Well, one of my five favorite Sundays of the year is here* – Selection Sunday! The day the tournament field gets filled out, the day that leads to a nearly sleepless night of bracket analysis and typing up the “world’s longest ncaa picks post” that’ll go up sometime tomorrow.
(*: my five favorite Sunday of the year, in calendar order: Selection Sunday, the final round of the Masters, the first Sunday Tailgate at the K, the final round of the US Open, and the “Day I Live For”, donkeys Day. Although if donkeys Day falls in a prime time non-Sunday slot, you can just sub in “Chiefs home opener” into that slot.)
And yet, as we sit barely five hours out of the bracket announcement, and barely 30 minutes out from my favorite announcing team reuniting for at least one final time*, I can’t help but feel that so far, Championship Week has been one gigantic disappointment.
(*: that would be Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.)
Every power conference, the top 10 conferences, which I would define as (in no particular order) the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the SEC, the Pac 12, the Big East, the Colonial, the A-10, the Mountain West, and the Valley, has delivered a dud of a final (save for the Big Ten, maybe).
Unless you’re a fan of Florida State, you had to feel outraged at Duke going down yesterday, denying us Duke / UNC to end the ACC season. Unless you’re a fan of Baylor, you had to feel disappointed at KU going down Friday, to deny us one final Mizzou / KU Border War. UNLV lost in the Mountain West semis, denying us a San Diego State / UNLV final that would have rocked late into the night last night.
Temple lost its opener in the A-10. Tennessee lost its opener in the SEC. Cal and Washington both failed to reach the Pac 12 final (although Colorado / Arizona was an entertaining contest). Creighton won the Valley … but didn’t face Wichita State, who lost in the semis. And Syracuse and Georgetown crapped out in the Big East semis, meaning (hang on, let me grab a stiff drink before I type the rest of this sentence) we may NEVER again see an Orange / Hoyas showdown. Let that sink in – we may NEVER AGAIN see the Big East’s defining rivalry occur. F*ck you, conference realignment. F*ck you, greedy bastard schools selling out centuries of rivalry for a couple extra dollars. I’m looking solely and completely at you, Mizzou / Nebraska / Syracuse / Pitt / West Virginia / and my alma mater, TCU. (Colorado’s off the hook because their only semi-rival bolted before they did in Nebraska).
The Colonial delivered an epic final between VCU and Drexel … for about the last two minutes, as Drexel starting hitting everything it threw up, and VCU bricked every foul shot, to turn a 15 point margin into a three point victory.
Only the Big Ten delivered a 1v2 potential classic showdown between Ohio State and Michigan State, and I say “potential classic” because it’s the Big Ten. That conference has never met a 39-36 unwatchable brickfest it could resist playing.
So, here’s what I’d like to see from today’s remaining games, and what I hope to see when the Brackets are unveiled later today:
* I want to see John Henson healthy. I hate UNC with a passion, but I also hate to see a great player go down right before the tourney starts. (The worst example of this being Kenyon Martin for Cincinnati back in 2002. With a healthy Martin, Cincy reaches at least the Elite 8. Without him, they lost to UCLA in the second round.) Here’s to hoping he’s able to go with no ill effects from re-injuring his wrist on Friday. Or, if he can’t go today, here’s to hoping he’s able to go pain-free on Thursday or Friday, whenever the Heels open.
* I want to see a repeat of last Sunday’s epic Ohio State / Michigan State showdown. I say this, because I fear one (or both) teams will tank today’s game to secure the two seed in St. Louis, versus the one seed in Phoenix. Personally, I think both Coach Izzo and Coach Motta have too much pride and integrity to intentionally “tank” the game … but they both HAVE to be thinking about it. Especially if one side or the other races out to a 30-13 lead at the under eight timeout.
* I want to see a bid thief emerge from the A-10. Yup, I’m rooting for St. Bonaventure. Xavier is in, and can only improve seeding. The Bonnies beat all of the top four teams in the A-10 this year (Temple, Xavier, St. Louis, and St. Joe’s, at least three of whom are going dancing), and if it was up to me, I’d much rather see an upper level mid-major make the field over some middling “Power Six” squad like NC State (who beat nobody worth mentioning) or Texas.
* When the seeds are announced, I want to see KU and MU as the 1 and 2 seeds in the St. Louis regional. I know it won’t happen. But somehow, this game HAS to happen one more time. That, and if you’re going to reward the two best teams in the second best conference in America (and I’d argue it’s the best, sorry Big Ten fans, but your version of hoops is utterly unwatchable most of the time), let them BOTH “win” the right to play in St. Louis. We’ve had conference rival showdowns in the Elite 8 before. Both KU AND MU have faced a conference rival in the Elite 8 in the recent past – KU / KSU in 1988, MU / OU in 2002. What’s wrong with setting it up to occur again?
* If that isn’t possible, and if KU isn’t in the St. Louis regional, then please, committee, put us in North Carolina’s bracket. Make your Elite 8 matchups as great as possible, please.
* Please, committee, take solid mid-majors over middling power teams. PLEASE. The committee last year took the Colonial regular season champ (VCU) over the Big XII’s fifth place finisher (Colorado). How did that work out? Please, committee people, take Iona, take Drexel, take Southern Miss, over Ole Miss, NC State, and Texas.
* There are two power six teams on the bubble the committee SHOULD take: Tennessee and Washington. Yes, the Pac 12 is down, but Washington was the undisputed regular season champion of the conference, finishing a game clear of every other team. If you win a regular season title in one of the major ten conferences (listed way up above in like paragraph three), you should get an auto-bid. Washington deserves to be in. Ditto Tennessee, who finished 2nd in the SEC, a league likely to send at least four, and probably five, to the tourney. Which means at least two, and probably three, teams that finished BELOW it are dancing? That’s outrageous. I get that non-con scheduling is important, and Tennessee was .500 out of conference. Having said that … shouldn’t conference play be MORE important in the top ten conferences? If you’re playing in a conference guaranteed to get multiple bids (and all the top ten conferences should get at least two, and most will get at least three), then shouldn’t finishing 2nd matter? I say it should. Take Washington and Tennessee, dump Seton Hall and Northwestern.
* Finally, to CBS Sports: please, please, PLEASE, assign Verne and Bill to the Omaha sub-regional. Please. Because both KU and MU fans deserve the best broadcasting team alive calling their teams’ first two victories in this year’s Madness …