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Take it like a man, St. Mary's.
I don't want to hear it, Syracuse.
Cry me a river, Maryland.
Stop whining, Villanova.
Too bad, Arizona State.
So sad, Florida.
You officially lost the right to complain.
Every year, the media bombards us with coverage of so-called "Bubble Teams": teams that failed to distinguish themselves as one of the best 64 teams in the country over the course of the season. Each one of these teams had the opportunity to assure their spot in the NCAA tournament and each one blew it. They did little over the course of the season to assert their claim as one of the elite teams in the country and failed to win the most important game of their season while facing the prospects of elimination in their conference tournament. Now they're left to argue and squabble over which of them most deserves the opportunity to lose a first round game in the NCAA tournament.
As ESPN radio personality Colin Cowherd put it, "if, after 35 games, you can't prove that you're one of the best 64 teams in the country...go away. I don't want to hear about it."
But we're going to hear about it. In fact, all we are going to hear from this now until Selection Sunday is who deserves to get in and who should go home. I am here to say that, frankly, it's irrelevant. You can argue whether Arizona State and their .500 conference record deserves a spot more then a St. Mary's team that plays in a conference dominated by pudgy white kids all you want, but it won't change the fact that, at the end of the day, UCLA, Memphis, Kansas and North Carolina will play in the Final Four. (Author's Note: This is NOT my actual Final Four, so don't try and use this to get a leg up on me in our March Madness pool. In fact, if you pick the four #1 seeds to make the Final Four, I think you should be disqualified from the tournament for being a douche. I'm just saying...)
Granted, I feel bad for St. Mary's. A trip to the NCAA tournament would mean A LOT to a school like St. Mary's. When you are a school with an enrollment of 2500 students, your nickname is the Gaels and your defining athletic achievement is a women's soccer team ranked 5th in the nation by an online soccer magazine named "Soccer Buzz" ( don't take my word for it) back in 2001, you'll take what you can get. To put the poor state of their athletic department in perspective, in 2001, Duke won twice as many games in the NCAA Tournament (4), as the Gaels won the entire season (2, for those of you with embarrassingly bad math skills) . St. Mary's winning a first round game in the NCAA tournament would be like Duke winning the national championship. 10 years in a row. If St. Mary's does not make it to the NCAA tournament, their fan base would be justifiably crushed. But that still does not give them the right to complain. If you want to play with the big boys and you want to be taken seriously, you can't lose the biggest game of your season to the only team in Division I basketball with a worse nickname then yours (The San Diego Toreros? Really? Did the school move from Juarez?).
To put it simply, if you want to play in the round of 64, don't lose in the round of 256.
At least I can understand a school like St. Mary's pleading their case for inclusion in the NCAA tournament. It drives me crazy listening to a school like Syracuse argue their case. What's the point? You play in the Big East. You're a perennial power. You won a national championship FIVE YEARS AGO! Does anyone really care if whether you lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament or the third round of the NIT? Are students clamoring for first round tickets to watch the Oranges thrilling first round loss? Is there a horde of people ready to buy 2008 Syracuse NCAA tournament participant hats? Will fans remember the 2008 team's pedestrian loss at the hands of a mid-major? If you play in a major conference, have made a trip to the NCAA tournament in the last ten years, or have EVER won a national championship, the NCAA should revoke your bubble privileges. Watching the Maryland's and Syracuse's of the world pander for attention is just embarrassing.
We love the NCAA tournament for two reasons:
1. Improbable upsets of the early rounds 2. Great teams playing win or go home games in the later rounds
The problem with bubble teams is that they don't qualify for either category. If they win their early round match-ups, it's not a huge upset since they're primarily established basketball powers anyway. It would certainly be a surprise if Florida knocked off Stanford, but it wouldn't be that big a deal. If they win, Florida fans aren't going to rush the floor and Billy Donovan isn't going to go all Homer Drew and carry his point guard off the floor and have a seizure on the sidelines. Likewise, if a bubble team somehow makes it to the Sweet 16, the games don't carry the same amount of drama as watching UCLA and Texas square off in a clash of the Titans. Bubble teams are just good enough to be boring, but not good enough to be relevant.
So if St. Mary's, Syracuse, Maryland, Villanova, Arizona State or Florida ends up making the tournament, good for them. They're all quality teams and most deserving of a shot at the post-season. Just don't expect me to shed a tear if I don't hear their names on Selection Sunday.