Thursday, March 14, 2019

Slant Pattern Odds and Ends

By Kevin Beane

* I really hope that Buffalo fails to win the MAC tournament. Not because I'm a fan of their MAC rival Akron. Not because I won't be rooting for them to go far if they do make the Big Dance. I would actually love that.

It's not even because that would mean two bids for the MAC, although that would be fantastic.

No, it's because I predict that will not happen if Buffalo fails to win the MAC, the committee will shock everyone and actually exclude them from the big dance, saying their win over Syracuse wasn't enough, and the backlash will be so strong and severe that the committee will change their tune starting in 2020 and start actually putting some mid-majors in the field as at-larges again.

If you only lost 3,4, or 5 games or less in my youth in the '80s, you could all but count on punching your ticket.

Hell, I remember when the committee was dinged for being TOO generous to mid-majors. Like in 1995, when Manhattan got an at-large bid as a No. 13-seed. Their decision was vindicated when the Jaspers won their opening round matchup against No. 4 Oklahoma.

That would not happen today. The committee has made it known that they value "quality wins" uber alles, and the new NET rankings are not going to change that. Just watch.

The unfairness of denying a team like Buffalo this year and St. Mary's last year is that multiple quality wins are almost impossible to come by for mid-majors known to be good because high majors avoid them like the plague. They may get one chance at a quality win, perhaps in an early-season tournament, while a team like Ohio State (of whom I am also a big fan and an alum) can derp to an 8-12 conference record and still be considered solidly on the bubble at worst.

Maybe I will be proven utterly wrong and teams like Belmont, Lipscomb, and UNC Greensboro will find themselves dancing. I'm not going to hold my breath this year, though, nor beyond unless there is some real outrage.

* * *

* Kudos to the Utah Jazz for banning that idiot going way beyond the pale in trash-talking Russell Westbrook. First, I'm a bit puzzled why Westbrook seems to catch such a heavy amount of heat and ire from opposing fans, I can think of so very many NBA players who are eminently more obnoxious and hateable than he is.

... in fact, many of them play for or have played for the Utah Jazz. As a neutral observer, is there a harder team to like than the Jazz? This is the team of Grayson Allen and Joe Ingles (I know, he's a folk hero, blah blah blah). In the wake of the Westbrook incident, his teammates have backed up his assertion that their fans are nastier than elsewhere.

I don't know what the solution is for jerk-off fans like this. That one can sit so close at a basketball game is one of most exhilarating experiences in all of sports fandom. You don't have to be rich to experience it either; there's probably a D1 college within driving distance of you that routinely draws less than 2,000 a game. I don't want a few bad apples blowing this for everybody.

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* The debate on whether or not to pay college players in revenue-generating sports has heated up again, and it kind of puts me in a weird spot. I lean against paying them, or at least, against paying them an amount commensurate with the value they bring to the university, frankly (i.e., making Zion Williamson rich at Duke). That puts me in line with a lot of unsavory bedfellows who just kind of hate players and see them as entitled street urchins.

The reason I'd be reluctant to pay players is that I believe that it would destroy any kind of parity we have, and the richest programs could just buy up the best players. The response to this line of argument is always the same: a sputtering of, "IT'S ALREADY LIKE THAT!"

But it is not, in fact, already like that and I can give you a couple of pretty illuminating examples.

It's the sports that have less of a spotlight on them where the schools that give a damn about said sport and have a little extra cash can really dominate year after year. Example: in men's water polo, Cal, Stanford, USC, and UCLA have won 45 of the 49 national titles the NCAA has given out. In women's water polo, Stanford, USC, and UCLA have won all 18 titles.

But the real smoking gun, as it were, is women's hoops. We all love March Madness, and we all love the Cinderella stories, right?

Well, dig this: in 2012, 13-seed Marist beat 4-seed Georgia in the first round of the women's tournament.

It hasn't happened since. No 13-seed or lower has beaten a 4-seed or higher in six years and counting in the women's tourney.

In the same span of time, it's happened 12 times on the men's side, and that's only counting first round wins.

To pay the players vast sums of money would, in terms of competitiveness, render men's basketball and football like water polo and women's basketball. I don't want that.

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