Let the upsets commence
Does your family wonder why you’re taking a two-week vacation in March and don’t plan on leaving the living room?
Or why the remote has become more important to you than to your 5-year-old?
The explanation is simple: It’s March Madness and basketball fans can’t get enough of the most equitable way of crowning a national champion.
That college football can’t eschew its bowl tradition and bite off a part of the tournament format is beyond comprehension.
Providing 65 teams with an opportunity to win a national title is as just as giving all amateurs and professional golfers with a one handicap or better a chance to win the U.S. Open.
Imagine if polls and computers decided which teams met in the college basketball championship. In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Stanford would play LSU, which didn’t even win the Southeastern Conference tournament.
In the men’s tournament, there would probably be few complaints if once-beaten Illinois met North Carolina (26-3) in the title game, but think of all the missed excitement and drama.
In fact, one Reno sports book has gone as far as to offer a proposition that either North Carolina or Illinois will make it to the finals. Chances are that neither team will even make it to St. Louis, let alone cut down the nets.
Winning five straight games doesn’t allow for shooting slumps or defensive lapses and teams are so evenly matched today that if Pacific beats Duke is it really an upset?
Many great teams before North Carolina and Illinois have made early tournament exits because they didn’t play as well as they did during the regular season. The one that hits home was the 1997 Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks were No. 1 throughout most of the season, but an injury to South Tahoe High alum Jerod Haase and Kansas’ inability to consistently can the three-pointer enabled Arizona to pull off the upset.
How many of these tournaments go as scripted? The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that Digger Phelps and Dick Vitale’s brackets won’t be any cleaner than Tim Smith. Last year, who could have anticipated that Connecticut would win the men’s and women’s titles, or that Nevada would advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time?
Next week at this time we’ll probably be marvelling at the latest Cinderella – Louisiana-Lafayette, Pacific, Vermont or even Nevada again.
And what about Mid-Continent Conference champion Oakland? The Golden Grizzlies of Rochester, Mich., snuck into the tournament without a point to spare as their buzzer-beating three-point shocked Oral Roberts on Tuesday night.
Interestingly enough, Oakland (12-18) could win six straight games to capture the national championship with a .500 record.
There probably are 15 teams with a legitimate shot at the championship. Besides pretourney favorites North Carolina and Illinois, Wake Forest, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Washington, Arizona and Gonzaga should be considered as title contenders.
Hopefully the NCAA selection committee will show the West schools some respect and not place them all in the same region. It’s no wonder that the West hasn’t won too many titles since UCLA dominated college basketball in the 1960s and 1970s.
Arizona is the last team from the West to make the title game and the 1997 and 2001 ‘Cats and 1998 Utah Utes are the only schools from the left coast to qualify for the finals in the past decade.
Nonetheless, it’s fun to watch the teams decide what the polls can’t. For the next month sit back and watch the greatest event in sports.
– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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