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NCAA Tournament is proving how even college basketball is

March 25, 2013 Columns 1 Comment

At any point in the season, if asked who I think would be in the Final Four I had a standard response that at first glance might sound like a cop-out: it’s so wide-open and matchups are so crucial that I can’t answer the question at that time.  In January of most years I couldn’t tell you who I think would get there at least for the latter reason, but especially this season because the former has never been more true.

If the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament doesn’t bear this reality out, I don’t know that anything will.

Just look at the highlights of the rounds that led us up to the Sweet 16:

  • Oregon, an under-seeded No. 12, is in the Sweet 16 after beating No. 5 Oklahoma State and No. 4 Saint Louis.
  • No. 12 Ole Miss and No. 13 La Salle played for a Sweet 16 spot, with La Salle – a First Four team – coming out on top.
  • Harvard, a No. 14 seed, beat No. 3 New Mexico.
  • Gonzaga became the first No. 1 seed to fall and the fifth eliminated by a No. 9 seed in the second round as Wichita State took them out.
  • The biggest one of all: Florida Gulf Coast beats Georgetown and San Diego State to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.

All season long, we have seen evidence that there isn’t a dominant team in the country and that college basketball is wide open.  There is a great deal of evenness across the landscape, whether within conferences or even among them.  This is visible from watching individual games, but the results are now bearing this out more than ever.  That’s also why Gonzaga, a controversial No. 1 seed, being the first top seed to go down doesn’t prove they didn’t deserve that seeding.

More than a dozen teams won their conference in the regular season, only to lose during their conference tournament, as one piece of evidence.  Numerous times this season, a team ranked in the top five in one of the polls (for what they are worth) lost to an unranked team.  With the NCAA Tournament, we always expect some early upsets, but they have gone to a new level this year, and this comes a year after two No. 15 seeds knocked off No. 2 seeds, which was a first.

There are many reasons this is happening.  For one, it’s harder than ever to keep the kind of focus required to always win as the more talented team.  Today, kids are bombarded with so many things that weren’t around 15 or 20 years ago.  Another is that injuries are an X-factor, something that has always been true but might be a bigger factor with more schools out there to get the talent that might otherwise stockpile on a team and then get chances when another player goes down.  Players also transfer more than ever, often in search of more playing time or a bigger role.  Now that players know each other longer and better than before from playing each other before college, scouting opponents is different.  Related to that last point, more talented players fall under the radar than ever for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is how many travel teams and events for them to compete in are out there at the high school level.

There are more reasons, but these might stand out as much as any.  There are timeless realities as well: on any given day, anything can happen and as such, anyone can beat anyone else, and some teams match up better or worse with some teams than others.  When you have a matchup of two contrasting teams, there’s a better chance for the less-talented team to win.  The end result that we are seeing is a Sweet 16 that has three double-digit seeds, including the first-ever No. 15 to get there.

College basketball in 2012-13 is much more even than it has been in a long time.  The talent may not be as even, nor the experience, but many equalizing factors – for one game at least – are changing that.  We often hear of “parity”, but that doesn’t really capture this – the teams nowadays are much more even than ever before.  That reality is hitting its nexus in the NCAA Tournament.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. James Squire says:

    “Even” — yes… IF the power conference schools bring their C game and the mid-majors bring their A game.

    Otherwise, eh – not so much, really. I’m not buying it.

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