Lions around the dorm

This week in Around the Dorm, we will debate the expansion of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, discuss Tiger Woods’ shot at sweeping the majors and deliberate on the reliability of the baseball team’s young talent. Staff writers Steve Cohen and Duncan Slobodzian and arts & entertainment editor James Queally are the contestants. Last week’s winner, staff writer Justin Jez, is the ref.

1) There have been recent rumblings by coaches and analysts about expanding the men’s NCAA basketball tournament to include more play-in games or increase the number of overall teams. Do you think expansion is a good idea for the future?

SC: This is the worst idea since McDonald’s introduced the McRib Sandwich. While I’m not the biggest fan of NCAA hoops, I know one of its biggest appeals is the level of competition. Looking at the first round of the tournament, it’s obvious that the first round games might as well be byes for the top-ranked teams. When you have teams like North Carolina winning by 39 points and Memphis winning by 24 against these teams they are playing in the first round, how badly are they going to beat these teams that wouldn’t even qualify as of right now? In my opinion, enough bad teams already qualify for the tournament and there is no need to bring in more of them.

DS: The tournament has undergone revisions and expansions over time to reach its current incarnation. The propositions on how to alter the format (namely, a play-in game for each of the four regions and a 128-team field) wouldn’t improve the tournament enough to justify them. The rationale for suggesting the changes seems to be empathizing with the four to five teams that miss out by a slim margin. This year, Virginia Tech and Arizona State were among the teams whose proverbial bubble burst on Selection Sunday. To me, tournaments of years past will be remembered for classic moments – buzzer beaters, upsets and the occasional wire-to-wire championship run – rather than for the programs who had the biggest beef with not making the 64-team field. The only change that I’d be behind would be the use of some formula (something like RPI) to serve as a reference point in ranking the teams during the regular season. There would be less controversy and fewer legitimate gripes after the selections were made.

JQ: Despite the fact that the play-in games only qualify 16 seeds for slaughter at the hands of the nation’s best, I wouldn’t object to expanding the opening round to include four play-in games, one for each region. The “opening round” allows small schools from forgotten conferences to have some realistic chance of winning a tournament game. Could you imagine the story if Coppin State had won their play-in game this year? However, the idea of expanding the tournament beyond the current field would not only be tedious, it would also ruin the March Madness tradition. Mathematically, the committee would need to seed eight regions or include some kind of bye system. The balance of the seeds would be thrown out as there would never be a year where eight teams deserved No. 1 seeds. On top of that, the tournament would become longer and too exhausting for the teams. Think of No. 8 seeds that have to play evenly matched opponents nearly every step of the way. Teams like Oregon and Arkansas would be emotionally and physically drained well before the Final Four if the tournament included extra rounds or byes to support extra teams.

JJ: Duncan takes 3 points with his great point that it’s usually the fringe teams petitioning, and I like the idea of having a quantifiable ranking system. Your argument was a little eratic Queally, but you’re right that the tourney would be draining if expanded – 2 points. Cohen, part of what makes the tourney interesting is the upsets (see George Mason) – 1 point.

2) Tiger Woods recently won his fifth straight PGA tournament and has said he feels he can win every one he enters. Is Woods playing the best golf of his career? What is the chance that he wins all four majors this year?

SC: I don’t think it would be shocking to anyone if Woods won all four majors this year. He’s taken first in all three tournaments so far this year. Not only has he won seven straight tourneys dating back to last year, but he has now tied Ben Hogan for third on the all-time PGA Tour victory list. I think it’s obvious there is more to come and it will be difficult for anyone to beat him the way he is playing. However, I must say that I don’t think he is playing the best of his career because I have no reason to believe that this god among golfers has peaked.

DS: This string of performances from Woods is parallel to his dominance from 2000-2001. I don’t know if we’ll be seeing a 15-stroke victory at this year’s U.S. Open, but the way Woods has been steam rolling everything in his path is reminiscent of his run during that time. I consider it a Grand Slam, but history doesn’t since it didn’t occur in a calendar year. Woods is a perfectionist, and hypercompetitive. After a couple years of adjustments and a fallout with his former swing coach, he has been gaining steam and might be in his true prime right now. This is a scary thought because, by all accounts, he can continue this high level of play for the foreseeable future. Last year, he won a major and finished second in two others. On the Sunday of each major, he was in striking distance. The law of averages, adapted to account for Woods’ dominance, dictates this year could be different.

JQ: This is a hard question to answer. It all depends on the fields Woods plays against, and in his current win streak, he has only picked up one notable tournament victory at the Buick. He has strung together some impressive and consistent play, but it is nearly impossible to judge until he tees off at one of the majors. Can he win all four of them? Woods has not reached the level of dominance that Roger Federer has in tennis, and Federer has yet to win all four majors in the same year. I think Woods will have a great 2008, and possibly the best year of his career, but I do not think he can win all four.

JJ: Duncan runs away with the 3. I couldn’t give Queally the full 2 points for second. Woods has had impressive wins recently besides the Buick and I do think you can get a feeling for how he will play the majors based on his current game – 1.5 points. Cohen gets the 1 for giving a couple of stats and saying Woods is good. That’s not exactly breaking news.

3) After winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) the last three years, the baseball team lost many of its key players to graduation. With a host of underclassmen, do you think they can earn another NJAC crown?

SC: It sure looks like the team is a contender based on its play so far. The baseball team is 10-2 to date and has gotten tremendous play out of its core of junior players. Behind the big bat of junior Vince Mazzaccaro, who leads the team in batting average among regular starters and home runs overall, as well as the great play of Adam Tussey and Rich Gawlack, their offense is a force to be reckoned with. Their pitching shouldn’t be forgotten either, with four of their starters having ERAs under 2.5. This team still has all the pieces to be a contender in the NJAC. The only thing left to see is how they fare against the competition in the NJAC.

DS: Losing players to graduation is slightly overrated when assessing a team’s chances. Underclassmen often wait for an opportunity to assume starting positions, and thinking that they will be unfit to do so never gives credence to the preparation process. Watching this year’s team and its hot start speaks volumes about the program and the people involved with it. A change at the head coach position had practically no effect on the players because interim head coach Dean Glus has been around the program for well over a decade. It’s tough to gauge how the Lions will fare in the stacked NJAC this year because they have yet to play against conference competition. Based on the way they outslugged a variety of good opponents on the Arizona training trip, you have to give them a really good chance. If the pitching continues to dictate tempo and the bats stay hot, they can expect big things.

JQ: So far, so good. With the Lions off to a 10-2 start including back-to-back wins over NJAC rival SUNY-Cortland, you could definitely make a case that the team is in position for another conference crown. No, we don’t have a Gerard Haran this season, but juniors Jeff Toth and Tussey have brought plenty of offense thus far. That aside, let’s not forget that the team ran roughshod over the NJAC last year. They lost a lot of veteran leadership and power this year, but leadership made the team competitive on a national level. They were light years beyond their conference. This year’s team, judging by its lightning-fast start, seems capable of contending for and winning the NJAC, but I don’t know about its strength on a national level.

JJ: 3 points to Duncan for a complete opinion. The coaching transition had no ill affect, and good point about the program’s history of success. Cohen gets the 2 for similar arguments about pitching and a lack of NJAC games. Queally, I didn’t ask about the team’s national title hopes, and SUNY-Courtland isn’t in the NJAC – 1 point.

In a rare sweep, Duncan easily cruises to a 9-4.5-4 victory.