Two years ago, I proposed a “Tournament of Champions” to once and for all settle the debate of who truly is the best team in the state of Maine. It’s a pretty simple premise: the champions from each class play each other in a winner-take-all tournament to determine the all-class champion. Since we have 5 classes and handing out byes really goes against the purpose of this exercise, we need some more teams. We can add in the 5 Regional Champions who didn’t take home a Gold Ball, but 10 teams still requires byes. So we take the 6 best teams in the state who didn’t win their region. Maybe it’s a 1 seed who got upset and will be desperate for some revenge. Maybe it’s a really good team that was in a brutal region. Or maybe it’s a team that would have won their region if the flu hadn’t ripped through their locker room at the wrong time. If you want to argue that means it isn’t really a Tournament of Champions, then I’m ok with that. We can come up with a different name.
We get an overriding sponsor, a big, state-wide company that could benefit from some great PR. Someone like L.L. Bean. The tournament (which will sell a LOT of tickets) operates as a fundraiser that raises money for scholarships for student-athletes, to be divided equally by all of the MPA schools that fielded a team this year.
Plus, since this is for charity, there’s a few more tweaks.
We’re playing with a shot clock. As fantastic as Caribou and Cape Elizabeth’s double-overtime game was, there were only 7 possessions in that first overtime. That’s an average of 34.3 seconds per possession and one possession spanned 1:25. Imagine how much better that game would have been with a shot clock. The A Girls State Game would have had 4 shot clock violations, according to tracking done by Sean Stackhouse, and that did not seem like a game that was played slowly. The final 5 minutes of the Skowhegan/Hampden Regional Final had 11 possessions and the Hampden possessions were pretty quick. I’m sure you saw some equally egregious examples.
Because we’ll have to do this during a week that isn’t school vacation, the schedule is a little tricky. We play the quarterfinal games in Portland and Bangor with those locations being dictated by the matchups. After that, we move to Augusta. We could do the whole thing in Augusta, but the quarterfinals would take forever.
We play 3 first round games on Friday (5pm, 7pm, 9pm) and 5 quarterfinal games on Saturday (1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm, 9pm). The teams that are the furthest away from the quarterfinal location won’t be asked to play in the 9pm games or the Friday game at 5pm. These times are tweak-able, if needed.
After that, we play 2 second round games a night in Augusta on Monday-Thursday. We play 4 games on Saturday. Then the Championship Games on Monday.
They key idea here is that all the times are adjustable. If a team sends 2 teams to the “Final 4”, then we can absolutely change the schedule so they play back-to-back.
This is obviously tricky with school being in session and it won’t be easy to travel from Caribou, but it’ll be worth it.
Each school is required to provide a roster with the proper way to say the kid’s name, as Rob Kennedy has been proposing.
Won’t the Small Schools Get Destroyed?
Ideally the games are all on TV. Failing that, the games are streamed live by the same fantastic people who already stream regular season games across the state like WHOU and Munzing Media. This allows them to invest in the kind of resources necessary to continue doing the essential work they do all season long.
For each game in the tournament, 3 board officials score the refs on the floor on their performance in the game itself. They do not sit together, but they are encouraged to use replay to clear up any questions. The highest-scoring referees advance. They cannot be assigned the same team two games in a row.
There’s a lot of different ways to seed this. You could use Heal Points. You could use the Power Rankings (since they include the tourney games). You could put together a selection committee and argue it out. But here’s my proposal: We use the Power Rankings to select the 6 at-large teams. That’ll reward teams that made a deep tourney run over a 1 seed that lost in the first round. The 5 Gold Ball winners are the top 5 seeds. Then we seed the tournament based on Heal Points. Why Heal Points? Well, it’s someone that people will easily understand the justification of and since Heals aren’t as reliable as the Power Rankings, it’ll introduce a little bit of chaos.
Your 6 at-large teams would then be (Power Rankings included):
- #3 Edward Little
- #5 Hermon
- #6 Thornton Academy
- #8 Deering
- #9 South Portland
- #10 Kennebunk
- #3 South Portland
- #4 Skowhegan
- #10 Brunswick
- #11 Hermon
- #12 Gorham (Mackenzie Holmes!)
- #13 Waterville
Not surprisingly, the at-large teams are heavy on AA schools, but it’s a testament to how strong Girls B North is that they got 3 teams in the tournament. The Skowhegan girls get a shot a redemption, as do the Deering boys.
So what would this look like? With a great deal of help from Jay Baines and his awesome brackets, it’d look a little bit like this:
Those percentages are who the Model thinks would advance and the likelihood they’d do it.
There’s so many great matchups here. Winthrop and Cape Elizabeth’s bigs square off. Caribou vs. Lawrence’s guards. Hermon vs. Greely in the ACC. Can you imagine the Civic Center if Forest Hills knocks down a bunch of 3s against South Portland in the first round?
And for the girls…
These first round games aren’t as good as the boys’ bracket, but there’s some gems. Brunswick could give SoPo a run. Mackenzie Holmes gets another shot at Oxford Hills. Skowhegan gets a second chance. The second round has a really interesting matchup where two of the best bigs in that state face off when Bailey Donovan plays Faith Blethen. Plus, the model thinks a Oxford Hills/Skowhegan semifinal would be a toss-up. Ditto for that Boothbay/Hampden game. And while it’s a long-shot, we could get a Mackenzie Holmes vs. Anna DeWolfe final. It’s our own version of Magic vs. Larry.
Twelve of these first-round games have a Stax Index over 80. Only 2 of the Boys Gold Ball games were that compelling.
If you’re a fan of high school basketball, it’s really hard to argue that this wouldn’t be amazing. Even if we get a replay of the AA title games, there could be some fantastic drama in the early rounds. The D schools might get blown out, but did anyone see that Virginia/UMBC game last year? It could happen. And if it did? They’d be talking about it in Jackman for 50 years. They might even turn it into a movie. What’s Gene Hackman doing these days?