Feb 18, 2019

Now the NCAA Tourney begins

In my small opinion …

The NCAA Tournament is over, and the National Championship Tournament is about to begin.

They are two different things.

The misunderstanding about the NCAA Tournament is that it is for the 65 best teams in college basketball. It is not.

The NCAA Tournament is designed to make all member institutions, no matter how big or small, feel as if they are all part of the system.

That’s what last weekend was about. It was the weekend for dreamers, when schools are made to feel as if they are welcome at the Big Dance.

As for the competition, it is a time when a surprise team from a mid-major conference can get some name recognition and enjoy a moment in the spotlight by knocking off a recognized name from one of the power conferences.

Last week, it was Siena knocking off Ohio State, Cleveland State taking out Wake Forest and Western Kentucky beating Illinois.

But the real purpose of the NCAA Tournament is to cull the field for the National Championship Tournament.

It’s the time when the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella leaves the ball; when the frauds from power conferences with nothing more than brand recognition are dismissed.

By the time we get to the Sweet 16, the suckers all have been eliminated and the National Championship Tournament is composed solely of legitimate contenders.

The only double-digit seed to make it to the Sweet 16 is 12th-seed Arizona, a perennial Pac-10 power with as much talent as almost anyone.

After that, the lowest seed is Big Ten Tournament champion Purdue, a No. 5.

The only schools from so-called non-power conferences are No. 4 seeds Xavier of the Atlantic 10, Gonzaga, of the West Coast Conference and No. 2 Memphis, of Conference USA, possibly the best team in the country.

But those have been Top 25 programs for most of the season.

As much as people like to question the NCAA Selection Committee, 14 of the top 16 seeds advanced to the second weekend.

And that is usually the way it always works out.

There are exceptions, but a mid-major that earns its way to the Sweet 16 generally started as a high seed that had already proved its mettle throughout the season.

The NCAA Tournament is for everyone. The National Championship Tournament is reserved for the 16 best teams.

One is done. The other is about to begin.

In my small opinion …

It’s diminishing returns for women’s basketball when Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma or Tennessee’s Pat Summitt assembles a squad as superior as this year’s UConn.

Certainly, if you’re an alum or fan of UConn, it’s nice to have an undefeated team that is light-years better than everyone else, but for the rest of us it’s a waste of time.

There is no reason to watch this year’s women’s NCAAs when the other 63 teams are just playing for the right to be cannon fodder for Connecticut (34-0) on April 7 in St. Louis.

There is more talent than ever in women’s basketball, but it’s still a two-program fight at the top, with Connecticut and Tennessee alternating turns as Queen of the Mountain.

Since UConn won its first NCAA title in 1995, the Huskies and Lady Vols have combined for 10 of the past 14 titles, with each winning five.

When Connecticut or Tennessee puts together one of its uber-teams, the only thing capable of derailing them is if the other is just as good. It’s a down year for the Lady Vols, a No. 5 seed who lost to No. 12 Ball State in the first round Sunday night.

That’s bad for women’s basketball.

By John Smallwood / McClatchy Tribune

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