular season champions who fall in conference tournaments also get stunned in the NIT, which gets the autobids of the regular season champions if they fail to win the conference tournament and are snubbed from the NCAA tournament as at larges.

Although the term March Madness was originally coined by a high school sports association, it was the NCAA who made it into a trademark, due to the increasing popularity of the NCAA tournament over the years.

As an alternative to conference tournaments, why not invite both regular season champions and second placers in the conferences, if both standings and statistical rankings are high enough for the latter? But this may not work because there are often logjams in some conferences that use often dubious tiebreakers to determine the second placer and/or even the first placer.

Oh well, it’s been a very long time since I last blogged, and as far as I’m concerned, this is my first post this year of any topic.

For the main topic, here it goes: Last Saturday, March 9 (Eastern time), Harvard claimed its first back-to-back NCAA Tournament bid, and only its third ever (three consecutive Ivy League crowns in all, but the first one was only a share with Princeton, and Harvard lost the one-game playoff that year which caused them to end up in the NIT). But they have never celebrated an earned bid on the court thus far, for they needed a P school (last year, it was Penn three days after Harvard’s last game; this year it was Princeton 45 minutes after Harvard’s last game) to lose in order for Harvard to get its bid. It was well-deserving indeed for the Crimson to get another NCAA bid, because how they got there despite losing two key factors from last season is worth telling.

If you are not familiar with last season’s story, the Crimson were undefeated up to game 9 against UConn (it was still eligible for the postseason back then), were ranked for a time because of our quality wins in the first Battle 4 Atlantis, and nearly swept the Ivy League (a meltdown against Penn at home nearly derailed our Dance hopes); however, four of the five starting players from that season are not in this season’s edition: two graduated in 2012, and the other two were implicated in a cheating scandal that rocked Harvard over the summer; as a result, both withdrew to preserve their final year of eligibility for next year (Ivy League does not allow redshirting other than for medical reasons.) Despite these problems, the Crimson overcame many odds to get the elusive Dance bid.

Season Part 1: Transition Pains

We opened the season with MIT once again (as for MIT this year, they were unable to repeat their performance from last year because they lost in the first round in the Division III tournament), but the margin wasn’t as high as the year before’s.

Enter UMass. The Crimson’s Massachusetts schools streak was on the line as well. The Minutemen dominated the Crimson for the first part of the first half, and while the Crimson dominated much of the second half, they finally melted down in the final minutes of the second half, a pattern which was unfortunately repeated time and again throughout the season.

After an unremarkable Manhattan game, we were dominated by Saint Joe’s which went inconsistent in the games after Harvard’s. Then fouling and poor rebounding doomed the Crimson against Vermont. Holes were exposed in the Crimson’s defense and depth early on in these losses which were somewhat patched later in the season. Despite these, Siyani Chambers blossomed as Brandyn Curry’s replacement, and was even on national award radars for a while.

Then came Fordham and Boston College, both expected wins for the Crimson. UConn, this time ineligible for the postseason due to APR, really exposed Harvard’s weak depth.

Had not for Siyani Chambers’ game-winner, Boston U could’ve been another example of a second-half meltdown game. Off to the finals we go…

Season Part 2: Cross-Country Mix-ups and the Tournament Begins

After the finals were over, the Crimson won against Holy Cross at home. And off to the Bay Area they go…

Against Cal, the Crimson were lucky to have exited Haas Pavilion with a W, despite the Bears dominating statistically against the Crimson.

Uh oh. Here comes St. Mary’s. The Crimson melted down in the final minutes of what should’ve been a win for them.

The New Year comes, and Rice visits Lavietes, and we won an expected win.

The 14 Game “tournament” begins after Rice, with the Crimson visiting Dartmouth. Second-half meltdowns were about to become a thing of the past, but not yet…

For their final non-conference game against Memphis, the Tigers dominated the Crimson for most of the game. Harvard briefly had their moments in the second half, but Memphis came back and won.

Season Part 3: The Tournament Settles Down

After the non-conference slate was done, much of the first half of Harvard’s Ivy slate ended up in close games and overtimes. Second-half meltdowns were still there, albeit only undoing themselves in the final minutes, when the opposing teams’ holes were exposed as well…

But the road to a sweep came to a halt against Columbia, which was inconsistent in the games before and after Harvard.

