Feb 28, 2011 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Okay, there’s no choice anymore. College basketball, or at least the 2010-11 version of it, is now officially impossible to figure.
Everyone has lost at least two games – no surprise there, since we haven’t seen a perfect season since Indiana in 1975-76. Additionally, no team in a Division I conference has gone through the league schedule without a blemish – that’s much more rare.
While only three teams have held the no. 1 spot in the rankings (Duke, Ohio State, Kansas), several others, from Pittsburgh to Texas to BYU and San Diego State, have all nudged up close to the top spot, and could still. Of course, the polls are just window-dressing, but the tightness further reflects this season’s total lack of consensus.
And with that a backdrop, we now enter March – the best month of the year – with absolutely no idea what to expect.
Oh yeah, and there’s three more teams that will get invited to the NCAA Dance, giving us 68 in the field. Every indication is that the tournament committee will really have to dig deep to find those 37 at-larges. The offshoot is that whoever does get left out has little right to complain.
This brings me to what’s turned into the most annoying part of the lead-up to the Dance. I don’t care one whit what any so-called “Bracketologist” says. Who cares if you get 67 of 68 selections right? I could figure that out and not get mentioned 50,000 times on TV between now and Selection Sunday.
These guys (and you know who I’m talking about) have done everything possible to take the fun out of the last weeks leading up to the tournament. With God-like certainty, they tell you who’s in or who’s out, with zero real authority.
It’s one enormous ego trip that takes the spotlight away from the players and teams fighting so hard to get into the tournament.
Bottom line – these bracket freaks are not on the NCAA committee. They don’t have to make the tough decisions in that room in Indianapolis, so their voluminous words carry no weight. The only bracket that matters is the real one on March 12, period. Anything else is superfluous.
So, with that rant out of the way, back to the topic – a college season lacking definition or dominant teams, which doesn’t happen too often.
This happens at regular intervals of five or six years. No one in 1998, or 2000, loomed over the field, and both times just one top seed made it to the Final Four. Then there was 2006, which lacked any consensus – and every no. 1 seed fell prior to Indianapolis, where red-hot Florida won it all.
Other times, like when Syracuse won in 2003 and Duke a year ago, the favorites are clear-cut, but get knocked out before the eventual champs have to worry about them. Anyone who’s ever won this thing (at least in the post-UCLA dynasty era) will tell you some sort of luck is involved.
Here, every top team has issues. Ohio State is not deep and doesn’t shoot free throws well. Duke has taken full advantage of a weaker ACC. Kansas plays down to the level of many opponents. Pitt and Texas have yet to prove that they can do something deep into March. San Diego State has those same issues, and BYU needs more than the transcendent Jimmer Fredette to make a Final Four push.
This means more suspense than usual in the “Championship Week” part of the program where so many teams will push hard, in the conference tournaments, to slide in the back door and bump the teams on the fence off to the NIT side.
Then, when the NCAA show commences, just about anything could happen once you get past the first-round mismatches. As Northern Iowa showed a year ago against Kansas, even a heavy tournament favorite can get tossed out if a quality opponent outplays them and gets a couple of breaks.
So where does this leave Syracuse? Well, the Orange is part of the story, for sure, but with a completely uncertain fate. Maybe they get bounced in the first round, or maybe they survive all the way to Houston. Shaky offense does not bode well. Tenacious defense and an ability to win on the road and in close games could bode quite well.
Dilution of talent to the NBA leaves parity in the college game and, at least this time around, no dominant team, like North Carolina in 2009, that could make the tournament a foregone conclusion. There isn’t even a group of favorites to feel completely confident about. More than ever, a single-elimination format could take anyone out.
So what we’re about to witness is….who knows? That complete sense of mystery makes the 2011 version of college basketball’s championship chase one that could prove quite memorable.
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