Saturday, April 2, 2016

Why Syracuse Doesn't Deserve the Final Four

I've had this post on my mind for a while, but with the Final Four upon us, it's time. When Syracuse were included in this year's conference field, a minor uproar occurred: how could this team, 9th in the ACC at 9-9, have made it over much more deserving mid-major teams?

For some, the fact that the Orange have made it to the Final Four justified their selection. How can you say they weren't one of the nation's 64 best teams when they're still here, 3 weekends later? That argument is a straw man to me. Here's why Syracuse doesn't deserve the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

The point of the NCAA tournament is not to crown the nation's best team. The purpose is to reward teams for good seasons and entertain the fans with a crazy, unpredictable single-elimination bracket of insanity. It's called March Madness for a reason. If the purpose were to crown the best team, there would be no single elimination, the field would be much smaller, and we'd have 3 or 5 game series instead. Underdogs can get hot and win a game; it's much harder for an inferior team to win 2, or 3 games. 

That's why Syracuse making the Final Four doesn't settle anything for me. Sure, they got lucky and won a few games in a row; that doesn't mean they were better than any of the teams they beat on the way. If anything, they're only here because Michigan State stubbed their toes in the first round. That doesn't justify their inclusion in the tournament, it just shows how seeding doesn't matter and anybody can make a run - again, it's called March Madness for a reason. This isn't the NBA where talent almost always wins. 

I once worked with a guy who played D1 ball at a mid major. I've learned more about playing basketball from him than anyone else. A few years ago, when the first round came to SLC, we scored some tickets to the first weekend. We sat in the University of New Mexico family section and watched as the Lobos, a 5 seed, lost to Harvard because Steve Alford refused to adjust to the Crimson small-ball. Ok, I'm still a bit bitter about that last point.

One thing my friend said to me after the game: those guys in the locker room must be hurting. Their season just ended. For some, including the guys that gave us tickets, their college basketball career just concluded. That sucks. Not that they won't have better moments in their life - a couple of them are teammates on an NBA team. But this was a special moment, a special bond, a band of brothers, now it's over. 

That's why it matters who is selected to be part of the tournament field. These guys have to want it, to respect that truth that after this tournament, their season is over. They should have to work for it over the summer, through the long season, and finally, in March. Only teams that cherish that, that play their whole season to make it, deserve to be included. To me, the Orange made a mockery of their regular season. They showed through 18 conference games that they just didn't care enough. They didn't want it. And that's why they shouldn't be in this tournament. 

I can't believe, as a Duke fan, that I'd admit this: I hope the Tarheels beat the socks off the Orange tonight

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