Monday, March 13, 2017

A Tradition of Failure Like No Other

The National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men's Basketball Tournament Selection Committee checked into a New York hotel last Wednesday and spent the rest of the weekend in seclusion watching television and having meetings. Presumably they were all binge-watching "The Americans" much of the time because their college basketball viewing options didn't seem to impress them very much.

The committee began work with a list that had North Carolina, Villanova, Kansas and Gonzaga  as the four top seeds and ended it with the same list. Conference tournaments, we don't need no stinking conference tournaments! And a good thing for North Carolina and Kansas that the committee didn't, as both schools didn't even make the finals of the ACC and Big 12 tourneys.

In the former, Duke beat North Carolina in the semis. They beat Louisville and Notre Dame, too. Duke got a two seed. Committee chairman Mark Hollis told CBS the group had Duke listed as a four seed on Wednesday. He made the promotion to a second seed sound like an unprecedented papal dispensation, a reward too good for the likes of college kids, even if they'd beaten the Spurs, Warriors and Cavs in succession. Worse yet, he left millions of otherwise good Americans finding themselves taking Duke's side in an argument.

I'm sure those remarks went over real well at CBS and ESPN, each of which pay serious money to broadcast those conference tournaments to fans who're now told that a group of certified basketball experts considers them essentially meaningless. A lot of those fans will take that opinion to heart as they fill out their brackets. This will be a mistake. Of course, it'll be a mistake if they ignore the committee's opinion, too.

Having criticized, I must now express some sympathy with the committee's choices. The rules of the game require that four teams must be seeded first in their regions. In the 2016-2017 season, there were basically two teams with one seed credentials, Villanova and Kansas, and about 10 perfectly reasonable number twos, very strong teams with wholly reasonable expectations of playing for a national championship that at some point or another didn't play very well at all.

This places the handicapper (and that's what the committee does after all) in a serious quandary. How does one play chalk when there's too much of it? Look at the two seeds. Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Arizona. Nobody would faint dead away if that's the Final Four. Look at the threes. Florida State, Baylor, UCLA and Oregon. That would be a startling Final Four, sure enough. But any one of them (well, not Baylor and Oregon) could be there and we'd all nod our heads as if we'd thought it all along.

As far as "upsets" go, SMU and Wichita St., seeded sixth and 10th respectively in their regions, could beat any one of the teams seeded ahead of them. The handicapper will note the importance of the word "one" in a contest where it takes six victories to win the grand prize.

So what the hell, in for a penny, in for ridicule from friends and family.

Sweet Sixteen: Villanova, Florida, SMU, Duke, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Florida State, Arizona, Kansas, Iowa St., Creighton, Louisville, North Carolina, Butler, UCLA, Kentucky
Elite Eight: Villanova, Duke, Notre Dame, Arizona, Kansas, Louisville, Butler, Kentucky
Final Four: Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky
Championship: Kansas over Arizona.


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