5 at 10: Vols hoops, NFL bounties and March Madness approaches

5 at 10: Vols hoops, NFL bounties and March Madness approaches

March 6th, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports

Davidson head coach Bob McKillop joins the celebration with players coming off the bench, Tyler Kalinoski, left, De'Mon Brooks, middle and Tom Droney, right during the second overtime of an NCAA college basketball Southern Conference Championship game Monday, March 5, 2012 in Asheville, N.C. Davidson won 93-91 in two overtimes. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

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From the "Talk Too Much studios," let's go.

Davidson 's Nik Cochran (12) shoots over Western Carolina 's Trey Sumler (5) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball Southern Conference Championship game Monday, March 5, 2012 in Asheville, N.C. Davidson won 93-91 in two overtimes. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Let the games begin

We all agree that a playoff is the best way to determine a champion. We all agree that college football's regular season is the best in sports, and any new system to crown a champ must be vigilant in protecting that fact. We all agree that the NCAA tournament has marginalized the college basketball regular season in some ways.

But we can all agree that the NCAA tournament is simply awesome in its awesomeness, and the March Madness has started.

Davidson beat Western Carolina in double overtime to claim the Southern Conference title on Monday in what in theory was an NCAA tournament game. Yes, it was for the SoCon title, but it also was for a spot in the dance.

And it was thrilling - watching those teams give everything they had, knowing that one play could mean the difference in calling a season or practicing Wednesday.

With the exception of the Ivy League, which does not have a conference tournament, every Division I college basketball team is in the NCAA tournament. Since conference tournament winners get a bid into the NCAA tournament, teams such as Davidson or Loyola just had to win a few extra tournament qualifiers to get into the big bracket. Those teams have a shot to win it all, they just have to win a few more must-win rounds than the big boys who will get at large bids.

And that's special and magical and makes college basketball the second-most all-inclusive major championship in all of sports, right behind the U.S. Open. And it's great.

College football's postseason needs change, there's no doubt about that, but let's please not fall into the trap of comparing the BCS to March Madness. There's no comparison, because it's apples to Orange Bowls.

If they take the next step with the plus-one format is actually a four-team playoff - while better than where we are - before long it will be deemed too small. And then we'll go from there. There's no way to replicate the magic that is March Madness because the field actually includes more than 300 teams. (You could make an argument that your UTC Mocs lost in the pre-pre-pre-pre first round of the NCAA, but don't make that argument too loud or someone will buy some championship rings.) Football will never be able to mobilize and play multiple games in a weekend and at one site, and there will never be enough games for a fully inclusive playoff.

The college football season is magnificent, and we should do everything to protect. The college basketball tournament is magnificent, and we should take every opportunity to enjoy it.

And since we're quick to discuss the lagging marathon that is college basketball's regular season, let's embrace the grandness that is March. Now if we could just do something about quietening Dickie V.

Tennessee forward Jordan McRae (52) shoots over Arkansas guard Rickey Scott (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Adam Brimer)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Vols need help

The University of Tennessee Vols and coach Cuonzo "The Conz" Martin have done everything short of beating Alabama to put themselves in the bubble discussion. It's a minor miracle that the Vols have become the hottest team in the SEC not in the 859 area code.

Now, for the Vols to feel truly good going into Selection Sunday, conventional wisdom says they need to win two SEC tournament games and get to the tourney finals. That would mean 20 wins and, despite 13 losses - including a really bad resume zit against Austin Peay - most feel that would be enough.

That seems plausible, right? Well, here are some things that Johnny Vols Fan can watch for over the next few days of conference tournament. Any of these helps the Vols' chances at locking up one of those precious at-large bids.

We'll start with the bad news. VCU beating Drexel last night probably dropped the number of bubble bids down one. Drexel had won 19 consecutive games before losing to VCU in the tournament final, and likely will get a shot. MTSU and Iona - two small conference schools with great records and better RPIs than the Vols - also lost in their conference tournaments and were sent to the bubble line. (The 5-at-10 doesn't think either gets in, but they make more a bigger crowd at the bubble chow line

Now, some rooting interests for Johnny Vols Fan as the conference tournament start to go from prime time to wall-to-wall.

