Tourney Talk: One-and-(March Madness is)-done

Daniel Novinson offers the Bootleg faithful a look back at how the NCAA Tournament has played out thus far, including how upsets have all but disappeared, what the Pac-10 did during the first two rounds, and more thoughts on the rest of the Big Dance through one week of action.

Looking Good: Yours Truly, Ba-Chalk Obama, the Big East
Looking Bad: Any underdogs, the Pac-10

Well, I've got to hand it to my fellow analyst, "Michigan Nick." It looks like you can take Michigan out of the Tournament, but I guess you can't take the Tournament out of Michigan. (Not that Mr. CBI over here should be talking.) I've got to hand it to him, he's in the top three of our 20-ish person pool, and, specifically, he was dead-on calling the five seeds overrated.

Ignoring the opening-round 8/9 or 7/10 games, where the "underdog" has won virtually half of the time, we've had all of six upsets in 40 possible games:

First Round (5 of 24 possible upsets)
12 Arizona over 5 Utah
13 Cleveland State over 4 Wake Forest
11 Dayton over 6 West Virginia
12 Western Kentucky over 5 Illinois
12 Wisconsin over 5 Florida State

Second Round (1 of 16 possible upsets)
5 Purdue over 4 Washington

A full half of those upsets were 12s over fives in the opening round, so I have to give Nick his credit. He'll be back soon, breaking down the Sweet 16 matchups with me.

Nick also said the Pac-10 wouldn't fall as hard on its face as I feared, and he was right through Friday, with the nation's original Sun Belt Conference going 5-1 in the opening round. Of course, that's not as impressive as it sounds, as by seeding, the conference should have gone 4-2 in the opening round.

And sure enough, when the Pac-10 should have gone 2-2 on seeding in the Round of 32, they went just 1-3, with only Arizona advancing to the Sweet 16. I don't think anyone confuses Arizona, incredibly fortunate to have made the Tourney, let alone drawn Cleveland State instead of Wake Forest in Round Two, with a legitimate Sweet 16 team, and I have to think Louisville will be a double-digit favorite when that line is posted. That the Wildcats are the only Pac-10 representative left standing tells you everything you need to know about the top of the league. It kills me to say it, but Jay Bilas and friends were right, the computers were wrong and our conference still has no elite teams. At least this year, there was no East Coast bias: ESPN was reflecting reality.

Okay, so 12 seeds did well and the Pac-10 didn't. Who else shone in Week One? I did okay for myself, writing hyperbolically that this could be the first year ever without a single double-digit team making it to the Sweet 16. I didn't know how accurate that'd turn out: Arizona is the only double-digit seed in the field. More depressingly yet, though, every single #1, #2, and #3 seed is alive through the first weekend, along with two fours.

All told then, 14 of the 16 teams remaining are exactly who the Committee projected would be left standing (with team No. 15, #5-seed Purdue, hardly a shocker in place of #4-seed Washington, and Team No. 16, #12-seed Arizona, hardly the Cinderella story of a Vermont or Butler). That is an incredible lack of upsets by historic standards, but sadly, it's becoming quickly par for the course. Let me explain.

TV talking heads blabber all the time about how much more competitive the Tournament grows by the year, but that's an absolute lie. Fittingly, in a year that #1 seeds rung their record against 16s to a perfect 100-0, the implementation of the one-and-done rule has done more than anyone could have possibly imagined to cement the haves and the have-nots in college basketball. NBA-ready high schoolers who would have otherwise gone straight to the big leagues now go overwhelmingly to a dozen or so schools, and if Moreland State wasn't beating the North Carolinas of this world the last fifteen years, there's no way they're doing it now that we're giving Goliath a Kevin Love or Kevin Durant. Don't believe the impact of the NBA's eligibility rule on the NCAA? Look at this:

Year: 2008 Highest Final Four Seed: #1 College Freshmen in Draft's First Round: 10
Year: 2007 Highest Final Four Seed: #2 College Freshmen in Draft's First Round: 8
Year: 2006 Highest Final Four Seed: #11 College Freshmen in Draft's First Round: 2
Year: 2005 Highest Final Four Seed: #5
Year: 2004 Highest Final Four Seed: #3
Year: 2003 Highest Final Four Seed: #3
Year: 2002 Highest Final Four Seed: #5
Year: 2001 Highest Final Four Seed: #3
Year: 2000 Highest Final Four Seed: #8

From 2000-2006, the most surprising Final Four seed was a #3 three years, a #5 two years, an #8 once, and an #11, George Mason, in 2006, when only two college freshmen went in the first round (a transition year, as it was the first season in which the NBA's one-and-done rule was in effect.) Since, we've 18 NBA First-Round caliber college freshmen in the NCAA by NBA mandate, and have had two #1s and two #2s in the 2007 Final Four, all one seeds in the Final Four last year, and looks like we're headed toward a similarly plaid #1#/1#/2/#3 breakdown this year, at the absolute craziest.

Of the 10 freshmen drafted last year, all went to either BCS-conference schools or a small handful of other similarly elite programs (i.e. Memphis), and none to the other nearly 300 schools in the country. Traditional powerhouses like UCLA (Love), Memphis (Derrick Rose), Arizona (Jerryd Bayless), Indiana (Eric Gordon), and Syracuse (Donte Green) got richer off guys only in the NCAA because of the NBA's mandate. These players are polarizing Division I-A basketball, and making the lifeblood of the sport – the George Masons, the Princetons, the pre-dyanstic Gonzagas, the #15 seed that comes out of nowhere, that much more unlikely.

I'm angry because I don't give a hoot about the NBA. So while I don't know or care enough about the league to intelligently argue whether the one-and-done rule is a smart move or not by David Stern, I know this: It's awful for college basketball.

So expect this year's Tournament winners to keep on winning in the future. The Big East, home to more tradition-rich basketball schools than anyone? Their five teams in the Sweet 16 is an amazing stat – but it could be topped in the next three years, if a bumper class of future multimillionaires chooses to make Syracuse or Pitt or UConn or Louisville host to their "NBA redshirt year." Tournaments that go exactly to form, rewarding the timid in your pool who just pick the one and two seeds all the way through? (This year's most flagrant offender? Our President, snarkily called Ba-chalk Obama in human history's first actually funny reader comment on ESPN.com.) Expect a lot more of those too.

The chaos and unpredictability of the Tournament's first weekend has been an amazing show these past ten years. We better savor those memories while we can, because, honestly, I don't know if March will ever be quite as Mad again.


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