Many have referred to this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament as "bland," claiming it has lacked the dramatic, logic-defying upsets we’ve come to associate with March Madness.
This fact has some validity to it, and yet, my brackets have still suffered.
Though I turned only 23 last week, I consider myself an avid student of the sport's history. I've followed the programs and the coaches. I know the style of play many of the teams use, and how each matches up against others.
I have a basic grip on what's gone down both out-of-conference and in, how squads have fared on the road, and how successful teams have been against other tournament participants. I take these details into account when I make my bracket selections.
And as a result, I've done quite well in previous years' pools, winning two in high school and one in college.
I also take into account what most ardent fans consider to be basic axioms of achieving a strong bracket: Pick one, if not two, 12-seeds over fives; pick at least one 11 over a six, at least two nines over eights, and at least one 10 over a seven. I know that an average of two two-seeds have gotten to the Elite Eight this decade, and always keep in the back of my mind other basic facts like that.
So I followed all of those historical trends in making my bracket this season, and also provided for what I’ve watched on TV this season and the impression actually seeing temas in action left upon me.
Well, it appears I might have overanalyzed these matchups. After all, I currently stand in 20th place out of 61 participants in my office pool, and most of these people know little to nothing about the tournament’s participants.
I've gone off on this tangent because the success of one of this afternoon's participants, Missouri, symbolizes my frustration with much of what's transpired the past couple weeks.
I seem to pick the right seeds to move on, but the wrong teams. Allow me to expound upon why this particular three-seed reaching the Elite Eight boggles my mind.
First, let’s take the “eye test:" Missouri hasn't been relevant since Quin Synder's first couple of years in the early part of the decade. As a result, they flew under the radar for much of the season, even though the Big 12 had a pretty successful year on the whole.
I watched Mizzou a couple times this season, and wasn’t particularly blown away. Yes, Mike Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell" style of play was well publicized, but it reaped few significant results while he coached UAB, aside from a 2006 home victory over Memphis.
Knowledge of that fact was apparently more important than I previously imagined.
Missouri went into the tournament as a No. 3, which was deserved after winning the Big 12 tournament, but was presented with what I saw was a difficult second-round matchup with Marquette (Dominic James' health notwithstanding at the point).
Still, the Tigers went on to win that game 58-57 in a highly controversial result that easily could have gone Marquette's way with a stronger officiating crew.
With that ugly performance, Missouri looked ready to be an afterthought for a streaking Memphis team. These other Tigers were team without a loss in 2009, a team that had just embarrassed a decent ACC squad in Maryland.
Though some may bash C-USA, the fact that a team can win that many games in conference without taking a night off is unbelievable. They aren't playing Ivy League teams, and this isn't the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference here, either. I believe that C-USA rivaled the Missouri Valley Conference this year, the conference the sports media likes to base the term “mid-major” on.
Memphis destroyed the Terps, who had played to their potential by throttling seventh-seeded Cal. And one could argue that Missouri's offensive performance hadn’t been much stronger than that of Maryland in its past few games.
I just didn't believe Missouri's swarming defensive style could disturb Memphis, a team with a starting lineup filled with physical specimens all 6’5” or taller and a coach who can prepare and motivate his team like few other generals in the game.
Yet Coach Cal and Co. could do little to stop Missouri, the same team that put up only 58 points on a Golden Eagles squad with a questionable track record of winning games because of their defense.
I’ll be frank. If you told me coming into the tournament that Missouri would defeat Memphis in the Sweet 16, I would have been shocked.
If you told me they’d win by putting up 102 on Memphis in the Sweet 16, I’d have you admitted to Riker’s Island.
If I'd filled out 10 brackets, I’d have chosen Memphis over Missouri every time. I was stunned; absolutely shell-shocked by Memphis’ inability play any sort of defense, and Missouri’s inability to miss shots—even from half court.
Mizzou played their best game of the year, and Memphis obviously wasn’t prepared for that performance.
Perhaps I need to reconsider just how much I know about this game. Or maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself.
Maybe the naysayers are wrong, and this hasn't been such a bland tournament. I mean, we do still call it "March Madness," and as Missouri has proven to me it's still the most extraordinary three weeks in American sport.
And the best part? We still have eight teams left.