As my faithful readers know, this past fall I declared March the best month in sports. The response I got was very sparse so I am taking that to mean you all agreed with me (telling myself that helps me get to sleep at night). Of course the primary reason I selected March is because the name is even included in the popular moniker for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament: “March Madness.” However, it is not March; it is still February, and while the basketball games may be exciting in March, they are very dull from November through February. March Madness has become so awesome that it has sucked all the excitement out of the regular season. If you glance at any of the top 25 polls, you will know all you need to know as it contains all the contenders for your Sweet Sixteen in your bracket pool (don’t kid yourself and say you don’t go chalk every year like everybody else).
The most hyped (hyped being relative) game of this past week was No. 1 Syracuse at No. 5 Duke and the most exciting thing about that game was Jim Boeheim’s tirade and subsequent ejection that ended the game 10 seconds early. The Orange ended up losing and fell from their No. 1 ranking but did losing the game really matter? The game was on the road at one of the hardest places to win in the sport against a quality Duke team. Even if Syracuse lost every game they have left this year they will still make the NCAA Tournament. They are still virtually guaranteed a high seed and will probably not have to play Duke again and, even if they do, it will be at a neutral venue. The bottom line is that Syracuse (or insert your favorite college basketball team here) only has to do just enough to get in right now; March is when they really have to turn it up and win. You can lose a game in February and easily recover. If you lose a game in March your season is over. That is the recipe for uninspiring and boring games in the winter and unbelievably mind-blowing action come tournament time.
The end-all argument is that, while recognized, the regular season champion is not the team from each conference who gets the automatic bid to go to the Big Dance. The auto-bids go to the team that gets hot and wins three or four games in a row during a single elimination conference tournament. In theory, it is possible for the worst team in the conference to walk right through the conference tournament and win the auto-bid. The priority and bias away from the regular season is built into the system. So, it’s ok Syracuse (again insert your favorite team here), you have nothing to worry about; your conference tournament doesn’t start for another two weeks. As for me, I have other things to do and see. Wake me up in March.