Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BDT -- Where's the Tournament Going?

No, please, tell me how you really feel!
Let me be up front with all of you about my expectations for this post. It's going to be awful. Awful! Most (all) of you are probably thinking, "well, this isn't breaking news or anything." To you I would say...umm, well, I guess I don't have a good comeback. Touche! All I'm trying to do is warn you. Really, I'm just trying to help! You see, I have a couple things going against me today.

For one, I'm now on day ten of being sick. DAY TEN! This is brutal! I'm probably a week or so away from becoming the bubble boy in Seinfeld. Believe me, you won't want to play Trivial Pursuit with me!

For another, I have no idea where I'm going with this. None! Usually when I sit down to write, I have a clear idea of what I want to say. I'll have thought it through and created a mental outline of how I want to present my material. This time, however, I honestly have no clue. I have several things I want to say but most of them are conflicting ideas. Even worse, I kinda buy into both sides of the conflict! Is that gonna stop me from trying to patch this together with half a roll of duct tape? Not on your life! I'm just gonna run with this! Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest just starts running? Yep, that's me right now. I have absolutely no idea where I'm going; I'm just running. Hopefully I don't get tired of writing and just stop in the middle...and hopefully I can grow that sweet beard!

Here's my conundrum: I'm struggling to sort out my feelings for VCU's run, the lack of top seeds in the Final Four, and the direction of the NCAA tournament as a whole. Big enough for you? Yeah, no wonder I'm struggling here! OK, let's start sorting this out by saying exactly how I feel out loud:

I hate that VCU is in the Final Four.
I love that VCU knocked off Kansas because it's a great upset and it helps Kentucky.
(Obvious conflict)

I hate Cinderellas in the Final Four (hated George Mason).
I love that Butler is in the Final Four.
(Somewhat of a conflict)

I think VCU doesn't belong in the tournament.
VCU made the Final Four.
(Interesting conflict)

I hate tournament expansion.
VCU is in the Final Four as a play-in team.
(Definite conflict)

I like watching the best teams playing at the end.
All the 1 and 2 seeds are gone.
(Not a total conflict...I'll explain)

The winner of the tournament is the supposed "best team" in college basketball.
The best team doesn't usually win and the tournament is flawed.
(I actually only put this one here because I wanted to talk about it. I don't actually buy this! It makes me angry!)

Let's start with this last one...as you could have guessed. This has been something I've heard a ton of lately. Frankly, I'm starting to get upset. Most of the time, I'm hearing this from local Columbus sports radio. I can understand why they would be frustrated after last Friday's loss, but to essentially blame the format of the tournament is completely idiotic. Let me tell you something, when Kentucky was knocked out last year by a clearly inferior team, I never EVER blamed the tournament. If you can't take ownership of your teams failures then you have no right to take ownership of their successes. Sports goes both ways. Maybe the real best team doesn't always win; who cares? Interestingly enough, I don't seem to recall Buckeye fans feeling bad about themselves when Ohio State made the Final Four in 1999 as a 4 seed.

I've been completely honest and up front about Ohio State vs. Kentucky. UK simply isn't as good as Ohio State this year! In this case, the best team didn't win, but that's the nature of the beast. Top teams get upset, inferior teams advance, good teams go home; that's what happens in a playoff! All of a sudden, when all the top teams seem to be gone, a playoff is not a good idea? Really? While we're at it, why don't we just do away with the NFL playoffs and let Roger Goodell pick the champion? No, you can't rip on the injustices of the BCS with one side of your mouth and then knock a playoff with the other. Do I agree the NCAA tournament has expanded too far and become a bit watered down? Yes, it absolutely has. I've even gone so far as to suggest 64 teams is too much! Regardless, no matter what the local or national media has to say about the tournament, how flawed and imperfect it is, and how it doesn't usually produce a deserving champion, there's one sure way for your team to deal with the 'injustices' of a playoff...WIN YOUR FREAKING GAMES!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the real stupidity of the 'flawed' tournament suggestion. The opportunity for success is always there. It's there for the top seeded Buckeyes and it's there for the 11 seed play-in winner VCU. Each and every team holds their destiny in their own hands. Try saying that about the BCS! Heck, you can even win all your games in college football and still not get a shot at the title.

The thing is, we can sit here all day and talk about the regular season of college basketball being irrelevant or the tournament having too many teams or the seeding being bad or whatever else you want to whine about. Fact is, no matter what you hear on the radio, the best teams usually do come out on top. Since 2000, there have been 48 Final Four teams. Of those 48 teams, eighteen have been #1 seeds (37.5%), ten have been #2 seeds (20.8%), seven have been #3 seeds (14.6%), and three have been #4 seeds (8.3%). 38 out of 48 (79.2%) possible teams have been top 4 seeds! Even more convincing is the championship game figures. Of the last 22 finalists, eleven have been #1 seeds (50%), five have been #2 seeds (22.7%), and three have been #3 seeds (13.6%). In fact, the remaining three finalists were #5 seeds which still isn't terrible. Finally, look at the past eleven champions. Eight have been #1 seeds, one has been a #2 seeds, and two have been #3 seeds. A closer look reveals the #2 seed as Emeka Okafor's UConn team (really good team) and the #3 seeds to be Carmelo Anthony's Syracuse team and Florida's first national championship team which would, by the way, go on to repeat as a #1 seed and prove just how good they were. Yep, I can definitely see how you could conclude that good teams don't win the tournament...

