Fred VanVleet’s final shot clanged off the rim. Wichita State fell 78-76 to Kentucky. The No. 1 seed lost before the Sweet 16. An undefeated bid ended at 35-1. A dominant performance faded into obscurity. It’s human to grasp for some meaning or pattern here. But the truth is March is just mad. We fashion the narrative afterward.
The NCAA Tournament provides excellent entertainment. But the entertainment comes through the cruelty and capriciousness of it. The Tournament is not fully random – basketball aptitude comes into play – but even the best team is not immune from an off shooting night, a closing minutes brain fart or a final shot that goes doink. One team must survive and triumph. Though that triumph can be as much the product of fortune and peaking opportunely as “greatness.”
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Was Wichita State screwed over? Pretty much. Yeah. They were the top seed of the region of doom. Their No. 8 opponent was Kentucky, among the most talented teams in the country. Their probable No. 4 opponent would have been defending champion Louisville. Their probable opponent for a Final Four place coming into the tournament, would have been Duke or Michigan.
The Selection Committee forced Wichita State through a gauntlet of the basketball establishment for intrigue and television ratings. It’s hard to be moralistic about that, as the NCAA Tournament is really just a billion-dollar entertainment spectacle. What are the play-in games but a reality competition-style plot twist that backfired?
What does this “upset” of Wichita State ultimately mean? It’s not clear. We’ll fill that in later. Maybe it’s the coming of age for Kentucky’s freshmen before a Fab Five-like run. Maybe it’s the argument for not taking future undefeated light-weights seriously. The only sure thing is that it can’t just be an errantly arced basketball. However hollow, we need that veneer of narrative. Lest we expose that the most exciting of all ways to determine a champion is profoundly arbitrary.
[Photo via USAT]