I thought I would mix things up a bit this year in my bracket. I saw all my family members picking Kentucky or North Carolina to win it all with a couple of lower seeds making it to the Elite Eight. I thought after all the tumult of the last two seasons things in March Madness would start to return to the norm this season. To separate myself from the fans of pure chalk I decided I would go with Missouri as my dark horse to win it all. I say that because my bracket has been dead for so long I think it gives me enough context to say that this has been one of the most mundane tournaments since the all- #1 seed Final Four of 2008, without many more opportunities for teams to make it truly compelling.
Of course there are a lot of ways to consider what is “compelling.” Some would say seeing the “best” teams play in the Final Four is compelling because there is higher quality basketball. Well if we watched sports simply to watch the highest quality of play we would throw our hands up when the Orioles beat the clearly superior Red Sox on the last day of the regular season to knock them out of the postseason. In fact, how do we define quality except by who wins the game? I am sure that some Ivy League teams play more sound, disciplined, and refined basketball than the Kentuckys of the world, but Kentucky makes up for it by having simply incredible athletes.
Sure, Ohio (13 seed) made it to the Sweet Sixteen and was a missed free throw away from forcing a decisive possession from UNC. Louisville is playing the part of 2011 UConn, making their run from the Big East Tournament, and their win over offensively challenged and overachieving Michigan State can hardly be called a true upset. Even Duke (and I suppose in retrospect Missouri) was never really the best team in the country after they were stomped by North Carolina in the regular season’s second meeting.
All in all what are we left with? High seeds from name programs with the exception of perhaps Baylor (though they have some history in basketball). I don’t count Florida since Billy Donovan is not far removed from his own set of championships. The second day of the tournament was great for upsets and compelling stories, but those stories have petered out. And that’s what this tournament is missing for me: stories.
There may be a UConn (Louisville) but there isn’t a Kemba Walker to awe at as he raises his play to a brand new level. There isn’t a new exciting coach who is making his first foray deep into the tournament. There isn’t an upstart team proving that it belongs among the elite. So-called purists will lambast me for this, but sports is just more interesting with the stories to tie them together. Those who disagree may want to ask themselves how much they stick around for ESPN’s stories about Manning, Tebow, or the rest of the 95% of coverage that has nothing to do with the game on the field. Heck, we follow players tweets, read articles about what management might be thinking, etc. If we really only cared about the play on the field we would wait until moves are actually made to consider the impact on the game itself. But we love the theatre.
And I suppose we are missing some theatre this year. Sure, a Kansas/Kentucky or Louisville/Syracuse matchup would be a great game from a basketball standpoint, but in either case a great team gets another banner and a great coach gets another ring. Give me the comeback story, the underdog, the true Madness that makes March so special.