Jake’s Take: Everything Wrong With March Madness

Wow?

Yay?

Boo?

What is the proper adjective to describe the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship (A.K.A. “March Madness”)?

I think, “Meh?”

Yes, there have been upsets – an 11 seed made the Elite Eight and a 7 seed weaseled its way in to the Final Four. Yes, we’ve finally gotten some good basketball games since the Sweet Sixteen. Yes, I filled out exactly two brackets and picked Gonzaga to win in one and North Carolina to win in the other.

The only problem with this line of thinking is that it ignores my complete disinterest in college basketball outside of the month of March. The way of the March Madness bracket is that it is just that: madness. There is no guarantee, or even the illusion of a guarantee, that the best teams will be playing for the championship. Even after a long regular season, we must wait through 66 more games until we are allowed to see the finale. Because of this, the regular season does not matter. At all.

Take, for example, the South Carolina Gamecocks. On their road to the Final Four, they faced Marquette, Duke, Baylor and Florida. The only test they got was from Duke, whom the Gamecocks defeated 88-81. Duke’s defense is ever so slightly above average, and the Blue Devils were the most complete team that South Carolina faced. Baylor had the best defense, but they decided to cede all of their offensive possessions. And the Gators were a pedestrian team that got lucky and didn’t have to play Villanova to make the Elite Eight.

Now, what happened when the Gamecocks faced a legitimate defense? They showed their true colors and lost to the better Gonzaga team 77-73. When the godlike Sindarius Thornwell (who did, admittedly, had an illness) cannot even bring himself to score four more points, you know the team has met its match.

I’m sure that you can see what I’m getting at by now. South Carolina didn’t deserve to be in the Final Four. There were, according to seedings, at least 24 teams better than South Carolina in this year’s tournament, though the Final Four says that there were at most three. That’s simple math, but it’s telling of a bigger problem in this antiquated system.

March Madness allows for discrepancies in the final outcome of the season.

Villanova was the best team in college basketball’s regular season. They lost in the second round to a team that was barely in the top 25, if the Wisconsin Badgers could even crack the selective group.

At this point in the lecture, you may be wondering how this relates to this year’s championship. Well, it really doesn’t. Gonzaga and North Carolina were undoubtedly two of the best teams in the country. Both teams boasted an impressive collection of big men who crash the boards and space the floor for their wing players, and whatever advantage the Tar Heels had in experience, the Bulldogs made up for in defensive pressure and tenacity.

Other than the horrific officiating (27 fouls called in the second half. 27! That’s more than a foul each minute.), the finale was fine.  It was a close game that was decided in the final seconds, which looks like a great game on paper, but it was just fine. Not good, not great, fine.

But you, the loyal fans, want drama. You want shockers.

You want madness.

(Pun most definitely intended)


Well, where do we find this balance between drama and just outcomes? In short, we don’t.

We could cut the tournament in half. That would allow for a smaller field of teams, giving the better teams a better chance to play for the title. In that system, though, we don’t have the runs by teams like 11-seed Xavier or the 2008 campaign from 10-seed Davidson, which detracts from the excitement of the tournament.

We could eliminate seedings altogether, making every matchup as random as drawing a name out of a hat. This is just ridiculous, but it would be interesting to see a bracket with a Kansas-UNC matchup in the first round, with the winner earning the right to face South Dakota State.

I digress, March Madness is broken. There is no clear way to fix it. I’m sorry that I could not provide an answer to all of your problems, (If you’re looking for answers from a high schooler, though, it may be a sign of bigger problems. Albeit, you’re reading an article written by the 2017 Missouri High School Journalist of the Year, but lowering your expectations couldn’t hurt.), but sacrifices must be made one one side or another in order to create the perfect system for college basketball playoffs. Whatever the case, I hope you had fun watch this year’s installment of March Madness, and I wish you the best of luck in your apathy toward college basketball for the next 11 months.

 

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