Monday, March 21, 2011

NCAA March Madness

It's called March Madness. I get it. Things are supposed to be crazy. But is 'too crazy' even fun anymore?

The tournament is unpredictable; it always has been. When do we get to the point where being so unpredictable makes it lose its luster? There are four double-digit seeds in the Sweet Sixteen, including three in one region. There are as many schools from the city of Richmond, Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen as there are Big East teams. VCU has already won three tournament games after only winning three games total since February 9th.

To top it all off, the Butler Bulldogs beat the number one team in their region, Pitt, on their way to becoming this year's George Mason and not this year's Butler. And this year's actual George Mason got blown out of the water to become this year's somebody else. Got it?

My bracket, like most people's, is in pieces. I only have two Final Four picks remaining. That is nothing to be concerned with however. It has happened before. The concerning part is the teams that are busting brackets. Marquette lost 14 times during the regular season! They finished 9-9 in the Big East and yet every single Big East team with a better conference record has been knocked out already.

Florida State went 2-6 in the regular season versus eventual tournament teams yet they have already won two actual tournament games as a 10 seed and now head into the Sweet Sixteen as a technical favorite, facing the 11 seed VCU Rams.

There can really be only one reason for the lack of sense in the tournament and many people have mentioned this theory even before the tournament got under way. There is not enough talent in college basketball. There aren't any great teams, there aren't enough good teams, parity has struck. I suppose this makes March even more mad in the coming years with so few talented players sticking around for even two years on campus but I don't see that as a good thing.

We've heard this all weekend now: just imagine if Butler still had Gordon Heyward, if UCLA still had Westbrook and Love, if Memphis had Rose, etc. The end result wouldn't even be that each individual team might have advanced farther in the tournament. The important thing would be that our 2011 tournament would be filled with better basketball teams, led by talented and experienced players. Yet this isn't how the basketball landscape is shaped anymore.

North Carolina won the ACC regular season title and is now in the Sweet Sixteen led by (essentially) all underclassmen. They should be amazing next year, right? Yes, until you factor in that current NBA draft projections have Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all being first round picks, all leaving school early. Kendall Marshall might be the best point guard in Chapel Hill without blazing speed since Ed Cota. It won't much matter if all his pass receivers leave.

People are also killing the tournament committee for the four play-in games but I'm not too hung up on that. Although, I do think it would be better if they were between all 16 seeds. Waiting to see a winner of a 12 or 11 seed battle is just a pain for bracket-filling purposes.

Not everything about this year's tournament was bad though. Even if you hated the "first round" and the double-digit seed blowouts and the poor play, you have to give credit where credit is due. CBS and Turner got things right.

It took a long time, many years in fact, but they have finally mastered how to televise March Madness. Instead of being at the mercy of CBS flipping to the minutes of the game we wanted to see, now we were in control. Four channels, games with staggered start times, every game televised in its entirety for the duration of the tournament, just superb.

When I first heard of a new television arrangement, I was skeptical, but mostly because I wasn't aware of how it would work. I thought most of the charm of this tourney was having games coming down to the wire and seeing one ending followed by another. This was still the case except that there were a few minutes in between each and a good channel-changer could catch all the action they wanted.

So my viewing experience was better than in year's past although the games I was watching were, perhaps, not exactly up to par. If San Diego State played Temple again, I think they'd change the rules to first to 40 points wins.

I guess then we broke even. Once this viewing freedom becomes the norm though, is there any way for March Madness to not be heading downhill? The talent pool seems abnormally low, with no hope of refilling. Players come to school, don't even excel athletically, and still leave after one year. Can you believe Josh Selby, Perry Jones and C.J. Leslie will all be first round NBA picks? Talk about drafting based on potential; none of them were even the second best player on their college teams, let alone the best.

So unless David Stern institutes another age limit for draft prospects, we might be heading down this road for a while. The games could get ugly, there will be no hope in predicting who will win on a given night, excitement will trump execution, and it will most assuredly be Mad.

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