National / Sports / April 6, 2011

NCAA title game disappoints basically everyone

One of the issues with commenting on current events in newspapers, such as in the “Embers” column in The Knox Student, is that it’s often difficult to take a unique position on a controversial issue. When we write about the goings-on in Egypt or the bat-excrement craziness of Tea Party people, I often wonder if we’re just hopping on some other (more prolific) writer’s opinion.

So it seems quite natural, then, that sports editors across the country would demand provocative arguments and columns from their sportswriters. That sort of writing tends to get more hits and more recognition, which benefits the newspapers and their sponsors—I’ll spare you the details of the corporate circle jerk. We all know it by heart.

But it seems that in the Twitter-age (shudder), a certain brand of sportswriter is coming to the fore: those who continually take miserably ill-conceived positions on the story du jour.

I’m not talking about the shit-stirrers—the Jason Whitlocks and Jay Mariottis and Joe Cowleys of the world, the tried-and-true cretins of that trade. I’m talking about folks who come to such unreasonable conclusions that they must only be driven by the desire to see their column re-tweeted with the words “ZOMG WUT?!” attached.

Apologies for the 200-word lead. Damn.

This week, some especially idiotic writers, suggested that, since the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) would never allow the third best team in the Colonial Athletic Association (VCU) to even sniff its title game, or anything close, it’s an inherently better system. Many argued—and rightfully—that Butler and VCU were not two of the top four teams in the country in 2010-2011. So?

The point of the NCAA tournament is not to establish, empirically, who the best team in the country is. The point is to crown a champion through a single elimination tournament which allows teams from every recognized conference in Division I to compete for the title. It’s a simple premise.

If the point was to empirically establish the best team, there would have to be a crazy round-robin with a sample size in the thousands. That’s, of course, impossible.

Also, it should be noted that if Brad Stevens was a football coach (keep in mind that Butler has no football team, but for the sake of this hypothetical let’s just say it does), he would have already fled to a better job, somewhere he might have the opportunity to win “all the Tostitos!” or whatever it is that corporate slug Brent Musberger said.

Some argue, year after year, that the BCS makes the regular season more meaningful, which gives college football the edge over basketball on a season-long basis. I guess that’s possible, though I would attribute that to the fewer games played and the inherent differences between the two sports.

Finally, the Butler-UConn final was not, as some have said, the worst game ever played. For Butler, it was a game lost because of missed shots and a lack of athleticism. They did not set the game back fifty years—rather, they showed what it takes for any team, not just a mid-major, to exceed its potential in the NCAA tournament: incredible coaching and fantastic defense.

As Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr noted during the broadcast on CBS, Butler was, in the first half, in UConn’s shorts. UConn could barely get the ball in bounds under their own basket, as Butler switched on all screens and used the versatility of their big men—mainly Matt Howard and Khyle Marshall—to frustrate the Huskies.

In the end, however, Butler just didn’t have a deep enough bench to maintain that level of intensity. When the less talented reserves hit the floor, the just couldn’t hang with anyone on UConn. They also didn’t make shots.

It was that simple.

And in 15 years, when the NCAA vacates the title because of UConn head coach Jim Calhoun’s numerous rules, um, indiscretions (as he likes to say: “I didn’t cheat, I just broke the rules.”), no one will remember that Shelvin Mack couldn’t get a shot to drop, that Howard disappeared in his last college game, or that fellow big man Andrew Smith proved, once and for all, that any 6’11” kid with two hands and two feet can get a scholarship to play basketball.

Kevin Morris

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