With Villanova easily dispatching of Michigan in Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship, I have two thoughts related to the game.
- If ever there were a case for reseeding each round of the NCAA Tournament, this year would be it. Let us be clear. This will never happen because it would make it impossible to fill out brackets. This would drop Tournament ratings by 75%. Therefore, this will never happen. Nevertheless, when a valid argument arises, I feel I should at least acknowledge it.
The NCAA tournament always lends itself to upsets, but, more often than not, these Cinderellas have turned into pumpkins by the end of the Regional Semifinals (Sweet-16 Round). This year, however, saw a different story. Plenty of underdogs found their way not only into the Sweet 16 but also into the Elite 8. Loyola-Chicago was a surprise Final Four team as an #11 seed, and even Michigan was a surprise national runner-up as a #3 seed.
Taken alone, one would assume that several teams must have pulled off runs of 2, 3, or 4 upsets…but this was not the case. Instead, the fact that the upsets were bunched on the left side of the bracket rendered a Pyramid scheme in which countless teams ended up going much further than they truly deserved. I say this based upon the premise that almost any NCAA Tournament team can play the game of its life to pull off one major upset but falls short when trying to pull off the second-consecutive upset.
UMBC displayed this idea perfectly during this year’s tournament. Not only did UMBC pull off the first #16-#1 upset in Tournament history, but the underdog completely blew the doors off UVA, winning by 20. However, when UMBC faced #9-seeded Kansas State in the Second Round, UMBC ran out of steam. The Retrievers did not have another “game of their lives” in them. The byproduct of this was that a #9 seed advanced to the Sweet 16. This was the first time that a #9 advanced this far without pulling off a mega-upset, because all other #9s (in the current Tournament format) had to face #1 seeds in that round. Who did Kansas State face in its Regional-Semifinal (Sweet 16) matchup? #5-seeded Kentucky. Kansas State dispatched of Kentucky, 61-58, and this would be Kansas State’s most impressive win in the tournament. That said, by advancing to the Elite 8 without playing against a top-four seed, Kansas State had not yet made believers out of many people.
Of course, Kansas State should have had its chance to make these believers in the Regional Final. Surely, there would be a #2 or #3 seed awaiting the Wildcats in this matchup. Nope, instead Kansas State earned the task of facing #11 Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers won their first two NCAA Tournament games on buzzer-beaters. These wins were a very minor upset over #6-seeded Miami (FL) and a larger upset over #3-seeded Tennessee. This is where the road should typically get more difficult, and an #11 should now face at least one out of the #1 and #2 seeds over the next two rounds. This was not the case. Instead, Loyola-Chicago faced #7 Nevada, who had upset #2 Cincinnati in a 22-point-comeback Second Round win. Thus, Nevada and Loyola-Chicago had both just played their “games of their lives” before meeting each other. Thus, when they faced each other, somebody had to win. That “somebody” would be Loyola-Chicago. Thus, we ended up with a Regional Final (Kansas State vs. Loyola-Chicago) in which the former had beaten no top-four seeds while the latter had beaten a #3, #6, and #7.
Loyola-Chicago ended up winning the Regional Final. The whole “Sister Jean” thing was a great story. I loved every second of it, but #11-seeded Loyola-Chicago did not enter the Final Four with the impressive run that fellow-#11 seeds George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) had. George Mason and VCU had signature Regional Final wins over #1 seeds UConn and Kansas, respectively. Beating #9-seeded Kansas State was just not the same for Loyola-Chicago.
That said, who did Loyola-Chicago find in its National Semifinal matchup? #3-seeded Michigan. Granted, a #3 seed playing in the Final Four is a regular-enough occurrence. After all, this team should theoretically have been ranked between #9 and #12 in the Top 25 upon entering the Tournament. The likes of Michigan in 1989 (champs), Georgia Tech in 2004 (runners up), and UConn in 2011 (champs) were also #3 seeds, and none of those teams were huge shocks to make the Final Four. Again though, the issue for Michigan this year is that its road to the Final Four (and ultimately the disastrously lopsided championship game that I am ignoring as I write this post) was extremely weak.