If I had time, I'd go even farther back because the numbers will clearly show this year to be an anomaly. Perhaps there really was no great team this year. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean the Final Four is completely devoid of talent. While I've openly admitted that Kentucky isn't as good as Ohio State, I wouldn't call them a Cinderella either. In fact, I'd say the gap between the two isn't terribly wide. UK has been playing fantastic basketball lately and they're loaded with tremendous talent. Connecticut is no push over either. Considering they have one of the best players in recent college basketball history, I'd say they can stack up with just about anybody. Then, of course, you have last years national runner-up back in the mix. Other than VCU, these three teams definitely belong where they are and they deserve your attention!

While I'm on the topic, and I hate this topic, let's talk about VCU. Most people are busy fawning over the nice little Cinderella story. Me? I hate them! I hated George Mason when they crashed the Final Four and I hate VCU just as much. Now, I obviously cheered for them to beat Kansas because, well, I'd rather Kentucky not have to face Kansas. As a college basketball fan though, I think VCU is one of the worst things to happen to the game in years. I know, I know, I'm being a mean spirited elitist bully right now. I get that...I'm sorry. Not really.

I wrote a post a week or so ago about how much I despise NCAA tournament expansion. While I've already shown how the best teams still do win, I continue to believe a larger tournament is bad for the game. I'm the kind of fan who watches college basketball all year. I watch the pre-season tournaments, I watch non-conference games, I watch conference games; heck, I even watch recruiting stuff! To me, putting tons of teams in the postseason is essentially the apocalypse of the sport. It would be like your boss giving a nice bonus to the dumbest, laziest, most idiotic employee at your workplace. You know who just popped into your head! Imagine them getting a nice check! You hate it don't you?! Well, that's how I feel. What's the regular season for if we're just going to let everyone in the tournament anyways?

I said this about VCU at the beginning of the tournament and I had a lot of people agree with me. Even the national sports media was killing the selection of VCU! All of a sudden, everyone is on board with VCU 'belonging.' NO! THEY DON'T BELONG! Just because you got hot at the right time doesn't change what you did all year! YOU STILL SUCK! (Breathing....)

You all probably have caught on by now that I love Butler. So, how could I cheer for Butler when I hate VCU? Simple, Butler earned their way to the tournament! No, they didn't really have the greatest regular season, but they won their conference. I can always respect a team who earns a postseason birth, but not a team who did nothing. Also, I just blindly love Butler...lots of bias involved.

The most dangerous thing about VCU's run is the potential long term implications it could have. We've already seen the tournament expanded once and you know television executives will want it expanded again. The biggest argument against it was how pointless expansion was. "Those teams won't even have a chance! What's the point?" Well, now VCU has kinda ruined that. All of a sudden, there seems to be a logical reason to expand the tournament. The Cinderella that we all love to cheer for has completely distorted the indisputable facts presented above about the best teams winning, and the perception of true parity is taking hold. I, personally, hate parity. It's totally overrated. Don't give me 40 mediocre teams and call it good; give me 10 great teams! Unfortunately, the false perception of parity will likely lead to further expansion which will lead to more upset opportunities which will lead to further watering down....see where this is going? More isn't always a good idea. If you want quality in this tournament then you can't throw more crap in; it doesn't work that way.

I don't really know if any of that made sense. I guess my point is that the tournament really does work. The best teams do come out on top. The product is fine! Don't let anyone tell you anything else. Whether you have 64 teams in the tournament or 164, there's always going to be one great truth that makes the whole thing work. If you win your games, you keep playing. That's what the tournament is all about! Don't whine because your team lost to an 'inferior' team. It's not the tournament's fault you lost! The opportunity was there! In the end, everything is determined out on the court and, to me, that sounds like a beautiful system.

While that would make for a great ending to the post, I still struggle with the thought of expansion. As much as I want to believe in the tournament, I'm a bit terrified at what this thing will look like ten years from now. Will I still be reassuring everyone the tournament works? Will we be watching mediocre teams compete for the championship? I have no idea, and I really hope VCU isn't the catalyst for disaster.

There's my conflict! Should I believe the tournament is fine or should I believe it's headed down a bad path? Honestly, I have no idea.

Email me at: borisdiawtime@gmail.com
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