Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Which team would you rather be based upon the past 12 years?

Team 1:

1 National Title
Made tournament every year (Average seed: 4.8)
Overall record: 309-109 (73.9 winning percentage)
5 Double-digit loss seasons
5 Conference Titles
Taking out worst season (7th place), finished as low as 6th in conference
5 Players on current NBA rosters
Less time spent as #1 overall ranked team in nation

Team 2:

1 National Title
Made Tournament Every Year (Average Seed: 3.2)
Overall Record of 338-82 (80.5 winning percentage)
2 Double-digit loss seasons
8 Conference Titles
Taking out worst season (5th place), finished as low as 2nd in conference
9 players on current NBA rosters
More time spent as #1 overall ranked team in nation

OK, now what if I told you that Team #1 went to the Final Four 6 times the past 12 years and Team #2 went 3 times? Would that change your opinion? I guess it depends on how much you buy into conventional wisdom.

If it isn't obvious by now, Team #1 is Michigan State and Team #2 is Kansas.

Tom Izzo clearly has a better tournament record in terms of wins and losses than Bill Self/Roy Williams, but his success has produced the same number of titles, though he has a chance this weekend to add another.

Over the course of the next week, you will a constant refrain: 6 Final Fours in 12 years is an astounding feat and Tom Izzo is the greatest coach in the game. Both of which are arguably true but both need to be qualified.

Six Final Fours is an astounding feat considering how hard it is to string together wins in the tournament while avoiding bad games and bad luck. And Tom Izzo is great at winning games...to a point*. The question is what value do Final Fours really have. Fans enjoy the experience, potential recruits will see the game on TV, and the universities get to pat themselves on the back and add another few stitches to the Final Four banner. For some schools like George Mason, it might be the greatest athletic accomplishment that the school ever achieves.

But if you went to a Final Four, did you really win anything? Michigan State has also had to endure four (and a possible 5th) crushing defeat. Yes, they can look back at their seasons and be proud for a season well played, but why couldn't a team that lost in the Elite Eight be as proud--or even more proud--if they had an as good or better regular season? Why is the tournament success the only success that matters these days? Why is a Final Four so much better than an Elite 8 or Sweet 16 but reaching the championship game and losing is rarely regarded as much better than reaching the Final Four?

The tournament is important but it's not the end-all, be-all of a season. If Michigan State loses on Saturday or Monday, I will have no problem saying that their season wasn't any more successful than Kansas's, Kentucky's or Syracuse's. Many will say that Final Fours are great for recruiting. If that's true, then I hope Michigan State will use this second consecutive Final Four and sixth in 12 years to recruit some better players than they have in the past.

And, yes, I'm biased and bitter as hell.

*It's sort of like how you heard all year how Syracuse was SOOOO hard to match up to because of their zone. Yes, the zone is good but if it was such a weapon as the media makes it out to be, they never would have lost a game.


  1. You forgot to mention how absolutely dominated they were by UNC in the Championship game last year. It was over eight minutes into the game. Getting there is one thing, but getting wiped off the map like that pretty much trivializes their whole season. I don't think that helped recruiting all that much.

  2. I don't think getting killed in the championship game trivializes a season.
    No one loss can really dismantle every accomplishment you've had over the course of the season, unless that one loss outs you as a cheater or something.

    I am the person who started this debate with Kendall and my two cents are that Kendall is biased and I am not. Well, besides being inherently biased against Kendall. I went to a tier 3 Jesuit school that has produced 1 amazing NBA talent.

    I think the final 4 is not only about recruiting and exposure. It is about performing on the biggest stage and excelling. MSU has done that more than KU in my eyes. Because being in second place or fourth is better than being in 25th, in my eyes. I know that it's a truism to say that if you're not first you're last, but I don't think that's the case.
    In the regular season you play schools you're familiar with and coaches you know, in the tournament, you could be playing anyone and have less time to prepare. I feel those two facts really speak to how important the tournament is, and also how impressive the accomplishments are.

  3. I'd rather be on a team that beat Northern Iowa in this year's tournament and, uh, Kansas in last year's...

  4. All this talk of how important Final Fours are makes me think of baseball players spraying each other down with champagne after the Divisional Series.

  5. Kendall, I can see that you have not let this issue go. Breathe deeply and accept that both are impressive programs.

  6. This has nothing to do with Kansas or Michigan State and everything to do with how fans and the media perceive the relative importance of winning 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 games in the tournament.

    Let me put it another way. Georgetown and George Mason have the same number of Final Fours the past decade. Does that mean they've had the same success?

  7. No, they didn't but to use that argument another way. If George Mason had won their conference twice. But got eliminated in the first round. And G-town had won zero times but made it to the sweet 16 a couple times and an elite 8, you'd say those are comparably successful. Or possibly that Mason is more successful, given the importance of conference play in your eyes.

  8. You're perverting my argument. I'm advocating for the use of common sense when evaluating a season, not for using either conference play or tournament play as the only measure for success.

    Georgetown has obviously had a better decade than George Mason because they've spent more time in the top 25 and won a lot of important games against real opponents. They didn't just get hot once.

  9. I think you're selling the value of getting hot once short. You're like the person who doesn't acknowledge Marlins world series or the fact that the rockies made a WS.
    Being in the championship game is immeasurably more important in my eyes than winning important regular season games.

  10. The key is that the Rockies didn't win the World Series and therefore they didn't win anything important. They may have sprayed each other down with champagne when they reached the World Series, but that doesn't mean they won anything. They had a nice run one year, but that doesn't mean they've been better than the Cubs the last decade.

    Plus, baseball is inherently different because of the 7-game series format. It's designed for the best team to move forward. With the tournament, almost anything can happen, which is why they call it March Madness. It's important to get hot and win the whole thing, but falling short one game too early or three games too early is just not important to me.