The NCAAs: It’s about Ball Not Branding

Davidson's Stephen Curry, facing camera, hugs teammate William ...
When will I learn? When will I learn that branding in college basketball means almost nothing? Two of my final four teams – UConn and Georgetown – are already out because I fell for the campaign. I fell for the marketing folks, particularly those in the Big East conference, who told anyone who’d listen (and many who tried to turn the other ear) that they were the best conference in the nation and that they deserved, what was it?, a gazillion invites to the NCAA Tournament.
I thought UConn, after a first-round upset in the Big East tourney, would rebound and be rested and ready to play when it really mattered. Instead, the NO. 4-seed Huskies got neutered by 13th-seeded San Diego in the opening round. Georgetown ran into the team that just may be this year’s George Mason, 10th-seeded Davidson, led by a darling of a sophomore sharp-shooter Stephen Curry, the son of 16-year NBA veteran Dell Curry.
Then there’s Duke, which hasn’t been “Duke” since the Grant Hill-Christian Leattner days. Mike Krzyzskyski is a brilliant coach – he’s a brand: Coach K – so the prevailing view is that any team of his should at least be in the national championship conversation. Not any more. Not even close. Their second-round loss to West Virginia, a No.-7 seed,was all but a fait accompli.
How could the Dookies have been a No. 2 seed? Since 2001, they’ve been 5-7 in the NCAAs. “We don’t care that they’re Duke,” said Mountaineer forward Joe Alexander following their 73-67.
So why do we? Why do we care that they’re Duke or that UConn is UConn? Or Georgetown is Georgetown?
One reason is because throughout the regular season, we’re simply not allowed to see anything else. Unless you’re a college hoops junkie and suscribe to some service that allows you to see Butler, Davidson, San Diego, Western Kentucky and their ilk on a regular basis, how do you really know how good they are?
You can’t. No matter how much they win, they’re the proverbial tree falling in the woods to most of us. And we then diminish their victories because they come at the expense of other schools of like invisibility.
What’s the tournament committee’s excuse? They sequester themselves for hours pouring over reams of data and then come out and intelligently explain to us just why every team is seeded the way it is. Then we watch their predictions renendered as meaningful as a chicken’s predictions. Maybe they don’t see Davidson or Butler or San Diego, either.
If I were a conspiracy theorist I’d say this is just how the committee wants it. I’d say they plant the brackets with teams they know full well are capable up chopping down a big-brand school. Why would they do that? Ratings. The Madness of March is fueled by “moments,” interest beyond hard-core fans is driven by the existence of upsets and Cinderellas.
Remember how bored we all were after Thursday when the chalk essentially prevailed? A full week of that was the committee’s most fearsome nightmare. That’s what I’d say if I was a conspiracist.
But the committee’s not that smart.
As I’ve said before, it should stop fooling itself – and us. And stop pretending it can actually seed 64 teams. It should seed only the top eight in each region then draw the others at random. Oh, there’ll still be upsets. Cinderella will still get her paparazzi moments. CBS wills till get its ratimngs.
But at least we won’t all look like idiots – or like we believe the Madison Ave branding of college hoops is really true.

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