If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times since March 1. The bubble is incredibly soft this year. Joe Lunardi must be ready to throw his computer through the window as we move through the week of conference tournaments. Beyond the bubble, however, it seems that the talent level between the projected top and lower seeds may not be such a huge gap. If the trends that are being shown in the conference tournaments with some of the nation’s top teams continue, we could be in for an upset laden NCAA Tournament this year (and I’m OK with that after watching the assholes in my bracket pool bragging about winning when they have a bracket full of chalk picks).
Taking into account how many of the conference tournaments have progressed so far, I’m led to believe that the lack of a talent gap between the top and middle seeds could make for one of the most competitive Tournaments we’ve seen in quite some time. In the past two days, Ohio State and Kansas were given scares in their opening round games. OSU needed overtime to beat Northwestern and KU was lucky that Oklahoma State forgot how to dribble the ball on their last possession. On top of that, Pitt lost after having a double bye in the Big East Tournament to a very talented and young UConn team. What do these three teams have in common? All three are currently projected as 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The last projected 1 is Notre Dame who handled Cincinnati without any trouble.
Don’t assume some of the smaller conferences are exempt from this trend. George Mason ended a 16 game winning streak to VCU in the CAA semifinals. Mason dominated the conference going into their tournament but couldn’t get it done when they needed to. In the A-10 tournament today, 1 seed Xavier lost to the Dayton Fliers. Both Dayton and VCU were middle of the pack in their respective conferences and found a way to get the job done when it came down to crunch time. Currently, George Mason is projected as an 8 seed and Xavier is projected as a 5. Consequently, Dayton also beat George Mason earlier in the season before Mason went on their impressive run.
So what does all this mean? It could be that some of the mediocre teams have found a way to beat the top seeds after playing them throughout the season. The underdogs may have also found some extra motivation moving into their tournament to push them beyond what their abilities have demonstrated throughout the regular season. Or maybe the “elite teams” aren’t as elite as they used to be due to the attrition of the top talent to the NBA after one year in college. Any way you look at it, we are trending toward a more equal demonstration of skill on the hard court as we start on of the most exciting times of year for sports fans: March Madness. Every year we look forward to the Cinderella team that has a miracle run to take down traditional giants. We almost had it last year with Butler. After watching the start of the conference tournament games, maybe this will be the year that Cinderella goes home with the trophy.