What the hell, since it's that time of year, SMQ has no choice but admit: the NCAA basketball tournament is pretty great. The fact he's left the sport in general in the rearview with just about every other adolescent passion and can't name more than two players on any team these days - Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin is as in-depth as it gets, and that only because of an occassional glance at the Texas Basketball Report at Burnt Orange Nation - hasn't deterred him from going bracket crazy for like the fifteenth year in a row.
Hooray for basketball!
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Age and some sobering experience has made for timidity, though, and this year's effort is conservative as they come - only Georgia Tech among double digit seeds projected into SMQ's Sweet Sixteen. Florida, it seems, as defending champion, as the best team most of the season, as a balanced, experienced group with two quality big men and a couple of guards who each had out-of-body three-point experiences at the end of last year's tournament, must be the favorite after winning the SEC. Kansas is on a pretty impressive roll, whatever that's worth, but SMQ has UF taking down the Jayhawks in a semifinal and Georgetown in the championship, the Hoyas being a) a team from a legitimate basketball school and b) in possession of a seven-foot center capable of dealing with Greg Oden. And Peter Bean mentioned about his team at some point this season that G'town specifically represented a bad matchup for Texas should those two meet in the tournament, which SMQ has happening in a regional final after the Longhorns upset North Carolina. The latter will happen for the very sound reason that one of the number one seeds is always destined to lose by the third round, and Ohio State has no such challenges until Texas A&M in the Elite Eight. So we're going with that.
But there is actual basketball analysis everywhere this week, by individuals with a clue, so what this is really about is a complaint: what is with this sad play-in game? As a pair of automatic qualifiers, Niagara and Florida A&M were guaranteed positions in the national tournament by virtue of their respective conference championships. Yet there they were Wednesday, still pathetically vying to get in when each had already met the supposed requirement. Florida A&M, which lost, now will not have its promised spot among the field of 64, and Niagara has already had to win an extra game that cut into its rest, travel and preparation time for Kansas on Friday. This game must be the single most skewed, nonsensical event in at least college sports (deciding outcomes by "shootout" in international soccer and the NHL might make less sense in the broader realm, but even intramural Afghani goat head polo demonstrates a certain economy).
Putting in at-large contenders who have failed to meet automatic entry requirements would be an improvement if the play-in game is actually necessary (maybe they'll consider this for the additional play-ins certain to be added later), but the existence of a play-in game is fundamentally unfair - to argue the teams are likely to immediately lose in the tournament anyway is to invalidate the point of the tournament. If a team that's already played 30 games has to win another to prove its worth in the field, it shouldn't be in the field. Otherwise, in no way should it be subjected to a tougher standard, i.e. being forced to win one more game for a title than required of any other team in the field. This is bothersome in the NFL, too, but at least there more teams are subjected to the extra game and byes are determined by an objective standard (win-loss record) rather than some committee interested mainly in stocking the bracket with the most notable sixth- and seventh-place finishers it can find.
The size of the basketball tournament makes for an untenable comparison, but the residual bracket-watching excitement of March Madness is a definite catalyst for SMQ's staunch support for a I-A football playoff. The fundamental asset of a playoff remains the fact that every team is faced with meeting the same standard - in this case, winning six games - and it seems absurd and borderline cruel to mock two teams' already long chances by making that standard seven wins just for them. What an insulting feature.
That is all. Enjoy your basketball tournament.