The field is set, now show up and play

Montgomery: 'Getting to play close to home makes sense to me'

The field is set, now show up and play
March 17, 2013, 5:30 pm
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California will play Nevada Las Vegas in the first round, a team it lost to by one point in December. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

There used to be lots of reasons to complain about the NCAA Tournament brackets. There used to be lots of broken bubbles that could rise in outrage at either seed, site or snub. It was part of the Sunday and Monday stories, and it propelled the nation into the three weeks of fun.

Now? It’s mostly coming off as whining. And given the part of the season we have just endured, the whining is perfectly apropos. Cal a 12? Harsh. Cal in San Jose? Ridiculously charitable? Gonzaga a 1? Great, and shameful. St. Mary’s in a play-in game? Hey, Cal had to do it; show up and play.

[RELATED: Cal a No. 12 seed, Saint Mary's a No. 11 seed]

And that’s the real point here. When this many teams are being invited, the argument about the 69th most worthy team is simply stupid. When seeds matter to you, you need a hobby. When location nags at you in the wee hours, you’re not drinking enough.

Nobody got rewarded for very long, which is as it should be when there is no superior team or teams (2012 Kentucky isn’t coming through any door, kids). And that includes the locals.

Cal barely snuck in, and draws Nevada Las Vegas, a team it lost to by one point back in December. On the other hand, no airplane rides, and Mike Montgomery and Jim Boeheim get to compare notes on how the future is wasted on the younger (as in sub-55) generation.

St. Mary’s gets to face Middle Tennessee State, the team it most often shared the bubble with among non-big conference schools, and then the winner of that game gets Memphis.

But best of all maybe is Pacific, where longtime coach Bob Thomason is retiring with one final NCAA berth and a trip to Austin to play ACC champion Miami on Friday. The Tigers had no complaint and didn’t make one; they were happy to win the Big West Tournament, and if the backhand is to get their brains kicked in by the ‘Canes, who many people thought got seed-screwed, then that’s how it plays, and life is still good, and the beer on his picnic table is still cold.

As for the rest of it, well, any of 10 teams have a decent argument for being championship caliber, but the tournament would be better if an off-brand four-or-lower to sneak off with the goods. The NCAA Tournament is a chalk-based experience, almost as much as the football championship, and the fear here is that the wonky nature of the Top 16 actually washes all the way down the bracket and robs us of even the early round upsets we have come to crave.

Worse yet, that the new fetish for 47-45 games that have helped drab the sport is going to be rampant through the tournament. One here or there is okay, especially if it’s a 3-14 or 4-13 game, but anything after Day 2 is a condemnation of continuing deterioration of smart but spirited offensive basketball that has caused casual interest in the game to wane a bit.

And trust us, if we can’t have upsets and all the games have 31-second possessions, then we’re not going to be happy. Unless of course our bracket wins the tavern pool, in which case college basketball has never been better.

We are, after all, nothing if not flexible.

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