Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yes, the NCAA Hoops Regular Season Means Something

I'm watching ESPN's "First Take" and they were debating about the value of college basketball's regular season. The two panelists argued that the games itself still mean something. Moderator Dana Jacobson thought that the season is watered down and a loss doesn't mean as much in other sports.

I agree with the panelists.

No, the regular season isn't as meaningful as ... say ... the college football regular season. But that doesn't mean it's useless. Far from it.

First, let me touch on some of the things that I do agree have watered it down a bit. I think 68 teams is too many in the Big Dance. Go back to the 65 (or make the worst 8 teams have a play-in game for the No. 16 seed). Those "bubble teams" that just miss being in the NCAA Tournament weren't good enough anyway. We don't need them in the Dance.

True, Kansas' loss last night to K-State doesn't mean a total hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. The Jayhawks still can be a No. 1 seed, still make the tournament, still get to the Final Four, still can win the whole thing. But that doesn't mean the game was pointless. Far from it.

In the last week, we saw three big games that were played in front of rabid fans. Last Wednesday, North Carolina and Duke played in yet another big game in front of a great crowd. On Saturday, top-ranked Ohio State were upset in a very excited Kohl Center in Wisconsin. Then last night, the Jayhawks lose to their little brother, Kansas State, in the Wildcats home den. In and of themselves, the games were fun to watch.

Plus, don't tell the students at those schools that those games didn't matter. They'll talk about those games for years.

And what makes that different than, say, virtually any other sport? Think a June day featuring the Royals and Indians means anything? Do you think the Yankees losing to the Orioles in August is a reason for New Yorkers to panic? Do you think that, in reality, that Lakers-Celtics game last Thursday night really meant a thing in the long run? Probably not.

Heck the Lakers are essentially coasting through the year because all they care about is the postseason. The Celtics did the same last year and still got to Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Do you think Duke could've just screwed around all year because they know they'll get into the tournament and they'll just turn it on then? Let's ask Michigan State how that will work out.

No, the college games still hold a ton of meaning. Just view all of the Bubble Watch topics over the next few weeks to see how important all these games are.

My most important point is what I alluded to earlier: the games matter to the fans. No, I don't "care" about Kansas vs Kansas State. But I'd bet the state of Kansas was pretty pumped for it. I've been a North Carolina fan all my life and each game is met by memories of past meetings. The Tar Heels have NC State in Raleigh this weekend. My best friend growing up is a huge Wolfpack fan. I'm pretty sure that game has a ton of meaning.

No, a win by State wouldn't get them into the Dance or knock Carolina out of it. It would be a win, however, that would be cherished by any fan of NC State. Heck, I still mouth off about UNC's win in Cameron Indoor Stadium on J.J. Redick's senior night. It means a lot to people.

Like to paraphrase something I told someone the other day: if you spend your time worrying about the tournament then you'll miss all the fun getting there. So when you see a college basketball game in the coming weeks, don't think about the impact the game will have on seeding or whatever ... just enjoy the game itself.

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