By Matt Straub
My best results in an NCAA Tournament bracket contest this year have come in one where the teams are chosen at random.
While my bracket is now basically only good for use as a napkin, as I guess many of yours are as well, I thought it would be fun to look at the carnage from the best four days of the sports calendar and examine the most important takeaways from a tournament which started as a ho-hum event and turned into a chaotic one by Sunday. At the same time, we can take some lessons from this week and take them into next year.
Seeding was crucial
The regular season in college basketball goes on way too long and there is way too much weight put on the conference tournaments. Despite all its flaws, however, those who believe the regular season is meaningless should look at how seeding affected the bracket. Since the committee uses results much more than a simple eye test, there were plenty of teams improperly placed, and it made a big difference. The biggest example was Wisconsin being too low, meaning Villanova got a much tougher draw than it should have in the second round. Now, the Wildcats, being the No. 1 overall seed, could have just won the game, but they deserved better. So did many of the “little guys.” Wichita State shouldn’t have had to play Kentucky so soon, and I believe VCU and St. Mary’s were put together to get rid of one. Rhode Island deserved better, too. I would also give Duke a pass for having to play South Carolina in South Carolina despite the Blue Devils being a 2-seed, but they have had so many big games close to home over the years they don’t deserve a break here. Part of the reason the weekend was so crazy was because a number of the games which took place should have happened next weekend.
Teams can’t only be judged by tournament results
Teams with bad track records in March, like Villanova, can be ripped for losing again, but teams can’t be judged solely on one game. Duke, for example, was really good this year. It just got beat when it mattered. The ACC, however, no longer gets to say it had the greatest year ever. North Carolina is the only team left from the league, and that must count for something. There are also just crazy events which mess up your bracket. Some teams lose on bad calls, a single shot late, or whatever the heck happened at the end of the Vanderbilt-Northwestern game, from which I may never recover.
Every year I say worry about individual matchups, and yet every year I overvalue conferences. Just because Carolina and Duke are good doesn’t mean I should have put so much stock in Notre Dame, for example. As always, I underestimated the favorites as well. You can’t just pick every higher seed, but when in doubt, go chalk. It’s easier to sleep at night knowing you had the favorite and they got beat than it is wondering why you picked SMU and Middle Tennessee State to win two games each. I was right to pick some crazy outcomes, as there are two sevens and an eight in the Sweet 16, but only one really low seed (Xavier at 11).
New York got a bad draw
The only people more upset over the bracket this week than I am are those at Madison Square Garden, who were dreaming of packing nearly 20,000 into the arena for Villanova and Duke in the regional final. Baylor vs. Wisconsin would be a good college basketball game, and most of those tickets are already sold, but the buzz won’t be there like it would have been if the big-names who have fan bases in the area (Duke is big in New York for some reason, which is why it so often plays regular season games in the Garden) had hit the Big Apple.
Let it play out
For example, I still have a good chunk of my final eight and three of the Final Four left. I’m in big, big trouble, but miracles happen. Now, as I sleep for the first time in four days, I can dream of an epic comeback.