Thursday, March 13, 2008

You can't dance without the "Big Dance"

ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

It has become the ultimate scale of success weighed against failure.

Late Friday night, Maryland senior James Gist sat devastated. His Terrapins had just lost to Boston College, dropping them to 18-14. Yeah, they're not getting into the NCAA Tournament.

So the season's over, right?

Well, yeah, except that they'll probably get into the NIT, a tournament they could actually win. But who really cares? You can't dance if you're not invited to the Big Dance, right?

March Madness has become a national phenomenon — I didn't need to remind you of that — and the NIT ain't invited. As well as whatever the name of that new postseason tournament is (I'll look it up later).

What's funny to me is how much weight a team like, say, St. Mary's puts on making the NCAA Tournament. Does anyone in this country — or Australia, the homeland of a few of the Gaels' players — believe St. Mary's can win the whole dang thing? Highly doubtful. Sure, they can point to the George Mason Miracle two years ago, but that was one team, one season.

The lame truth for most "bubble teams" who don't get their bubble popped is that their season will end before many of the teams whose bubbles were burst.

The only consolation I've been able to take from Michigan's Big Dance drought, which dates back to 1998, is that the Wolverines have had great success in that other tournament. It won't happen this season, but over the course of the past nine seasons, I've gotten to continue watching my team play while many of the bubble survivors' fans focused solely on their brackets.

And isn't that what fans enjoy doing — unless you're a New Jersey Institute of Technology follower? Watching their team play? Or is it all about getting in? About seeing their school's name when the brackets are announced, even if it will be crossed out four days later?

I'm not trying to diminish the accomplishment of reaching the NCAA Tournament. For conferences that only send their tournament winner to the dance, that's a huge deal. It always gets glossed over, but they're not only celebrating making the tournament, but winning their conference tournament.

Besting the rest of your league is a big deal. So Portland State's fans should be burning sofas after their team earned its first ever birth to the big stage (even if it'll go on to get juiced by 50 against Memphis). For an unknown school like that — I didn't know Portland was a state — the excitement of that moment will never be forgotten.

But for your usual array of major and mid-major bubble teams, March can't be all about madness. Face reality. Sure, try to win your conference tournament, try to get in, but if you don't, accept that NIT bid and keep playing. You might be ballin' a lot longer than your bubble partners who made the cut.

As usual, the media should take some of the blame. And, of course, the brackets. People who don't even know what goaltending is fill out a bracket — or multiple brackets. The matchups are talked about incessantly on TV, on the radio, in the papers.

And the bubble losers get plenty of attention, too. Last season, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim was all over the place criticizing the selection committee for leaving his Orange out of the tournament. Maybe he should have spent that time preparing his team for the NIT.

Everything in America is about image. The NCAA Tournament is your name-brand polo shirt while the NIT is the $1 shirt at the thrift store.

So what if it's often a one-game exhibition for overmatched teams. Players often say it's better to go one-and-out in the real tournament compared to winning four games in ignored one.

Guess there's only one good side of the bubble.

3 comments:

Sportsattitude said...

As Saturday night is winding down and "upset" after "upset" is taking place, the sheer lunacy of having 65 teams compete for a national title only a handful can win has never been clearer. As much as we all love the NCAA's, there certainly is room for the NIT - a chance to keep playing deep into March, play on national tv and improve your stature as a program and as players. Nothing wrong with the NIT. I recently posted we should consider going in the other direction and reduce the number of squads in the NCAA...which would make the NIT and any future post-season tournaments for interesting as well. Some of the games this weekend find teams "already in" going through the motions, which lets teams in who wouldn't otherwise be considered, which waters down the field even further. People clamor for a college football playoff but we don't plan on having 65 teams play for that? Just because 300 plus teams say they play Division 1 basketball does not mean they're any good at it..there should be a splitting of the current Division 1and a new tier of competition should be created, effectively leaving the national championship competed for by the programs who deserve to. Portland State is a nice story. Portland State doesn't belong playing for a national championship. Then again, neither does the 7th or 8th best team in the Big East...

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