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Just The Sports: Missing the Point

Just The Sports

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Missing the Point

Yoni Cohen is one of many poor, misguided fools who, after the team he picked to win the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament fails to do so, questions whether or not the tournament is really the best way to pick the best college basketball team in the nation. Instead of having the knee-jerk reaction to bash the tournament's format and results, Cohen should have re-addressed what it means to be the "best" team in the nation. Is it the team who wins the most in-conference regular-season games or is it the team who is able to beat very good non-conference teams under the pressure of a single-elimination tournament? Too bad he didn't ask that question before he wrote this article.

Florida, George Mason, LSU, and UCLA aren't the nation's four "best" teams by any reasonable measure.

Except for the fact that Florida has the third most efficient offense in the nation, LSU has the fourth most efficient defense in the nation, and UCLA has the third most efficient defense in the nation.

But you are right about George Mason. And one out of four isn't that bad.

Florida didn't win the Eastern Division in the Southeastern Conference.

Villanova won neither the Big East regular season championship nor the Big East conference tournament championship.

George Mason lost twice to Hofstra after Valentine's Day.

Memphis lost to UAB in March.

LSU is, at best, the 64th best shooting team in America.

It's a good thing that there is more to the game of basketball than shooting then. Like defense, for example, where LSU is the 4th best in the country.

The Bruins fell at Southern California in February.

UConn lost to Syracuse in the the quarterfinals of the Big East conference tournament championship. In UConn's defense, Syracuse did go on to win the conference tournament, only to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament championship.

By any reasonable measure, the four teams headed to Indianapolis are deeply flawed and undeserving of the national championship.

There you go with that reasonable measure again. Did you do no research before you wrote this article? You would be hard pressed to find any team in the country that does not have flaws. Every team has flaws, but it still takes an opponent to expose those deep flaws.

As for the Final Four teams to be undeserving of the national championship, what criteria could you possibly be using? If by undeserving, you mean that these teams were the only four out a field of 64 teams (play-in game loser doesn't count) who were able to win four consecutive games spread across two weekends, then yes they are undeserving.

Maybe we should just give the national championship to UConn or Duke or whoever you picked to win the tournament.

The NCAA tournament's purpose is to crown a national champion, to identify Division I's best and most deserving club.

And that is what it does. Year in and year out.

But not a single one of the regular season's most successful teams — Connecticut, Duke, Memphis, and Villanova — will participate in March's main event. Not one of the clubs whose body of work suggests they are the country's best team navigated the rocky road to the Final Four.

They were the country's best regular-season teams. It's the postseason now, meaning every team has the same record of 0-0 before the tournament starts. If these four teams were really the country's best teams, then all four would have made it to the Final Four. None of them did so stop arguing they were the country's best teams.

All four won at least six consecutive games during the regular season. Duke won 17 straight to start the season. Memphis won 15 straight in January and February. Connecticut and Villanova won 10 and 11 consecutive games respectively to start the season — and again in conference play.

First off, Florida also won 17 straight to start the season. Secondly, we need to debunk this line of thinking once and for all. Whatever a team's success in conference play, in terms of wins and losses, it has no bearing on how well the team will do in the NCAA tournament. The truth is coaches recruit players who will fit in with the way the conference plays basketball. Therefore, when a team has success during the conference season, it simply means that the coaches did a good job of recruiting players who match up best with the other players in the conference. That is why every conference has a different style of playing.

Knowing that makes it easy to see how the NCAA tournament actually does determine who the best team in the nation is. Gone is the familiarity of playing against the same players and coaches coaching against the same coaches twice a season. Instead, the team who wins the NCAA tournament is forced out of their comfort zone and must not only play, but beat teams who play a style that they probably do not see during their regular season.

But because the NCAA tournament is set up for single-elimination and because none was able to win six consecutive games in March, none will compete in the Final Four.

Actually, a team only has to win four consecutive games to compete in the Final Four.

But twice is still twice too many, and an arbitrary champion is hardly better than no champion at all.

Do you even know what arbitrary means? Arbitrary would be if the names of the 65 tournament teams were placed in a hat, which was then shaken up, and then someone picked a name out of the hat and that team was then called the national champion.

Having to win six games in a row is anything but arbitrary.

Scientists believe that for a given experiment's results to be termed valid, that experiment must be possible to replicate.

Then the NCAA tournament champion is as valid as can be since it must replicate (win) six experiments (games) to win the championship.


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