By Leo Haggerty

Just a few things that I found interesting when looking back on this year’s version of March Madness.  I wanted to wait a week so I didn’t “jump to any rash conclusions” but had time to formulate my response.  With that being said, I submit them below for your perusal and enjoyment in no particular order except for the first one.  That one is head and shoulders above the rest.

#1-Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.  The chaplain for the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers (yes, I knew that one because I’m old enough to remember their overtime championship victory over Cincinnati) became the rock star of March Madness.  Name any other religious figure, whose name doesn’t start with Pope, that has a bobblehead doll in their image?  Just think about this.  If the Jesuit school doesn’t beat Miami-FL by two and Tennessee by one that first weekend, we would not have had the opportunity to meet Loyola’s biggest cheerleader up-close-and-personal.  That would have been our loss, for sure.

#2-UMBC.  This would have been the Gold Medal winner but it’s hard to top a 98-year old hoops-loving nun!  OK, be honest.  Did you have to look up what is UMBC? Did you have to look up what their mascot is?  I did.  If you answered yes to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers you’re not alone.  Congrats to the first 16th-seed to knock off a #1 and they did it convincingly.

#3-Women’s Final Four.  Look, I am not a proponent of Women’s basketball but I have got to give credit where credit is due.  The ladies completely stole the show in Columbus.  It would be hard to top the fact that both semi-final games went to overtime, with Mississippi State beating Louisville and Notre Dame dropping Connecticut from the ranks of the unbeaten with a buzzer-beater.  Then the Irish hit another game winner with a second left to beat the Bulldogs for the championship.  Arguably, the best three games in any Final Four ever.

#4-Mid Major Explosion.  Don’t look now but, in both the Men’s and Women’s tournament, some of the non-Power Six Conference teams distinguished themselves.  On the Men’s side, UMBC (America East) and Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley) were the ones that were the most talked about but their were numerous others.  First day winners were Buffalo (Mid-American), Houston (American Athletic), Marshall (USA) and Rhode Island (Atlantic 10).  Making it to the Sweet 16 were Nevada (Mountain West) and Gonzaga (yeah, hard to put the Zags in that category but they are in the West Coast).  On the Women’s side, first round winners were Quinnipiac (Metro Atlantic Athletic) and Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun) with Sweet 16 participants being Buffalo (Mid-American) and Central Michigan (Mid-American).  Plus, Connecticut (American Athletic) made it to the Final Four but, like the Gonzaga men’s program, there is no surprise there.  Memo to the NCAA Selection Committees.  There’s some REALLY good basketball teams outside the Power Six so let’s starting getting them into “The Dance” instead of these middle-of-the-pack Major Conference teams.

#5-NIT. Maybe more major conference schools will rethink their priorities when it comes to the National Invitational Tournament.  Do you want to be a double-digit seed and get blasted in the first round  of the NCAA or, like Penn State and Utah, make it to the NIT Finals?  Two advantages are, especially if you’re the Nittany Lions, is that you finish the season as a champion and a huge plus when it comes to recruiting.  Maybe you want to think about this one a bit harder.

#6-No sure things anymore.  After watching the Connecticut ladies dismantle South Florida in Tampa earlier in the year, I thought they were unbeatable.  They play as hard from the first minute of the contest as they do in the last and, with Geno Auriemma still orchestrating the Huskies women’s program in Storrs, they take no prisoners.  I thought they were a lock of go unblemished through the Women’s bracket especially after the way last year ended losing to Mississippi State in the semis.  I thought they were on a mission.  Oh, was I wrong.  In the last two years, the women’s game has now evolved to the same level as the men’s when you get to March.  If you’re the favorite, you better show up with your A-game or you could end up going home before the finals like Louisville and UConn found out on the women’s side and a host of men’s squads, starting with Virginia and Arizona, found out the hard way.

#7-CBS/TNT Studio Commentary Crew.  Is there a better studio quartet than Ernie Johnson and Clark Kellogg plus Kenny Smith along with Charles Barkley when it comes to covering March Madness?  Yes and that’s when Seth Davis or Wally Szcerbiak or Brendan Haywood or Candice Parker or Ernie Johnson comes “off the pine” and sub in.  CBS/TNT doesn’t miss a beat when any of these personalities are on the air.  It’s a pleasure to listen to people who know something about college basketball who aren’t afraid to express a fact-based opinion even if it’s an unpopular one.

#8-San Antonio.  The Alamodome didn’t seem to bother Villanova one bit but it looked like it had a negative effect on the other three participants.  I know the NCAA wants to hold its men’s championship game in as large a venue as possible but it may effect the quality of play especially when it comes to shooting.  I do agree that it’s the same for both sides.  How about if the Final Four goes back to 20,000-plus seat arena for future contests?  All I want is a good game.  Don’t you?

#9-Official review.  The NCAA has got to come up with a way to expedite the review process especially in the last two minutes of the contest.  A lot of times, all it’s being used for is an extra time out during the challenge.  Here’s my suggestion.  During any reviews, do not allow the players to gather at their bench or the coach to leave the bench area.  Players must congregate on the opposition’s side of half court parallel to that free throw line.  Hopefully, that may get things moving so the last two minutes of the game doesn’t take 30 minutes to play.

#10-4 Quarters.  I’m not a big “change for the sake of change” guy but I think it’s time for the NCAA to go from two 20-minute periods to four 10-minute periods for three reasons.  First, the fouls recycle every period.  That way it doesn’t become a free throw fest with 13 minutes to go in the game.  Second, it would allow the Rules Committee to cut out at least one, and possibly two, time outs during the contest.  That’s because coaches, at the duration of the 1st and 3rd quarters, will now have two longer breaks to converse with their troops.  The women have done it for years and the NIT has field tested the concept this year.  Finally, it doesn’t effect the media timeouts.  Instead of four a half it becomes two a quarter.  Still adds up to eight in-game commercial breaks and two added advertisement spots at the end of the odd-numbered quarters.  Looks like a win-win-win for all.