This is Madness!

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March Madness. A tournament unlike any other in sports. The brackets. The bubble teams. The beauty of college basketball in its pursuit for a champion. A time when a group of men can reference Cinderella and not feel uncomfortable about doing so. The NCAA tournament gives every team an opportunity to get hot and make a run at a title. In a year where parity made its name a cliché, the term “madness” never seemed so appropriate in anticipation for the 68-team NCAA tournament.

This era of college basketball constantly sees its stars heading for the NBA draft early ─ typically after their freshman year. All the best talent is looking for the paycheck, leaving the next tier of players leading all the elite schools in college basketball. This year, there seems to be a combination of mediocre teams and mediocre players. Hence, there have been many teams who experts deem capable of making a run at the NCAA championship. It’s been madness the entire season and it’s not just the usual madness of the huge upsets.

Heading into the sweet 16, there are certainly some Cinderellas marching on, but in fact, 11 of the 16 teams left are four seeds or better. Florida Gulf Coast is this year’s team that no one has ever heard of. Most people think this school name is more appropriate for the Weather Channel than for college basketball. But this is not where the madness lies. It is the fact that only one team (Louisville) has looked the part of a juggernaut, and they have not truly been tested yet, playing a 16 and an eight seed. Every other team has looked vulnerable and beatable at times in their matchups. The lack of elite teams allows for more possible outcomes for the remaining games. It is truly a tournament where there is no favorite.

The basketball purist would say that the lack of superstar talent leads to better team play, truly allowing the best team, not group of individuals, to win. However, to most outsiders not following this basketball season, the games seem uninteresting and low scoring.  There have been some final scores in this tournament that the Oregon football team at which it would scoff. It all results from the same source, the lack of talent. This next NBA draft might be the worst I can remember. It’s sad when Brittney Griner, the Baylor women’s basketball player, is arguably college basketball’s best player. She could probably compete for some of these top teams, and I am not being sarcastic.

The main point we all must realize is that there aren’t more good teams this year, just less great teams. The lower seeds might get an upset here and there but most have already been weeded out of the tournament. The parity can be described best with the play of the good of the good, not the best of the best. Gonzaga is a prime example. When has it ever been a debate where the number one team in the nation should deserve a number one seed when there are four of them to be had? Only this year. Miami (FL) has been labeled the fifth number one seed, even though they are a number two seed. And with no surprise, Gonzaga is the only number one seed eliminated. It is because it is not a great team. There are none.

Most viewers think that the “madness” portion of the tournament has ended. The field has been shaved down from 68 to 16, with the rampant amount of games coming to an end. But now with the good of the good remaining, the madness I believe is just beginning. You can throw away all the numbers in front of the teams now, because the remaining teams are all similar. As a matter of fact, the coaches are more famous than the players these days, another point illustrating the state of  college basketball

Florida Gulf Coast will probably lose its next game and Louisville will probably advance to the elite eight. This is the only thing I can assert confidently about the rest of the tournament. Not even the bookies in Las Vegas can predict the rest of the games. The parity is about to take shape and most people who filled out brackets don’t even know it yet. This is all because this is a generation of college basketball where no superstar ever stays for four years. Heck, if a great player makes it to his junior year it’s a miracle.

All the top basketball talent moves on to the NBA, leaving college basketball ─ especially this year, ─ with a lot of good teams with mediocre talent compared to years past. The usual contenders Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Syracuse and Ohio State are still dancing. No surprise there. But other teams like Miami (FL), Michigan, Florida and Indiana have just as good of chance of winning it all this year. The names of the schools speak louder than the play of the players. This year, the March Madness is there, just in a new and unique way. It is all opinion if it is good or bad for the sport. I know one thing for a fact that I can be sure of, this year more than ever, you cannot be sure of anything regarding the top teams in college basketball. Let the madness truly begin.

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Paul Culley
Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4
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