March Madness Through 3 1/2 Days: “WE WERE SO WRONG!!!”

As of eight o’clock last night, my bracket was in phenomenal shape. I had all of my Elite 8’s left, and with only Gonzaga and Syracuse left to play for the evening, life was good. Then Wichita State happened, prompting maybe the worst twitterage of my life. Here’s a sampling.

Honestly, I would’ve loved that Wichita State performance if it weren’t against Gonzaga, (for some reason) my favorite college basketball team, and more importantly, a team I had in this year’s Final Four. But hey, that’s March Madness for ‘ya.

I think this Gonzaga loss confirms that, as the tournament has absolutely gone bonkers and brackets get shredded, spit on, or worse, there’s only one way to sum up March Madness brackets this year:

We Were So Wrong

There’s no other way to say it, right? If all of the remaining NCAA Tournament teams were to turn into black Prometheus goop which spawned acid-spitting snake things capable of fatally impregnating victims, could we really be surprised at this point? ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Look at all the insanity that has happened so far:

  • Oregon (12) knocks off Oklahoma State (5) AND Saint Louis (4)
  • Minnesota (11) beats UCLA (6), which was kind of expected, but they beat them so badly that Ben Howland got fired!
  • Georgetown (2) pulled a Georgetown and lost to Florida Gulf Coast (15) – how many times can they do this before John Thompson III is on the hot seat?
  • Davidson (14) had Marquette (3) absolutely finished, but then they got homesick or something.
  • Cal (12) screamed “FOR THE PAC 12!!!” at the top of their lungs and took down UNLV (5).
  • The West Bracket Happened. Look at this thing:
West Bracket Updated

I got exactly TWO games right in an entire quarter of the bracket. TWO. And I’m in the 73rd percentile on ESPN. How is that possible?

Despite all of the collective bracket disappointment that has taken place in the past few days, I think the general consensus is that this year’s tourney has been fun, unpredictable, and entertaining, which is all we can usually ask for. My guess is that most people are loving what’s gone on so far. It’s in our nature to root for David (son) when he goes against Goliath (-quette?).

But is it possible for a tournament to have too many upsets? Can we reach a level where things just become ridiculous? With this many upset games, it’s hard to even classify them as upsets anymore. I think it’s time we ask ourselves, is David even slaying Goliath anymore, or is David just slaying another David with a more recognizable uniform?

The argument I’ve heard from most sports pundits is, “This is so great for the NCAA! There’s so much parity in the sport now that mid-majors and non-power teams can take down anyone. It just shows the depth of talent throughout Division 1; no longer do top-tier recruits just go to the same 20 schools anymore.”

I’m not sure that’s true, though. I think it’s more likely that, with NBA-level talent bolting from the college ranks after one year, the level of play in the NCAA is deteriorating. Instead of top-tier recruits going to the same 20 schools, they’re going to the same 5, and the rest of the teams are just fighting for the recruiting scraps. This year is a perfect indicator of that. Although it seemed like no number one team could keep that spot during the regular season, it was the same four teams who kept reclaiming it (Indiana, Duke, Louisville, and Kansas – you could also throw Michigan in there if you were feeling generous). Look at the top 10 from the year’s final AP poll: Gonzaga was exposed, Ohio State just escaped Iowa State, Georgetown was a joke, and so was New Mexico. Were the teams they lost (or almost lost) to better than we thought, or were those teams worse than we thought? Probably the latter, right?

Here’s what I’m afraid of: as exciting as these first-week games may have been, in the later rounds, the rounds that we’re actually going to remember years from now, the games will be lopsided. Eventually, the so-called “Cinderellas” who took advantage of over-seeded pretenders will run into the very real, elite talent of the few legitimate teams left, and they’ll be blown out. Is that what we want?

I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like all of the evidence is starting to point towards the NCAA being watered-down, instead of getting deeper. We’re heading to a climate where a handful of teams will have dominant, NBA-bound players, and the other 340 will be striving for mediocrity. Maybe that will make things more exciting for a time, but don’t be surprised if NCAA people look back on the tournament 10 years from now and mutter, “We were so wrong.”

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