The Madness Before the Madness
We have now entered this crazy four-day span designated for bracket filling. It’s also the week for number crunching, office trash-talking, alma-mater cheering, upset-picking, and bracket busting. The NCAA Tournament begins this Thursday and the amazing thing about ‘The Tourney’ is that it encapsulates everything sports’ fans love about the gladiator themed soap opera of sports into a single word: madness. The madness is coming, but allow me to suggest for a moment that with THIS college basketball season, the madness has been here since way before March. From the haphazard rise and fall of the AP Top 25 ranked teams throughout the season, to the FBI investigating just about half of all the big name schools around the nation, to the bubble madness that occurred with ASU and Oklahoma just last Sunday, it is clear to me that the madness started much earlier this season.
If you are a fan of the Arizona Wildcats as I am, or if you’re afraid of roller coasters, I highly suggest you skip this paragraph because it will be covering the biggest movers in the AP Top 25 and you could legitimately get motion sickness from following the ups and downs of the ranks this year, especially the rank of the University of Arizona. Allow me to summarize my team’s season as briefly as possible: they start out ranked #3 in the country with a returning star duo of Alonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, and in addition to that the U of A somehow (FBI is going to tell us exactly how eventually) also lands the best prospect in the country, DeAndre Ayton. Wow, they have to be a Top 5 team in the country, right? Oh yeah, definitely, for 3 weeks… then they drop three straight games in the Bahamas, Ayton’s home country, and not only do they lose, they lose BAD. They lose so bad, that they drop out of the Top 25 completely for week 4. With all of their talent, they drop from ranked #2 in the country to unranked in one week which has NEVER happened since the AP switched to ranking the Top 25 teams in 1990, and at the end of the season the Cats only managed to claw back to #15. Luckily for me, the madness of the AP Top 25 rankings this year is not limited to Zona’s ill-famed performance. The biggest disappointment by the numbers was USC. They were ranked #10 in the country before the season, and they didn’t even end up making it to the Tournament. Some people, especially their fans, feel this is an injustice… I’ll get to that later. The biggest surprise of the Top 25 is Michigan who started out unranked, but finished the season as the #7 ranked team in the nation. Some of you may now know Michigan as your “sneaky final four pick” but you never would have said that before the season. Lastly, the roller coaster season with the most roller coaster-esque ending belongs to North Carolina. The Tar Heels started out ranked #9 in the country, they were up as high as #7 and down as low as #21, but at the end of the year they finished #10. Have to give the AP rankers some credit, they got pretty close to right on the money this year wayyyy back in November, and if the AP rankers getting something right isn’t madness then I don’t know what is. Except, maybe one thing is crazier; like every big-name NCAA basketball program in the country getting investigated by the FBI.
I’m sure by now most of you have heard what’s happening with the FBI and the NCAA, but if you haven’t heard and you’re in a bracket for the first time I highly advise putting Vacated vs. Vacated in the Championship and claiming Vacated will win it all. I can’t promise you that you’ll win your league on ESPN, but I have a feeling you will have picked the right winner and can come back to Todd in Accounting for your winnings in about a year or so. Now you may be thinking, “Come on man, don’t be so hyperbolic, there’s no way every team with a shot to win the Tournament is under investigation.” And you’re right! Not every team with a chance to win is under investigation, it’s only: Arizona, Duke, Virginia, Villanova, Michigan State, North Carolina, Xavier, Kansas, Kentucky, Clemson, Auburn, Alabama, Creighton, NC State, Wichita State, and Texas! So, if you don’t pick any of those teams to be in the finals, note all four #1 seeds are in that list and two out of four of the #2 seeds, then you should be fine. All of you who have Cincinnati vs Purdue in the finals must be feeling pretty good right now. In all seriousness though, this investigation by the FBI is about to take the elephant out of the NCAA athlete’s suspiciously luxurious dorm room and put it on center stage. The fallout of this could be similar to the impact the steroid era had in baseball, and the NCAA knows it, that’s why they have already proposed allowing athletes to make money off of their own likeness by receiving sponsorship money while in school. The one and done rule, aka the rule that requires players to play one year in college before going to the NBA, is the real enemy here. It was sold to the public as a move to improve the education of young athletes when in reality, the one and done rule is a cyclical monopoly for the NCAA. They get to have all of the up and coming NBA talent every year, sell the jerseys and likeness of those talented players, and get that sweet, sweet TV deal money all under the guise of “improving education” while the athletes who worked their asses off to be as great as they are in order to support themselves and their families have to make shady deals with Universities in order to “survive” a year of college basketball before they can go do what they really want to do. The worst part is, the NCAA won’t take the fall for any of this. The schools will, the coaches who love their players and the players who love the game of basketball will take the blame for the “steroid-era” of college basketball and THAT, is fucking madness.
Lastly for this long-winded article, is the topic of the bubble teams this year. A ton of attention has been put on the fact that ASU and Oklahoma got into the Tournament, while USC and Oklahoma State did not. If you are a U of A fan, you may have wondered why I didn’t mention ASU in the “biggest movers in ranking” section of this article. I had my reasons. First, talking about ASU and especially typing their letters makes me legitimately nauseous and second, their up and down season is exactly why they deserve to be in over USC. ASU, as much as I loathe them, beat Kansas in Kansas. They also beat Xavier in a neutral location. That’s two of the #1 seeds in the Tournament! USC’s best win was what, Vanderbilt in a neutral location? Pac 12 games? I love the Pac 12, but it is not a power house like the Big 12 or the ACC, not right now anyway. So, as much as it pains me to say it, people claiming USC deserves to be in over ASU, is madness. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma did have some great wins, beating Kansas and Texas Tech early in the season in Oklahoma, but since the start of February they are 2-8. In that same time span Oklahoma State may not have the best record, 6-6, but they swept Kansas in their regular season series, beating them twice. OSU is the only team to manage that in the Bill Self era at Kansas, AND they beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament on a neutral court. Unfortunately, the decision to put Oklahoma in the Tournament and keep Oklahoma State out isn’t madness, it’s business. The NCAA wants Oklahoma freshmen phenome, Trae Young, playing in the national spotlight for a few more weeks. They can only make money off his talent for a little while longer before he escapes and goes to play in the NBA, it’s as simple and as maddening as that.
In conclusion, I hope you have enjoyed the madness of this article and this college basketball season, I know I have. I picked on the NCAA a lot in this article, and that’s because they are corrupt and deceitful to the public and the student athletes they are supposed to support in many ways, but I have to admit, they do know how to put on one hell of a tournament. To anyone that has read this far I hope your brackets go unbusted, I hope your upsets don’t upset you, and most of all I hope you enjoy the glorious madness of these next three weeks.