Regrets, I’ve had a few. One was not majoring in bracketology as a college student.
If you get in that bracketology field, you only work for a small part of the year, you can change your mind every day, and you can make mistakes without getting fired. Or shot, if you live in the wrong country.
I’m not belittling the Joe Lunardis and Jerry Palms of the world, though, because they’ve hit on something that pushes peoples’ buttons. That’s what it takes to prosper in this brave new world. The daily shifting of teams into seeds and matchups in mock NCAA tournament brackets stirs up just about anyone who cares about college basketball.
The brackets released by the NCAA’s selection committee on Sunday will only be a sort-of facsimile of projections made today. But bracketology is the National Enquirer of college sports. It’s titillating. When I saw someone had slotted Larry Eustachy’s Colorado State team against Iowa State in a 6-11 matchup, my mouth automatically curled into a smile.
And if Iowa could do enough in the Big Ten tourney to move into the Field of 68 and end up in the same pod as, say, Steve Alford’s New Mexico club when the bracket-fillers are making their final projections this weekend? Delicious.
Did I say I’m not belittling the bracket boys? I lied. I love how they will brag about pegging 67 of the 68 teams in the field correctly once the field is announced Sunday. Duh. That’s with all the results completed. It’s like an open-book test. But how many of those 68 will Lunardi, Palm, and company have correct from their brackets of today?
Today’s brackets are like a motel off the Interstate. The rooms will have almost entirely different people in them next Sunday night than they do tonight.
That said, there are valid reasons for why teams are slotted where they are or aren’t today. Monday morning, I stood on the bank of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids to look half-amazed and half-worried at an ice floe. Hey, I like nature.
A stranger, presumably there for the same reason, struck up a conversation. He asked how Illinois and Minnesota could be projected for the NCAAs and not Iowa, when those two teams finished behind the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten standings.
My response to the gentleman was this: “The only people whose opinions matter are those on the NCAA’s selection committee.” But I could have added the following:
Yes, Iowa is 9-9 in the Big Ten while Illinois and Minnesota are 8-10. But Illinois has beaten both Gonzaga and Indiana, and beat the Zags in Spokane. Minnesota’s nonconference schedule was much-meatier than Iowa’s.
The Gophers beat NCAA-bound Memphis, played Duke, beat Stanford and Florida State of major conferences, and defeated possible NCAA tourney teams North Dakota State and South Dakota State. The latter won at New Mexico.
But you can get lost in this stuff, and can tilt opinions any way you want with any facts or opinions you want. You know, like political talk shows.
How you finish a season supposedly matters to the selection committee. Well, Minnesota went 3-6 in the second-half of the Big Ten season. That’s not good.
Illinois dropped three of its last four games. What I really can’t get past is this: It lost to Northwestern in January. At home. By 14 points.
But like I said, the Illini beat Gonzaga and Indiana. Who else in America has picked off two teams of that caliber? The best opponent Iowa beat is, in my opinion, Iowa State. I’d take the Cyclones over Wisconsin or Illinois on a neutral court.
The Hawkeyes’ best road win was against, uh, take your pick. Northwestern or Penn State.
This week will sort most of this stuff out. If the Hawkeyes beat Northwestern and Michigan State in the Big Ten tourney, I think they get lifted into the NCAAs. If they only beat Northwestern and lose a close battle with MSU, don’t assume anything just because the bracketologists say so. The tournament committee will take playing 19 or 20 games against Big Ten teams very seriously.
And remember this: Few bracketologists had Virginia Commonwealth getting an at-large berth in the 2011 NCAAs, but they did. Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale of ESPN thought it was an outrage. Then the Rams won their “First Four” game and four more after that to reach the Final Four.
This stuff is bracketology, not science.