- There are a few teams that are above the Vols in bubble order that if they could suffer first-round tournament losses to less than impressive teams would allow the Vols to move even or pass them. Saint Louis, Southern Miss (sorry, C-Joyner), Mississippi State and Cal.

- There are a few teams that need a big win in their conference tournaments to help their resumes. So Johnny UT fans need South Florida, Northwestern and maybe Washington to fall early.

- UT is grouped by ESPN bracket ace Joe Lunardi (and gang, he's right there with Mel Kiper, Buster Olney and Brad Edwards among folks at the WorldWide Leader that flat-out know their stuff) as needing two conference tournament wins to have a shot. The Vols are not alone in that group, so losses to other group members such as Seton Hall, Xavier, Texas, Miami or N.C. State helps the Vols.

The bubble is a dangerous place to be in March, and rooting for others to fall from it only helps your team's chances. That said, the fact that "The Conz" even has the Vols in the discussion is an impressive feat.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner (13) walks off the field after being injured during the second quarter of an NFL football divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

My bounty lies over the ocean

Wow, the talk of bounties and big payments for hits that force opponents to leave the field have consumed sports discussion. The guys at SportTalk - friends of the show, all - had a great discussion about. The national guys are debating it back and forth.

Charles Barkley hinted that there may have been a similar approach in NBA locker rooms and called out the player/coach that spilled the beans on this story and a "punk snitch." (Side note: We love Chuck, that's never been at issue, but using phrases like "punk snitch" when we already have a problem with telling difficult truths in this country is misguided at best and flat-out stupid at worst. C'mon Chuck, that's turrrr-ible.)

The Washington Redskins have said their "bounty" system was about players making plays, and that's way easier to accept than getting paid for hits that hurt opponents. The indifference that former defensive players are showing to this news makes it pretty clear that it was fairly common around the league.

In fact you could make an argument that the intimidating players - think James Harrison, Ray Lewis, et al. - have earned extra millions of dollars in contracts through the years because they are violent to the point of being scary. And that's OK.

But bounties are not. And here's why: They fundamental nature of the game defensively is to stop your opponent at any and all costs, not injure your opponent. Granted those two goals can frequently overlap, but the semantics are paramount.

And yes, there have always been rewards for big plays and big hits - be them big contracts on the NFL level or helmet stickers on the high school level - and anyone who has ever been in a football film room knows that big hits draw the biggest "oohhhhs" and "aahhhs" from those watching. And that's OK.

But the goal is making the play - not making the pay day. And the motivation of being great rather than being greedy may seem trivial, but it's crucial for the NFL

And if you think perceived over-violence is not dangerous for the NFL, ask boxing how long a sport can survive if the youth of America (or more importantly, the mothers of the youth of America) deem a sport too dangerous.

Here's saying the NFL will heavily punish everyone involved - Gregg Williams will likely be suspended at least a season, Sean Payton will miss at least a game, and the Saints may lose some draft picks - to set a standard and hope to save some face.

We'll see.

Randy Moss has signed to play with the Tennessee Titans. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

This and that

- Did you see the list of NFL franchise tags? Six teams are franchising kickers/punters. Interesting stuff indeed, and somewhere Gregg Williams is devising a scheme for players to take out the opposing team's kicker. What would that be worth? Five grand?

- Randy Moss is working out for the Saints today. We have two things here: One, that could be a great addition - Moss as a deep threat with a big persona QB in Drew Brees and a big persona offensive-minded coach in Sean Payton. This could work. Second, how crazy are times in the New Orleans Times Picayune Sport Department right now? You have the Saints and Bounty-Gate. You have native son Peyton Manning about to be the highest-profile player cut from an NFL team in recent memory. You have the SEC men's basketball tournament coming to town. You have the Final Four coming in a few weeks. Hope someone approved some OT for those guys.

- We've got plenty of time to cover this, but know that spring baseball games have started. We don't have anything else to add here, but somehow, if the boys of summer are playing in March, things seem better somehow, right?

Today's question

Like most 5-at-10 questions, there's no right or wrong answer for this one.

In fact, we're asking for help heading into conference tournament week, which team are you most intrigued by heading into conference tournament week?

It could be a darkhorse - and if that's the case, share the knowledge. It could a team in the hunt for a No. 1 seed like UNC or Kansas.

Who you got your eye on this week, and why?