March Madness: Better than NBA Playoffs—or Simply Overhyped? The Monday Morning Realist


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It’s March. Get Mad.

For sports fans here, March is one of the most anticipated months on the American athletics calendar. Selection Sunday as well as March Madness are time honored traditions in American sports. After all, Realists, aren’t you already looking forward to this year’s Tournament highlight reel set to “One Shining Moment” by Luther Vandross?

Definitely, the Tournament rarely ever manages to disappoint. And, if it is one thing we hear a lot of around this time of year, it is the following:

This edition of the Realist is being penned on St. Patrick’s Day, so it is only fitting to ask this question: Are the NBA playoffs green with envy at the NCAA Tournament?

This debate gets rekindled around this time of year annually. There’s reason to think this since both in college basketball and the NBA, the regular seasons are nothing more than pre-seasons for the “real” season—the Tournament (or Playoffs).

Remember Realists, that in the NBA, some of the playoff matchups we know will happen prior to the later rounds. We know the 1 seed will likely have their way with the 8 seed, and so forth and so on. Also, remember that the NBA playoffs have 16 teams. There are 30 overall in the Association, meaning that more than half of the league gets into the playoffs, when they probably ought to be playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

In Division I college basketball, there are over 250 teams with 68 ultimately reaching the Tournament. Plus, there is no such thing as a guaranteed win other than the 1’s likely beating the tar out of the 16’s. The gap between majors and mid-majors may seem like a Grand Canyon during all other months of the year. Bring on March, and that no longer becomes the case.

Also, let’s be honest, Realists. March Madness has the brackets—something the NBA Playoffs don’t have. The allure of March Madness is only enhanced by the allure of “Bracketology”. This Realist is abstaining from filling out a bracket this year, but for many, it’s all about brackets and office pools.

Most folks that don’t follow college basketball that religiously probably have zero idea who Eastern Kentucky University or Wofford are—outside of March Madness. Throw in some brackets and the possibility of accomplishing the impossible—filling out a perfect bracket and out of nowhere, you can name Stephen F. Austin’s RPI off the top of your head.

By the way, for anyone filling out a bracket, do not “talk chalk”, like what President Obama sometimes has a tendency to do. Have the stones to put at least three Cinderellas in your Sweet 16. In fact, that is perhaps the biggest allure of the NCAA Tournament in addition to that of the brackets.

Unless you are an aficionado of the Louisvilles, Dukes, Kansas’s, Michigan State’s, Syracuse’s, Florida’s, and UCLA’s of the world, these are most likely the teams you want to see ousted from the Tourney. These are Goliaths with so many resources and money, that it is nothing for them to be able to recruit top line talent.

No one expects the Charlotte Bobcats to stun the South Beach out of the Miami Heat when the NBA Playoffs commence next month, but who says that Dayton couldn’t beat Ohio State? Or Tulsa upsetting UCLA? These are all very good possibilities despite what hoops pundits say.

The NCAA Tournament also has more of an immediacy to it that the NBA Playoffs do not have. This is what creates the climate for the dancing of Cinderellas. Dayton likely will not beat its larger in-state school, Ohio State, in a best of five or a best of seven series. But, inform Dayton that they only have to win one game to advance to the round of 32, and all bets are off.

One notion concerning March Madness that has to be addressed, Realists, is that of how the purity of the NCAA Tournament is enhanced by the idea that these players are playing solely for the pride of their school. That attraction to the whole thing is what draws many (inside and outside of Mid-America) to the Tournament.

But since we’re Realists, we deal in reality. The reality is that, for some of these players, especially, for those that are at the larger schools, the Tournament serves as their audition reel for the NBA.

There are two main types of races in track and field—there’s the marathon and the sprint. The NBA Playoffs are a marathon that seemingly lasts longer than the season whereas the Tourney is more immediate since it only goes on for three weeks.

And, in many ways, the level of play is just as exciting, if not more so than the NBA Playoffs—which again can be contributed to the national stage given to mid-majors. We know what to expect from LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin. We don’t know what to expect from Coastal Carolina.

By the way, here’s a Realist analysis of the NCAA Tournament in a few words: Outside of the 1’s vs. the 16’s, anyone can beat anyone. Enough said.

Coming up next on CBS…