Is Instability Atop Rankings Good or Bad for College Basketball?
Even in a sport like college basketball—tethered as it is to "madness" and "Miracles"—one has to marvel at the contagious instability gripping this 2012-13 season.
Indiana's loss to Illinois on Thursday all but assures that we'll have a new AP No. 1 for the fifth consecutive week. But who?
No. 2 Florida got waxed by unranked Arkansas on Tuesday.
Wisconsin toppled No. 3 Michigan thanks in part to a game-tying, half-court heave at the end of regulation.
No. 5 Kansas is the loser of three straight.
I suppose No. 4 Duke will suffice if it can escape the weekend unscathed, although the achievement would feel a bit hollow considering Mike Krzyzewski's team lost by 27 to Miami mere weeks ago.
GIF courtesy of SBNation
This all comes in stark contrast to last season, when Kentucky raced out to an 8-0 start, held the No. 1 ranking for eight consecutive weeks to end the season and closed the deal with a national championship. This year, Kentucky isn't even in the Top 25. Nor are fellow blue bloods North Carolina and UCLA.
Which setup you prefer—orthodoxy versus chaos—is probably a question of personal taste and rooting preference.
Recent TV ratings history would indicate that most viewers prefer anarchy to inevitability. Last year's Kansas-Kentucky final drew nine-percent lower ratings than the 2011 Butler-Connecticut final. This despite the fact that Butler-UConn was a miserable slog of a game and neither participating program commands the national attention of a Kansas or Kentucky.
Apparently, the taut appeal of a potential Wildcats loss couldn't measure up to the presumed competitiveness of a game between two unlikely finalists.
But perhaps comparing two NCAA tournaments to one another is unfair. After all, the 2011-12 season offered fans something this year's slate of games hasn't: relevant, tense, high-level regular-season games.
In a column filed last Saturday for the New York Post, Lenn Robbins acknowledged those fans who say the muddled tone of the college game has dampened their interest in the sport. Robbins wrote:
Yesterday morning began like so many others the last two months, with an email from a reader ranting about the state of college basketball.
The game is down. Way down.
After indulging the pessimism for a while, Robbins ends with a reminder that the February malaise will soon give way to postseason hysteria. And the crazier the regular season, the greater the potential for an equally crazy March.
Or as this Twitter user put it:
There's no dominant team in college basketball this year. Therefore march madness is gonna be MAAAAD this year— Blake Sullivan (@slakebullivan) February 9, 2013
There is truth in both arguments, but perhaps the best takeaway from all this is that college basketball can have it both ways. Not every sport is so lucky.
College football, for instance, demands clarity in order to mask its dysfunction. And on those all-too-frequent occasions when an agreed-upon hierarchy never emerges, the sport has no method of self-correction. No contingency. No resolution.
Instead, the entire BCS apparatus descends into a maelstrom of circular debate as infuriating as it is familiar.
"How can Team X play for the national championship when it lost to Team Y?"
"But Team Y lost to Team Z. And Team Z was coached by Ron Zook. RON ZOOK!!!"
Maybe you like the red-faced rebuttals, but I find, more than anything, they distract from the beauty of what happens on the field.
Not so in college basketball. The rules are set. The rules have no bias. And the rules demand that everything be settled between foes.
No matter how bland or bleak the winter, it can always be redeemed by a March unknown.
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