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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March Madness is Harder Than Ever to Handicap

Six years ago, I filled out a "Danny Sheridan" bracket and a "Jeff Sagarin" bracket prior to the NCAA Tournament and while those statistically based brackets did reasonably well neither one came close to winning ESPN.com's contest--and I suspect that brackets filled out on a similar basis this year would do no better and perhaps would even do worse: the large number of "one and done" collegiate stars has both lowered the overall level of play in college basketball and also made it very difficult to sustain a dominant program. Kentucky was a 38-2 NCAA champion last season but this year the Wildcats went 21-11 and did not even qualify for the NCAA Tournament. As many as a dozen teams in this year's NCAA Tournament have a realistic chance of winning; it is conceivable that one of the number one seeds will triumph but it is just as conceivable that none of the number one seeds will even make it to the Final Four.

Some fans--particularly fans who root for teams that have traditionally been underdogs--may think that it is great that we have no idea who is going to be the 2013 champion but I think that anything that lowers the overall quality of play is not good. The parade of college stars who head to the NBA as early entry draft picks has lowered the quality of play in both college basketball and the NBA. Is it more enjoyable to watch young Anthony Davis struggle to adjust to the pro game while playing for a losing team in New Orleans than it would have been to watch him stay in school and try to win a second consecutive NCAA title? College basketball was much more entertaining in the 1980s when even the greatest players usually stayed in school for at least three years.

I did not fill out a "Sheridan" or "Sagarin" bracket this year but I did fill out three brackets: the one I believe in most strongly has Miami winning the championship, my "chalk" bracket gives the nod to Louisville and my "fan" bracket taps Ohio State. The 2013 Buckeyes would have been destroyed by just about any NCAA championship team from the 1980s but in the modern era of parity an excellent coach, one top notch scorer, one great defensive guard and a bunch of savvy/scrappy role players might just be enough to cut down the nets.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:51 AM



At Wednesday, March 20, 2013 10:25:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

Personally I believe the NBA should allow players to jump into the league straight from high school. At least that way we won't have to deal with the "one-and-dones" in the NCAA and we'll get to see more players who stay for 2 or 3 years.

The NBDL is much more developed now so teams will be able to better deal with 18-year-olds who need a year or two of seasoning before being ready for prime time.

As for filling out the brackets, I find that watching the last couple weeks of the regular season and the conference tournaments is very helpful. You should also look for teams that obviously have the talent but lollygag through the regular season and conference tournament (i.e. Indiana).

At Wednesday, March 20, 2013 4:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

Some people have suggested that the rule should be that a player can jump straight from high school but if he goes to college then he must stay at least three years. That would enable players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to go straight to the pros while enabling other players to get the seasoning that they need.

Purely from a fan's standpoint, both the college and pro games are better off if players delay coming to the pros but I understand that there are legal and ethical issues involved in terms of whether or not a league has the right to deny a qualified applicant from making a living.

At Sunday, March 31, 2013 8:12:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

I've noticed that there's a lot more parity in college basketball now than there used to be. It was rare for #1 seeds to be challenged and it was uncommon for #2 seeds to lose. However, just in the last 2 seasons we've seen 3 #1 seeds be challenged in the first round and 3 #2 seeds lose. And in the past decade, we've seen a #9 and two #11's make the Final Four while Butler made the Finals twice as a #8 seed.

All this makes filling brackets more of a lottery than it ever was. Not sure how it bodes for the future of the college game but coaches of mid-major programs definitely have a greater incentive to stay, since they know that they have a realistic opportunity to contend for championships.

While the quality of play may have suffered I've come to appreciate the utter chaos that the NCAA Tournament seems to bring every year.

At Monday, April 01, 2013 7:12:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Daniel Song 39:

You can call it parity or you can just say that the general level of play has declined. Many of the NCAA Tournament games feature low shooting percentages and bad strategical decisions--a lot of it has been almost unwatchable, something that even the halftime commentators have been forced to admit. The college game has always been less strategically complicated than the professional game but now that the best players only stay in school for one or two years there is little continuity and thus most teams are running offenses and defenses that are very simple. A lot of the top college coaches would struggle to be mediocre NBA coaches because the NBA game would be too fast and too sophisticated for them.

The NBA game has also suffered in the wake of all of these players leaving school early. As Charles Barkley noted, if Kentucky's key players had stayed in school they might have built a dynasty but instead they jumped to the pros, where none of them has had a significant impact this season--yet another indicator of the vast gulf between the college game and the professional game. Anthony Davis is a dominant college player but, at least right now, he is nothing special in the NBA.

I prefer high quality play to "chaos."


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