Why March Madness isn’t that mad


March is the best month of the year, but it’s also the busiest. Not complaining, just saying. Sometimes you need reinforcements. Or a guest post.

With that, I’ll leave it to msnbc.com Science editor Alan Boyle with his take on a recent study involving college basketball and evolution.

This post originally appeared on Cosmic Log.

By Alan Boyle

A professor from Duke University says it’s only natural that the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament highlights the same teams year after year … like Duke, for instance.

This sounds like either an attempt to get in good with the higher-ups at the university in North Carolina, or one of those “duh, right” studies that merely confirm common sense. If your sports team builds up a reputation, of course it’ll continue to attract good athletes and coaches to keep up that reputation — and that goes for the Duke Blue Devils as well as other sports dynasties.

But the point behind the newly published research from Adrian Bejan, an engineering professor at Duke (and a former basketball star from Romania), is that sports dynasties serve to illustrate evolution at work.

“The science of sports evolution is a significant step in evolutionary biology, where the accepted view is that evolution is impossible to observe because of its long timeframe,” Bejan said in a news release. “With sports, we can focus on a particular population of athletes and witness ‘live’ the evolution of the design and performance of this selected group.”

Bejan’s analysis of hierarchies in basketball and academics was published online this week in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics.”

Constructal law
Bejan says only a few sports teams can rise to the top of a hierarchy, and that hierarchy can be predicted in line with a theory that he calls “constructal law.” The theory, which Bejan developed 15 years ago, is based on the principle that flow systems evolve their design to minimize imperfections, reduce friction or other forms of resistance, and increase their efficiency with time.

As a college basketball program becomes successful, the “friction” involved in recruiting those prospects is reduced. Less effort has to be expended to bring in the best athletes, and that solidifies the university’s standing in the athletic hierarchy. The way Bejan explains it, this process is as natural as the fact that a river cuts a deeper channel as time goes on.

“In this case it has to do with the players,” Perry Haynsworth, a former student of Bejan’s who contributed to the study, told the Duke Chronicle. “The easiest path for these high-school basketball players to the NBA is to the top 10 schools, and because of that these top 10 schools have more success.”

For the record, the top 11 schools listed in the paper are, in descending order, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, Cincinnati and Ohio State (rankings based on NCAA Final Four appearances). This year’s anticipated top seeds, as projected by Dave Ommen, don’t exactly track that list. Duke, Kansas and Ohio State are the only teams from Bejan’s list of 11 that are projected to be No. 1 or No. 2 seeds when the NCAA announces its brackets on March 13. But Bejan emphasizes that his study is about long-term trends rather than any one year in particular.

To be sure, Cinderella teams can break into the Final Four, and the top-rated teams can be upset as well. But Bejan and his colleagues say a college that wants to establish itself in basketball’s top tier would have to spend more on its program and recruiting efforts than the existing top-tier teams. By the same token, the top teams tend to keep their reputation even if they have a bad year once in a while … like Duke, for instance.

“The principle is that winning will return to a campus such as Duke because Duke is one of those channels of processing the best talent in the country,” Bejan told the Duke Chronicle.

Academics and athletics
Bejan’s analysis applies to academics as well as athletics, and he maintains that there’s an evolutionary lesson in the way that colleges develop specialties. Universities, like species, have to balance the expenditure of resources for a variety of purposes. Some species have super-sharp hearing. Others rely more on their sense of smell or their sharp vision to survive. Similarly, some universities are better-known for academics than for athletics (Hooray for the Caltech Beavers!) while it’s vice versa at some other universities I could name (but won’t).

Some universities may show up on top-10 lists for athletics as well as athletics … like Duke, for instance. But Bejan said “most of the universities appear only in one of the rankings — they seem to separate themselves into two different worlds.” He maintains that academic powerhouses follow the same evolutionary rules that athletic powerhouses do.

This isn’t the first time Bejan has blended athletics and evolution: In previously published research, he found that Olympic swimmers and sprinters have grown bigger, taller and faster over the past 100 years — recording an average growth rate that’s almost three times as high as the wider population’s average growth rate over the same time frame. More controversially, he has sought to explain why the top-rated sprinters tend to be black while the top-rated swimmers tend to be white. (He and his co-authors contend that it has to do with torso length, as measured by the position of the belly button.)

Do you think Bejan has hit the mark with his evolutionary analysis of March Madness, or has he thrown up an airball? Feel free to add your color commentary in the comment space below or by clicking here.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports

Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.