I’m here to tell you something you may not want to hear.
The NCAA Tournament sucks, and college basketball sucks.
Yes, I am a homer. Yes, I’m bitter. Yes, I’m petty and disappointed my team isn’t going dancing. March Madness still sucks.
The first few rounds of the tourney are great fun; don’t get me wrong. But once the precocious, upshot mid-major teams are eliminated, the fun and the magic are too. The pace is practically a frenzy early on, with three-pointers and wild buzzer beaters abound. But when around the Sweet 16, teams become more methodical and slow their pace. The fatigue of the tournament and an entire prior season can come into play, yielding results that are unbecoming at times.
If you’re a Sooner fan (and if you’re here you likely are), I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t be too torn up about not having a team to root for in March. If you’re not an OU supporter, I’m here to tell why the NCAA tournament sucks.
I’ll start with the building block of brackets: RPI. This doesn’t apply to powers like Kentucky, Kansas, and Villanova -- just to teams on the bubble.
There are lies, there damned lies, and there are statistics. And the RPI is the Charles Ponzi of statistics.
It’s not just that it’s an old, busted, archaic stat, though: it’s been the deciding factor for the selection committee when they have a tough seeding decision to make.
I would hamfist explaining the ins and outs of why the RPI is faulty, but luckily, Andy Hutchins has an excellent explanation if you’re inclined. The short of it is that RPI factors in winning percentage and strength of schedule in ways that are disproportionate and seemingly arbitrary. It makes for some funky, not entirely descriptive results.
When an archaic formula begins to define seasons (and ultimately careers), it’s wise to scrap it. But for some god awful reason, we still use it. I don’t get it — it’s like the metric system. Everybody knows there are better ways to go about this. Why can’t we utilize them?
Quality of Play
I can understand if my criticisms of college basketball and the NCAA Tournament may seem hollow and unfounded. So take it from basketball legend Geno Auriemma, who called men’s basketball a joke a few years back:
‘I don't coach it. I don't play it, so I don't understand the ins and outs of it. But as a spectator watching it, it's a joke. There's only like 10 teams, you know, out of 25, that actually play the kind of game of basketball that you'd like to watch…The bottom line is, nobody can score. And they'll tell you that it's because of great defense, great scouting, a lot of teamwork. Nonsense, nonsense. College men's basketball is so far behind the times, it's unbelievable."
If you watched any Oklahoma basketball this season, you know exactly what Geno is talking about here. All respect to Lon Kruger as a coach, but he couldn’t muster his admittedly lackluster team to many respectable finishes. Even the Big 12’s best — Kansas and Baylor — are almost painful to watch at times in their haplessness.
It may be a result of the NBA leeching talent from the collegiate ranks, but college basketball lacks in nearly all categories of what makes basketball great: coaching, talent, and athleticism, just to name a few. The evident lack of talent, roster continuity, and coaching gumption shows through oftentimes in the college ranks.
I alluded to the 30 second shot clock earlier. The change from a 34 second clock certainly has helped some, but watching a college game after watching Russell Westbrook tear down the court for 48 minutes is akin to staring at a lava lamp and waiting for something to happen.
Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis (who drew on the work of Ken Pomeroy), highlighted that, despite all of the advances in training and statistical insight, college basketball is at an all-time scoring low. The primary offenders? Frequent timeouts, too many fouls (especially at the end of games), and over-coaching. Davis sums it up eloquently at the end of his piece:
In the end, the biggest problem college basketball faces is complacency. Usually, it takes a hard hit to the financial bottom line to spur significant change, but that won’t happen while the strongest leagues are locked into long-term, lucrative television contracts. Yet, for those who watch the game, coach the game, play the game, write about the game and love the game, there is no doubt that this crisis is real. The downward spiral might be slow, but it is inexorable. And until the pace of change speeds up dramatically, this once-beautiful game will slowly but steadily grind to a halt.
Davis is spot on, in my opinion. While college basketball has picked up the pace and scoring due to rule changes like the widening of the lane and the shot clock being shortened, anyone with a pair of eyeballs can tell that the pace is still too slow. Teams like UCLA with players like Lonzo Ball are changing this perception, but that’s just the issue — players like Ball won’t stick around for any longer than necessary
The Sooners Aren’t Playing Any More Basketball in March
It’s been a tough season. While we should have seen this coming considering the departures Lon Kruger’s squad faced (I predicted a sixth place conference finish for the Sooners), an 11-20 finish after a Final Four appearance certainly hurts.
Not that Sooner nation has no reason to hope — an offseason of work for Rashard Odomes, Kam McGusty, and Khadeem Lattin is an exciting prospect, and the additions of highly-touted players like Trae Young and Brady Manek will immediately make this a better club.
OU and OSU constantly posture and pose, comparing their team to the other. This season, the Cowboys get to go dance, while the Sooners sit at home. I’m a big fan of Jawun Evans, but it’s still painful to see them succeed while Kruger’s squad crashed and burned.
Here’s a secret: I’m still in love with college basketball and the NCAA tournament, no matter how flawed they both are and almost assuredly will continue to be.
I’m just bitter my team isn’t going dancing. Thank you for taking this time to be petty with me. A feel better now, and I hope you do too.