Basketball Experts Forever Play it Safe

Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Pat Forde, Seth Davis, Andy Katz… these gentlemen, and many more, are your annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Guides.

They spend each winter in your living rooms and on your computer screens breaking down the strengths, weaknesses and intangibles of Division 1 college basketball teams from the ACC to the Pac-10.  What we hear from them is endless dialogue about Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, Duke, Duke, Villanova, Duke… you get the idea.

What we rarely hear is a word about teams like Northern Iowa, St. Mary’s, Cornell… teams far removed from the power conferences and, in their view, the need for any discussion.  They’re the little darlings, the “David’s” of the college basketball world.

Then March Madness rolls around and these teams – the little darlings who define March Madness – or ones like them, become bracket-busters.  One or more will take down some of the big boys in what are labeled as monumental upsets and the aforementioned basketball experts begin raving over how marvelous these “little guys” are.  They tell us about their athletic skill, their marvelous team chemistry, their brilliant scorers who can bury shots from all over the court, their stifling man-to-man defense and the team’s head coach… whose stock is, as you would imagine, going up.

And when they begin breaking down the next round’s match-up between one of America’s Darlings and a power conference team, once again they give the little upstart no shot.  And as often happens, the little guy wins again.

What I find maddening is guys like Vitale, Phelps and most of the rest – analysts I enjoy listening to – spend more time explaining away (read: making excuses) why a Villanova lost to St. Mary’s or a Kansas lost to Northern Iowa. 

How about this as a reason:  Those little guys aren’t as David-like as these experts make them out to be.  Perhaps if the folks at ESPN and CBS actually paid more attention to them throughout the year, the upsets at tournament time wouldn’t be as profound as they make them out to be.

I’m not suggesting programs like Cornell or Northern Iowa are the caliber of Big Ten or Big 12 teams on an annual basis.  But with so many great high school players across the nation, there are plenty who could play for marquee programs that simply get passed over for any number of reasons.  Ultimately, they find their way to a mid-major conference team.  Loosely translated, conferences that play some nice basketball but don’t quite rate with the favored Big Conferences.  That is to say, favored by the media.

Sometimes a number of those talented but passed-over players gravitate to the same program and that little guy in the mid-major conference becomes a major player.  Gonzaga and Butler immediately come to mind.

When lesser-known teams do great things, it’s never a surprise to them or their fans.  The only ones shocked seem to be the guys paid to watch and analyze the sport. 

If they would expand their “worthy of discussion” criteria, they might learn there’s basketball life beyond Cameron Indoor Stadium and Allen Fieldhouse.

photo credit: tonibduguid

Filed Under: College Basketball

About the Author: Christopher serves up sports on 940 ESPN in Fresno with a good deal of pop culture, films, music and the quirky side of life mixed in. Distinguished guests and contributors from across the nation and around the world regularly join the program. He tackles the most complex stories to ones slightly off the radar delivering depth and humor with a thoughtful perspective. When he was in Fargo, the city not the movie, the program was nominated for Best Radio Show in the region in 2012, 2013 and 2014 by readers of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. As a writer, Christopher's work has been been published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Sun-Times Network publications, Reuters, USA Volleyball and Team USA, the Official Website of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

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