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March Badness

I'll admit it, my NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket sucks. Got off to a horrid start with Louisville losing to Morehead State and got progressively worse as the weekend wore on.

The Sour 16 carnage: I've lost three of my Final Four teams including my projected champion Pittsburgh.

In other words, I can't wait for Opening Day.

Doesn't make me feel much better, but apparently I have company. After yesterday's wacky results that saw Notre Dame, Syracuse and Purdue each upset, we awoke this morning to a Sweet 16 that no one saw coming.

No, seriously, I mean no one.

In ESPN.com's bracket challenge there are 5.9 million entries. Exactly none of them picked all 16 teams correctly. Only one bracket had 15 of the 16. Some of us stooges are left with only eight of the 16.

Picking Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State in the Southwest just didn't make any pre-tournament sense. Likewise, the officiating in the tournament has been, well, curious?

While Louisville and Pitt (and almost Duke) lost games because their guards couldn't make clutch free throws and while the Big East lost nine of its record 11 teams in the first weekend, the refs have dominated the headlines, and that's never good.

In the Butler-Pitt game Saturday afternoon there were two controversial foul calls in the final two seconds, including one on the Panthers at the buzzer 90 feet from the basket of a tie game. And yesterday Texas had the lead and the ball with 14 seconds remaining against Arizona when a referee called a rare 5-second violation on an attempted inbound pass. Just watched a replay and the ref clearly only counts to four before the Longhorns tried to call time out. Also yesterday Washington's final possession against North Carolina should've come with 1.4 seconds not 0.5, but refs didn't take the time to review a deflected pass and check when exactly the ball went out of bounds.

The officials, of course, are standing by their "call the game" mantra, no matter the situation or score. A foul is a foul and a violation is a violation, regardless. But if that's so, how has palming or carrying the ball become such an accepted part of college basketball?

I remember when Allen Iverson debuted his nasty crossover and it was as sweet as it was legal. But in this tournament you'll see a guard in every game pause the ball in mid-air, mid-dribble and take two steps. To me and everybody else this side of And1 fans, that's traveling.

But of course, so is the new "move" of hopping before taking a jumper. You can't catch the ball, establish a pivot foot and then move both feet (tiny as a "hop" may be) before launching a shot. Tra-vuh-leeng.

Of couse if my bracket wasn't busted, I'd likely be hailing this as the greatest played and officiated March in the history of Madness. So there.


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