Saturday, March 14, 2015

Relax, they're in. Probably.

If the slide-rule-and-coefficient boys are right, Indiana and Purdue both won yesterday, even if only one of them actually did, and even if the one that won looked less like Miss America than the third runnerup in the Miss Klingon Home World contest.

(Translation available by sending $1 and the keys to a vintage Jaguar XKE to Blob Properties Esq. No, this is not a scam. OK, it is. But come on, it's my only shot at a vintage Jaguar XKE).

Wait. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Something about Indiana and Purdue both winning yesterday, kind of, and how it was a prime example of what a false-bottomed thing the Big Five conference tournaments are.

As has been noted here before, they're little more than ATMs for big-dollar athletic departments, with no intrinsic value beyond that of determining who does and doesn't get into the real tournament, which begins five days from now. No one really cares who wins them, except in the context of how it impacts the Madness. If, for instance, 12-17 Hand Sanitizer Tech wins the Just Us Folks Conference tournament, that's news, because it likely means some more deserving school -- like, say, 20-12 Fleabag State -- won't get in.

But let's say Hand Sanitizer Tech loses 95-12 to Damn They're Good U. in the second round. And the top four seeds reach the semifinals. And Damn They're Good goes ahead and wins the thing. What does it all mean?

Zip. Nada. Dial tone.

And so when Purdue finally got Penn State to quit biting its ankle like an annoying schnauzer yesterday, whatever value the Big Ten tournament had for it vanished. Ditto for No. 7 seed Indiana, which put up a brave fight but eventually went down to 2-seed Maryland after having already won the game that mattered -- a first-round bout with Northwestern.

Or so says the pocket-protector crowd, admittedly a squirrely bunch. After pushing up their black horn rims for the thousandth time, they wrinkled their noses over the tea leaves and announced that Indiana would be in the Madness if it beat Northwestern, and Purdue would go from lock to mortal lock if it managed to get Penn State to quit pooping on its lawn.

Now it's the top four seeds in the semifinals, and, realistically, what do any of them have to play for? It might matter to Wisconsin, which is still in play for a No. 1 seed in the Madness, or Maryland, which could land a 2 seed if it wins the thing. But Purdue and Michigan State are going to be farther down the line, seed-wise, no matter what happens. And the main thing is, they're all in the show already.

That's even true in the ACC. Although the top seeds (Duke and Virginia) went down to Notre Dame and North Carolina, it's not like they got taken out by Hand Sanitizer Tech. Notre Dame and Carolina, worthy adversaries both, were already headed for the Madness anyway. They'll likely be higher seeds now, but, as we are reminded almost every year, seeding hardly matters in this thing unless you're a 1 or a 2. Even 3s occasionally go down to a 14, and don't even start with the 5s vs. 12s. The 12s have won so many times, it's actually a thing now.

So no outlier at-large bids there. And, really, aside from where a school gets seeded, outlier at-large bids are all that's really at stake. If you want to see a conference tournament that means something, you have to watch the smaller ones, in which only the winner will get a bid to the Madness.

No coincidence those tournaments usually provide the most electric moments.

Well. Until Hand Sanitizer Tech whips Damn They're Good, of course.


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