By Marcus Shockley
Over the years several axioms have presented themselves in regards to the Final Four, but the sports media will do everything in their power to ignore these and make sure fans forget them, as well. So without further ado, let’s go some of the rules that the media won’t be talking about during their 600 hours of NCAA programming this weekend.
1. Any team that reaches the Final Four can win it all.
Forget what the media tells you, what the TV analysts repeat and what your fat neighbor tells you. No team reaches the Final Four without having to beat someone, and, to be blunt, sometimes the ‘best’ teams doesn’t win when they are expected to. If it was a series match up like in the NBA, the best teams would inevitably win out, but in a one-game-sudden-death scenario, a team just has to be good enough on a given day. While every year some teams get “gifts” (i.e., Kansas had to be thankful that UNC was missing their entire starting back court), but that doesn’t discount the fact that for any team to advance, they have to survive the first weekend, which knocks out 52 teams right away, then the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite 8.
2. Coaches are the most important factor in NCAA tourney games
The biggest difference between the NBA and college basketball is who controls the team. In the pros, the players have too much control over what happens on the court and many coaches are just figureheads. Not so in college. College basketball’s top teams are dictatorships, with established coaches who will bench any player regardless of their NBA prospects. Nowhere is this more evident in the NCAA tournament, where the same coaches rotate through the Final Four ever year, despite seasons where they are supposedly ‘slumping’. All four coaches in this year’s FF have been here before – and two of them have won it all.
3. Bet against underclassmen
In a sports world where basketball one-and-dones are the norm and many strong teams are loaded with freshman and sophomores, it’s easy to forget that teams with upperclassmen almost always prevail, despite supposedly being inferior. Witness Duke in 2010, a team that wasn’t even expected to reach the Final Four, much less win it all. And UNC in 2009? All upperclassmen. It’s not always true, of course, but over time the averages heavily favor teams with experience. People also like to laud the Fab Four of Michigan but completely forget that they were beaten twice by older teams in the Finals.
4. The media will introduce a meaningless meme.
The media has to have a reason for people to watch the NCAA title game, especially since the vast majority of fans have no vested interest in the game. But it’s no longer just the game itself that needs ratings; ESPN and Fox have so many hours of TV and radio full of talking heads that they need people to pay attention to as well, and that means they work to create a ‘fight card’ of promotional talking points. In 2005, the media introduced the “Team vs. Talent” idea to describe the match up between UNC and Illinois, despite the fact that both schools had multiple future NBA players.
5. Someone will introduce the ‘could college team X beat the worst NBA team?’
You’d think people would stop trudging this old nugget out, but they inevitably do every few years. In the early ’90s, people posed the idea that UNLV might be better than the worst NBA team, which was quickly shot down, but that didn’t stop it from being brought back up with the dominant team-du-jour every few years. This year, it’s Kentucky and the Charlotte Bobcats. Don’t even consider it as a legitimate question, even for teams like Kentucky or UNC who are loaded with future NBA players. The reality is that NBA players are far more trained than college players, for the same reason that you don’t want to hire a lawyer right out of school or have a doctor who just finished his internship over one with 10 years of experience. College players don’t know this yet, but once they step out of school, all of the accolades disappear, and now they are going to be playing against other adults whose livelihood depends on beating them. Pro players are stronger, more experienced and many of their days are spent working on staying employed.
College players work really, really hard, but it’s nothing compared to how good they would have to be to survive at any pro level. Even the worst NBA team is loaded with former college superstars. Add to it that if Kentucky lost to an NBA team, they wouldn’t get cut, but those NBA players know that if they lost to a college team, someone is going to lose their paycheck. Believe this: no professional NBA player who is looking at the prospect of losing their money is going to allow themselves to lose to a college team. It wouldn’t be close and it wouldn’t be pretty.