Blowing the whistle on all the Madness

col-tbuzz (2)The college basketball season comes to a close tonight with the most unlikely of matchups – No. 7 Connecticut vs. No. 8 Kentucky.

Pretty unbelievable if you are among the millions who won’t be receiving a billion-dollar check from Warren Buffett after your bracket was busted before the start of the Not-So Sweet 16. But if you really think about, chaos is really the only thing that makes sense in March Madness.

It seems the same things that make the Big Dance so exciting are the same things that can ruin the rhythm of determining a true national champion. By inviting virtually anybody and everybody to the ball, the odds of party crashers slipping past the bouncers increases each round. From a pure mathematical standpoint, it was only a matter of time before we ended up with this final.

There’s nothing wrong with it for folks who like their tournament title games the same way they like their grapes – seedless. But there’s good reason for sour grapes for top-seeded teams that dominated their 30-game schedules only to pick a bad time to suffer a rare loss to a subpar team. It belittles the regular season and confuses the process of crowning a clear champion.

Take this Atypical Two. Neither team made the tournament last year – UConn due to a postseason ban for academic improprieties and Kentucky because, well, last year’s freshman class wasn’t as good as the previous and following years’ crops. They may not be the best two teams from this season, but they certainly represent a couple of disturbing trends in college basketball.

But a bigger issue may be changes in the game itself: College hoops has become a more athletic version of demolition derby, with quick guards repeatedly driving the paint, crashing into an opponent and drawing a foul. The refs can’t seem to stop from blowing their whistles whenever they see two players about to make contact, almost as if they are being paid by the foul call.

And it’s no longer the team that’s behind on the scoreboard that feel the need to foul late in close games. Now the teams that are ahead are also fouling in the final seconds to avoid being beat by a 3-pointer. With both teams employing the strategy of breaking one of basketball’s most basic rules, the critical moments of the games have become free-throw shooting contests.

Not exactly what Dr. James Neismith intended, but the end result is excitement: Closer games mean more upsets and TV ratings added to the madness. But sometimes the system yields a title game like this one and makes a mockery of a national championship. It might be a great game, but we could start the tournament over again tomorrow and it would yield a different matchup.

And maybe my bracket would fare better this time.

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