After the First Four largely bored us for two nights, the main bracket begins today with 16 first round games. There are 16 more tomorrow and the beauty of this tournament is that between Noon Thursday and 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, the field will go from 64 to just 16. It’s generally thought this weekend, which by the way in my opinion is the best 4 days of the tournament, the upsets happen and next weekend after all the chaos settles down, the big boys start to slug it out.
But this has been a very different season so literally anything is possible. Remember, George Mason went to the Final Four as an 11th seed in a year that was not so unpredictable. Florida was clearly the best team in 2006 and won the championship. Over the life of the tournament typically the best team does win, but recently that has not necessarily been the case. In fact, about the last time the clear “best team” won was in the 2012 when Kentucky won the championship. I’m not sure Louisville was the best in 2013, U-Conn was a 7th seed in 2014 and won the Championship and you’ll never convince me that Duke was the best team last year but they won the championship. In this era of college basketball with “one-and-done” players and mid-majors who have seniors it’s not necessarily the best team, it is the team that’s playing the best.
This year though we do have some teams that fit the championship profile, Michigan State and Virginia among them with Senior dominated line-ups. But, Wichita State also is full of Seniors and Oklahoma has probably the best player in the country who is also a Senior. From a pure talent perspective, it’s hard to beat the talent Kentucky can roll out on the floor (and other than Alex Poythress they are not Seniors). John Calipari knows exactly how to punch his player’s button. Hell, he started on Sunday night by placing a chip on their shoulder when he made an issue of Kentucky being a 4th seed in its region while Texas A&M, a team they beat in the SEC Championship game was given a 3rd seed. You can’t use the SEC’s regular season championship as a tie-breaker. The two schools tied for that title.
So literally anything can happen and that’s what makes it fun and what makes it March Madness. And because I always like to give you guys some unknown obscure facts, did you know that the term “March Madness” is actually a trademark of the Illinois High School Athletic Association. The IHSA started using the term in the 1930s and had it trademarked. The NCAA had to buy it from the IHSA and of course as part of the deal allow them to keep using it which they do for their state tournament this weekend in Peoria, Illinois.
This week has seen the ESPN talking heads doing a lot of bitching about who got into the field and who didn’t. You know, Tulsa didn’t deserve to be there and Monmouth did. Well the best thing I can say about that is that the tournament committee felt Tulsa deserved to be in and if you are Monmouth and you want to be in the tournament then don’t lose in your conference tournament to Iona. That’s the way the system is set up and Jay Williams and Dick Vitale can bitch all they want about the committee awarding mediocrity in the power conferences, but that’s how it is and how it’s always going to be. I don’t like Syracuse either and I think Jim Boeheim is just a whining bitch but in all fairness the conference Syracuse has to navigate is far better than the one Monmouth has to navigate. And if these ESPN talkers are so offended at the idea of the power conferences then maybe they can convince their employer to make the Northeast Conference as part of “Big Monday” rather than the ACC. Yea, that ain’t happening because the power conferences are paying their salaries.
I’m not trying to defend the tournament committee because honestly some of the things they did leave you scratching your head and I don’t believe for a minute their crap that they don’t look down the road at match-ups. I know that a potential second round game between Kentucky and Indiana was a subject of conversation in that committee room just like getting Louisville and Kentucky back on the same floor was in 1987. Kentucky and Indiana won’t play anymore, so the committee will force them to do so. Same with Texas and Texas A&M who don’t play but will if they both win first round games. The overall number one seed is supposed to get the easiest path to the Final 4. Well apparently someone in that room had an agenda because Kansas is the overall number one seed and in their bracket they were awarded Maryland, California, Arizona, Miami, Wichita State and Villanova, all teams that can beat Kansas. Meanwhile Virginia who earned a number one seed no matter what anyone says got stuck with Michigan State in its bracket AGAIN. It would be nice if the committee chairman would stop blowing smoke and just tell us: “yes, we look at future match-ups because we’d be crazy not to, after all our job is to give the country the best tournament.” We can all respect that candor and move on but we will never get it.
At the beginning of this season with absolutely no idea these teams would make it or if the brackets would even make it possible I picked a Final 4 of Kentucky, Virginia, Oklahoma and California. I’m going to stay with three of those. I’m not so sure about Cal. They are very talented but their best players are freshman and this week they’ve had to deal with extraneous noise when the school fired an assistant coach due to claims of sexual harassment. Not a great idea to ask a female reporter covering the team for sex. Those things all have an effect whether it’s the head coach or not so I’m going to go with a Final Four of Kansas from the South, Oklahoma from the West, Virginia from the Midwest because I think they are just tougher than most everyone else in their bracket and I’m so tired of ESPN telling me that Tom Izzo walks on water. Has anyone noticed that Izzo takes Michigan State to a lot of Final 4’s but has only won one championship. From the East, I’m going with talent and taking Kentucky setting up a national semi-final Saturday of Kansas vs. Oklahoma and Virginia vs. Kentucky. I like Oklahoma to beat Virginia for the championship, but I won’t be surprised if none of those four makes it to Houston for the Final 4. So, let’s just enjoy the Madness because it’s what makes this event the single best sporting event PERIOD.