Sunday, March 19, 2017

X-Men, and other tales

Some things we know, now that your NCAA bracket is a smoking ruin/dumpster fire/crash site/choose your metaphor:

Whoever seeded this thing needs to stop doing math and start paying attention to what's actually happening on the floor.


Whoever seeded this thing isn't the clueless math nerd described above, but simply a blameless victim of the shifting college buckets landscape.

Which is to say, you can look at it two ways, now that 11-seed Xavier looks suspiciously like Sammy Sosa after the Flintstone vitamins, and 8-seed Wisconsin looks suspiciously like it got into the same stash. One way of looking at it is that the Pocket Protector Brigade's careful calculations blew up in their faces, because the X Men and Wisky sure don't look like any 11-seed or 8-seed. The lowly Musketeers beat a 6-seed (Maryland) by 11 and a 3-seed (Florida State ... what?) by 25 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. And of course the Badgers knocked out overall No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round Saturday.

You could also throw Northwestern in there, which likely lost to No. 1 seed Gonzaga only because the Zags got away with a goaltending call while the Wildcats were in the midst of what looked like an epic and irresistible comeback.

Obviously Xavier, Wisconsin and Northwestern were seeded ridiculously low. Somebody blew it.

Or did they?

Maybe, just maybe, what's happened this weekend (and could again today, with 2-seed Kentucky in against a Wichita State team that looks like no one's idea of a 10 seed) is not so much a case of the pocket protectors blowing it as it is a reflection of what college basketball is now. For want of a better phrase, it's a much more democratic society now.

Truth is, in a day and age when recruiting is global and the right one-and-done can transform even the most humble program, the haves are not nearly as have-y as they used to be. Yes, the heavyweights -- the Dukes, the Carolinas, the Kentuckys -- are still the heavyweights. But their advantage over the Xaviers and Wisconsins and Wichita States is much slimmer than it used to be.

Once upon a time, remember, Butler and Gonzaga and Wichita State were the fabled mid-majors, Cinderellas who hated that term. Now they're as elite as anyone else. So are bitter rivals Xavier and Dayton. So are any number of other programs once regarded as a step below the royalty.

And so, yes, maybe Wisky and Xavier were seeded ridiculously low. But in 2017, the difference between, say, a 4-seed and an 11-seed is virtually indistinguishable. The reason the legendary 12-over-5 upset almost always happens now is because, frankly, it's not really an upset anymore. Once you get past the top four (or maybe top three) seeds, anybody can beat anybody. And it's not really an upset when it happens.

That Xavier team, for instance, sure didn't look like it had fewer accomplished players than Florida State did. Ditto Wisconsin and Villanova. Talent-wise and in every other way, they were equals. Certainly one did not look superior to the other.

More and more these days, you can say that about a lot of schools. And how does that not make the Madness even Madder?

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