Buchan: District 2B hoops bracket gets failing grade

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WALLA WALLA - There's a lesson to be learned from the Southeast 2B District basketball bracket that riled up so many of the participating coaches last weekend at Sherwood Center.

Be careful what you wish for.

The bracket's sticking point, according to at least some of the coaches, was a format that pitted the tournament's No. 1 and No. 2 seeds against each other in the first round. It was felt the bracket didn't protect the top teams or reward them for their accomplishments during the regular season.

"One vs. two in the first round is ridiculous to be honest," said coach T.J Scott, whose Waitsburg-Prescott boys team was the No. 2 seed. "Dayton goes all year, 11-1, first place, and they get rewarded by having to beat us again. I totally disagree with that. If we were the No. 1 seed, like last year, I would be upset."

W-P girls coach Jerry Baker, whose team was seeded third, concurred.

"I certainly saw no advantage in winning the league championship," Baker said. "Playing the hardest team is no reward for winning your league."

And so, too, did Dayton girls coach Clayton Strong after his fourth-seeded Bulldogs came on strong to capture the district's No. 2 seed to regionals.

"I thought (the bracket) was advantageous for us, not having to play one of those top three seeds right off the bat," Strong said. "Instead, we got to play the fifth seed (Tri-Cities Prep), a team we matched up with, on our home floor. That gave us the chance to build some confidence because my girls hadn't had any success in the postseason."

The reason for the 1-2 matchup, according to DeSales athletic director and tournament director Greg Fazzari, was in direct response to complaints by some coaches - "one coach in particular" - who didn't like the idea of the top teams receiving byes into the district semifinals. Such a format, it was reasoned, didn't provide the top teams with a sufficient number of games to prepare for the next level of competition.

Fazzari's response was the 2B bracket that came under fire over the weekend at Sherwood Center. It assured that each of the advancing teams would play three games before the regional seeds were decided.

"I liked the bracket," Fazzari said. "I thought it was a tough bracket that prepared teams for the next level. I liked the fact that everybody was playing and that the teams going on were well prepared. Every game was important."

Furthermore, Fazzari thought the top two seeds were adequately protected. The No. 1 seed hosted the 1-2 matchup; the winner faced either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in a semifinal game that determined a regional berth; and the loser of the 1-2 game was the only team in the field to receive double-elimination status.

Ironically, the team that suffered the greatest consequence was the DeSales girls squad.

The Irish went into the tournament seeded No. 1 after winning the regular-season championship. But DeSales suffered a 42-28 home-court loss to Asotin in the 1-2 matchup, then couldn't regroup against third-seeded Waitsburg-Prescott in the semifinals and was eliminated 47-44.

As it turned out, second-seeded Asotin suffered a similar fate when the Panthers were ousted by Dayton in the semis.

DeSales girls coach Tim Duncan didn't endorse the 1 vs. 2 matchup in the first round, he said. But he could have lived with it if the bracket called for a full double-elimination format once the four semifinalists were determined.

In fact, the 2B district's single-elimination bracket - with the exception of the initial 1-2 game - was as much at the crux of the coaches' discontent as anything.

"My point is, why is our district eliminating games and days when other districts aren't?" asked Duncan, who went on to site several examples.

"District 5-6 has eight teams and they play 12 games in four days," he said. "District 7 has 10 teams and they play 15 games to decide four seeds. And District 4? They have 12 teams and play 20 games to decide four (regional) seeds.

"We allow six teams into district and play six games to decide two spots. This is the way basketball has been treated in our league forever.

"I'm not blaming the athletic directors," he concluded. "I'm not trying to throw anyone under the bus. I'm blaming the coaches, too. It's time to step up and get something done as far as testing our teams."

And then there's this.

Are 2B athletic directors and school administrators concerned about basketball tournaments cutting into classroom time? Are they motivated to put forth brackets that guard against just that?

According to Fazzari, the answer to both questions is yes.

"Time out of school is a debate we have all of the time," Fazzari said. "Just how much do we need?

"Let's be cognizant of the fact that we need to keep kids in school. And this district tournament took no time out of school at all."

Finally, it's possible there might also be a communication gap.

Fazzari, as tournament director, submitted to his fellow athletic directors no fewer than five brackets in November, and he asked that each AD communicate with his or her basketball coaches and obtain feedback.

Some coaches suggest that never happened.

And when Fazzari finally decided on a bracket and informed the other athletic directors of his decision via email, he said he received "no input whatsoever."

Bob Kirk, who for nearly a half a century has been a Southeast B District coach, athletic director and more recently the District 9 Director, has an inkling as to why.

"People didn't look at it closely or follow it through," Kirk said. "We have some rookies, some inexperienced athletic directors who didn't worry about it that much.

"I didn't hear many complaints from superintendents and athletic directors, but from coaches and fans I sure did. I heard several comments from some of the old-timers who said this was the worst blankety-blank bracket they had ever seen."

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