Thursday, February 07, 2013

What to Make of College Basketball (Part 1 of at least 1)

On this eve of buzzer beaters and surprising winners, and yet another #1 team going down, let's talk about the Top 3 in college basketball, shall we? If you've only been paying attention since the Super Bowl, you may well be befuddled by what you are seeing in the Top 25. Or, if you are watching the Saint Mary's vs. Santa Clara tilt (like I am) you may have been surprised to hear the commentators mention in passing that fellow WCC team Gonzaga may well be in the Top 5 by next Monday.

"Hey, Gonzaga is a fine team," you may be thinking, "but Top 5?"

Kelly Olynyk
And you may be thinking that before you even see their player who recently garnered some WCC Player of the Week honors, Kelly Olynyk. "Hey, that guy looks like a giant version of that kid from "'Dazed and Confused'," you might say. Yeah, he does. And, he's fuckin' Canadian. And he's seven feet tall, so you know...that helps.

But I've gotten off track a bit. Let's look at Top 3 teams from various points in the season, and let's state something really obvious that basketball writers can't stop saying: There is no Kentucky of last year. You'll remember Kentucky last year? They had like 6 guys go in the NBA draft, and if you didn't have them in your Final Four last year, you were an idiot.

There is not a single team, right now, that anyone can mock you for excluding from the Final Four, or the Elite 8, and possibly even the Sweet 16. There may not be a single team that you can write down, in ink, as a 2 game winner in the Big Dance. Which is exciting, but undeniably a little odd.

I'm going to focus on the top 3, in general, but let's take a quick look at a team a bit further down in the pre-season poll. UNLV was ranked #18 in the nation as the season began. UNLV is now #5 in the Mountain West at 4-4. I believe, in general, that the Mountain West is good enough to send 3 or 4, or maybe, just maybe 5 teams to the Dance - but certainly UNLV with back-to-back losses to Boise State and Fresno State is not that team. Meanwhile, New Mexico, who received 9 votes in the same preseason poll that gave UNLV 488 votes, is now #15. So, there's the season in a microcosm. But let's look, like I said, at the Top 3.

Preseason Poll: #1 - Indiana  #2 Louisville  #3 Kentucky
Week 2: same.
Week 3: Kentucky drops out, #3 Ohio State
Week 4: Louisville drops out after losing, Ohio St drops without losing. #2 Duke, #3 Michigan
Week 5: same: Indiana, Duke, Michigan
Week 6: same (12/10/12)
Week 7: Duke, Michigan, Syracuse (first appearance for the Orange)
Week 8: Duke, Michigan, Arizona (PAC-10? WHAT?)
Week 9: same (simple: undefeated teams in the ACC, Big 10, and PAC 10. It won't last)
Week 10: Duke, Michigan, Louisville (Louisville supplants Arizona without Arizona losing)
Week 11: In the pre-season poll, 3 teams received votes for #1. For the majority of the weeks between then and this moment, 2 teams received votes for #1. This week? 5 teams. Things aren't getting clarified. They are getting messier. #1 Louisville, #2 Indiana, #3 Duke
Week 12: Duke, Michigan, Kansas
Week 13: Michigan, Kansas, Indiana (this was about the time people starting saying, "Rather than retread the same teams over and over again, how about this super tough Florida team, at #4 that's destroying the SEC and is 16-2, with one of the losses to #8 Arizona?)
Week 14: Indiana, Florida, Michigan -that's where we are now in the ranking system, and spoiler alert: both Indiana and Florida have lost since this poll came out.

If I'm counting right, that's almost a dozen teams that have enjoyed the Top 3 spots. And that's rare. And the Top 25 is even more chaotic, obviously.

My point is this: come March Madness, this is a great year to give your bracket over to your mentally ill grandfather, or your weird 3 year old niece. They've got as great a chance as the professional bracket makers and gamblers and sports reporters. It's a mess, and it's going to be great fun.

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