At home, the P’s were handled and dominated. But the P’s on the road, it was a different story. The losing streak for Harvard at Jadwin may turn 25 next season, but I hope it will end next year… but the crushing loss at Penn may have ended Harvard’s dreams of going to a second consecutive Dance. But not yet…

Harvard had its final regular-season games at home, and Princeton’s were on the road. Columbia had a second-half meltdown of its own that put Harvard one game closer to a bid and Princeton was unable to close Yale out on the road a few minutes after Harvard won… the next day, Harvard got the bid by beating short-handed Cornell as Princeton was completely dominated by Brown on the road.

Then what could’ve been unexpected a week ago really happened. Princeton was knocked out of the Dance by its own undoings, and Harvard rolled against Columbia in the second half, and held on to a lead against Cornell throughout the second half, and through these wins, Harvard finally got the Ivy bid that most media had predicted throughout the season.

With this, Harvard punched the second-ever Dance ticket for this season; Florida Gulf Coast (the first-ever autobid for this season, BTW) and Belmont were the other conference tournament champions that punched their Dance tickets on the same day as Harvard.

What’s next for the Crimson: Maybe the futility streak for Harvard in the postseason (NCAA, NIT and CIT combined) may end this year. Or maybe not…

Two days ago, the sports world was almost shocked by UNC Asheville going neck-and-neck with Syracuse for most of the game, before atrocious officiating did them in. Yesterday, the sports world received a shock when two #15 seeded teams (Norfolk State and Lehigh) sent a Final Four favorite (Missouri) and a perennial postseason contender (Duke) home. Now as I finally publish this poem, because of these two upsets, of the 15+ million brackets for this year in the Web, every bracket’s busted. 😦

A Busted Bracket
When you’ve put one of the top-seeded teams
To go far in the tournament
But every now and then
They get upset by lesser opponents
Which means that your bracket has been “busted”.

It’s part of the drama of the obsession
That is called the “March Madness” for a reason
In which people go crazy about college basketball
And may forget about other sports going on as well.

Many get their brackets set before the tip-off
Of the game that will start it all
That is called the First Four
But few, if any, get the bracket accurately correct
All because of the upsets that happen.

By the time the Final Four comes into play
Very few brackets have survived the beating
And what if it’s full of upsets along the way
The chances of winning may dip all the way down to zero.

What if your bracket is part of the majority?
Everything’s ruined, every plan is gone in a flash
But that’s part of life
And we’re playing this in our hands,
Just like a game of chance.

Creative Commons License
A Busted Bracket by Bona Rae Villarta is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Philippines License.

Every year, I have been fascinated by teams outside of the “Big Six” conferences in Division I men’s basketball, such as Butler two years ago and ever since I started following Ivy League teams seriously, the Ivy champion that goes to the Big Dance.

This year, I root for not just one, not even two, but THREE teams – Harvard, Murray State and St. Mary’s (California). Here’s my breakdown of each team’s performance thus far (record as of January 22, Manila time):

Harvard Crimson
Conference: Ivy League
Current Record: 16-2 (2-0 conference)
Most Significant Wins*: Florida State
Most Significant Losses: UConn, Fordham

This season’s Harvard team is arguably the most talented Crimson squad to ever take the court. They didn’t lose anyone to graduation last year (and added eight freshmen, some of whom became significant reserves this season) and won the Battle 4 Atlantis (partly attributable to UConn being upset there by UCF in the semi-finals) that led them to a stay in the top 25 poll. However, a humiliating loss to Fordham that dropped them out of the top 25 has hurt their chances of a top 10 seed come the Big Dance (if they win it all.)


Murray State Racers
Conference: Ohio Valley
Current Record: 20-0 (8-0 conference)
Most Significant Wins*: Memphis
Most Significant Losses: none so far

The Racers’ upset of then-ranked Memphis on Dec. 11 put them on the radar of the 2011-2012 NCAA men’s basketball season. If they continue to keep up this pace and finish all the way undefeated, they can be ranked as high as a 3 (can be the highest seed a mid-major has achieved), 4 or 5 seed. (Princeton in the 1997-1998 season was a 5 seed.)


St. Mary’s (California) Gaels
Conference: West Coast
Current Record: 19-2 (8-0 conference)
Most Significant Wins: no significant non-conference wins
Most Significant Losses: Denver, Baylor

The Gaels (along with the Crimson) were one of the most significant tournament snubs in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but they lost easily in the NIT first round (the Crimson also lost easily in that NIT). Now, with a strong showing in conference play thus far (with Gonzaga not far behind) can they still be consistent come tournament time to punch yet another Big Dance ticket?


*I only count non-conference wins here.