Many fans love the unpredictability and drama the NCAA Tournament but I’m not one of them. Watching UMBC beat Virginia on Friday night was a cool moment, no doubt, the first 16 seed to ever defeat a top seed in the Big Dance. But I’d MUCH rather see the best teams play one another for the right to see who is the top dog. And it’s actually quite the easy fix.
As I wrote last Summer, here’s the approach I’d take:
Change the first and second round format of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Wait, what? Mess with March Madness? Guess what folks, women’s basketball does it right. The top 16 teams are considered the hosts of their first two games and have the luxury of hosting three other teams on their home court. In the 2017 Women’s Tournament, 12 of the 16 host teams advanced to the Sweet 16 played at neutral sites.
SOLUTION: Reward regular season and conference tournament success! If a team plays well and earns a top 4 seed in the Big Dance, let them play potentially their first two games on their home court. Most people love the 15 over 2 upsets while personally, I’d like to watch the best teams play in each round. In college football, 90+% of the time the BEST OVERALL TEAM wins the title. In college basketball due to the streaky nature of the sport, I’d say the best team wins maybe once every two years. The Final Four without Villanova or Duke this year robbed itself of a top team…in part due to the neutral site advantage to the underdogs in Rounds 1 and 2.
This weekend we saw top-four seeds Virginia, Xavier, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Michigan State, Arizona, Wichita State, and Auburn all lose on a neutral court. How many of them would have advanced to the Sweet 16 had they had the chance to host their regionals? Maybe half…at most. Most college basketball fans saw chaos headed their way this postseason but not like this. It’s embarrassing for the sport when the regular season means literally next to nothing. Meanwhile in college football it’s just the opposite – every game matters for those competing for a Final Four spot.
So please do something, powers that be, so that my bracket doesn’t look like a complete wasteland after the fourth day.
Predicting who’s left and how it will shake out:
At this point, how does Kentucky not win it? Kansas State is a subpar team at best and should pose little challenge for the surging Wildcats. The other regional semifinal features Cinderellas Nevada and Loyola-Chicago…and in what should actually be a compelling game, I’ll talk the Wolfpack to defeat Sister Jean and the Ramblers. Kentucky should then rout Nevada by double-digits to advance to yet another Final Four under John Calipari. Oh what could’ve been, Arizona…
What a disaster this one has become as well. Florida State pulled a dramatic upset over Xavier on Sunday night but likely doesn’t have the defensive prowess to beat Gonzaga. The other game in the region, between Michigan and Texas A&M might be the best matchup we’ll see in the Sweet 16 but based on the way both teams played this weekend, give me the Aggies to move on. In fact I’ll boldly take Texas A&M to defeat Gonzaga and make it an all-SEC Final Four on the left side of the bracket.
Villanova’s cakewalk continues. The Wildcats have arguably been the best team in college basketball all season and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue next weekend. West Virginia’s press might cause problems for Nova but in a fairly close one, I’ll take Jay Wright’s team to advance. Purdue should beat Texas Tech, assuming star center Isaac Haas can contribute somehow with a broken elbow. But the Boilermakers will be no match for Villanova next weekend as the Wildcats advance to their second Final Four in three seasons.
Kansas should easily defeat Clemson, who looked strangely dominant against Auburn in Round two. But the Jayhawks won’t fare so well against Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils who will win a low-scoring, ugly game against fellow ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Among the more stunning defeats this weekend was a talent-limited Syracuse team knocking off an ultra-talented Michigan State squad by ugly-ing the game down and not allowing the Spartans many good looks at the basket. Duke won’t have that same problem en route to the Final Four.
Kentucky and Texas A&M split their two SEC meetings in 2018 but this time the rubber match is another virtual home game for the Aggies in nearby San Antonio. Maybe I’m overrating A&M but I said in December when I watched them play Arizona in a neutral site game in Phoenix that they had Final Four-level talent. Give me the Aggies to shock the world and represent the left side of the bracket in the Finals.
On the other side, Villanova vs. Duke should be an absolute CLASSIC! Arguably the two most talented teams in the game, give me the experience of Villanova to beat the youth of Duke in a game most people won’t forget anytime soon.
Villanova then defeats Texas A&M 76-66 in the National Championship to cement coach Jay Wright’s legacy as a sure-fire Hall of Famer and all-time great in the sport.
We saw a lot of memorable choke jobs and collapses this weekend – Virginia’s stunning 20 point loss as the #1 overall seed will be the most memorable for years to come…but Arizona’s inability to execute anything offensively and defensively against Buffalo will be remembered by all Wildcat fans for years to come, including yours truly. While Arizona had its deficiencies, it also possessed the best player in the nation, DeAndre Ayton, who was held to 14 points and 13 rebounds by the stubborn and determined Bulls. Quite simply though, the Wildcats’ effort was severely lacking compared to the Bulls’.
In hindsight, was Arizona simply a byproduct of a terrible Pac-12 Conference? Looks to be the case. The team chemistry was obviously lacking and not having an elite point guard (no offense to Parker Jackson-Cartwright who had a better season than anyone could’ve expected) was the difference in Arizona exiting in the first round vs. going to the Final Four.
So what’s next? Several weeks ago I predicted that we had seen the last of Sean Miller at Arizona and while that outcome doesn’t appear to be the likely one at this moment, I still advocate that it’s time for a change.
Either way, with the lack of a qualified ball-handling point guard on the roster right now, it’s hard to expect the Wildcats to make a run at yet another Pac-12 title in 2019. Plus with sanctions / penalties looming over the program, the future isn’t too bright.
This was our one shot, Arizona fans…and unfortunately a talented roster greatly underachieved much to our collective disappointment.