Sideline Slants

Admit it. We’re slow learners. At least I am. A memory is a terrible thing to waste. Yet how fast I forget.

We’ve been sold a bill of goods, and if history is any indication, we’ll fall hook, line and sinker again next year.

Every year March Madness, a.k.a. the NCAA basketball tournament, produces numerous upsets. And year after year, we’re surprised?

Well, duh.

This phenomenon occurs in other aspects of life, too. Why is it that when a weather forecast is wrong, we’re surprised? Why is it that when politicians don’t keep their promises we’re surprised?

Not all of the so-called upsets are upsets.

Who doesn’t like a good David-and-Goliath story? The fact is many underdogs aren’t really underdogs. Eyewitnesses may have felt that little David was an underdog in his epic battle with Goliath, but when you consider who was on David’s side, how can his victory be considered an upset?

The NCAA tournament rarely follows the form or seeding. The better-seeded teams don’t always win. There are plenty of examples in this year’s first round. No. 12 seeded Gonzaga beat No. 5 Virginia, No. 13 Kent State beat No. 4 Indiana, No. 10 Butler beat No. 7 Wake Forest, No. 11 Georgia State beat No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 12 Utah State beat No. 5 Ohio State, and No. 15 Hampton beat No. 2 Iowa State.

However, with the exception of the Hampton and Iowa State game, was any game really an upset? Only four No. 15 seeds have beaten a No. 2 seed since 1985 and no No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, so it’s fair to call this year’s Hampton victory an upset.

Part of the problem is our definition of an upset. We’re like the NCAA tournament selection committee. We’ve bought into the idea that basketball teams from major conferences should beat teams from lesser-known conferences.

If you look at the upset examples you’ll see a trend-the losing teams were all from major conferences.

Maybe the teams aren’t seeded well. The tournament selection committee has a tough job and my only beef is that too much credit is given to major-conference teams. The major conferences generally deserve to get six or seven teams in the tournament, but I don’t agree that they should all be high seeds.

Why is Indiana seeded No. 4 and Gonzaga No. 12? Which school has won more NCAA Tournament games the past four years? Gonzaga, hands down. But Gonzaga is penalized in the seeding because they don’t play in a major conference.

There are several theories why tournament results rarely follow the form. One is that teams from mid-major conferences aren’t intimidated by teams from major conferences.

Teams in the major conferences are always on television. Mid-major teams are rarely seen outside their local area. It’s hard to evaluate teams when you don’t see them play.

Another factor is that NCAA Tournament games are played on neutral courts. That’s a huge difference from the regular season, when the major conference teams usually play non-conference games on their home court.

Yet another factor is that there are many quality athletes around, and any well-coached team with seven or eight talented athletes can compete with the powerhouse conferences.

If only I would learn my lesson. I talk the talk but I don’t walk the walk. I confess that I picked Gonzaga to lose their first game in the tournament and once again they made the Sweet 16.

There’s a silver lining, though. That qualifies me to be a member of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

How many high schools have better facilities than Cal State Northridge, KU’s first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament? The Matadors play games in a 1,600-seat gymnasium. Apparently facilities aren’t everything when it comes to having a successful Division I program.

Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson said, “Weather prognosticator-that’s the ideal job, you know that? You’re never held responsible for what you say, or held accountable for what you predict. Yet you keep your job. Nobody’s out there firing those guys.”

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