Making Sense of the Nonsensical…

The RPI. Six at large bids. Mid-on-mid matchups. Siena. Arizona. Kentucky. San Diego.

It’s all whirring through my mind as I fill out my bracket and consider what has occurred over the past two days; then the past four months; then the past two years. I must admit that I actually fell asleep during the George Mason game. If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that is was, frankly, a boring basketball game. Notre Dame took control early and never allowed the Patriots to threaten.

What’s more, there was no second team to cheer this year.


But what has been eating at me–mostly since that kid from San Diego dropped the bomb on Connecticut, and BTW does it ever get old seeing Calhoun lose?–is that the whole mid major argument and conspiracy and analysis has worn me out. This is my Roberto Duran moment. As I look out at the beautiful mountains of North Carolina–a 20-minute ride to UNC Asheville and Kenny George–I realize this: It’s pointless. It’s pointless for so many reasons. But it’s mostly pointless because it is not even a basketball issue. It’s a mindset issue.

More accurately, it is an identity issue. You see, you cannot derive your identity from outside forces. Oh, there are influences and realities, but using “common thinking” and “the way that it is” is no way to go about evaluating things. Importantly, there is always going to be the old way of thinking. It is going to be extremely influential and it should. Everybody and everything needs a baseline; a starting point. However, the point is this: it is only when we are able to start with a clean, label-less slate that true innovation can occur.

It’s about that baseline. If the genesis and structure of your thoughts does not change, you end up with a re-created version of the old way. Old thinking. Sure, there can be a complexity to new versions of old thinking–opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage, for example–but a true shift in approach that parallels changing circumstances is unable to occur. New rules and new alignments and new ways of playing basketball have all developed since the early 1980s, yet we still use the same system of measurement. Oh there have been tweaks, but it is fundamentally the same system.

So stop arguing about RPI. It’s pointless because it is endemically unfair. It is unfair to mid majors and majors. If you derive your identity from an old school statistical measurement that favors who you play–and your opportunity to play a who is limited–then you deserve your fate. You deserve your basketball prison.

Let me put it this way: San Digeo’s RPI was near 100; Arizona’s in the mid 30s. One team defeated a Big East opponent; the other did not. Throw out the labels RPI, SOS, major, mid major. Use the facts, because facts are always unbiased. Who do you think is having more fun? Whose NCAA Tournament experience is more real?

When you attach a label to something, it only covers up reality. Mid major is such a label, and it meant “less than.” Likewise SOS somehow became equated to “quality team.” When you don’t cover up basketball teams and situations with labels, you get a sense of what can happen. Opportunity. Wonder. Or, the NCAA tournament. You can bet San Diego didn’t label themselves “less than.” They simply played basketball, and they did so on this day better than Connecticut.

If “mid majors” aren’t “as good” as the major conference teams, how come majors won’t schedule mid majors frequently? I’ll tell you why. Because while the rest of the country gets hung up on labels, basketball coaches know differently. They know the reality. This is one area in which everyone shortchanges the coaching profession. It is a necessity for them–be it paranoia or preparation or profundity–to strip all labels. That is why they take them one game at a time and treat everyone the same and prepare identically.

Coaches aren’t swayed by the illusion of the label. In fact, illusion survives because people mistake it for reality. The protectors of the old way are counting on you mistaking it for reality. The ossification of the old way needs you to argue RPI. It needs you to walk into the discussion of Villanova or VCU with the illusion that Villanova is better, and that we’re going to use the RPI and SOS labels to evaluate it. It needs the national media to use those labels as the baseline for the discussion.

You don’t think Boeheim knows this?

Let me be clear, I am not saying that the mid majors are every bit as good as the majors and are being shafted. This isn’t that argument. Clearly the better major teams are the most talented in the country. They have the budgets and get the players and win the games and deserve to play for the national championship. They deserve a significant number of the at large bids.

The point is that the labels and illusions and old way of thinking needs to go. We need a new way of evaluating the teams for the NCAA Tournament. While the current system is suitable for 80% of the field, the final 20% shows its flaws and bias. This is uncovered and amplified every March, when Selection Sunday begets head-scratching, and then tournament results produce head-nodding. Perhaps we need to look at how the field is comprised?

I don’t know the answer today, but you can bet I’m going to ask some people smarter than I am what they think. Nobody will ever be able to convince me of anything but old school thinking when 18-13 major conference teams make the tournament ahead of 24-7 mid majors.

Let me go one step farther. The labels are what prevented Arizona State from making the NCAA tournament this year. Everyone is up in arms because the talking heads in the major media outlets defended Arizona State. How could this be!?! Did you see their RPI, their SOS?

But you know what? The talking heads were right. They just haven’t had the time or aren’t smart enough to realize why. Arizona State was kept out of the tournament because its “RPI wasn’t strong enough” and it “didn’t play a tough enough schedule.” Both of those are labels that don’t actually tell you anything about their ability as a basketball team.

That the Sun Devils beat Arizona twice NEEDS to matter. It HAS to matter. If Arizona can’t beat Arizona State in two chances, why would anyone think they could beat West Virginia?

This year’s tournament results make it clear. What we are seeing, when you strip the labels, is the need to find a new way to evaluate this whole Big Dance thing, and March is not the time to get it done. It needs to occur in June. Then, in September. And finally, in November and December.

Then again, an NCAA Tournament with three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16–two from mid major conferences–and the North Carolinas and UCLAs of the world take over from there, might just be perfect.

For the old schoolers.

For the rest of us, we’re going to enjoy what we’ve got.


~ by mglitos on March 22, 2008.

2 Responses to “Making Sense of the Nonsensical…”

  1. Anyone else a Davidson fan this past and upcoming weekend? Go mid-majors…

  2. […] spin at Beyond The Arc before checking out the outstanding post at CAA: Life as a Mid-Major, which makes a forceful argument for chucking the current way — RPI and all — of picking teams for the Big Dance. Something that I’m all for, […]

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