March Madness in July ...
maintained for years that this event is in many ways the quintessential
WBC event - a multiple entry, single-elimination affair which
never fails to draw a good-spirited, yet very competitive crowd.
Some 42 coaches showed up this year in an attempt to usher in
their own hoops dynasty.
This year, we moved away from pre-generated brackets for each
of the four heats. However, teams such as UCLA were still placed
in the West regional, Kentucky in the Southeast, and so forth.
Also, players who pulled an upset were still rewarded by their
section of the draw opening up. With these changes, I thought
we could maintain the flavor of the event, while allowing the
rounds to move more briskly than in previous years.
As we entered Heat 1, I was curious how the modified format
would play out. A major concern I've had after playing this event
for the past decade is that some of the top teams had grown so
powerful that they would almost never lose in the first round.
As such, the teams I selected for WBC 2005 were rated no higher
than 94, and even the lower-seeded teams were in the mid-eighties.
I needn't have worried: In the Tuesday night regional, three
of the top six seeds lost in the first round - including Chris
Bauch's dismantling of your friendly GM.
So, with any concerns about play balance quickly dashed, the
games were off and running with 18 participants for the West
regional. Appropriately, it was a traveler all the way from California
who had the most success. Mark Yoshikowa didn't waste his trip,
steering the Arizona '97 squad to four wins, including a 118-113
barnburner over former champ Dennis Nicholson and the Runnin'
Rebels of UNLV '77. Mark then took out Devin Flawd's top-seeded
SF '56 team, which lost 96-85, despite 22 points from Bill Russell.
Of course, Devin's guys may have been tired after winning an
epic 105-100 overtime contest against Sean McCulloch's UCLA '95
in the semis. For Mark, this was a breakthrough - his first time
in the Final Four. No less of a thrill - at least for me - was
that the heat finished almost an hour ahead of schedule.
The Mideast regional also had 18 players. The field was strong,
with no less than five former champs from the past decade in
attendance, but none of them made it past the regional. In the
end, none of Jim Bell's opponents could find an answer to Oscar
Robertson's scoring for Cincinnati '59, which included 37 points
in winning the regional final versus 2002 champion Debbie Gutermuth
and top-ranked '63 Loyola of Chicago. This heat proved to be
the only one to feature a final between # 1 and # 2 teams.
Heat 3 was affectionately known as the 'Duke regional' because
of that school's surprising success in each half of the bracket.
Bud Sauer, who by his own admission hadn't played MMS in years,
managed to shake off enough rust to win three games with Duke
'78. But he lost to Bruno Passacatando, who played tough defense
and made it to the regional final withDuke '88. Bruno faced former
champ Terry Coleman in the regional final, who had led his Memphis
St. '73 team to three victories by an average 14-point margin.
In a rapid-fire game which was tied at halftime, and featured
scoring resolutions on the first four rolls of the second half,
Bruno prevailed 64-59.
The fourth heat featured the most players with 26 vying for
the last ticket to the big dance. Among the strong performances
in the heat was Harry Flawd, who garnered multiple double-digit
victories with Rutgers '76 in reaching the regional semis. And
after a 2-point squeaker in round 1, Roger Taylor made the final
of this heat with Georgetown '84. But neither of these seasoned
coaches could stop St. John's '85, as John Coussis played tough
defense and scored more points with each passing game - including
an 89-72 win in the regional final.
So, John joined Mark, Jim and Bruno in the Final Four. While
all are known as strong players, none had ever won - which meant
that MMS would crown only its 8th different champion in the 13
years of the event.
One of the things that made this year's tournament enjoyable
was the number of teams with 'B' defenses, which resulted in
more scoring than usual. The top bracket of the Final Four was
no exception, as the two teams combined for more than 100 points
in the first half, and 130 in the second half! After the smoke
cleared from the singed hoops, Jim Bell and Cincy '59 had a hard-earned
123-115 victory over Mark Yoshikowa and Arizona '97.
Meanwhile, in the other semi, Bruno was trying to play his
customary tough defense. However, John was having none of it,
as his team outscored its opponent on nearly every resolution,
building a 12-point halftime lead. Even a technical on the St.
John's coach was not enough to stem the tide, as John won going
away over Bruno's Duke '88 squad, 85-59. Congratulations to John
Coussis for his first March Madness title, and 8th wood
overall. Thanks to all the participants, who made this a fun
event to run. See you next year.
Play By Email
Congratulations to Peter Staab for winning the first BPA MMS
PBeM championship. Peter coached his 1977 Marquette squad via
the ACTS website through six victories to win the title, defeating
Ken Gutermuth's 1996 Massachusetts squad 78-60 in the final.
Dennis Nicholson, Chris Palermo, Bruce Reiff, Derek Landel and
Steve Caler also suffered defeat at Peter's hand. The latter's
Kansas '74 team fell in the Final Four by 21 points. Tentative
plans are to do it all over again next October. Staab improved
from 21st to 4th in the 2004 Caesar race while Gutermuth moved
up from 15th to 7th. In all, 30 players constituted the initial
field with 59 games played in the event. Also scoring laurels
were John Coussis 4th (Virginia '81), Carrie Lewis 5th (Cincinnati
'63), and Derek landel 6th (Kentucky '78). Marquette's Butch
Lee was named the tournament MVP with a 25.5 scoring average
for the champion Warriors. Also named to the all-tournament
team were Bo Ellis of Marquette, Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp
of Virginia, and Marcus Camby and Dante Bright of '96 Massachusetts.