It's March, and the madness of the season has overtaken me. Thus, I won't be offended if you are about to click back to Twitter, or your RSS reader.I'll start by not wasting anyone's time complaining about this year's tournament pairings. That path is well-traveled.1 And well it should be! The pairings are outrageous! Kansas was punished! Kentucky, Duke, and Syracuse — they've all got golden tickets to Indianapolis. Right? Right?
For starters, I'm glad I'm not Kentucky
For so many reasons. Let's look at the round two match-ups. Texas and Wake Forest have been terrible — horrible — over the past couple of months. But, they're talented, and each could gel for just long enough to beat anyone in the country, including Kentucky. Is this unlikely? Highly. Is it more likely that Cornell will grind their way past Temple, Wisconsin and Kentucky? Perhaps. But indulge me: Texas actually matches up pretty well with Kentucky, size-wise and talent-wise. I think that it's possible that they could get motivated (ever so briefly) to not be embarrassed by them. Am I picking Texas over Kentucky? Maybe not. Texas coach Rick Barnes is never in danger of out-gameplanning anyone. He's never been accused of having his team ready to play, and his teams are always threatening to underperform. Let's not forget this. Still, I wouldn't want to be a Kentucky fan, not in this tournament, or in any lifetime. Because let me be frank: I don't think I could face a world without reading, without literacy. I just don't think I could do it.
Which reminds me, did you hear that Coach K was born in the year of the Ratfaced Bastard?
Eerie, right? Not sure what his astrological sign is, but I'm relatively sure that all the major media figures kiss its ass.
But Duke didn't get an easy road, either
I know, most people say that Duke has the easiest path: a #4 seed in free-fall after its star blew out his knee (Purdue), and a #2 seed that lost six of its last ten (Villanova). I say: Thank you for noticing, world, but look at the #3 seed: Baylor. This team got punished for playing cupcakes early — Hardin Simmons? Texas Arlington? Southern? Hartford? Coach Scott Drew, c'mon. You asked for your cruddy seed. But then Baylor played a tough conference schedule, didn't lose a game by more than 7 points, and they absolutely light it up (119 points per 100 possessions — 5th in the country). Enough about Baylor; Duke may not even get there. Louisville will give Duke everything they can handle in round 2; perhaps more. Rick Pitino v Coach K, in the second round? Fans' brains might explode. Which coach do I hate more? Minds will boggle.
Back to the Wildcats
Kansas State. Are they good enough to reach the Final Four. Yes. Can they beat Syracuse? Quite possibly. How do you beat Syracuse? You punish the zone. And K‑State has two guys who can do this — Pullen and Clemente. What about the glass? Two more guys: Wally Judge and Curtis Kelly. They can hold their own underneath. KenPom has K‑State ranked 5th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage at 40%. They gather 40% of the rebounds on their offensive glass. That's huge. And they play great defense. Did I mention I wouldn't want to be Syracuse? I wouldn't. Especially because a big guy might be hurt. Or, he might not be. March madness, baybee!
The team that will break my heart: Cornell
Every year I pick a team like this. They're good. They play under control. They've got a system. All the ingredients are there for surprise. Subtext: They played very well against Kansas. Okay, let's face it, they out-played Kansas for 20–25 minutes in the hallowed hall of Lawrence, and they came up short (barely). Texas A&M, Baylor, Colorado, Kansas State and Memphis also played very well against the Hawks, and lost. Subtext: I also have these teams doing well in the tournament. Caveat! Anyway, every year, I pick a team like this to get out of the first round, and they lay an egg. I'm looking at you, Butler team of 2008. This year's heartbreaker is especially obvious to avoid because Temple is a good team who could easily … force the aforementioned egg? To emerge? Anyway, Temple is a great defensive team, though you wouldn't have been able to see any evidence of that against … Kansas! Yes, they lost to the Jayhawks at home. By 32 points.Did I mention that this bracket breakdown was from the point of view who has watched 34 Kansas games, and roughly 20 total other games. Caveat!1 I will offer one suggestion: Why not just factor their media desirability into the RPI? Your team's winning percentage x their opponent's winning percentage x their opponents' opponents' winning percentage x the likelihood that your team will draw a large, rich audience to the Final Four weekend equals their seed. It's obviously a factor in every year's bracket. Last year, North Carolina was invited to do the Tennessee Waltz all the way to Detroit. In other words, they had it easy. In other news, the nation loves them some Tar Heels. It's worth mentioning that advertisers tend to pay more when the Heels are playing. And of course CBS is for-profit enterprise. You get the point. We all do. It's time to be up-front about it.Okay, wait. One more thing. I will post something about the absurd lopsidedness of the pairings:
You want to make marginal No. 1 Duke's road that easy? Seeding the bracket is tough, but come on. The South reeks of a committee that lost the forest for the trees, and Kentucky, Syracuse and Kansas — especially Kansas — will suffer. So much for being the overall No. 1. If we can't reward Kansas for its excellence with something better than this, then the anti-expansion folks' main point is officially moot. The regular season doesn't matter.