We’re a week away from the beginning of the NCAA Tournament and Wofford College has already become a poster child of sorts.
Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote has determined in a recent column that the Terriers and their like might as well pass up their automatic bids and eschew the NCAA Tournament altogether. Cote essentially believes the 65-team NCAA Tournament field to be too large and that upset-minded mid-major schools should be banished from the madness of March.
In a related story, Cote will be sucking the fun out of an amusement park near you very soon.
I've covered several NCAA Tournaments, including Indiana's unexpected run back in ‘02, the first year of the post-Knight era. That year, the Hoosiers were a lot closer to Davids than Goliaths, and they made it to the title game against Maryland with a 6-4 power forward and exactly one current NBA player (Jared Jeffries, who, it could be argued is actually a CBA player with an Isiah Thomas-granted NBA contract).
On the way to the title game, IU beat Duke and Oklahoma. Both were major upsets. Even Kent was favored over the Hoosiers. They beat Kent, too. In a best of seven series, I would’ve taken Duke or Oklahoma, but during that run, during that tournament, you could feel something magic happening all around IU.
Actually, upsets happen regularly in the NCAA Tournament. A No. 12 annually defeats a fifth-seed in the opening round. Following Cote's logic, that victorious No. 12 seed should be forbidden a trip to the second round. Davidson, the SoCon champ from a couple of years ago, made a memorable "underdog" run behind Steph Curry. A few years before that, Butler came within mere seconds of beating eventual champion Florida in the Sweet 16. It was the best game of the tournament.
Even so, Cote rightly states that the top seeds have ruled the Final Four lately.
But according to Cote’s logic, all underdogs should save themselves the trouble. The 1980 U.S. Hockey team should’ve handed over the gold medal to the USSR before the first puck dropped. Buster Douglas should’ve stayed home. Kirk Gibson should’ve never limped out of the dugout for the Dodgers. The Minutemen should've ignored Paul Revere's shouts.
According to Cote, only major universities from major conferences should be invited to the Dance, forget about Wofford's 26 victories (including 13 straight and 19 of 20 to end the season) and its regular-season and tournament championships. That's not enough to get the Terriers there?
A UNC "team" with McDonald's All-Americans who can't string together a pair of layups is more deserving? Or maybe a UConn team that is below .500 in its own conference and was easily ousted by St. John's in the Big East tourney? I guess they would be giants and so much more compelling than a mid-major that fought its way to regular-season and conference tournament championships.
But Cote is right about two things -- Wofford will be the media darlings of the tourney, especially if the Terriers get through the first round. And expanding the NCAA Tournament to 96 teams is a ridiculous idea created by the NCAA money makers, but a simple fact of March is that every Division I team has a chance to play its way into the NCAA Tournament through their conference tournaments.
I'm realistic about Wofford's chances in the tournament as a whole, but a win by an underdog that plays defense first certainly wouldn't be all that shocking. As Appalachian State (a team held to 26 points
below its scoring average in the SoCon finals), found out, defenses show up every night, while shooters can go cold at any time – and usually do, at least for a while when the bright lights of March hit them in the face like an oncoming train.
Part of the joy of watching the NCAA Tournament is seeing the Davidsons and the Butlers and the George Masons and, yes, now the Woffords of the world pull out their slingshots.
Just because one of these teams has not won a championship does not mean they should be denied the right to try.