A great deal of college basketball “fans” watch the NCAA tournament for two reasons: 1) to see how they fare in their dopey $20 office pools; and, 2) to witness those cool moments where David slays Goliath. Take away the former and you wouldn’t have any trouble finding a seat at a sports bar this Thursday. Take away the latter and I present you with television ratings that are comparable to the PGA Championship.
I would submit that theory to a scientific journal for publication but I am worried that it might not survive peer review. The problem is not so much the first point as that one is bullet proof. I mean we can all agree that pools have sucked in the casual fan, particularly during the first and second rounds as people stand on egg shells waiting to see if they will be paid on their $20 investment.
But I can’t figure this out. People may be interested in seeing Goliath felled. But answer me this …. why are they watching when Goliath now looks like little more than a buffed-out “David?”
If that flew over your head, here is my point. There simply aren’t many Goliaths left in college basketball. And that being the case, the great upset – St Joes over DePaul, Indiana over UNC, Arizona over Kansas – is really a thing of the past.
So why are they still watching? This is my conundrum. I presume it is because the casual fan just doesn’t know any better. And that fan still thinks there is a wide divide between a four seed and a twelve seed. Or better yet, a mile-wide gulf dividing a 2010 Butler (#5 seed) from a top seed like the Syracuse Orangemen.
Folks, those divides just don’t exist anymore. In part, that is because the NCAA tourney is a 22 & Under tournament where forty-four of the fifty best “under 23s” aren’t eligible to play. As such, college basketball is missing its difference makers. The guys who turn good teams into bullies. And bullies into historic teams.
Regretfully, this means College Basketball in 2011 no longer features teams like the 1981 DePaul Blue Demons or the 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels or the 1991 Runnin Rebs or even the 1997 Kansas Jayhawks. Those were goliaths. Eight foot tall hulks that could manhandle common folk. And right behind them were plenty of teams stacked with excellent upperclassmen. When teams like these fell, you could feel the earth shake.
Today, the Goliaths are 6’7 and may weigh 225 pounds on a good day. Sure, an occasional heavyweight will show up from time to time. The 2009 Tar Heels and the 2007 Florida Gators are good examples. But by and large, College Basketball’s aristocracy, particularly behind the top two or three teams, has been thinned over the past decade. So much so that there is not really a huge difference anymore between the sixth ranked team in the country and the twenty-fifth ranked. And hardly any difference at all between the 20th best team and the 40th best.
But that fact is lost on the masses that still oooh and aagh when they see a Butler beat a Syracuse or a Cornell beat a Wisconsin. That is because some people are still operating under the assumption that traditional powers still have great players. Sorry, but they don’t. They have good players. And usually more good players than their opponent. But the gulf has been narrowing for years. And today, it is a gulf that can be easily navigated.
Just a hunch, but I suspect we will see a lot of that this year as parity has broken out to a new high this season. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see a lot of daylight between these three seeds and these six seeds. And certainly not enough where my jaw will drop on Saturday if I see a seven take out a two. Not these twos, that is for sure.
So I guess the question I have is the following … is there a chance that interest in the NCAAs will wane down the road as people figure out that Goliath is often a punk? A punk that runs for help the moment a seven seed drops a ten point spurt on them? Personally, I liked the tourney more when it meant something to knock the big guy out. Unfortunately, there aren’t many big guys still around to slay.