Parity ensures madness begins well before March


I depart today for Indianapolis, where selected media will gather at NCAA headquarters to take part in an annual mock exercise, where those who select and seed and bracket the country's most popular basketball tournament each March again will walk outsiders through the process.

The activity is said to mimic what the selection committee experiences, including late-night helpings of ice cream, which I'm assuming NCAA attorneys will serve.

You know, to give them a task they can handle.

The mock exercise is designed to educate, perhaps to dispel many of the myths that accompany which teams make the field and what factors are most used in determining those that receive at-large berths.

Which I believe means convincing us Ratings Percentage Index isn't particularly important and that the committee doesn't own this sick sense of humor when it comes to opening-round matchups of coaches and teams with past ties to their opponents.

(Just a guess: The bracket we produce has a great chance of matching UNLV against Oklahoma, which would allow us to witness Dave Rice against Lon Kruger for Most Predictable Quotes of the Tournament honors.)

We are scheduled to have a field bracketed by Friday afternoon.

I'm not sure we will be halfway done by then.

Results have been that crazy this season.

History is pretty clear: To advance in the NCAA Tournament, to live beyond the first week, to make a deep run and flirt with the idea of making a Final Four, you need to be seeded No. 5 or higher come Selection Sunday.

In the past 20 years, just five teams with a No. 6 seed or lower were alive for the season's final weekend.

History might take a big hit this year.

The madness already has begun, with weekly Top 25 polls being the only evidence we need to confirm what we have thought for weeks: This might be the wackiest college basketball season in, well, forever.

I'm one who doesn't believe parity is a curse, that crazy and unpredictable are worse for college basketball than indifferent and inevitable.

I'm a big David guy; not so much for Goliath.

I like the fact that four teams received first-place votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, that there were 18 games in which a ranked team lost a few weeks ago.

That in the past week, six of the nation's top 10 teams fell.

That in the span of three weeks, ranked teams have lost to unranked opponents 36 times.

That in the past month, four teams have held the No. 1 spot.

That a team such as Kansas was ranked second two weeks ago and now is 14th.

That a team such as North Carolina State was ranked sixth to begin the season and picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and now is unranked and in fifth place.

That a team such as Miami (Fla.) was unranked to begin the season and is No. 3 this week, having received 17 first-place votes.

Why is it so many equate equality within the game as something ruining it? Why is it OK to root for the NCAA underdog but only in early rounds? Who suggested it be a majority opinion that we find late-round matchups that include low seeds uninteresting when compared to two college heavyweights battling it out?

You could find 25 to 30 teams that potentially could make the Final Four this season.

What's better than that?

No team is elite. There isn't a Kentucky of 2012 or a North Carolina of 2009 or 2005. Countless good teams are capable of beating several very good ones. No players truly are great. Bad basketball has been played in spots. Teams can't shoot on the road. Injuries have slowed some of the better programs. It's tougher and tougher for top teams to win conference games away from home.

Bottom line: Never in NCAA Tournament history might seeding past second-round games seem as insignificant as it could next month.

"One thing we know about college basketball this year is that we don't know," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told ESPN Radio this week. "We don't know who the No. 1 team is, and I don't think we will know until the last game of the season. Whoever wins that is No. 1.

"You have to go almost 30 games this year to really know who should be the favorites, and yet you wouldn't want to bet those are the ones that will get to the Final Four or win a national championship. It's wide open."

That doesn't have to be a bad thing.

When did uncertainty become so appalling?

Let's hear it for an Indiana State-Creighton national championship game.

It would be the ideal ending to such a wild season.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on "Gridlock," ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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