Another NCAA tourney came to a close tonight, with little chance for a small upset in the making (a below average #3 seed over an incredibly strong #2 seed that should have been a #1 seed), but it all seemed anticlimactic.
Usually, after the Sweet 16, we all experience a let down in excitement in regards to rooting for our favorite underdog. Reason being, there are usually no more than a few to root for at that stage. Why is that? Well, it is hard to wear the glass slipper for 6 straight games. I love the NCAA tournament just as much as the next guy, but come on, what shot does a true underdog have to win the whole thing…NONE! People often reference the 1985 Villanova upset over Georgetown in the NCAA Championship game to prove that an underdog can win the whole thing. Yes, it was a big upset, no one thought Villanova had a shot at getting past Patrick Ewing’s Hoya team. Villanova was ranked 8th in the tournament and Georgetown was the number 1 seed. But, an 8th seed isn’t like a 15th seed, and Villanova is a Big East school. Yes it was an upset from a tournament seeding standpoint, but it wasn’t like Austin Peay beat Duke for the title, now that would really be something!!
Don’t get me wrong, with a possible exception to the NFL playoffs, the NCAA tournament is the best post-season event we have going today. (To all the College Football powers at be – hint hint!) In the NFL, a wildcard has a decent shot at making the Super bowl because a wildcard team would only need to win three games in a row in order to get there (all on the road for the most part). The Patriots seem to make a living off of that, but you won’t see a NCAA basketball team like Murray State get into the Championship game. Why? There are just too many games that you have to win in a row. I think come tourney time, it seems like every team has a good shot at beating any other team on that ONE night. We have seen that time and time again over the years. It’s true that there have even been some Cinderella teams that have won 2-3 giant killer games in a row, Kent State and Valparaiso teams from recent years come to mind. But eventually, just like playing blackjack in Vegas, the house will eventually take all of your money. The better teams seem to always play for the title, which would stand to reason since they have the better players in theory. These teams also always come from the elite power conference; the ACC, Big East, and SEC, just to name a few. The teams from these elite conferences get battle tested almost every game during the regular season (except UCONN for the first 4 games, they always play poor Fairfield U. and Central Connecticut as warm-up filler games). When the tournament rolls around in March, these elite teams know how to win against just about anybody, this can’t be said for school coming out of the MAAC and Big Sky conferences for example.
So, what can we do about all of this? I think the NCAA tournament should just pick the best 64 teams and seed them according to their regular season and respective conference tournament performance. If you are a team like Michigan, who has the potential to win but doesn’t get the job done, they should just be left out of everything (no NIT). The NIT tournament should just be for those teams who win the mid-major and small conference tournament championships, and the remaining teams taken from at large bids from those mid-major and small conferences. That way, an NIT championship winner can be a true representative of the competition it faced all year, and the NCAA tournament can be for the big conferences, since a team from a big conference wins the NCAA tourney every year any way.
In conclusion, I tip my hat to the whole meaning of the NCAA basketball tournament. Every team outside the power conferences has a shot (even though it is a very small one), to play for the title. I applaud that for all the little schools that otherwise wouldn’t be seen on national televisions. These teams that do win a few games in the NCAA tourney should be recognized, since they don’t get the recruiting dollars as the big boys do. I attended and graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati, so I have empathy for the small schools around the country. Until 1987, no one had ever heard of Xavier. Since Xavier has made some noise in the tournament over the past 15 years or so, Xavier is now somewhat of a household name. I also love to read articles from people on sports sites that write about Xavier right before they play for the Final Four. You see titles like “Don’t count out Xavier,” or “You better not look past Xavier,” which have to be written because this years team had a legitimate shot at the Final Four (since they made it to the Elite 8). These people would have never written the article 3 rounds ago because they didn’t actually believe Xavier had a shot. I say, write what you really feel, not what you ought to feel. Who knows what will happen in next year’s tournament, but rest assured the team will be from a power conference and their seed will be 4 or higher. The tournament’s official song is “One shining moment” which accurately depicts what transpires in the tournament. But, you will notice the song isn’t called “Six shining moments,” because only one of the true elite teams gets to experience that.