For three years now, I've been berated by my brother about filling out brackets. The NCAA Tournament bracket has been a tough task for me because I don't pick enough of the upsets; I've had too much chalk on the page. But then my brother comes in and shows how the bracket should look, with a dozen mid-major teams in the Round of 32, with four or five teams making the Sweet 16.
I used to make fun of this ridiculous bracket, but when I see the 2011 Final Four and see two mid-major schools in contention with one guaranteed to make it to the final, I only laugh at myself.
VCU upset a better Kansas team on Sunday. Butler outplayed a better Florida team on Saturday. I have to look at those statements and figure out what is going on in the NCAA Tournament. It just can't be March Madness that causes results like these.
But then I started thinking about the conferences that were getting embarrassed by mid-majors, and it hit me: Small schools love the chance to step up and major schools don't really know the difference. For those of you scratching your heads at that last statement, just think about the schedules of the mid-majors and the major schools, and it should make sense.
Majors always have anywhere between two and seven teams make the tournament. They play a ranked team at least once a week and endure the struggle that comes each and every year in the end of the regular season for position for the conference tournament. And of course, there are the usual suspects that make "the dance" every year because they had 20 wins, despite a first round loss. Basically, it's not an expectation to make the tournament, it's "old-hat".
Now look at VCU and Butler, playing schools that I have hardly heard of, traveling to cities and towns that are only in 19th century novels. They don't get the pomp and circumstance that comes from being in a big conference. College Gameday would never go to one of their schools for a game. Then they have to win their conference to get to the tournament. Sure, you get the at-large berth here and there, but there is much less of a chance of getting those than Charlie Sheen going to rehab.
To this writer, this situation puts the mid-major school at a significant advantage come tourney time. Butler and VCU have to really bring their game, not just a semblance of a talented team. They usually have to win, or they're done till October. They learn that they have to step-up from where they were before the conference tournament started. The major school has to bring their winning talent every game, usually hitting the same percentages that they hit during the year from the three-point line and the charity stripe.
This situation was shown perfectly Sunday when VCU beat Kansas in the Elite Eight. The Rams stepped up against a team that should have won by 20. VCU hit 12 three-point shots. The Rams only made 12 three-pointers in two other games this year, and each of them were in the NCAA Tournament. When Jay Bilas pointed that out, I simply smiled and thought about how a team steps up like that during a tournament like the NCAA. The most three-point shots they made in a game was 11, and I believe they only did it once.
If there is a lesson that I'm trying to point out it's this: Bring it when you have to. Kansas can blow out Texas by 15 during the regular season if it wants to, and UCLA can beat Washington by 20 in December if it so desires. But when you are playing a team that doesn't usually see a tomorrow, you need to know that they are going to bring it on. Know that the mid-major team will do everything it can to take you down from that unwarranted perch you sit on, and be prepared to be punished for a lackluster performance.
So when you watch the National Championship on Monday night, don't be surprised when the mid-major wins the title. It almost happened last year, and this writer has the little inkling feeling that it might happen this year. Take a look at your bracket and learn the lesson for next year's strange drama called the NCAA Tournament.
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