The SaniTERRYum VIII: Where’s the Madness?

Posted: March 28, 2012 by Terry Carlton in Basketball, Columns, NCAA, SaniTERRYum, Sports
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The tournament’s just not that into you. It’s not you, it’s it. The tournament does not care about your crazy Cinderella stories and upset specials. Early on, yes, it was exciting. That’s when unsuspecting top seeds are supposed to get upended by upstarts trying, no dying, to make a splash and instantly put a new program on the map. Lehigh became only the fifth #15 seed to beat a #2 when they beat Duke this year. When that happened, you guys were still in that “can’t keep your hands off of each other, hot and heavy” phase. The tournament was expectedly exhilarating. It had you tuning in to games on three or four channels. You were bending over backwards to make sure you didn’t miss any of the action.

But you guys settled into sort of an annual, predictable rut. Turns out that the exciting tournament you fell in love with for its craziness and spontaneity was just a regular, boring ole tournamental showcase for the NCAA’s elite programs again. These elite programs continue to trump all the initial madness, triumphing over all the smaller conferences, mid-majors, and majorly unequipped programs to claim championship after championship. Once you get past the Sweet 16, the shocks dissipate, and what we’re left with is another notch on the belt for a top ranked program.

The most recent surprise to win it all? That would be Villanova as a #8 seed back in 1985. Since then, there have been 26 champions-16 of them were #1 seeds in their respective region. 4 were #2 seeds. 4 were #3 seeds. One was a #4 seed: Mike Bibby and Miles Simon’s (yes, THEE Miles Simon) Arizona Wildcats from 1997. The other was Danny Manning and Larry Brown’s Kansas Jayhawks from 1988, who won it all under the moniker Danny and The Miracles as a #6 seed.

For anyone who thinks the gap is anywhere near being bridged between major powerhouse programs and the wannabe up and comers, look around. Hi, I’m reality. Have we met? Baylor had a nice little regular season, but Brittney Griner and the Lady Bears might give them a run if it ever came down to it. Butler almost beat Duke a couple years ago in the Final, but come on. It’s Duke. They’re always susceptible to a loss in March. VCU made the Final Four last year, but they lost to Indiana in the second round this year. The aforementioned Butler actually had consecutive Final Four appearances leading up to this year, and this year ended up in the College Basketball Invitational. These two budding programs (Butler and VCU) are actually getting more attention this time of year for their coaches, baby faced Brad Stephens and frenetic Shaka Smart, deciding not to fill the head coaching vacancy at Illinois. The lack of a sustained effort over the course of time for these, and I use the term loosely, underprivileged schools makes for nice symbolism for their inability to break through the rigamaro of the tourney to win a national title. It’s a lot like the real life scenario when trying to get a job in your chosen industry: “Well, your resume looks good, but you don’t have any experience.” Bitch, how am I supposed to get any experience in the industry if you won’t give me the experience? How are these schools supposed to recruit without any credibility as national champions? They’re fighting a losing battle. Some high school graduates choose Purdue for engineering, Harvard to become President, West Point to take over the military, or Oxford to hone their scholarly crafts. Other high school graduates go to Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, or UCLA to play basketball (Disclaimer: the author is well-aware of every mentioned university’s academic achievements in addition to their sports accolades; this is a sports site though, after all).

The real madness lies in the fact that these student athletes are not allowed to reap any of the financial benefits until after leaving school and turning pro. Enter John Calipari. Those aforementioned high school seniors deciding where to attend college? If they desire to cash checks signed by David Stern and the NBA, they go wherever John Calipari is strolling the sidelines. He’s done it at UMass, Memphis, and now Kentucky. Rick Pitino has done it in four different decades. Bill Self has done it at Illinois and Kansas, and Thad Matta has done it twice now with Ohio State. Getting to the Final Four is one thing. Being the Final One is what it’s all about, but once again it’s going to be a well-known, already reputable school who will be the beat the bracket

This year, the teams that were supposed to be here are here. It’s not quite a 2008 situation when all four #1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, but Kentucky at #1, Ohio State and Kansas at #2, and Louisville at #4 is relatively…sane. These four powerhouse programs have a combined 20 Final Four appearances. Insane.

Looking back on your relationship with the NCAA Tournament though, it never was all that mad. The initial rounds provide some spark, but the top seeds who inevitably fizzle out are somewhat usual suspects to begin with (ahem, Duke, ahem). The Final Four is, and should be, reserved for the upper-echelon basketball programs who were ranked in the top ten all year for a reason. The SaniTERRYum is reserved for some semblance of madness, but March’s spark is fizzling fast.

That’s the beauty of March Madness: anything can happen. Only when reality sinks in do people realize that it usually doesn’t.

  1. Rob Melick says:

    I think you’ve brought up some very interesting points. It is very true that while the first few rounds often bring about the “madness” the finals are usually inundated with the favorites. I agree that this is a product of the system; good players going to good coaches to get to the NBA. But I think there are a few key points to consider when analyzing the monetary value of the system.

    I think it is important to consider that without a purchasing system there is room for undiscovered talent. If teams and coaches were able to simply buy (we’ll save the shady world of recruiting for a different discussion) the talent there would be little room for that first round action. Colleges would spent little money on sports they didn’t compete well in and we would see a perennial few teams succeeding every year. The top 20 teams in the nation would win every game and no one else would really care to compete. Leaving us fans with the ability to pick a bracket with our eyes closed.

    Under the current system, undiscovered kids, simply given the chance to play ball and get an education can still attend a school with a great coach and believe that they can have a chance at taking down the big dogs. They don’t have to worry about getting paid enough – or at all, or how much the other players make. At that point it becomes a job, not a pastime. When you’re playing just to play you’re going to believe that you and your teammates can overcome against other guys that are out there playing to play. This let’s teams like Lehigh and VCU give us those great first rounds games that we love.

    In the end, yes, talent and the big names will win out. However, throw actual pay outs and money into the mix and I fear that we would lose any of that “madness. that makes March such a great month.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for reading…and for commenting. I think your second paragraph sums up exactly what is happening in today’s basketball world.

      Why do you think David Stern instituted his “one year in college” rule?

      Guys were realizing that they could bypass the madness and go right to the NBA, something very few had done in the past. Then, the influx of high schoolers making the leap and watering down the talent pool in the NBA forced The Commish to put his foot down and, in turn, help colleges gain a little notoriety…for a year.

      I don’t know these kids’ situations, but if some rich dude offered to pay for my college so I could make it to the NBA one day and support my family, it’d kind of be a no-brainer. Yes, I’m getting into the dirty world of recruiting conversation, but it bears mention. We all know that it’s all about the Benjamins, but I just want to see a little school win it all one day. That’s all. It will never happen though. Not with the current system. And I don’t see anyone in any urgent rush to change it…

      • Rob Melick says:

        Yes, unfortunately I don’t see any little guys taking the title anytime soon. I tell you what may happen though is that it’s going to get more and more difficult for the committee to seed teams (as more and more VCU’s and Lehigh’s come along) and I’ll bet sooner than later we’ll see that 16-1 upset.

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