First of all, Michigan should have been eliminated on St. Patrick’s Day. In the Second Round, the Wolverines were down 2 against #6-seeded Houston with 2.2 seconds to play and Houston shooting two free throws. Somehow, Houston missed both free throws, and Michigan won on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. Kudos to Michigan for taking advantage of a gifted opportunity, but usually a team in this position has to step it up against the #2 and #1 seeds in the next two rounds. Again, this was not the case. #7-seeded Texas A&M played the “game of its life” against #2-seeded UNC. Michigan took care of A&M in the next round and then were gifted #9-seeded Florida State in the Regional Final. Florida State was actually the only team on the left side of the bracket to defeat two Top-4 seeds, as the Seminoles beat #1 Xavier and #4 Gonzaga, only to have their magic run out in the Regional Final against Michigan.
Thus, we ended up with a National Semifinal of Michigan and Loyola-Chicago. Michigan took care of Loyola-Chicago before getting embarrassed in the final by Villanova. This championship result is not shocking in the slightest. Everyone knew upon entering the Sweet 16 that the top three teams remaining – Villanova, Kansas, and Duke – were on the right side on the bracket. Moreover, many would also argue that Texas Tech and Purdue – on the right side as well – were also better than anyone on the left side of the bracket. Thus, we essentially ended up with a JV bracket on the left, a varsity bracket on the right, and a predictable varsity-vs.-JV matchup in the final.
If the NCAA Tournament instead re-seeded after each round, we would have likely lost the “Sister Jean” storyline after the Sweet 16. While that would have been tough, the payoff of likely having a Final Four of Villanova, Kansas, Duke, and Texas Tech/Purdue would have been worth it. The likes of Loyola-Chicago, Kansas State, and Nevada would have played these elite programs in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. Thus, if one of those Cinderellas did actually knock out one of those dominant programs, we would have known that the underdog belonged in the next round (more so than we truly knew this year). Even #3-seeded Michigan would likely have had to line up against Texas Tech or Purdue in the Elite 8 and Villanova in the National Semifinal. Then, we would have most likely received a Villanova/Kansas or Villanova/Duke championship game instead of the rout we actually watched.
Of course, let us be clear. None of these changes would ever happen!!!! I do not actually want them to happen! We all love brackets and betting waaaay too much to let this change happen! That is before I even get into the scheduling nightmare for the traveling secretaries. Plus, in all aspects of life, I hate overreacting to the worst-case scenario, and this year was the worst-case scenario in terms of having logical seeding beyond the Second Round. Never before have we had so many upsets bunched together on the same side of the bracket, and it will likely be a long time before we see it again.
2) No real sports fan thinks that Michigan should be considered “2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions”. This will be a quick point, but I read an article in today’s USA Today, and this article suggests that Michigan should be given the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Of course, this was the year that Louisville beat Michigan for the title, but the Cardinals have since been stripped of this title (OK, maybe I should have chosen a different verb there…). The NCAA has erased Louisville’s name from this part of the record book due to Rick Pitino’s many recruiting violations, including sending prostitutes to recruits.
Yes, sending prostitutes to recruits is really really bad. Nobody should condone that behavior, and Rick Pitino has rightfully been fired for his behavior….but Louisville won the championship that year. We watched it. We cried tears of pain and nausea when Kevin Ware gruesomely broke his leg, and we cried tears of joy when his teammates brought him on the floor to celebrate a National Championship. Louisville won the game; Michigan lost the game. If I were on that Michigan team, I would not want retroactively to be called “2013 National Championships”. That would be phony, and no athlete wants to be given a championship that way. The 2013 National Champions were the Louisville Cardinals. End of story.
Anyway, the college-basketball season is over, and we must now wait all the way until next November before we can finally get more college basketball in our lives!