Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Cheers and Trepidation with VCU

First off, a moment of silence for my bracket and the millions of others that went up in smoke this weekend....

(It was all good just a week ago)

Now slap me in the head for not trusting UConn since I've seen them all year. They demolished Kentucky in the Maui tournament and made those freshmen look downright average compared to John Wall and Co. last year. They've won nearly every big game they needed to win. Kemba Walker has run out of superlatives for his play while Jeremy Lamb is having his coming out party. Did I really think my Blue Devils were gonna beat them?

(By the way, Duke got the crap kicked out of them worse than any team in 20 years. Not since the 1990 title game when UNLV overwhelmed them physically, mentally, athletically. Hard to argue why Derrick Williams isn't the best Pac-10 prospect since James Harden)

Aside from praising UConn and John Calipari making his Final Four debut**, the fact that No. 11 seed VCU is in the Final Four is both a great story and a problem. It's great for Shaka Smart coaching his boys up and catching fire from the perimeter and for those of us who remember former guard Eric Maynor beating Duke in 2007. It's great because this is one of the greatest runs in March Madness history. 

Yet it's a problem. It's the 1st time that all 4 No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are gone before the Final Four. But like most folks, I didn't have much faith in the No. 1 seeds this year because while they were great, they weren't dominant teams and for the first time, I filled out my bracket with no clearcut idea who would win. 

The No. 2's were almost the same. UNC and Florida were great teams but they had their shortcomings. Notre Dame was overrated and San Diego State's great year fell victim to the UConn buzzsaw. 

There's reason for parity in college basketball. This year's freshman class was the weakest in 5 years besides Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger. Nearly all of this year's top players didn't look like exciting NBA talent. More upsets happened because teams just weren't that good and teams like Arizona, UConn and Kentucky came together at the right time. 

Butler's a great story, being the first mid-major to reach back-to-back Final Fours since UNLV in 1990 and 1991. VCU's even greater for this year. But it's also a byproduct of a weak season that inadvertently added to the March drama.

The bigger problem with VCU's success, though, is the folks who'll use this to justify expanding the tournament. They'll say that thanks to the First Four, teams can go on a miracle run in a similar way. Nevermind the fact that expanding the tournament is watering down the field even more in a watered down era of college basketball.

While some teams get screwed every year from the Big Dance, letting in more teams isn't the answer.  Expanding it to 96 teams gives the Selection Committee an out for their mistakes while bringing in more teams who have no business being there.

Case in point, the Big East had 11 teams in this year's tourney. How did that work out? The Pac-10 didn't deserve more than 3 teams (not counting USC in the First 4). Mid-major conference bids should be determined by how teams do outside of conference not just finishing top 3. 

Too much of anything is never good. Pretty soon, we're gonna be letting in every team that finishes .500 and while we may love the drama, the tournament will lose it's magic as folks will tune out average games while waiting for the better ones. 

VCU is gonna inadvertently give the powers that be more reason to want to recreate their success. Each win should be praised but it could be a case of backhanded praise if the NCAA meddles in this story. 

I'm still ready to enjoy this unlikeliest of Final Fours, but it's a strange case of wondering if this is all good or just a sign of the times. 

**Somehow I doubt Coach Cal is gonna get this trip removed from his resume like he did at Memphis and UMass. But the fact he did it without an All-American or much fanfare is impressive.


  1. I've wondered the same about VCU being an arguing chip for those in favor of expanding the tournament.
    Even so, I put more weight & faith in their success lessening the importance of polls, preseason faves and perennial powers.

  2. Jemele Hill said the same thing on bout VCU and expansion so I'm glad I'm not the only one. I think preseason polls don't matter as much in college bball like they do in college football (UConn showed that the very 1st weekend. Fortunately, this isn't gonna happen often so we can enjoy this.