Sunday, March 13, 2011

an NCAA tournament thought: dazed and confused

OK, so Alabama did not make the NCAA Tournament. I'm not too worked up about it, not even about the fact that the University of Georgia — who Alabama defeated twice in its final 3 games — somehow made it in as a frigging 10 seed. We can all sit here and whine about that, but the fact is our team had multiple chances to prove it belonged in the field and, those 2 games vs. UGA excepted, failed every test. So while we could whine about being snubbed; hell, we could even do like The Warbloger did 2 years ago when Auburn didn't get in and construct a convoluted argument about how mid-majors "should've been better in high school."
Or we could just take our medicine like men, and understand that this is simply another step in the process of a rebuilding program.

Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to opine about, now that the field of 646568 is set. It's about understanding the field; specifically, nobody does.
At some point as we were nearing this process, I was attempting to handicap the tournament and realized I have utterly no clue if any dominant teams exist, and who those teams might be. Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh are the No. 1 seeds. Quick: tell me something insightful about any of them. I bet you can't.
I know I certainly cannot.
And those are, in the estimation of the selection committee, the top-4 teams in the nation. What about teams like Bucknell, or Xavier, or Belmont? Can you tell me anything outside of their seeding?

There exist a few very good reasons for your (and my own) inability to say much of anything intelligent about these teams, and they are related to the nature of collegiate basketball. Observe ...
— College basketball has the weakest opening of any major sport in America. No "Opening Weekend" to speak of; for most of us, college basketball might catch a few minutes of our attention around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it doesn't really start until after the BCS games, and then we don't really pay much attention until after the Super Bowl.
— College basketball is enormous. Do you know how many teams play Division I football? Roughly 120. Do you know how many teams play Division I basketball? 346 schools in 32 conferences. This is why college basketball analysts so often struggle to say something intelligent about the entire landscape. How can anyone have an intelligent opinion about a product with 346 different entities?
— Because of that proliferation, fans have an equally tough time distinguishing between them all. Very few people can call themselves college basketball aficionados — most of the rest of us just go off what we know, which we don't really know ... it's more like what we think we know. Like, I know Gonzaga has been good for a while. They just usually are. So I'll probably find a way for them to be in the round of 16. Because I think they must be good, since they usually are.
But what do I know? I spent most of my February paying attention to Alabama and the teams Alabama played (read: the SEC). Everything else I had to get either from Sportscenter or talk radio analysis, or the blogosphere. And I have a job, which limits my ability to care about much of anything.

— There's one other thing about college basketball that makes it somewhat unknowable, and it's the tournament itself.
Just hear me out: I'm not anti-playoff; in fact, it would be great to see college football do something that allowed its athletes to compete in some form of postseason that could bring the same level of energy to its denizens as the NCAA Tournament does for college basketball.
Having said that, one of the reasons very few have an opinion about the college basketball landscape going into the tournament is this: Most people haven't bothered to pay attention until now.
And why would they? College basketball's regular season is, for the most part, about separating teams who are "half-decent" from those that are one notch below. Duke and Kentucky thrashed North Carolina and Florida Sunday in their respective tournament championships. But so what? They will, all four of them, appear in the NCAA Tournament this week.
It's a cynical argument to make, but a month-long do-or-die postseason effectively nullifies anything that happens during the regular season. Which is why, tomorrow, I'll probably sit down to fill out a bracket and realize I have no opinion about at least 3/4 of the teams I see.

Except Alabama. I have an opinion about them.
(Oh, wait ... we didn't get in. Damn it all ...)

No comments: