College basketball postseason has it right

March 14, 2012 

The weather is indecisive, flipping from calm and sunny one hour to rainy the next and then windy.

But let’s give thanks, the Madness of March has begun.

Just on the first night, in the NCAA tournament, we had two huge comebacks.

Savannah State gave Tennessee plenty of trouble in the NIT. Yeah, Savannah State was trouble in a good way. And the NIT gave us the interesting matchup of tiny Wofford and Pittsburgh, a top seed in the NCAAs a year ago.

The College Basketball Insider tournament includes regular NCAA pest Butler and up-and-comers like Delaware and North Dakota State.

And for the first time in nearly three decades, Mercer is part of the fun, courtesy of the young CollegeInsider.com tournament.

It’s funny. Some in the same faction that grumbled about Mercer never spending money in athletics are grumbling that Mercer coughed up around $32,000 to host in the CIT.

And yes, Mercer is cleaner from the bath it took on Tuesday, with 1,773 on hand.

For one thing, that’s a decent crowd, considering it was Tuesday, Mercer hadn’t played in a while, Mercer hadn’t played posteason basketball in a long time, and people paid to get in.

For another, it’s all about marketing. Local folks need to learn the mid-major game to get more interested in Mercer (which has to do its part by winning).

The Madness isn’t just about the NCAA tournament, after all.

Every NIT team opened with a plus.500 record, and 25 of 32 teams had won at least 20 games. Every CIT team opened the tournament above .500, with 13 of 32 teams at 20 wins or better.

Only one team started the CBI below .500 -- Washington State was 15-16 -- and a quarter of the 16-team field had won 20 games.

Consider that the CIT quietly expanded in recent days because of interest. Paying that fee and losing some money now is an investment that can pay off next year.

And the fact is, football bowls are substantially more diluted than the current basketball posteason.

In football, 58.3 percent of the bowl division teams make it to a bowl. In Division I basketball, 43 percent now can play in the postseason. Before the CBI and NIT -- and using the current 68-team NCAA and 32-team NIT fields -- that figure was only 29 percent.

That’s a big chunk.

While there’s no question we need fewer bowls, this landscape for college basketball is just about right. Maybe some of the cable networks will get a little more interested in televising CIT and CBI games as they move forward.

Because of all this, we’re in the middle of March and basketball still matters at Mercer, and Saturday could be a quality March Madness afternoon at the University Center.

Georgia State and Mercer used to have a nice rivalry going.

The Panthers opened the University Center back in 2004 and got thumped 73-55 by the Bears.

Georgia State took off after the 2004-05 season for the Colonial Athletic Association and hasn’t really been heard from since ... until this season.

Unfortunately, the teams haven’t played since. But there were games in the series -- big state school against a small private -- that got a little chippy. It was a nice rivalry, and both teams need in-state rivalries, so maybe Saturday will open the door to perhaps an every-other-year series.

Nevertheless, the tournament is about the present and the future for teams. The longer the present continues by winning, the better the future looks.

And March is March, madness is madness.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com

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