A few weeks back, in the midst of a particularly satisfying KU game, I told the group of friends I text with during the game that if KU won the Big 12 again this season, they should refuse to play in the NCAA tournament and hang a banner for being regular season national champions.
You may laugh, but there is precedent for that. At least the banner part. In 1975 Indiana went undefeated through the regular season, but lost star Kent Benson late in the year to a broken arm. The Hoosiers then fell to Kentucky in the regional finals. But if you go to Assembly Hall, you will see a large banner that notes the undefeated regular season and proclaims IU the “UPI National Champions” for that year. Since KU finished #1 in the final poll of the regular season, they have a legitimate claim to being National Champions, if you follow Indiana logic.
Anyway, my idea was proclaimed awesome by my buddies. Which says something about the scars that March can leave. Here’s a KU team that lost just four games this season – two of them in overtime – but we’re so afraid of what can happen when you play on a neutral court without the safety net of another game in a few days that we’re ready to chuck the whole tournament.
I’m not thrilled with KU’s draw, but it could be worse. I think Louisville is a very tough 2-seed, but I’ve also seen them look awful at times this year. I’d rather have them than Duke, though. Purdue is one of the teams I wanted to avoid because of Biggie Swanigan and all their size. But the Boilers have often played below their ceiling this year, and they have to beat a red-hot Iowa State team to get to Kansas City anyway. I think it’s kind of garbage that KU might have to play a Big 12 team – the Big 12 tournament champs no less – in the Sweet 16. But I also know KU will be locked in if they get a rematch with the team that ended their home court winning streak last month. Playing the winner of Miami/Michigan State in the round of 32 kind of sucks. That’s probably the toughest 8/9 duo in the tournament, although Wisconsin is the best of all the teams in those two slots and I’m fine missing them. And I don’t understand how Louisville got a much easier path to the Elite 8 than KU did.
But here’s the opinion I’ve come to in recent years: there is no logic to how the brackets get drawn up. Factors that were important one year are forgotten the next. Teams are shifted around at the committee’s whim, sometimes clearly to make interesting matchups rather than to make the best bracket.
I’m starting to come around to the idea that the tournament should be seeded 1–68 and then those teams bracketed based on those seedings alone. Forget location for everyone but the top four teams. Forget conference affiliation. That would seem to make for the fairest bracket, where the current system always seems to create one bracket of death and one that 80% of fans scream about being too easy.
Regardless of what information went into each decision, all you can do is play who is in front of you. And you can’t worry about teams on the opposite side of the bracket until you’ve won a game or two or three. KU’s going to have to beat a good team just to get back to Kansas City for the Sweet 16. Then they’ll have to beat another good team to potentially face a Louisville team that seems designed to give this year’s KU team fits.
Another part of that wanting to skip the NCAA tournament idea was that I’ve loved watching this year’s KU team so much. BIFM became one of my all-time favorites. Josh Jackson is the best freshman to ever play for KU. Landen Lucas has done so much to keep the team afloat. Through injuries and off-the-court issues and recruiting misses that created a couple holes in the roster, this team just kept winning – usually in dramatic fashion – from the second Tuesday in November through the first Saturday of March. But I really, really want them to have three more weeks of basketball in them. Probably more than any KU team in recent memory, I don’t want to say goodbye to this one. The year-end losses always suck and stay with me. But if this team loses before Glendale, it’s going to take even longer for me to get past it.
So I keep telling myself they answered every call this year. They played a tough schedule, and in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and came out with just four losses. What happened last year in Louisville, or the year before in Omaha, or back in 2011 in San Antonio, means nothing to this team’s prospects.
My first-glance Final Four is KU, Carolina, Arizona, Duke. But I will likely amend that before I turn in my pool picks Thursday morning.
Now excuse me while I start pounding various stomach soothing medicines.
Rock Chalk, bitches.