Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Cinderella hangs out past midnight

I'm an NBA guy. Anyone who knows me well, knows my party line, "I like to see freak athletes do freak athlete things," and in that regard, there's few better avenues than the NBA where players run faster, fly higher, and are generally more acrobatic than 99% of the people on the planet. If you asked me which I'd rather watch, an NCAA Tournament game or a regular season NBA game between two competent teams, I'd vote the latter nearly every time (with the exception of Michigan's inclusion in the Tourney game, which, hey, that actually happens now).

But having a very Free Darko mindset about athletes and the sports they play usually puts me in a precarious position with regards to rooting interests. I like watching the Miami Heat win. I don't understand people's hatred of the Yankees or Duke or UNC, and openly denounce people that complain about consistently great teams. My favorite NBA team currently is the Denver Nuggets and my favorite NBA lineup of all time is Allen Iverson, JR Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, and Marcus Camby.

It should be no surprise then that the NCAA Tournament, an event whose excitement is largely based on upsets and an Anyone Can Win It All philosophy isn't really my bag. It's not that I'm a BCS advocate or think that there's something fundamentally wrong with the NCAA Tournament, but I don't care to see better teams fall by the wayside because of a single bad game. And since basketball is the type of sport where the teams with superior talent tend to sit atop the league*, fans are excited when they see a tournament that can give teams like Butler and a shoddy UConn team a chance to become "National Champs". (Scare quotes are warranted here.)

There's been a lot of backlash to the backlash today about last night's wretched fumblefest, which was, without a doubt, the worst televised sporting event I've ever watched. Much of the commentary centers on the idea that one terrible game is not enough to diminish a month of exciting basketball; that the tournament isn't broken but that this was a statistical outlier of sorts. And while I can agree with most of this, I do have to balk at least a bit.

The problem with last night's game is that it was exactly what everyone wants: A Cinderella story (two perhaps) playing for the National Championship. Every year, fans are treated to claims of parity and competitive play, and every year, people are disappointed when Butler comes up short against Duke, or George Mason is unceremoniously booted, or VCU and Butler have to play each other in the Final Four rather than contend for a National Title. Some will point to last night's teams being wildly unqualified for the game through statistical measures like Kenpom, which is a tenuous argument to make. UConn finished the season 10th in Kenpom rankings and was as responsible for last night's wreckage as Butler (who ranked 41st, by far the lowest Kenpom ranking of any Final Four team since 2003; the next closest was George Mason's 23rd in 2006).

So while last night's game may not indicative of the National Champions of the past, I reserve the right to be pissed off and annoyed when we're offered that sort of travesty. Especially when it's what everyone was clamoring for in the first place.

*This is especially true in the NBA. Coaching consists of about 5% of a team's success in the NBA, regardless of what Reggie Miller will have you believe. There's a reason Mike Brown and John Kuester led the Cavs to 60-win seasons and it's name is Lebron James. Coaching is far more important in college, but that has as much to do with amateurism and shaping young talent as it does on-court adjustments.


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