Monday, March 14, 2016

The brackets, explained

So now we have our field of 64, plus those other guys playing in Dayton tomorrow night and Wednesday. And no doubt you are wondering, "What revealed wisdom can the Blob provide to help me win my office pool?"

The Blob's answer: Don't pick Monmouth.

Don't pick Monmouth, because, well, Monmouth's not in the tournament. The Hawks should be, because they're 27-7 and beat UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Rutgers, all either on the road or at a neutral site. But, after going 17-3 in their conference, they lost to Iona in the conference tournament. So they're out.

So, too, is IPFW, the best team in the Summit League except for five or so bad minutes last week in Sioux Falls, S.D. Those five or so bad minutes got the Mastodons beat in the semifinals of the conference tournament. So they missed out on the big show, too, despite going 24-9 and 12-4 in the conference to win the regular-season title.

I don't know about you. But I think this sucks.

I think the tournament's better with Monmouth in it, better with IPFW in it. I think, for that reason, the regular-season conference champion, not the tournament champion, should get the automatic NCAA berth, especially in conferences that aren't going to get any at-large bids. Yes, I know this undercuts the relevance of the conference tournament. Then again, the relevance of the conference tournament pretty much begins and ends at the cash register.

Conferences play these things to plump up the bottom line. Period. John Wooden told me that almost 30 years ago, and it's as true now as it was then.

Putting the emphasis on what a team does over the long haul seems eminently logical unless you're viewing everything through the prism of that bottom line, which is why what seems eminently logical is not what happens. And so you wind up with teams in Da Tournament that have zero business being there. And teams that should be there sometimes get cut out of the deal.

This makes Da Tournament less than it should be. Just sayin'.

So what else?

* Purdue and Indiana fans are crabbing this morning their teams got hosed by the committee, because they both drew 5 seeds. I don't know if this constitutes a hosing, considering neither was likely to get anything higher than a 4 seed, anyway. But, you know, people like to crab on this day. It's part of the tradition.

And speaking of tradition, here's what the committee did (accidentally or on purpose) that was brilliant: Set up the brackets so IU and Kentucky would have to play one another in the second round.

I love this, because it forces two schools that should be playing one another every year to play one another. They stopped, basically, because neither wanted to play the other outside their respective comfort zones. In other words, they were chicken.

Now, if both win their first-round games, they'll have to play one another. Awesome.

* Speaking of Monmouth, IPFW and others in their demographic ... it's time to re-ignite the annual debate about whether or not more mid-majors make for a better tournament, or if more power-conference teams make for a better tournament.

The Blob's position is a question: What's the best part of the Madness every year?

Thaaat's right. The first two days.

The first two days are what make Da Tournament, because most of the true Madness happens then. Everyone wants to see if Hampton can beat Duke. Everyone wants to watch Florida Gulf Coast knock off, say, UCLA. Everyone cheers for Bucknell against Kansas and Harvard (or, this year, Yale) against Syracuse, because, you know, it's Bucknell and Harvard (or Yale).

No one tunes in those first two days to watch a couple of mediocre teams from the SEC and the Pac-12 duke it out in that riveting 8-vs.-9 matchup. Well, no one except fans of the respective mediocre teams, that is.

And that's why the Blob says the more mid-majors, the better. Because it's the Bucknells and Florida Gulf Coasts and Butlers who make this thing what it is. Are they better than, say, a 19-12 SEC team? I don't know. But the Madness is not just about fielding the best 64 teams. It's about fielding the 64 teams that make the tournament better.

And so hooray for the Bucknells and Florida Gulf Coasts and Butlers. Or, this year, for the Stony Brook Seawolves, who are making their first-ever appearance in Da Tournament.

The Seawolves play Kentucky at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday. I'm guessing I won't be the only one watching.


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