Last week, I wrote about the inordinate attention paid to the Rockets’ winning streak in the NBA and to Tiger Woods’ winning streak in PGA events. Now both are history and the real records – the ones belonging to the LA Lakers and to Byron Nelson – were never seriously in danger. It would be a good resolution for media folks to make for themselves only to begin to rhapsodize about the greatness of winning streaks in the NBA when the streak extends beyond 24 games or when a golfer has won 8 PGA tournaments in a row. That would mean there might – I said might – be a serious assault on the extant records. Oh, and with the golf record specifically, I think it would a whole lot more interesting if the person making the assault on the record winning streak played more than once a month picking and choosing among the courses he or she might compete upon…
One look at the NCAA tournament brackets for the men and the women gives you an insight into a fundamental difference between men’s collegiate basketball and women’s collegiate college basketball. More than a couple of lower seeded men’s teams pulled off the upset against teams with “bigger reputations”. In the women’s tournament, chalk prevails. In the first round of the women’s tournament, exactly two lower seeded teams advanced; neither went to the Sweet 16. The women’s bracket is set up to allow a Tennessee/Connecticut game in the finals. You don’t think that the Women’s Selection Committee made sure that might happen, do you?
The men’s East Bracket is pure chalk; the four teams left were seeded one-through-four. And UNC’s demolition of Arkansas might be a good argument for the incorporation of a “mercy rule” in college basketball. That game was not in doubt after the first five minutes of play. In the Midwest Bracket, the teams left were seeded one, three, ten and twelve. All of the #1 seeds are still alive but half of the #2 seeds have gone home already.
My two favorite Big East teams, Georgetown and Pitt, did not advance to the Final Four as I predicted; in fact they are back on campus already while teams that finished significantly below them in the regular season and/or the Big East Conference Tournament play on. That makes the men’s tournament more interesting because it is less predictable or formulaic. One of those “lesser Big East teams” is Villanova. On the Great Monday of Whining after the men’s brackets were announced, Villanova was one of the teams cited as being less worthy of inclusion than certain favorite “mid-major teams” whose destiny in life is to get screwed by that Selection Committee. I have not heard any apologies from the people who wrote that the inclusion of Villanova was a crime against humanity only slightly below the level of the one ongoing in Darfur at the moment.
Even some of the so-called mid-majors are not immune from critical scorn on the Great Monday of Whining. I heard several people say that Davidson might have been seeded too high despite having won 22 straight games entering the first round of the tournament. After all, they didn’t beat anybody notable in that streak went the logic behind that criticism. Well, Davidson has now won 24 straight games; they are scheduled to play Wisconsin next; they have already sent Gonzaga and Georgetown home.
Western Kentucky has been another pleasant surprise – unless you are a player for or a fan of Drake and/or San Diego. The shot they hit to beat Drake had to come from 35 feet away and hit nothing but net. Against San Diego, they continued to shoot well. Can they get to the Final Four and be this year’s version of George Mason? They can if they continue to shoot the way they have been shooting…
If there is anything formulaic about the men’s seeding and selection processes, it would be the automatic berths given to some of the minor conferences. I know that it is good and noble to give teams in the Ivy League and the Patriot League and the MEAC and etc. a chance to participate and to have a brief moment in the sun. But most of those teams do little to advance the cause of including more and more of the “little guys”. Please consider Mississippi Valley State and their showing this year. They lost to an offensively challenged UCLA team by 41 points. I know; other #1 seeds blew out their first round opponents too. However, UCLA held Mississippi Valley State to 29 points for the game. Recreation league teams for twelve-year-olds often score more than 29 points in a shorter game that the 40 minutes Mississippi Valley State was on the floor.
Travel back in time to December 2007 and you’ll find a game between Mississippi Valley State and Washington State – - another PAC-10 team. In that contest, Washington State won the game 71-26 limiting Mississippi Valley State to a total of 9 points in the second half. I sure hope the notes on those halftime adjustments for that game found their way into the recycle bin…
The beauty of the men’s tournament is that you never know what will happen. But so long as some of the “little guys” who make the tournament leave in such humiliating fashion, the idea of adding more “little guys” and breaking the hegemony of the “big time programs” isn’t going to advance very quickly.
ESPN.com ran a men’s bracket contest this year and it drew 3.65 million entries. None of those entries had all of the 32 first round games picked correctly; in fact, the best selections had only 30 of the 32 games right and there were only 51 of them. On the obverse, there was an entry that picked every one of the first 32 games incorrectly. And if you think about it, that is as difficult a feat as picking all of the games correctly.
A little over a week ago, the Seattle Supersonics lost a game to the Denver Nuggets in which the Nuggets scored 168 points – - in a regulation game. That’s bad enough but consider for a moment to the monumental understatement by Sonics’ coach, PJ Carlissimo:
“We didn’t offer any defensive resistance at all.”
I should say not. This line could probably have been uttered with equal insightfulness by Charles de Gaulle in reference to the French Army’s performance against the Germans in 1940.
Finally, an observation from Chris Harry last weekend in the Orlando Sentinel:
“Dallas is interested in Pacman [Jones]; they traded for Tank Johnson last year. Is a front-office post for O.J. next?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…