Archive for Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces

NCAAs and a presidential election: Madness squared

March 17, 2004

Campaign rallies, brackets, Cinderellas and political ads.

Ah, it must be March.

Yes, every year, the month comes in roaring like a lion and continues to do so as long as the NCAA Tournament is played in early April. So grab your pens, fill out your bracket and witness how this year's tournament will unfold. It's bound to have a hefty share of upsets to foil any bracketeer's predictions.

But also this year, we a have a presidential election. As the primaries progressed, it appeared early favorites couldn't follow through. On the other hand, some long shots were like No. 16 seeds that know history is against them with no real chance for a victory.

Heck, on Sunday a debate even seemed imminent. Not between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry, but between St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli and CBS analyst Billy Packer.

Martelli challenged Packer to a -- basketball game -- after Packer said during the tournament selection show that St. Joe's should not have been a No. 1 seed because of its schedule.

Packer later retorted by noting that when he played for Wake Forest, his team defeated St. Joe's his senior year in the tournament. Wake Forest also is in the East Rutherford Regional with St. Joe's. The Demon Deacons are a No. 4 seed.

Back to the brackets, fans might want to see how teams have fared in the past when a presidency is at stake eight months later.

In the last election, Michigan State won the national title by defeating Florida, 89-76. Florida again became the loser after the election with the ballot recount fiasco.

UCLA has the most presidential-election year titles with three (1964, 1968 and 1972), while Kentucky has two (1996 and 1948).

Indiana has two also (1940 and 1976), but the Hoosiers won't be back to the postseason this year. It's the first time since the 1976-77 season -- a year after IU posted the last undefeated season in NCAA history.

Other winners were Duke (1992), Georgetown (1984), Louisville (1980), Ohio State (1960), San Francisco (1956) and Utah (1940).

Of all these teams, Georgetown, Ohio State, San Francisco and Indiana are not playing in the tournament this season.

Oh, and don't forget Kansas if you're using politics to help fill out the bracket.

Like Indiana and Kentucky, the Jayhawks have two national titles -- 1952 and 1988. Those, however, also are Kansas' only titles overall. As for Duke, they won the last time a Bush ran for re-election.

If that doesn't help in your NCAA ballot selection -- and I'm sure it didn't -- here's a look at which schools most resemble select 2004 presidential candidates.

George W. Bush -- Syracuse is the incumbent. Under the Jim Boeheim Administration, the Orangemen have built a 21-7 record and No. 24 ranking entering a first round game against Brigham Young.

Bush has the No Child Left Behind campaign, something Boeheim hasn't been successful with. Boeheim couldn't keep youthful freshman Carmello Anthony on the squad for his sophomore year as Anthony left Syracuse behind for the NBA. Syracuse is seeking re-election in a similar position. SU was a No. 4 seed last year and is a No. 5 this year.

The loss of Anthony could be tough for the talented Boeheim to rally support for another title.

Gen. Wesley Clark -- Clark was the first former general to be a presidential hopeful since Eisenhower. Clark seemed to be a front-runner early but couldn't hold on.

Air Force is his equivalent, not necessarily because the Falcons have had the same results this year. They're the only armed forces academy in the tournament. And, they've not been to the NCAAs since 1962.

Howard Dean -- The logical choice is Missouri. The animated Quin Snyder opened the season coaching a Top 5 team.

That quickly changed. After consecutive losses to Kansas to end the season, the Tigers finished 16-13. Such was Dean's run in the political race. He was the favorite for some time and then -- poof -- he reluctantly bowed out.

The governor's famous "I have a scream" speech listed what states he eventually would win. Michigan was one, which happens to be where the Tigers will play in the NIT.

But alas, we must pick a team in the NCAA tournament. Louisville might get the nod. The Cardinals were flying high early in the season after defeating Florida and Cincinnati at home and Kentucky on the road, but U of L dropped to a No. 10 seed.

The Cardinals could make a late run with coach Rick Pitino, but the team has had its share of late struggles.

Don't forget Vermont, which is Dean's home state. The team is a No. 15 seed and will play No. 2 Connecticut in the opening round.

Dennis Kinnisch -- The former Cleveland mayor and congressman never really had chance, but he still made the big dance.

Take your pick from Lehigh, Florida A&M, Alabama State, Liberty or Texas-San Antonio. Lehigh and Florida A&M compete in the play-in game for a No. 16 seed, while the other three teams already are No. 16 seeds. They have about as much chance as Kinnisch -- a No. 16 seed still never has won a NCAA tournament game.

Ralph Nader -- Hey, look who conveniently decided to show up just in time for the presidential push. Maryland is this year's Nader. The campaign wasn't anything special until the Terrapins entered the ACC tournament. The Terps were 16-11 and then defeated Wake Forest by one, North Carolina State by three and Duke by eight in overtime. Wins against N.C. State and Duke required late comebacks, helping the Terps to a No. 4 seed. I do, however, like Maryland's chances compared to Nader's.

John Kerry -- So many choices. Kerry is from Massachusetts and Boston College is the only school from that state, but they probably don't have a shot at dethroning Bush. Pardon me, they don't have a shot at replacing Syracuse as national champs. Kentucky and Duke could fit that description. A No. 1 seed has won the tournament four of the last five years, so that could be the case again this year.

But something tells me No. 2 Oklahoma State will win this year's national title. The Cowboys have been rolling all year. That should continue until April 5 when they're crowned NCAA champs, giving the Big 8/Big 12 its first title since 1988.

So there you have it: O-State in '04.

Or at least that's my gut feeling right now. I still have some time before the bracket booths close early Thursday afternoon.

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