STEVE INSKEEP, host:
On this first day of March, here's a status report on the college basketball ritual known as March Madness. Basketball conferences are conducting conference tournaments over the next couple of weeks. The tournament results my influence who gets a good slot in the national championship, the NCAA tournament, and who stays home. Commentator John Feinstein joins us now to discuss what he describes as his favorite month of the year. John, good morning.
JOHN FEINSTEIN reporting:
Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So, what are some tournaments that you're going to be paying especially close attention to?
FEINSTEIN: Well, there's a couple that I think are really worth watching this week, because we start this week, and then the power conferences come in next week. This week, it's the smaller conferences, many of the so-called one bid conferences, where only the champion will get to go to what the players call the dance. And the CAA, the Colonial Athletic Association, has seven legitimately good teams, and they could be playing for only one spot, perhaps two.
George Mason is a team that's ranked in the top 20 by the computers that compute who's good, as opposed to the human beings. And they're not even the number one seed. They are the second seed behind North Carolina Wilmington.
Then there's the Missouri Valley conference out in the Midwest, same thing, five very good teams, but they could get as many as three or four NCAA bids, because they have more of reputation then the CAA.
INSKEEP: Eternal question here, John, but is that fair?
FEINSTEIN: No, of course, it's not fair. And when you have 10 people who are on a committee, who are human beings, who all have politics behind them, people telling them what to do, there are going to be things that happen that are unfair. The power conferences have the majority on the basketball committee that decides who get into the tournament, and ultimately, every year, the power conferences are favored in both seeding, and in terms of those bubble teams, who's in and who's out.
INSKEEP: Now, when you talk about power conferences, you mean the really big schools, the really big teams. And among those conference tournaments, which ones are you following closely?
FEINSTEIN: Well, the Big East Tournament, which starts next week, is going to be wild. Only 12 of the 16 teams get to go. So this week, you've got to scramble at the bottom of the conference for teams trying to get in. One of those is Louisville, which was in the Final Four last year, and may not even plays in its own conference tournament this year.
They've expanded the Big East to all these teams. There's never been a conference that's gotten more than seven bids to the NCAA tournament, Steve. They could get eight or nine, depending on how things play out next week in New York.
INSKEEP: You'd have a majority of the conference going on to the tournament?
FEINSTEIN: It could happen. Well, you've had that before. The ACC one year had six out of nine. So, that's not unprecedented. The Big Tens had seven out of eleven. But the idea of eight or nine teams from the same conference is unheard of.
INSKEEP: Now, there are 31 conferences--30 of them have these conference tournaments. There is one conference that chooses not to. Why don't they?
FEINSTEIN: It's the Ivy League, and it's just tradition. The presidents believe that the Ivy League should be different. And, in many ways, that's very good. But in this case, I don't think it is. The great thing about college basketball is that we sit here on March 1, Steve, and virtually every team in the country has hope, because of these conference tournaments.
In theory, they can win, they can get in the tournament and go deep. That's not true for the seven Ivy leagues playing the last weekend of the season this year are not named Pennsylvania, the champion. I think they ought to change that and have a conference tournament.
INSKEEP: So you could have no Ivy League team, whatsoever, here?
FEINSTEIN: No, no. They have the one bid that's automatic.
INSKEEP: They will have the one, of course.
FEINSTEIN: Penn will go on because they won the regular season. Everybody else will go home this weekend, and really has nothing to play for. Everybody else in the country has something to play for, as we sit here this morning.
INSKEEP: John, thanks very much.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.
INSKEEP: The comments of John Feinstein, whose new book is Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four.
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