Thursday, March 07, 2013

Your Handy-Dandy Guide To NCAA Tournament Jargon

And nary a triple bye to be seen
As we get closer to the NCAA's annual bake sale and Kickstarter disguised as a basketball tournament, the media's fancy turns to thoughts of brackets. Mock brackets, bracketology (which really ought to be the study of the things that hold shelves up), last in the bracket, first out of the bracket, what would it take for someone to use some brackets to pin Joe Lunardi to a wall until, say, August - you get the idea. And with that come certain words that everyone feels compelled to use in conversation to show that They Know What They Are Talking About. As a result, the next week or so will be filled with enough college basketball jargon and ill-informed speculation about who's in the field of 64, no, 65, no, 68 to choke a moa. Most of it will, of course, be used incorrectly.
With that in mind, here's our quick guide to the phrases you'll be hearing a lot and what they really mean:

  • Bad Loss - A loss to a team of vastly inferior talent, which supposedly gets counted against you by the tournament selection committee. Bad losses include losses to schools with directions in their name (that aren't North Carolina), losses to schools from small conferences, losses to teams whose conferences don't have broadcast deals with ESPN, and losses to teams who get bused in so that they can pick up checks to fund their athletic departments for the rest of the year.
  • Bid Stealer - A worthy team from a traditional one-bid league who loses in their conference tournament but gets selected to go anyway, reducing the number of available bids for big conference teams who did stupid things like lose to Boston College. Implied in the name is that the teams in question don't actually deserve their bids, which is why when you get a Lehigh beating a Duke in the first round, it's like a goddamn national holiday.
  • Body of Work - A team's entire season, generally referenced to support the tourney case of a major conference team who has been good but not great, and especially not lately.
  • Bubble Team - A team whose record is generally good enough to attract attention from the selection committee but not good enough to merit automatic inclusion. Bubble teams come in two varieties: big-conference teams who've tripped over themselves multiple times, usually against teams they should have beaten like a drum, and small-conference teams with gaudy records who can't get anyone from the big conferences to play them. Speculation about bubble teams largely exists to keep fan bases of teams with no chance in hell of winning the thing engaged before the reality of an NIT bid and a second-round game at Niagara sink in. 
  • Cinderella - Low-seeded team, generally from a smaller conference, that knocks off a big name or two. Much beloved of the media in the early rounds, when they make a good story. Much less beloved in the later rounds, because they keep knocking off teams guaranteed to draw higher ratings and have more fans travel. In a perfect world, all of them except two lose before the round of 16, where the two survivors will play each other and the victor promptly gets steamrolled by a team from Michigan. An instance of multiple Cinderellas causes panic in television executives, who have not yet figured out that their camera technology can make anyone look like a superstar, even a guy from George Mason, for a thirty second promo.
  • Cutting Down The Nets - What winning teams in the tourney do to get a souvenir, because the stuff they're soaking the tourists for on the concourse is way too expensive for college students to afford.
  • Don't Sleep On This Team - Because it's made up of guys who are probably much more comfortable on the basketball court than being used as mattresses, even after they underachieved this year.
  • Good Win - A win over a strong team, which theoretically impresses the selection committee. Also known as "The three games Duke throws away in conference per season".
  • Hot Team - A bid to look at a team's recent record only when trying to judge their tourney-worthiness. Generally marshaled in support of teams that lost to someone from the MEAC before conference play.
  • Last Out  - The four teams sitting just outside everyone's made up tournament bracket. The fact that they are called "Last Out" conveniently ignores the fact that since they're in a mock bracket, they were never actually "in". Inevitably includes one of the following: Temple, Dayton, or Southern Miss
  • Need To Make Some Noise In The Conference Tournament - A team with a decent record who can pretend to be better than they are by winning a couple of games over conference bottom-feeders to get the winning percentage up. Usually, there are between three and six teams in any given conference tournament that need to make some noise, which leads to second-round eliminations for some of them and what the sound engineers of my acquaintance call "not making noise".
  • One Bid League - A league whose talent level is considered so low that only the conference tourney champion will get an NCAA invite, and then only because it's the rules. Generally, you know if a league is in one bid territory if the league name could apply equally well to either a a prog rock or an Americana (Doubt me? Try this: "Let's have a big Branson welcome for the Missouri Valley Conference!" Alternately, "Playing the hits of Pink Floyd, ladies and gentlemen, the Horizon League!")
  • One Seed - The team on the "top line" of a bracket. The subject of fevered speculation over whether they will be the first top-rated team to lose to a 16-seed when they go down 6-4 after two minutes of play, before turning on the jets and running the SWAC champion out of the building.
  • Play-in Game - Alternately, a game before the round of 64 between two teams that are there because they have to be, and this is a way of getting rid of them before they annoy Kansas, or a game between two underachieving major conference teams added to the tourney to give their conferences an extra water pipe hit of that sweet tourney cash. Designed expressly to irritate the crap out of the guy responsible for putting together the office bracket pool.
  • Pod - A grouping of teams within a bracket that actually isn't grouped, designed to allow higher seeds to stay close to home. In reality, an explanation for why Dayton will be playing New Mexico in East Rutherford, NJ in an South Regional Game at 2 and Arizona will be playing Missouri in a West Regional Game in East Rutherford, NJ at 5.
  • Regular Season Champion - The team with the best conference record during conference play. That, and a couple of bucks, will get you a cup of coffee, but not an automatic bid (unless you're in the Ivy League).
  • RPI - The mystical statistic that theoretically determines how good a team his. Roughly equivalent to WAR in baseball in that it's a rough estimate built of assumptions, unlike WAR in baseball in that the fan base at large has embraced it because they see in it an easy way to lobby for their favorite team. The lower the RPI the better. Not to be confused with Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, which has never qualified for the NCAA tournament. RPI is easily gamed through schedule shenanigans, as the Missouri Valley Conference demonstrates every year. The strength-of-schedule component's also spectacular at rewarding schools in big conferences, even if they get stomped regularly, and penalizing schools in small ones.
  • S-Curve - The model used for seeding teams in the tournament, familiar to anyone who's ever done an online fantasy baseball draft. In theory it results in the fairest matchup of teams in the tourney. In reality, there are so many secondary rules about teams from conferences not playing each other before a certain round and "protected" sites for higher ranked teams and whatnot that the S-curve is really more of a Final Tzadee Curve.
  • Strength of Schedule - Theoretically, how good the list of teams a team played is, with a side of "how good were the teams they played". In reality, a way to get rewarded for getting your head beaten in by Florida twice a year.
  • Triple Bye - What certain high seeds in certain conference tournaments get as a result of having a weird number of teams in their conference after being raided by The Conference Formerly Known As The Big East. Generally, a team with a triple bye doesn't have to play in its conference tournament, they just have to wait around for all the other teams to knock one another off, then accept the conference's automatic bid.

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