En­joy your bracket; prob­lems can wait

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

The brack­ets for the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment have been filled, mean­ing we can for­get about the reg­u­lar sea­son . . . ex­cept it seems to be for­got­ten nowa­days way be­fore Se­lec­tion Sun­day.

Once the bub­bles burst and ar­gu­ments about who did/didn’t get in die down, the tour­na­ment it­self should be fine. It con­sis­tently pro­duces some of the most drama, ex­cite­ment and raw emo­tion that sports can of­fer. But while the final des­ti­na­tion re­mains en­joy­able, the road in get­ting there is a grow­ing con­cern.

This might be the wrong time to men­tion col­lege bas­ket­ball’s prob­lems, such as dwin­dling at­ten­dance, medi­ocre teams and limited stars. We’re still di­gest­ing where teams are headed and their po­ten­tial matchups en route to New Or­leans. We don’t want to hear about “sat­u­ra­tion” and “over­ex­po­sure” right now. At this time of the year, we rel­ish the op­por­tu­nity to see ev­ery game.

Con­fer­ence tour­na­ments con­tinue to serve as tasty ap­pe­tiz­ers, giv­ing us fla­vor­ful up­sets this sea­son in the SEC, Big East, Big 12 and ACC. The na­tion’s top four teams go­ing in — Ken­tucky, Syra­cuse, Kansas and North Carolina — were dumped by Van­der­bilt, Cincin­nati, Bay­lor and Florida State, re­spec­tively. No. 7 Ohio State and No. 8 Michi­gan State en­gaged in a de­light­ful, back-and-forth tilt for the Big Ten cham­pi­onship, be­fore the Spar­tans pre­vailed to earn the final No. 1 seed.

But even those tour­neys seem to have lost some lus­ter in re­cent years. Barely a hand­ful of teams are ca­pa­ble of play­ing their way into the main event, while the power-con­fer­ence heavy­weights lose lit­tle ground in de­feat, as ev­i­denced by Ken­tucky, Syra­cuse and North Carolina earn­ing No. 1 seeds.

The main ques­tion in most mid-ma­jor con­fer­ences is whether the reg­u­lar-sea­son champ wins the au­to­matic bid and thereby keeps an in­ter­loper from knock­ing out a de­serv­ing at-large can­di­date. And ar­gu­ing which of a few mid-ma­jor leagues might merit mul­ti­ple bids al­ways makes for a good de­bate, as does which schools should be forced to play-in to the 64-team field.

Speak­ing of the “First Four” non­sense, the NCAA should stop mak­ing us out for fools. Call­ing those ini­tial games the “first round” is lu­di­crous, con­sid­er­ing that 60 teams don’t open play un­til the next round.

The only thing the NCAA has done is make a mess of his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences. When we say Ge­orge­town hasn’t ad­vanced to the NCAA’S sec­ond round since 2007, that ob­scures the fact that the Hoyas lost their first game (in the so-called “sec­ond round”) last year against Virginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity.

This year’s VCU is Iona, a school most brack­e­tol­o­gists had on the out­side. Say what you will about VCU’S stir­ring run to the Final Four last sea­son, but ex­pand­ing the field to 68 teams has helped water down the reg­u­lar sea­son that much more. The bloated brack­ets last year re­sulted in the most 11-loss teams, 13-loss teams and 14-loss teams ever; there were five teams in the lat­ter cat­e­gory, one fewer than the to­tal since 1985.

Again, none of this should have much ef­fect once the games get un­der way. The teams shown dur­ing CBS’S se­lec­tion broad­cast still broke into cheers when their names were an­nounced, still demon­strated the un­bri­dled ex­u­ber­ance that makes March Mad­ness so spe­cial. With CBS and Turner gear­ing up to broad­cast ev­ery game for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the feast is al­most upon us.

We should en­joy it. For­get about the reg­u­lar-sea­son prob­lems for awhile.

But col­lege foot­ball con­tin­ues to be a jack­ham­mer in bas­ket­ball, chip­ping Syra­cuse off the Big East and Mis­souri off the Big 12. Many star bas­ket­ball play­ers con­tinue to stay on cam­pus for the bare min­i­mum, in­creas­ing the dis­con­nect with fans. The sea­son’s early months con­tinue to fight for rel­e­vancy, which will be near-im­pos­si­ble if, God for­bid, the NCAA tour­na­ment ex­pands fur­ther.

The next three weeks prom­ise to be as en­ter­tain­ing as ever. We’ll worry about the four months lead­ing up to them at a later date.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tar Heels coach Roy Wil­liams wasn’t too happy dur­ing his team’s ACC Tour­na­ment ti­tle game loss to Florida State on Sun­day. But it should cheer him up to know North Carolina is one of a hand­ful of pro­grams ca­pa­ble of play­ing its way into the NCAA tour­na­ment these days.

La­mar's Pat Knight, son of the leg­endary Bob Knight, is one of a hand­ful of first-year coaches in this year's tour­na­ment.

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