Thursday, March 19, 2009

What we learned (afternoon sessions)

The NCAA Tournament tipped off shortly after noon and judging by CBS' crowd shots from Greensboro, Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo. the fans were on an extended lunch break.

The pod system was adopted in 2002 to keep teams closer to home and sell more tickets. Mission accomplished for the UNC-Radford game in Greensboro.

But LSU-Butler, which preceded UNC's game, looked like a Carolina Hurricanes game circa the 1997-98 season. The only thing that was missing was the Black Curtain of Doom.

One of the unintended consequences of the pods has been the empty seats for the games without the anchor teams. And really, you can't blame UNC fans. What would you rather do — watch LSU-Butler or tailgate an extra hour?

That's a no-brainer and it's a no-win for the NCAA. There's no competitive alternative, unless you bring back to the John-Wooden- regional-railroad days when geography tilted 10 titles, and annual weak draws, in the Wizard of Westwood's favor.

Under the old, eight-teams-per-site days, ticket sales lagged because they couldn't break up the four-team pods to keep more teams local. With the flexibility of the pod, Greensboro can guarantee two full seatings — the UNC and Duke games — but not in between.

Too bad the fans in Kansas City decided to show up late for its opener between Memphis and Cal State-Northridge. They missed a competitive 2-15 game.

Cal finishes in the red

Where in the NCAA bylaws is Cal contractually-obligated to play a red-and-white ACC team, in a random Midwestern city, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?

The Bears lost to Maryland 84-71 in Kansas City, Mo. on Thursday. Cal's last two trips to the NCAA Tournament both started against N.C. State in 2006 (in Dallas) and 2003 (in Oklahoma City).

I had to double-check the box score but I was able to confirm that Cal's Richard Midgley has finally exhausted his eligibility. It was Midgely's 3 that ousted State in '03 and he also played in Cal's loss to the Wolfpack in '06.

Memphis in trouble?

Sometimes power teams turn an early close call into the Final Four. Ohio State (against Xavier) did it in 2007, Florida (against Butler) in 2000 and UCLA — the ultimate example — in 1995 with Tyus Edney's beat-the-clock sprint against Missouri.

Memphis, No. 2 seed in the West and finalist in 2008, may well do that after Thursday's close-call with Cal State-Northridge but my guess is the Tigers will graduate 80 percent of their players before that happens.

The Tigers trailed Northridge 62-56 in the second half before finding a closing kick and basically a fluke in reserve guard Roburt (yes, that's how he spells it) Sallie.

Sallie scored 35 points, and hit 10 3-pointers, against the Matadors. He hadn't scored 35 points in the previous eight games combined.

Memphis had a perfect team for John Calipari in 2008, just big and athletic up-and-down the roster. But no matter the methods, dubious or otherwise, to Calipari's recruiting success, it's almost impossible to replace talent like Derrick Rose (the No. 1 overall pick in the '08 NBA Draft) and Chris Douglas-Roberts and stay at the same elite level.

Maryland might not have the ammunition to get the Tigers on Saturday but anyone who followed Barack Obama's bracket and put the Tigers in Detroit will need a bailout the first weekend of April.

- J.P. Giglio