Yep. That’s right. This year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was the worst.
How can you say that, I hear you scream at your computer monitor?
What about No. 14 seed Ohio, which reached the NCAA Tournament only because it inexplicably won the Mid-American Conference Tournament as the No. 9 seed with 14 losses, destroying the image of the tough-as-nails Big East with a 14-point opening-round defrocking of third-seeded Georgetown?
What about No. 13 Murray State’s 3-pointer at the buzzer stunning No. 4 Vandy in the first round? (Sorry, Matt, I picked the Commodores in my bracket, too.) Or for that matter, No. 11 Old Dominion outlasting an overrated Big East squad in No. 6 Notre Dame?
That’s only the tip of the upset iceberg, since the Sweet 16 was peppered with the likes of No. 10 St. Mary’s (I was ashamed to share two names with Scottie Reynolds after that performance from ‘Nova), No. 11 Washington out of the lightly-regarded Pac-10, and No. 12 Cornell.
The Big Red had been a darling early in the year out of the Ivy League, but was somewhat forgotten before being put into a bracket with a Temple team that matched up terribly and a Wisconsin team that proves at least to me that Tom Izzo and Michigan State should be able to find a better conference. Plus the team featured Louis Dale, the first person (as far as I know) I can say graduated from the same high school I did and went to the Big Dance. Go Altamont!
And thanks to Ali Farokhmanesh, we now know the name Ali Farokhmanesh. Oh, and thanks to his fearless and seemingly ill-advised 3-pointer in the final minute the tourney lost its first No. 1 seed — the one that was supposed to be the overall No. 1 seed, Kansas.
Many of those Cinderella dreams died in the Sweet 16, but that round provided the best game of the tournament with No. 2 Kansas State overcoming 40-foot 3-pointers and foul calls at the worst time to pull out a double-overtime thriller over No. 6 Xavier, 101-96. It was the fifth overtime game of the tournament, the second to go 2 OTs.
In that same round of course, No. 6 Tennessee ended the run of Evan Turner and No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 5 Butler finally alerted the world to its presence with a victory over No. 1 Syracuse. The Bulldogs took advantage of K-State’s exhausting win over Xavier to make its first-ever Final Four, and the last No. 1 seed anyone thought had a chance to win it all went down when Bob Huggins and No. 2 West Virginia stated their case that they should have gotten a No. 1 seed by topping talented but toddler-aged Kentucky.
That wouldn’t even be Huggins’ best moment of the tournament as far as this fan is concerned. The image of him crouched over injured star DeSean Butler trying to comfort him as he lay writhing in agony and anguish after tearing his ACL in the closing minutes of a national semifinal loss to Duke will stay with me for awhile.
On the other side, Butler would once again find a way to win a game it probably shouldn’t have — most teams that go 11 minutes without a field goal don’t win, unless they find a way to hold the opponent to zero fast-break points — and get to the national title game by edging Izzo’s Michigan State squad minus Kalin Lucas. It was the Bulldogs’ 25th straight win, and guaranteed them a title shot in an arena six miles from campus.
But they were facing Duke, playing for a championship for the first time since its last title in 2001. Sure, these Blue Devils were flawed and many figured they would be gone by now, but Haddonfield grad and senior center Brian Zoubek had finally found his place in their attack and with the trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith they would easily handle a Butler team that really didn’t have the horses to compete … right?
Instead, the final game turned out to surpass even Xavier’s battle with Kansas State. Neither team led by more than six points, and when Zoubek intentionally missed his second free throw with less than four seconds left it gave the Bulldogs’ Gordon Hayward a chance at a halfcourt shot for the win that he nearly banked in.
Duke had its fourth championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski (much to the chagrin of Blue Devils haters everywhere), but Butler made an indelible mark on fans and the tournament with its run and had nothing to be ashamed of.
So with all these reasons why it might be the best ever, how could it be the worst? OK, obviously I don’t believe that it’s the worst ever, but it makes me sick to think that it could be the last, at least in this format.
If the NCAA expands the field to 96 teams next year, we likely won’t see as many games like those mentioned above, even with more tournament games overall. Stories like those of Ohio’s Bobcats, Murray State’s Racers and others won’t mean as much since the conference tournaments won’t create as much Cinderella hype because the losers of those conference finals could also get into a larger field. That would be the worst tournament ever.
We already have the BCS in college football, and if this proposal of 32 more teams making the hoops field goes through (my guess is it’s in part because there seems to be so little interest in the NIT; the chant of “We’re No. 66!” just never seems to catch on) I think it’s just be more proof of the NCAA’s slavery to the almighty dollar and the increased hypocrisy of amateur collegiate athletics.
Plus there’s no way I’m bothering to fill out a bracket next year if I have to predict whether a No. 20 seed will beat a No. 13. But I guess if we fans had to see our tournament die, at least it went out with one hell of a bang.