This year's NCAA champ won't be best team
Sorry, UConn, Kentucky, VCU and Butler, but basketball's superior teams are at home
A general view of the exterior of Reliant Stadium. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images / March 31, 2011)
In that spirit, someone should start a bonfire outside Reliant Stadium now. The Final Four will produce a tournament champion, but it won't reveal college basketball's best team, and it's not close. It's a carnival of arbitrary contenders who would happily flambé large chunks of the previous four or five months.
I love the NCAA tournament. I love the Final Four. I can't stand this Final Four.
It's too much a farce to be a national championship, the brackets choked with so much randomness that the tournament is almost a caricature of itself.
At its best, it is the last great gauntlet, a worthy champion typically squeezing through. At least one No. 1 seed survived into 10 of the previous 11 Final Fours, winning eight times. None of the previous 11 tournaments featured a Final Four without at least one No. 2 seed or better.
Maybe one low seed enlivens the party every now and then. No problem. The system generally works.
This? This is a Monty Python sketch.
What you want from your NCAA tournament is, obviously, a matter of interpretation and taste. CBS reports ratings are up from the 2010 tournament by 13 percent. It's the most-watched tournament since 2005, the network says. Clearly, fans aren't turned off by anarchy, aren't aghast at an order of (Toby) Veal.
And that's fine. And maybe it's the sharpest reflection of a season with few dominant teams, if any. On the state of college basketball, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said Monday that "everybody can beat everybody."
But even in a season of ordinary, some teams are super-ordinary. And an event that intends to produce a national champion — in one humble, likely grumpy and possibly batty opinion — by extension intends to brand the winner the best team in the land.
So the best team doesn't always win. Since they began tracking these things, just one overall No. 1 seed has won the tournament. But a really, really good team with a legitimate argument for "best team" status almost always wins. Only two of the last 11 national champions landed outside the top seven in the final Associated Press pre-tournament poll.
Connecticut and Kentucky are close, coming in ranked No. 9 and No. 11, respectively. The Huskies have Kemba Walker and invigorating young talent. And the Wildcats have NBA talent and one loss, in overtime, since Feb. 12. But Kentucky also had the third-best conference record in the SEC. Connecticut finished .500 in the Big East.
One of those teams, or VCU or Butler, will win the national title. And, undoubtedly, people will watch and cheer in droves. And it will be almost impossible to argue with a straight face that the winner is the best team in the country.
It's a blip, a malfunction in an otherwise satisfactory system. The teams in this Final Four deserve to be there, absolutely. But they deserve it because they succeeded in a specific format, not because they're the pinnacle of what college basketball offered. It's a less-than group for a less-than showcase.
"May the best team win," Calhoun said, "and it doesn't need to have pedigree attached to it."
The best team won't win. It might not even be close.
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