Wow, what a crazy 1st weekend to NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Every year I fear it won’t live up to the energy and excitement of the previous tournaments and every year I remember one of my favorite aspects of sports: it’s unscripted and unpredictable. So with the first three rounds in the books and 90% of brackets busted, I figured I’d share a few of my reactions / big thoughts from the weekend:
Biggest Game Changer was…the “One and Done” Rule – Now I won’t say it is definitely for the better or for the worse, but I do believe the NCAA’s “one and done” rule is definitely impacting the tournament outcomes. Just take a look at your current bracket – you’ll 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, 13-seeded La Salle, 9-seeded Wichita State all in the Sweet Sixteen and Gonzaga, Saint Louis, New Mexico, Creighton, San Diego State, VCU and Butler all as high-seeded teams to start the tournament. A few years ago, “mid-majors” just described the double-digit seeds that you joked about winning one or two upsets. Heck, you probably hadn’t even heard of 99% of those schools. But with the “one and done” format only continuing to grow in style (no thanks to Mr. John Calipari), many of the teams from the power conferences that spend time and money to recruit and coach the top high school players are now watching their hard work go right out the window with each freshman class. The best of the best recruits now come to college expecting a) to play immediately, b) fight for a championship from day one and c) raise their draft status so they can make millions the next year. Thus, consistency, camaraderie, coordination and experience seem to be hard to find on a “high-major” team. This only leaves the door open for many of these “mid-major” schools that have smaller programs and less touted players, but make up for this with senior leadership, individual sacrifice, team work and the toughness that grows with adversity and experience. Not at all to take anything away from these smaller schools as I believe they have earned everything they’ve won so far, but I really do believe the “one and done” rule is truly starting to alter the dynamic (and the parity) of the Tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast is…refreshing to watch – I know it’s already been mentioned multiple times, but watching the way in which each and every player on FGCU plays with such excitement and enjoyment is refreshing. It’s refreshing to remember that real reason you should play basketball is because you love it, you’re passionate about and you enjoy every minute of it. Not because you want to make millions or you want to be famous. It’s also refreshing to see a program as new and as young as FGCU come to the tournament and show players, coaches and fans alike that success isn’t just about the best recruiting class or future lottery picks, it’s about playing tough, smart and coordinated basketball as a team. Plus, sometimes it’s just nice to watch a group of kids that truly feel like they’ve made their dreams come true versus seeing some big name school chasing yet another banner.
Would Want to be…Aaron Craft, G, Ohio State / Victor Oladipo, G, Indiana – Not that I’m a particular fan of either school, but because I think it has got to be an amazing feeling to be the one that hits that game-winner, that dagger at the end of the game to lift your team to victory in March. Even if both guys were humble about hitting the shot (as they should be), you can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to guy that nails the big one. It’s what we all picture when we’re shooting around at home.
Wouldn’t Want to be…Will Cherry, G, Montana Grizzlies – Mr. Cherry came into the game as the star for the upstart Montana team and, boy, did Syracuse use the scouting report to focus on shutting him down. Let’s see…1-12 from the floor including 0-6 from 3-pt range as well as no assists and five turnovers? I’d say that is a little different than the way Will drew that up in his head.