It's the most wonderful time of the year.
No, I'm not talking about Capital One Bowl Week.
I'm talking about the Big Dance—the one glorious time of the year when Cinderella is allowed to enter the grand ballroom. A ballroom, might I add, that is often filled to maximum capacity with future NBA superstars, scrutinizing scouts, legendary coaches, and ruthlessly unforgiving fans.
Naturally, dancing with college basketball's elites can sometimes prove to be intimidating. Thus, young Cinderella often tends to be rather clumsy in her steps. However, in the rare case where she executes her waltz to perfection, the young maiden assumes a position of everlasting royalty.
Consider the following cases:
Before 1998, 'Valpo' probably could have been mistaken for the name of an oil company. Ever since Bryce Drew's incredible game-winning buzzer beater against heavily favored Ole Miss, the terms Cinderella and Valparaiso have become more intertwined than Gary Williams and sweating.
Unless you are a diehard Vermont Catamount fan, chances are you had never heard of coach Tom Brennan prior to March 2005. One overtime stunner over Syracuse later, and the aging Brennan was able to ride off gloriously into the sunset, landing an analyst job at ESPN.
Through exposure to the NCAA tournament, both these schools were able to create truly magical moments. And they didn't even need a fairy godmother.
Herein is the dream for many mid-majors. Having been shunted off to the side all year in favor of the Dukes, Kentuckys, and UCLAs of the world, March provides the one chance for these schools to experience a taste of the bright lights.
Even if a no name school is blown out by 40 points in the first round, they could still show off their V.I.P. ticket to the rest of their Summit League friends, all of whom were most likely uninvited to the big debutante ball.
As teams from numerous Division One conferences can gain entry onto the dance floor only through a conference tournament championship, the dream remains a fairy tale for many.
Fresh off their first-ever America East title, the Stony Brook Seawolves entered their conference tournament primed to earn their first NCAA tournament bid in school history.
After a first-round victory over a scrappy Albany squad, the Seawolves needed only one more win to solidify a spot in the tournament championship, which would be held at Stony Brook's home court.
Unfortunately, the Seawolves fell to rival Boston University, effectively ending their quest to earn an NCAA tournament invitation. At 22-9 (13-3 in conference play), the America East regular-season conference champions are not even in consideration for an at-large bid.
On Saturday, the Boston University Terriers and Vermont Catamounts will face off to determine who will represent the America East in the big dance.
Is it fair that the Seawolves, having beaten both of these squads TWICE in regular season play, will be forced to sit at home and watch as they reluctantly punch their ticket to the 'Nobody's Interested Tournament'?
When dancing with royalty, Cinderella needs to put on a flawless performance. If she steps just a fraction off the beat, she will immediately be dismissed by the high court.
Upon entrance to the tourney, these lesser known teams need to be playing at the top of their game.
A squad such as Stony Brook, clearly overmatched in nearly every facet of the game by major conference powers, would need to put together a nearly flawless performance just to have a chance of remaining competitive with their first-round opponent.
If you are not riding a hot streak, how can you possibly catch fire?
We have all heard the argument that the most 'deserving' team in a given conference may not always receive a bid under the current format.
But since when has competition ever been about handing in a resume?
If that were the case, why bother having playoffs at all?
Although this system more or less disregards the outstanding regular season work produced by a team like Stony Brook, it ensures the most competitive field come tournament time.
As many conference tournaments do not conclude until 24 hours prior to Selection Sunday, the America East and similar leagues virtually guarantee that the team representing their league is the most playoff ready.
Stony Brook: If you really deserved a bid, you would have let your game do the talking.
Keep the conference tournaments. If you can't take the March heat, you don't deserve to be in the kitchen.