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Ben Billman’s NCAA Basketball Tournament Email Exchange

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South Carolina’s players celebrated with Coach Frank Martin after defeating Duke on Sunday night. Photo: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Below is a transcript of an email exchange between United States Sports Academy doctoral teaching assistant Ben Billman with Sherif Mansour, a healthcare consultant in Ohio and Sport Digest reader, about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sherif Mansour to Ben Billman, Saturday, March 18 at 2:30 PM

Dr. Billman! I am looking at the results through the first round, and there are a couple surprises. Middle Tennessee upset Minnesota (that game wasn’t even close!), and Xavier upset Maryland (daggone it Big Ten!). Florida and South Carolina held serve, while SMU’s loss to USC was surprising. We both felt that USC had no business being in the tournament; have they proven us wrong by winning a game (two if you count the play-in game)?

Other highlights thus far – Princeton NEARLY toppled Notre Dame, who survived, only to get torn to pieces by the buzz saw that is the West Virginia full-court press. They really run that press beautifully. Northwestern edged out Vanderbilt in a vicious battle of SAT scores. Michigan had a BIG comeback against Oklahoma State. What stood out to you on days 1 and 2?

I’m excited about this Villanova vs. Wisconsin battle that I am watching right now. I’m struck that Nova seems to be far more athletic, and yet they’ve been down most of the game. Wisconsin plays a simple inside-out game with a lot of passing and the occasional opportunistic offensive rebound. If things continue as they are, I think this will go down as an upset.

I’m also excited to watch Wichita State vs. Kentucky, Cincinnati vs. UCLA, Kansas vs. Michigan State, as well as the potential tournament darlings – Rhode Island, Middle Tennessee, Northwestern, and Xavier (I know USC is a low seed, but they can never be a Cinderella). A penny for your thoughts, Doc?

Ben Billman to Sherif Mansour, Saturday, March 18 at 8:45 PM

Hello Sherif. I was never real hot on USC making the tournament. What we need to remember about a lot of these teams that sneak in to the tournament is that most of them have been in “tournament mode” for a couple weeks leading up to the NCAA tournament. What I mean by that is these teams know they must finish the regular season strong and play well in conference tournament play to have a chance at an at-large bid. Therefore, these teams are playing like there is no tomorrow, and they are doing it for a lot longer than other tournament teams.

The biggest thing that stood out to me on days 1 and 2 is the domination by the high major schools. Very few mid-major schools have risen to a competitive level this season. I also noticed how important it is for players to know the time and the score at the end of games. As a coach, it is important to implement situational basketball into practices. The difference between a win and a loss can come down to a mental mistake and not necessarily a bad basketball play.

It seems that I have a different idea of what an upset is. Wisconsin beating Villanova is not an upset in my book. My definition of an upset is a team from a one-bid conference winning a first round game, or a team with no recent tournament success advancing to at least the sweet 16. According to this definition, no first round games were upsets.

One thing I get upset about watching these tournament games is how much time it takes to play the last few minutes of a close game.  A tie game with 2 minutes to go sometimes takes 20 minutes to complete. Between fouls, substitutions, time outs, and referee reviews, there is a major problem. Do you have any ideas to fix this issue, or is it just a part of the flow of the game that can’t be fixed?

I heard a good question on the radio the other day. If you were a college basketball player, would you rather get blown out in the first round of the NCAA tournament or win the NIT tournament? What would you choose?

Finally, there are a lot of great mid-major coaches out there. Archie Miller has built a solid program at Dayton. Gregg Marshall has Wichita State rolling. There are others as well. Should these coaches stay at their schools, or should they look to move to high major jobs? I go back and forth on this one.

Sherif Mansour to Ben Billman, Saturday, March 18 at 10:35 PM

I’m noticing the domination of the major schools too, but I think it’s more of a result of the committee pairing dangerous mid-majors against each other. Wichita State vs. Dayton is a travesty. VCU vs. St. Mary’s isn’t much better.  These scenarios make it less likely that Cinderella will don her glass slipper and keep dancing.

I love your point about situational basketball. That is what experts like myself like to refer to as “Basketball IQ.” The more you watch basketball, the more you understand what needs to happen in specific situations, and how you need to handle it.

