Monday, March 19, 2007

Cinderella's Pumpkin Has Arrived

Well, well. How quickly Cinderella retreated back to her attic room. The story of the tournament so far is the lack of any low-seeded teams to get excited about going into the second week. This year's George Mason is - UNLV? That in itself is a ludicrous statement to make. It's a school that along with sketchy dealings, is synonymous with domination, as the early '90s teams were some of the greatest in the sport's history. And considering the slim to nonexistent gap separating the tournament's #4-#10 seeds, it's really not all that surprising to see the Rebels there. They're more of a curiosity at this point because - let's face it - they're from Vegas and no one east of the Rockies has seen them play.

While the Tournament has been pretty ho-hum other than Saturday's batch of games, college basketball fans were still setting themselves up for disappointment this year. Excitement was at an all-time high last year when George Mason made the Final Four. And it was warranted. It was an unbelievable feat that has never happened in this modern era of college basketball. (By modern, I'm talking post shot clock and 3-point line implementation and major network exposure. So that's why I don't count Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State team.) It was a high, and like a drug, you wanted more of it. But this time, a team making it to the Final Four wasn't enough - they had to get even further. Clearly that wasn't realistic, and as a result the tournament seems pretty boring to the fan that no longer has a team to root for.

But when you think about it, what was the real effect of George Mason's run? It gave the mid-majors the responsibility of raised expectations. Now, instead of a small school needing to catch lightning in a bottle and a couple of lucky breaks to make a real run, people expect them to advance because of their merits. That's why nobody is talking about Southern Illinois and Butler with any real excitement. They were expected to get this far because they are good teams that really can be counted among the best 15 or 20 in the nation. When they won, predictability won out, and that doesn't make for a compelling storyline.

I'm not saying that the mid-majors won't always have the some of that underdog in them - clearly they will, as there are only so many resources to go around. Not every school can realistically dream about a national championship. But as the gap between them and the power conferences closes, the aura of Cinderella that reached an all-time high last season will continue to wane.

The interesting point this brings up is - is this good for college basketball or not? I argue that it is, as more competition creates for a higher level of play, and more exposure for schools that would traditionally get none nationally. But if the rise of the small school continues, the number of teams that will fit our traditional profile of the Cinderella team in the NCAA Tournament will decline, and that could create for diminished excitement in a tournament whose appeal is based around excitement.


Anonymous said...

well written, I was just thinking about how no one's talking about southern illinois- just because it's seeded highly doesn't mean its performance thus far isn't significant

Mini Me said...

How much of a Cinderella is UNLV though? They beat a young and inconsistent Georgia Tech. Then they beat an overrated Wisconsin, who was without their second best player. I think if Southern Illinois beats Florida or Butler beats Florida, those two become the Cinderella of this year.

Jason said...

Very nice post. Has the bar been raised for mid-majors? I think maybe, but if a team like Virginia Commonwealth or Oral Roberts had gotten on a hot streak, it would have been just like George Mason last year. Teams like 2006 George Mason definitely don't come along very often, so when they do, people are naturally going to want more. But I just don't think it CAN happen more than once a blue moon, because the talent is so concentrated in the bigger schools.

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