I love Cinderella stories in college basketball. I loved Butler last year making it within one unlucky bounce away from a national championship, or George Mason shocking a loaded Connecticut team after already beating Michigan St and UNC (those are three of the six or seven best programs of the deacde) in 2006. I loved Steph Curry leading a Davidson team to the Elite Eight and giving the eventual national champion their toughest game until the Championship game. I love all of those amazing runs, and seeing little schools do well.
That said, I do not love the developments of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at all.
There is a difference between enjoying the run of a cinderella story and seeing March hijacked by one and in this case two. I like my cinderella's, but I just don't like them playing into the April portion of March Madness. Have your fun, but at the end of the day, just go away fighting and let the best teams really fight it out. I didn't have a real problem with Butler last year making it to the Final game, mainly because they were not a cinderella. They were in excellent team, in the top-10 of the AP polls late in the season; they had the major cast members of this year's Final 4 team, but add a great defensive player and a NBA lottery pick. I wouldn't have had a problem if San Diego St. or BYU made it to the Final 4, as they were great teams. I even don't have a real problem with Butler if they came solo, but add that to VCU, and it makes it ridiculous. Midnight has to strike at some point, and I would love it if it struck a little earlier.
At first, I loved that three of the four top seeds were gone before the Elite 8. It was at first interesting, funny, and led to basically everyone's bracket getting beaten with a club. What helped was that two of the games that featured one seeds going down were great quality performances. Arizona played amazing over the last 20 minutes, reminiscent of Kansas' emasculation of UNC in the 2008 Semifinal (more on the Jayhawks later). Kentucky played amazing, shutting down OSU in a way I thought impossible.
However, the lack of one seeds made me realize then and there that the great play portion of the tournament was now over. We might have drama. We might have great finishes, and overtimes, but not great play. Having all four number one seeds gone makes it even worse. No matter what anyone says, having the best teams actually playing in the Final 4 does make it better. Remember 2006? The last year that no one seed made the Final 4, the year that featured VCU's conference colleague George Mason, but probably was the least watched Final 4 and least memorable ever. For those who remembered, that was the year that LSU made the Final 4 (anyone remember two players on that team?). That was the year that a three seed (Florida) won the title. That was the year that March Madness went out with a large thud. The same thing will happen this year. It will be fun at first to watch an 11 seed take on an 8 seed, but when the game turns into a glorified 3-pt contest, it will stop being cute and be mostly unsatisfying.
It is hard to defend the postseason system in College Football, but at least the BCS will always give us a satisfying matchup in the National Championship Game. It will inevitably lead to arguments over why another team isn't included, but usually the two participants are among the best in the country, and have proven it over the length of the college football season. The matchups always feature highly ranked teams, and in general, the games are usually very good, especially since they fixed the BCS after the LSU-USC-Oklahoma mess in 2003. Even if the BCS is killed and a playoff system is initiated, it will be most likely capped at 8 teams, producing the eight best teams in the nation. Making it 65 (and now 68) really bastardizes the regular season. It is just way too many teams to make a single-elimination format effective, and essentially makes the entire regular season meaningless. VCU did little to make the tournament. Kansas did everything. What exactly did that give Kansas?
I'm not saying March Madness is broken, because it is not. In fact, with the addition of the new channels it is shown on so as to allow us all to watch any game we want, it is better than ever. I'm just saying that having two "cinderella's" make the Final 4 doesn't make March Madness better. In fact, it makes the third weekend of March Madness, which should be the best, most important weekend, worse. It takes the teams that play the best basketball out of the tournament, and leaves it with nice storylines and little substance. Cinderella is a great story, but midnight strikes before the ball is over. March Madness is better off if it were no different.
I hate how this loss to VCU is becoming another opportunity to reassess Bill Self's coaching and tenure at Kansas. I did write last week that I think he is an exceedingly good coach, and I stand by it, despite this being the fourth time in his Kansas tenure he has been knocked out by a team seeded 9 or worse. Yes, he lost back-to-back years as a 3 and 4 seed in the first round, and yes he has lost two years in a row before the Final 4 as a 32-2 one seed entering the tournament. However, this is more about him coaching up teams in the regular season. Kansas is a blue-blood program, and he has good players, but he doesn't have great players. He has never had a Kemba Walker, or even an Emeka Okafor, or Deron Williams. He's coached only three lottery picks in his time at Kansas, and has never coached a player who was drafted in the top-10, an amazing stat for a program that has been so consistently successful in the decade. He's had good players, but fallible ones. Also, every program has lost their fair share of bad games. Mike Krzyzeswki coached teams from 2005-2009 that were seeded 1,1,6,2,2 in their region, and never made it to the Final 4, and never even made it to the Elite 8, always losing to a lower ranked team, including a 24 point loss to Villanova in the 2009 Sweet 16. Roy Williams lost to George Mason at UNC. Every program has bad losses. Kansas' problem is that their bad losses happen to less-than teams.
Bill Self is notorious for losing to low ranked teams, but that discounts his record against highly-ranked teams. The one year he did win the title? He had to beat a one seed in the semifinal (let alone embarrass one in the proccess) and then beat another one seed in the championship game. Do you know the last time the Champion had to beat two #1 seeds in the Final 4? Arizona, in 1997. Bill Self also seems to have a problem in Elite 8 games, with a record of 1-3 at Kansas in that round (he won the championship the year he did get that "1"), but his record in the Sweet 16 is pristine, and Elite 8 games are about as hard to win as the games in the third weekend.
He's not an amazing coach. He's not Coach K. But he's also not the best of recruiters, and that might have something to do with him running a squeaky-clean program and once recruiting a one-and-done player (Xavier Henry). Only Duke has done as much with less-than-amazing talent (the talent that John Calipari has always had, or Roy Williams), and until 2009, Coach K achieved less than Bill for a long period of time (especially considering the 1999-2001 Duke teams were loaded with NBA talent, especially the 2001 title team). Bill Self will probably get ridiculed, but it is not his fault his team missed open shot after open shot. VCU didn't really contest many of Kansas' three-point shots, and obviously didn't defence their free throws, and Kansas was abhorrent at both. Not Self's fault. They defended VCU well enough to win, and defended them better than even Florida St, the nations best FG% defense, did the round earlier. It is hard to defend him, because the losses are there, but he's also accomplished a lot, among them, winning a title. I hope he doesn't have a 32-2 season next year, because honestly, it sets the expecations higher than a team of that talent should have. The 2010-11 Jayhawks weren't 32-2 good. They really weren't. They fooled me. They didn't fool VCU, though.