Last weekend marked the end of the basketball season for both high school hoops and the college conference playoffs. The UIL state tournaments concluded with the champions determined in all five classifications, while 31 of the collegiate conference champions earned automatic berths into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

To make matters worse, the NFL owners and players union failed to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, putting the sport of professional football on the shelf until the two sides can negotiate a new contract.

And major league baseball is still a couple of weeks away from starting the 2011 season, leaving the world of sports with only golf, the NBA, NHL plus high school spring sports to keep us entertained.

Thank goodness for March Madness which begins this week for both the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Teams that missed being selected to these events will be chosen to play in the National Invitational Tournament for both men and women.
There also is the National Junior College Tournament and the NCAA College Tournament starting this week.

College basketball’s elite teams are still in action while most of the other school’s are putting up their gear for another year. But teams in the tournament must realize everything is now neutral including the site of the game, the officiating crew and most of the fans. There are no more home court advantages or cupcake opponents with which to contend.

This year instead of the usual 65 teams tabbed by the NCAA Selection Committee, three teams have been added, boosting the number up to 68 teams vying for the National Championship.
Four games are scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday in Dayton, O. with the winning teams extending their seasons at least to the first round games slated Thursday and Friday.

No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh (27-5) on Thursday will play the winner between UNC-Asheville (19-13) and Arkansas-Little Rock (19-16) which played the first game Tuesday while UAB (22-9) clashed with Clemson (21-11) in the second game with the winner meeting No. 5-seeded West Virginia (20-11) of the East Region, also on Thursday.

Southland Conference tournament champion UT-San Antonio (19-13) meets Alabama State (17-17) in Wednesday’s first game with the winner getting to play the tournament’s top seed, Ohio State (32-2) Friday in the first round. Southern Cal (19-14) and Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) meet in the second game with the winner playing sixth-seeded Georgetown (21-10) Friday in the Southwest Region.

Other No. 1 seeds besides Ohio State and Pittsburgh are Kansas (32-2) in the Southwest Region and Duke (30-4) in the West Region. A few of the bracket analysts thought that Notre Dame should have been a No. 1 pick instead of Duke. However, the Blue Devils really dominated rival North Carolina Sunday afternoon in the ACC championship game.

North Carolina (26-7) was a No. 2 seed in the East Region while Florida (26-7 Southeast), San Diego State (32-2 West) and Notre Dame (26-6 Southwest) round out the No. 2 seeds in the tourney.

Texas (27-7) and Texas A&M (24-8) join UTSA as the only schools from the Lone Star State invited to the Big Dance. The No. 4-seeded Longhorns meet the No. 13 Oakland Golden Grizzlies (25-9) in the West Region while the No. 7 Aggies take on No. 10 Florida State (21-10) in the Southwest Region.

As usual the Big East Conference had the most teams in the tournament with an all-time high 11, followed by the Big Ten (7), the Big 12 and Southeast Conference (5 each), the ACC and Pac-10 (4), the Atlantic-10, Colonial and Mountain West (3 each) and Conference USA (2).
Some of the “bubble teams” left out in the cold by the Selection Committee included Virginia Tech, which upset Duke earlier in the season, Alabama, which beat Georgia twice but the Bulldogs got the bid, Colorado, which started the season slowly but came on strong, Boston College, St. Mary’s and Missouri State.

“We had a real difficult team leaving out some of those teams on the bubble,” commented Gene Smith, chairman of the NCAA Selection Committee who also is an assistant athletic director at Ohio State. “But we worked really hard to select the best 68 teams in Division I and I think we did.”

The NCAA Tournament will be televised on CBS, TNT, TBS and Tru TV HD. Tuesday and Wednesday’s action can be seen on Tru TV HD.

Although Ohio State is the team favored to win it all by most of the “experts” in the TV booths, this Korner believes that Kansas has the team with the most talent and depth. If a couple of the big Buckeyes get in early foul trouble, their bench is not nearly as strong as that of the Jayhawks.

KWICKIES…Orange’s distance running enthusiast Kenny Ruane, who was the oldest participant in Saturday’s Gusher Half-Marathon in Beaumont, won his age division (65-70) and finished 19th out of a field of 509 entries. Kenny posted an impressive time of 1:39:53.8 for the 13.1 miles.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose annual salary is $10 million per year, is slashing his salary to $1 during the lockout. The league’s general counsel, who makes $5 million annually, also is taking $1. Goodell also has asked the NFL’s compensation committee to delay any bonus payments to him until there is a deal with the player’s union.

The Lamar Cardinals baseball team got started on the right foot in Southland Conference play by sweeping the Nicholls Colonels in a three-game series last weekend. The Big Red won Friday’s series opener 8-1, came from behind twice to down the Colonels 9-4 Saturday and then shut them out 3-0 Sunday. The Cards now stand at 12-6 for the season and 3-0 in the SLC. They will host Texas-Pan American in a doubleheader Wednesday and then travel to meet Central Arkansas for a three-game series this weekend.

And while on the subject of Lamar University, former Cardinal head basketball coach Grey Giovanine had another good year at the helm of Division III Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His team is ranked seventh in the nation and has won five of the last College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championships. Giovanine coached Lamar from 1993-1999 and went 80-85 in the six seasons. He has been at Augustana for the last 12 years.

Tiger Woods showed signs of getting out of his slump when he fired a six-under par 66 in Sunday’s final round of the Cadillac World Golf Championship at Doral. He finished tied for 10th place and collected a check for $129,000. Tiger had seven birdies and a bogey, but has yet to record an eagle this year.

JUST BETWEEN US…There should be plenty of local flavor in the upcoming basketball tournaments with the Lamar Lady Cards expected to be chosen by the WNIT while Orange’s Brittney Scott and her University of Houston Lady Cougars should be in the women’s NCAA Tournament. McNeese State (21-10) hosted Boston College (20-12) Tuesday night in the first round of the NIT while the Lady Cowgirls have a good shot at making either the NCAA or the NIT. And don’t forget Lamar-Port Arthur upsetting some good teams to earn a berth in the National Junior College Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.