For three weeks every spring, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament dominates the news and consumes the American public. Sadly, as I grow older I find myself more and more immune to this state of hysteria. While most male college students frantically fill out multiple brackets, I completed a rather half-assed bracket in about 15 minutes.
As for the tournament itself, the storylines this year have been lackluster as well. Unlike recent years, there’s no Stephen Curry, no mid-majors in the Sweet Sixteen (excluding Xavier, of course), no George Mason, etc. This weekend, Michigan State, North Carolina, Villanova, and Connecticut will compete in the Final Four. And while many media members will try to push the Spartans as a feel-good team that will rejuvenate and repair the economic resolve of a woebegone Michigan population, the story is a stretch at best.
All things considered, my relative disinterest doesn’t make much sense; men’s college basketball is as healthy as it’s been in recent memory, with NBA rules forcing a talent influx into the college ranks not seen since the early 1990s. Surprisingly, this talent influx has had auxiliary effects that have, to an extent, harmed the entertainment value of the men’s NCAA tournament. Less mid-majors are receiving at-large bids, and parity has leveled off as well (2008 being the best example, as all four one seeds reached the Final Four).
When compared with the women’s tournament, the men look even worse. This year’s women’s tournament has featured an incredibly dominant Connecticut team (perhaps the greatest ever), an intriguing South Dakota State team, and Pat Summit’s Tennessee Lady Vols failing to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the first time ever. Despite this, of course, the women’s tournament is continually ignored and relegated to back page status by the news media. No matter how uninteresting, corrupt, or predictable the men’s game becomes, and no matter how interesting the storylines become on the women’s side, the two will seemingly never receive equitable media coverage — but that is an issue for a future column, I suppose.
Additionally, I’d be remiss to neglect mentioning a more personal reason for my newfound lack of interest in the tournament: the ineptitude of the University of Illinois basketball program. While most schools capitalize and thrive in the wake of magnificent seasons like the Illini’s 2004-05 campaign, Bruce Weber is still searching for his first tournament win in the post-Dee Brown era. After watching Western Kentucky dismantle the Illini in the first round this year, I’ve had little patience for the tournament. If I’ve got no horse in the race, why bother? My heart simply isn’t in it.
So, once again, the men’s Final Four is upon us. I’ll watch the games — perhaps. Either way, the outcome will have little to no effect on me. Why is that? Well, the reasons stated above.
And I picked Memphis to win it all.