NCAA Final Four: Tournament Letdown or Madness as Usual?

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NCAA Final Four: Tournament Letdown or Madness as Usual?

As a long-range jumper fell hard off the iron, so too did the last underdog of this season. 

Davidson, the best and last Cinderella of the 2008 NCAA tournament, can take solace in one hell of a run, but ultimately took the route of every other under-seed, all of whom are on their way home. 

The top seeds have held, and we now find ourselves in the unusual position of spectacular normalcy. For the first time in tournament history, there will be no legitimate heir the underdog throne. Join me while I ponder the implications.

Did we get cheated?

This was the first thought that popped into my head. As one who takes great joy in the tournament every year, I've come to expect the unexpected. I've come to expect that my bracket will be as flimsy as Swiss cheese after the first weekend, but that I still might have a chance given the sorry state of everyone else's. 

I've tried to randomly inject unpredictability into my method and I've tried to carefully consider the numbers. In odd years, I seem to do better than in evens, but I'm realistic enough to admit that when I get it right, I'm largely just lucky.  This always seems to be proven by the random girl who picks the names she likes based on the mascot and then proceeds to kill me. 

But brackets be damned. I love the tournament for its unpredictability and for its democratic means of determining a champion. It's simple: Win the tournament, win the title. 

I like the tournament because it exposes the pundits as blowhards unworthy of any influence over the final outcome. I like the tournament because it's not the BCS. And so when I see those top seeds validated, it's almost like we didn't need to play; that the pundits were right. 

Did we get cheated? Did the tournament somehow fail? No, it worked. It always works.  That's why we love it.

Spectacular normalcy.

It's worth considering that this has never happened before. Oh, we've seen years when no No. 1s made it (1980, 2006) and years when a No. 11 made it (1986, 2006) and even a year when a No. 8 won it all (1985). 

We've seen spectacular individual performances, and true team efforts that overcame superior talent. But we've never seen this. 

We've never seen the truest test of them all. Critics of the tournament like to say the best team doesn't always win it; that in the one-and-done format, it's just a matter of who gets hot at a certain time of the year. This argument has never held much weight with me because I've always felt that getting a top seed was a huge advantage that rewarded the best teams with the best chance of advancing. 

I wonder what they're saying now?  This final four is galvanized.  Based on the thorough beatings administered by Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA this weekend, and by the whole body of KU's work (including eliminating a destiny-charmed Davidson team), I think it's safe to say that the best four teams in the nation are now vying for the national title. 

There can be no flukes. There can be no upsets. There can be no doubt. We have a spectacular group in the final four. I fully expect this to be one of the more exciting finishes ever.

The madness continues.

I suppose that the true problem is that I now don't know who to root for, and I've never encountered this before. I've always had an underdog, or at least MY team. 

Unfortunately, MY team (Michigan State) got some pretty rude treatment at the hands of a Memphis squad who looked like it could found its own NBA franchise. 

That's another reason I love the tournament by the way. It makes it so easy to passionately root for teams other than your own; to find the common ground with a bunch of other dreamers whose teams have lost too; to feel vindicated when the big boys bounce out early. 

But now I need to apply a different metric. Anybody I root for will, in essence, be a favorite. Oh well, when I'm freaking out during a triple-overtime thriller between two athletically-superior squads playing break-neck ball, I'm sure I'll figure it out. 

Amidst my bellows of hope and exasperation, the madness will continue.  

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