March Madness in July ...
After being a tournament fixture since the beginnings of the
old Avaloncon, March Madness was in danger of losing its
status as a Century event this year. Fortunately, this popular
event was voted back in by the membership, who backed up their
votes with attendance - which at 45 participants, was up again
slightly this year. Part of this may be attributed to the fact
that for the first time, it was run as a 'B' event - putting
out the welcome mat for new players. Based on feedback I received,
I'll probably move the demo to earlier in the week, so we can
introduce even more would-be coaches to this fast-playing game.
The format this year was the same one introduced last year,
where we moved away from pre-generated brackets for each of the
four heats. Traditional Pacific Rim powers such as UCLA were
still placed in the West regional, UMass in the East, and so
forth. Anyone who pulled an upset was still rewarded by their
section of the draw opening up.
The move to a new venue didn't change much, except that we
were less crowded than usual. Heat 1 had 14 participants, who
played legendary teams from San Francisco '56 to Arkansas '95.
Devin Flawd, current Consul, was unable to repeat his past success
in March Madness, as he fell to Roger Taylor's 1970 New
Mexico State team. Former champ Dennis Nicholson steered his
Arkansas '95 Razorbacks to wins over Oklahoma '88, UNLV '77,
and UCLA '70 to make the regional final.
Sean McCulloch, meanwhile, moved steadily through the other
half of the draw with the top seeded UCLA '74 Bruins, defeating
Marshall Collins, Derek Landel, and Roger Taylor in succession.
After a hard-fought victory over Dennis, Sean was in the Final
Four for the second year in a row. Sean's opponent would be none
other than Bruce Reiff, who has won more March Madness
titles than anyone in the history of the event, including an
unmatched three consecutive titles from 1997-99. Bruce showed
that experience counts, leading the 14th seed to a win in the
South regional, the best showing of any of the lower seeds. At
halftime of the first Final Four matchup, Bruce's chances for
another title looked good, as he led Sean 40-37. But in the second
half, UCLA's suffocating defense allowed Bruce's team only 14
points, and Sean prevailed, 77-54.
The Mideast regional had relatively low attendance this year,
as it seemed there were simply too many other events, now that
the convention was in full swing. Still, there were a lot of
exciting games among the 15 participants, including a rematch
of the famous Larry Bird-Magic Johnson matchup in 1979. In the
end, former Caesar Marvin Birnbaum won that game, and also coached
his Michgan State '79 team to wins over defending champ John
Coussis, Carolyn Demarco, and Harry Flawd to reach the Final
Four. Also notable was the debut of Jim Fishkin, who knocked
off Chris Bauch's top-seeded Cincy '61 team, and then eliminated
your friendly GM before losing to Harry.
The East regional generally has the highest attendance, and
this year was no exception, with 24 players vying to place the
last team in the Final Four. It was a tough heat for former champs,
as four of them fell before the quarterfinals. John Coussis,
however, looked to have a chance of repeating his 2004 triumph,
with wins over Peter Stein, Mark Yoshikowa, and Terry Coleman.
But in the regional final, John Ellman drew on all his experience
from many years of running the event to derail the Coussis Express.
So the second semi of the Final Four would pit the savvy of
John Ellman, in his first trip to the Final Four in more than
a decade, versus 'Mr. Caesar' himself, Marvin Birnbaum. Anyone
who has faced Marvin across a gameboard realizes that he picks
up on game systems very quickly. Yet, for all the game's supposed
simplicity, Marvin had never made even a regional semi prior
to this year. In 2005, however, Marvin brought the same intensity
to basketball that he shows at games like Paths of Glory
or We the People and he rolled a few hot dice to boot
which never hurts. After dismantling John's Loyola-Chicago '63
team in the national semi, Marvin then beat Sean's top-seeded
UCLA 1974 team to take the crown. So, if Marvin should finish
high up in the Caesar/Consul standings again, you can blame me
(but only a little) for introducing him to March Madness.
Once again, the format seemed to go pretty well, as the heats
generally finished quicker than the older, more traditional format.
Everyone seemed happy with the play-balance of the tournament,
which seems borne out by the fact that only one of the top seeds
made it to the Final Four (and even that team lost).
My thanks to all my Asst GMs, but especially to Peter Stein
and Stuart Tucker, who ran two of the heats when I was detained
at work. And thanks also to Debbie Bell for the score sheets
she graciously donated. Finally, my thanks to everyone who voted
us back into the Century. Chances are, as events continue to
grow in size, we'll likely need your votes next year, too. See
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Jim Gutt emerged victorious over a 29-player field in the
2nd Annual BPA March Madness PBeM Championship. Jim's
1992 Cincinnati squad used defense and strong bench play to defeat
2005 WBC champion Marvin Birnbaum's 2000 Florida squad. It looked
like an early runaway, as Jim's Bearcats jumped out to a 41-24
halftime lead. Marvin closed the gap when the Offensive Specialist
improved his "F" rated guard to the "AA"
bench rating and scored 19 points. The game was tied at 60 with
just two positions remaining to be resolved and all timeouts
and coaching moves exhausted. But Jim received a two point cushion
when Florida coach Billy Donovan received a technical foul, and
low scoring rolls allowed him to hold on for a 66-63 victory.
Cincinnati's left forward Herb Jones was named the tournament
MVP, as he averaged over 23 points per game for the Bearcats,
including 30 in a quarter-final win over Paul Risner's 1972 Tar
Heels. Also named to the all-tournament team was center Marvin
Barnes of 1973 Providence, forward Mike Miller of runner-up 2000
Florida, guard Kendall Gill of 1989 Illinois, guard Tyus Edney
of 1995 UCLA with special mention to the 1992 Cincinnati bench,
who scored 26 points per game with their "B" rating
and held the "AA" rated 2000 Florida bench to just
10 in the championship game. Of the 57 games played, the average
margin of victory was 11 points, with eight decided by three
points or less. Also claiming laurels were Pail Risner, Terry
Coleman, Sean McCulloch and Ric Manns who finished 3rd thru 6th