Signs of the season: Hoops madness continues

The wannabes are dropping like flies. It’s one thing to make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Winning it is another matter entirely.

Cinderella is a good and fun story, but more often than not, Cinderella works better as a fairy tale than on the hardwood.

Watching the major conferences duke it out in conference tournaments is fun, but what does it really matter when six or more teams make it to the Big Dance regardless of how they perform in the tournament?

If you want to see games that matter, watch the tournaments whose conference only gets one bid to the NCAA tournament. Those games do matter. Never mind that the teams who win those tournaments usually get lousy seeds and are bounced in one or two games on the big stage.

Fans of those teams are just happy to go dancing for one night, while fans of teams like KU or Duke are disappointed if they don’t make the Final Four.

There was talk the Big 12 might get as many as eight teams in the Big Dance this year. They wound up with seven. Talk about preposterous. I know the conference is really, really good, but if all the teams are that good, what’s the point of playing the conference tournament? Do the ninth and 10th place teams in the conference have much of a chance to claim the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament? Hardly. The real reason for conference tournaments is money and pride—money for the conference and pride for the fans and players.

This year, there was a lot of talk about whether Okla­homa University would make the tournament because of Trae Young, one of the top players in the country. OU faded badly down the stretch and had trouble beating anyone for about six weeks.

Star players aren’t supposed to be a factor in who makes the tournament, but does anyone really believe it? TV networks like entertaining games and star players. So it’s hard for me to believe that the tournament committee completely ignore what TV executives want.

Loyola Chicago won the Missouri Valley Conference and tournament this year, but they weren’t assured of getting in the Big Dance unless they won their tournament. I’d much rather have a team that won its conference be invited along with the conference tournament champion, rather than have seven, eight or nine teams each from the Big 12, SEC, ACC, or whatever.

Teams in the major conferences already have more than enough opportunities to join the dance if they only have to finish in the top 70 percent of their conference.

How about requiring at least a .500 record or better in conference play to qualify for the Big Dance?

As for the tournament itself, the first weekend of games is about as good as it gets. Yes, there are some blowouts, but there are usually some surprises, although it beats me why TV keeps calling it an upset when a nine seed beats an eight seed. Frankly, unless a 14, 15 or 16 seed wins against one of the top seeds, the upsets are overrated.

While there’s plenty of parity this year and not one team that seems to be a lock to make the Final Four, in reality, most teams in the tournament don’t have a good chance to reach the finals. It’s one thing to win a game or two; it’s quite another to win four games, including at least three against quality opponents.

We don’t have to wait another week to find out who would cut down the nets as Division I men’s basketball champion if academics mattered more than skill on the court.

“Inside Higher Ed” provides the answer in its annual Academic Perfor­mance Tournament. A tradition since 2006, the Academic Performance Tournament determines the winners of each game in the tournament by comparing the academic performance of teams, as measured by the NCAA’s own—admittedly less than perfect—metrics for judging academic success.

And the winner is… Bucknell!

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.

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