Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Quickie: Bubble, Tiger, Combine, MLB

I don't think it makes me a bad fan that I think -- as of last night -- that Florida doesn't deserve an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

As I mentioned in today's SN column lead, I recognize that a team's fans are mostly bound to make the affirmative case for their team's NCAA Bubble status -- no matter how tenuous.

I think that's misguided, and ultimately, you're only deluding yourself -- not to mention eroding the Tournament.

From a micro perspective, the question is whether Florida has done enough to get in. Yes, they beat Tennessee a week ago, but they lost at Georgia on Saturday, then at home in a "must-win" to Vandy. They play at Kentucky on Sunday, which I'll consider a moral victory if they don't lose by more than 20. But I have watched this team a lot, and they don't play like a Tournament team. In fact, they play like a team that if they DID get in would lose in Round 1.

At the macro level: Does a Bubble team that loses in the Tournament's 1st round mean the spot was wasted on them? Not quite: Half the teams have to lose in the 1st round... and, in fact, those at-large teams seeded 9-13 are, technically, expected to lose in the 1st round. Still: The question is whether the Tournament is better off having the Nth unsatisfying major-conference team that's going to get bounced before the 1st weekend is over... or the plucky mid-major with more upset/upside potential. If they lose, no harm done; if they win, it's a great story.

It's not about Florida. It's about all those Bubble teams that are limping to the finish or with resumes that are hardly compelling.

In fact, the more provocative point from today's lead is not that I'm down on Florida's NCAA chances -- but that I appear to contradict my long-held idea that the 96-team tournament is superior to the 64-team tournament. If I'm deflated by the weak Bubble teams that get in, how will I feel about adding another 32 teams to that mix?

But the fact is that it's just as much of an indictment against a 64-team field. Forget "Last 4 In" -- the last 12 major-conference at-large teams that will get in are all mediocrities who would surprise me to survive the first weekend. (I'm sure that at least 1 or 2 will get to the Sweet 16; that's just numbers. But let's hope of the 9-14 seeds that get to the Sweet 16, they are from mid-major or minor conferences.)

Then again, the reason the 96-team field works is the same reason, in the end, the 64-team field works -- and it has nothing to do with the teams that make it (or don't). The NCAA Tournament has always been about the format. Whether the Last 4 In include Florida or not, fans will still rush to the bracket in two weeks to pore over it and make picks, then stay glued to the TV two weeks from tomorrow to watch the games -- no matter who is playing.

Is it more fun when YOUR team is in it? Most of the time. But it's really worth asking yourself: Do they honestly deserve it? I'm not saying Florida can't play their way back into me thinking they deserve it -- a win at Kentucky would suffice, thanks, but I'll settle for 2 wins in the SEC Tournament. And, frankly, even if they lose to Kentucky then in the 1st round of the SECs, they may still make it in as an at-large. But we're a long way from back-to-back title squads.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

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