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From March Madness to March Sadness
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Forsyth County News
Haven’t you missed March Madness?

This year’s tournament has been such a letdown, we might as well call it March Sadness.

Where have all the upsets gone? The wire jobs? The Cinderellas streaking into the Sweet Sixteen — never mind the Elite Eight or Final Four? Where are all those special finishes, the games that made March Madness such a can’t-miss spectacle in years past?

Try checking the highlight reels from old tournaments. You could go blind searching for riveting games in this year’s Tournament. Only six of 32 first round games produced victory margins within three points. But of those six games, only two featured winning teams scoring more than 65 points. Not what you’d call gripping excitement.

Two were overtime games, with the most rousing being Siena’s double-overtime defeat of Ohio State. Sadly, this was the late game on Friday, defying anyone in the Eastern Time zone to be awake at the finish.

The other excellent opening round contest, Oklahoma State’s 77-75 win over Tennessee, played out in Friday’s early time slot. Despite the tanking economy, the vast majority of tournament fans found themselves preoccupied with work during this thriller.

Normally, you’d expect better games in the second round, once you’ve weeded out a number of the double-digit seeds. Not this year. The average margin of victory in round two was 10.93 points. Out of 16 games, exactly two produced results closer than four points.

Sunday’s second half of round two proved as exciting as watching paint dry. Exactly half of the games resulted in double-digit wins. While that was down from Saturday’s five, the only compelling action was Missouri’s 83-79 win over Marquette.

Even the Sweet Sixteen proved a sour experience. Once again, just when you thought the games would get better, they got worse. By a wide margin, too, the average win being 16.13 points.

Besides North Carolina busting Gonzaga by 23, and Villanova blasting Duke by 21, there was Louisville edging Arizona, 103-64. Only two of eight games produced results closer than 11 points, and neither went to the buzzer.

The regional finals offered improvement, however slight. Carolina and Michigan State each posted 12-point wins, and UConn imposed its will on Missouri by seven.

Only Villanova and Pittsburgh produced a true wire job. Though the outcome was engrossing, the play itself wasn’t. This was a brawl game. Had the referees called every foul committed, the game would have ended as a three-on-three contest.

Honestly, by the time Carolina got Oklahoma down by 19 on Sunday, I had seen enough dull basketball. The Harry Caray remembrance on PBS was more enjoyable theater.     

Some of this may be the luck of the draw, but maybe it’s a trend. Last year, the Final Four featured all four No. 1 seeds. This year, we have two 1s, a 2 and a 3.

So, what needs to be done to shake up the tournament, and replace the sadness with madness once again?

Increase the field to 68 teams. This gives great exposure to eight smaller schools, and provides each top seed with an opponent that hasn’t been idle for a few weeks. Two nights of prime-time doubleheaders to kick off the tournament, with a little added revenue courtesy of ESPN. Plus, you open up three more tournament slots for affirmative action. Make it mandatory that the smaller conferences get at least eight at-large bids to the tournament. Here’s where the upsets went: only four at-large bids went to non-BCS conferences this year. That’s the fewest this decade, down from 12 a few years ago.

Of those four, Xavier made the Sweet Sixteen, Dayton won its opener, and Butler played LSU to the wire. Brigham Young lost to Texas A & M after the Aggies canned their first 10 shots.

Maybe its time to help the “little guys” overcome their overall conference schedule strength and their difficulty in scheduling the “big guys.” Or would you rather watch two seventh-place BCS-conference entries square off?

Revisit tournament scheduling. Yes, everyone knows the top seeds. But that doesn’t mean we want to see UConn beating UTC by 56 in its opener. Take the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seeds, and the No. 7 vs. No. 10 games, and give them the prime time slots. This year, the only No. 8 vs. No. 9 game decided by more than four points was the BYU- A & M affair.

Revisit the CBS contract. Require close contests be shown in lieu of blowouts. Why were we force-fed Carolina wailing on Gonzaga instead of getting Michigan State’s thrilling win over Kansas? Has Chapel Hill suddenly moved nearby?