So how is that bracket holding up? You know, the one you filled out before the NCAA tournament began?
If you are like most people, your bracket is busted beyond repair as high seed after high seed go cascading out of the draw, sort of like politicians boarding airplanes.
It’s not really all that unprecedented. A lot of these mid-majors do this year after year. How do you explain the Murray States, the Austin Peays, the George Masons, VCUs, Butlers, Maryland-Baltimore Countys of the world. What IS unprecedented is the number of lower seeds taking down the power brokers.
And before we even got started, Duke and Kentucky didn’t even make the draw, so you knew it was going to be a strange tournament.
Oral Roberts took out 2-seed Ohio State in the first round. A 12-seed, Oregon State, excused Tennessee in the first round. North Texas subdued 4-seed Purdue. Ohio, a 13-seed, vanquished 4-seed Virginia. Abilene Christian took down 3-seed Texas and Shaka Smart, the guy Texas hired after firing Rick Barnes. Top seed Illinois is out, taken down by Loyola (Ill.). Oral Roberts knocked out Florida.
Even some of the higher seeds who actually won were pushed. Arkansas comes to mind. By the way, four of the six SEC teams in the draw advanced to the Round of 32. The league has achieved this feat in each of the last four years. No other conference can make that claim.
There is the usual fire-the-coach nonsense percolating after an ignominious tournament loss. Some are even seeking the head of Tennessee coach Barnes. Yes, Tennessee has been somewhat inconsistent during his tenure, but the Vols’ brass would be stupid to fire him. They’d owe him $15 million in a buyout. Call me crazy, I just don’t think Tennessee has the appetite for another buyout.
So what’s the deal? Is it COVID-19 creating this havoc? That’s part of it. Is it the bubble format? That could be a small fraction. More than anything, I really think (and I’ve said this before) that the smaller, mid-major teams have more senior-laden squads. They have the bonds of chemistry that the big boys don’t have. You don’t hear Kentucky or Duke (or Carolina and Kansas for that matter) talk about their senior-stacked clubs. Why? Most of them test the NBA waters after one year.
Veteran teams like Ohio, Oral Roberts and Loyola have teammates who have played together for several years. They’ve weathered storms and have dealt with pressure situations. The talent may not be as good, but the experience they bring is invaluable.
While I do think this year’s results are an anomaly, I see this trend continuing.
And for those of you whose brackets are not busted, may I suggest you buy a lottery ticket?
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on WRJB, 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.