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Drew Ellis covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. His news and notes keep you up to date with Golden Grizzlies men's basketball.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Different decade, different NCAA tourney as Oakland prepares to host

Since Oakland last (and first) hosted the NCAA tournament at The Palace of Auburn Hills in 2006, fresh off its first trip to the Big Dance a year prior, the tournament has changed.
The obvious difference: The field has expanded by three teams to 68 with two "First Four" games sending two teams into the field of 64, which is now deemed the second round -- likely in an effort to escape the stigma of a "play-in" first round that still trails Oakland's win over Alabama A&M in 2005. 
But the biggest change as it affects Oakland's hosting in next year's Dance is the sterilization of courts demanded by the NCAA. It was rather simple six years ago to look at The Palace floor and see who was the host. It's not that easy these days, as the only identifier of the locale is the venue name printed across the end line.
The goal with the first hosting duty was to help further propel Oakland into the national consciousness.
"People are ... realizing (OU is) not a California school," current director of athletics Tracy Huth told me back in my days as a budding college journalist.
In keeping with that ideology, the area inside in the 3-point arc was transformed to solid black, similar to the O'rena. Don't expect that next year. Very little is left to left to distinguish host arenas besides the grain pattern of the wood used in the floor.
Like 2006, Oakland will again be hosting games in the rounds of 64 and 32 in the tournament's first weekend.
If you're wondering, the Detroit Free Press points out in a recent story that Oakland, as host, is ineligible to play at The Palace if it makes the NCAA tournament. 
Two more NCAA tourneys, an NBA draft pick and hordes of games on the national stage later, Oakland is well on its way to achieving the individualism it strived for nearly a decade ago.

Fun facts about the 2006 NCAA tournament at The Palace: 
  • One of the regionals fed from The Palace was in Oakland (Calif.), the place Oakland University was going great lengths to distance itself from. 
  • No. 16 Oral Roberts represented the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League), losing to No. 1 seed Memphis. That game was part of the Oakland regional as well, but played at another site.
  • No. 13 Bradley stunned fourth seed Kansas and No. 5 Pittsburgh to advance to the Sweet 16, while No. 14 Northwestern State knocked off No. 3 Iowa in an opening-round contest of the Atlanta regional rated by TIME Magazine as one of the ten biggest opening-round upsets of all time.
  • Tickets for the six first-round games at The Palace were $180. Prices for the 2013 tourney haven't been announced, but the Free Press reports tickets will go on sale after Midnight Madness kicks off the 2012-13 season. 

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