OMAHA, Neb. -- College basketball is a cruel bastard when nobody can win the office pool.Or when you learn that you cant.For all the kvetching about free throw lane violations, bad seeds and crap shooting from three-point range, the salient facts are these: You spent hours trying to win your pool.
You cant win it.
For this, you may thank the delightful collection of players at Norfolk State and Lehigh, at Ohio and North Carolina State and South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth, too.Indeed, only one regional, the East, is still intact, and priming and taping one regional doesnt get the garage painted. Face it, youre out.
But now comes the harder part. Can you marry yourselves to the Norfolks and Lehighs and Ohios and VCUs and The Wrong USFs through the brutal second round, where all surviving 15s and 14s and almost all 12s go to die? Can you carry yourself to a second weekend when your teams are mostly gone?The answer, oddly, is that you ought to.PLAY! CSN's Bracket Challenge -- round by round game
College basketball has desperately needed Friday for years now. The tournament has become so top-heavy and so weighted toward to the elitest elites that there is no real drama after the round of 64 is done.I mean, you may have lost half your two-seeds, but if you were lazy enough to go straight chalk, you still have your Kentucky and your North Carolina and your Michigan State. We dont like your Syracuse so much, but you can cling to Jim Boeheims irrepressible stubbornness in the face of perennial scorn and a year ordered direct from the Hell.com catalog.That remains the final frontier the 16 that cheats fate. Still perfectly vaporized after 108 tries, the 16s can now pretend that they can be next years Norfolk or Drexel, because most of the time they are the same teams.But the good news even if the plucky longshots are plucked themselves tomorrow is that the NCAA Tournament Committee must now do more than their usual cursory job of vetting those 12s through 16s. I mean, if theyre going to go to the trouble of becoming live underdogs rather than competitive meat with eyes, they must be analyzed with more than the usual You seen em? I havent seen em. Make em a 15 and lets order another bottle of the Rag Top Red.No, it isnt that simple, of course, but until Friday it certainly did. Friday was the day the brackets died and the committee had to face the fact that its job is now harder. The second level teams are now not as good as they used to be, and the teams at the bottom now have legitimacy.And college athletics hates when that happens.But while were here, lets move on to the subtext of the day free throw violations.Officials are hated because, well, because Pavlov said it should be so. But two games were affected by late-game lane violations that threw the Internet into a tizz-let. This of course caused everyone to blame the officials yet again for carrying the bricks given them by the officiating supervisors who drop yearly points of emphasis in the officials preparation packets.This years clearly included lane violations, and because most Internet arguments start with Ive never seen that, therefore it must be bogus, the rage was palpable.But the rage was directed at the poor schmoes who made the calls the ones who would not advance to the next round if they ignored the violations.So hate the call. Of course you do. But dont hate the caller hate the system.A lane violation is one of those calls officials would rather get early in a game, to let the players know theyre watching. Theyre like hand checks and walks and cheap grabs off the ball and the over-the-backs that when called judiciously can shape the game in subtle ways that are all to the good.But the notion that officials shouldnt decide a game in general is false, because they decide them all to one extent or another. Moreover, the idea that they shouldnt decide them with a lane violation denies the fact that you get what you get when you get it, and you call it when it comes.The problem with the call being a lane violation is that it means the officials either didnt tell the players enough times to watch when you break the plane, and were not kidding, or the players ignored them. If the supervisors want lane violations called, then it is part of the officials job to call them, or to do their damnedest to make sure players know that theyre going to do so. Ignoring them isnt an option, not in this system. Do we know if that level of preventing officiating happened? No, because nobody pays attention to most of what an official does. If it didnt happen, then the purpose of a point of emphasis is wasted. If it did, well, the complainers are just going to have to eat it on that one.But they wont linger long on it. In fact, theyve already moved on to Saturdays games, which are all about chalk, and Sundays, which are all about madness. Your bracket is shredded; give up.But if you can watch the games even with no chance to win, then you are a better person than most.