I will say also that our definitions of an upset are vastly different. Any time there is a 5 seed difference in ranking and the lower seed wins, that is an upset. A 12 beating 5 is an upset. A 10 beating a 7 isn’t. I think Wisconsin, who was horribly under-seeded, beating the overall No. 1, was a clear upset.

In the tournament, I don’t mind the pace of play in the last few minutes. I think it just builds up the anticipation for me. It also allows teams to draw up more of those fantastic end of game plays that get played in “One Shining Moment”. Those are our buzzer beaters and our memories. Remember last year’s epic final minute in the championship with two shots that will stick in our memories forever? Those were both drawn up in a time out.

I think I would rather win the NIT than get blown out in the NCAA. Blowouts on a national stage are rough, and a championship run is the stuff of dreams. The NIT might not mean much to the national conscience, but it means a lot for the teams that make those runs and end up with a trophy.

I think any mid-major coach that has a chance to go to a blue blood school ought to jump ship and go. That’s millions of dollars in their pockets, and an infinitely easier task recruiting. Gregg Marshall shouldn’t leave Wichita State to go to Arkansas, but if he gets offered the Indiana job, he absolutely should take it.  The lower ranks of the big schools aren’t as good as the top tier of the mid-majors.

Feb 22, 2014; Wichita, KS, USA; Wichita State Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall watches his team during an 83-54 win against the Drake Bulldogs at Charles Koch Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Billman to Sherif Mansour, Saturday, March 18 at 11:15 PM

You and I have very different definitions of an upset. The sentence “Wisconsin upset (insert any team here)” should never be uttered. Xavier making the sweet 16 is not an upset. I don’t consider Middle Tennessee beating Minnesota an upset either. They beat Michigan State last season, and they were a 30 win team this year. I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on what an upset is.

I totally disagree with you on the NCAA/NIT argument. The NCAA tournament selection show is one of the greatest moments of the year for me, and just seeing the names pop up on the screen one-by-one is thrilling. That moment alone makes the NCAA tournament blowout a much better option than an NIT title. The NCAA tournament is special, and a small school can talk about their experiences forever.

One more question for you. Villanova had a phenomenal year. They were the #1 overall seed in the tournament. They were #1 in the final RPI rankings. They won both the Big East regular season and tournament championships. BUT, they lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This last sentence will be the one thing fans remember. Is that fair? How much weight should we put on successes or failures in the NCAA tournament? And finally, is the national champion really the best team in the country?

Sheri Mansour to Ben Billman, Sunday, March 19 at 8:45 AM

So, I talked with two sets of Villanova fans yesterday (an alumnus and a parent of a student there now). Both of them expressed pride in their team but also a bitter disappointment in losing. I think that the sting of the loss will fade in time, but the banners in the rafters showing “Conference Champs” will live on, and in time, it will just be a part of history “Villanova, Big East Champions, 2017.”

Ben Billman to Sherif Mansour, Sunday, March 19 at 10:45 PM

What a great Sunday of basketball!  Michigan is on quite a roll, and the ACC has fallen flat. I thought for sure that the ACC was the best conference in the country, but they only have one team left in North Carolina. The East region is wide open with Villanova and Duke both eliminated this weekend.

I can’t wait for the sweet sixteen. What are your final thoughts on the first two rounds?

Sherif Mansour to Ben Billman, Monday, March 20 at 8:00 AM

The first weekend of the tournament is the most exciting because it is where the upsets tend to happen. I think by next week, reality will set in. I’m shocked by Michigan’s run, and I’m excited to see what Wisconsin does next.

I can’t believe South Carolina outlasted Duke like that. I really don’t like the one-and-done era, though I don’t mind watching blue blood programs get upset in the tournament because their players just aren’t seasoned enough. If you’re a Kansas fan, you have to be pretty happy about your chances right now. North Carolina might be feeling the weight of the conference on their shoulders.

The best match-up of the next round has got to be UCLA vs. Kentucky. But, in any scenario, these next three days off will really give all the great coaches time to game-plan, implement, and come out ready against their opponents. I can’t wait for Thursday!

By Ben Billman and Sherif Mansour

Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at bbillman@ussa.edu

Sherif Mansour is an out of work teacher, currently posing as a healthcare consultant. He lives near Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Karla and two daughters. He is an immigrant, originally from Egypt, but calls Northeast Ohio home. He is a huge Ohio State homer, and gets red in the face when people bad mouth Jim Tressel.

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