The Secret to March’s Unusual Madness

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Louis DeLuca/MCT

Connecticut teammates Donnell Beverly and Kemba Walker celebrate a 53-41 victory over Butler in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Monday, April 4, 2011.

Conor Volpe, Staff Writer

In a year in which Sports Illustrated correctly predicted precisely one of the Elite Eight and only two brackets out of six million on ESPN had the correct Final Four, March was not only madness, but completely unpredictable. Every sane person in America picked Ohio State and Kansas as the two teams in the final, but the Buckeyes couldn’t even make it out of the Sweet Sixteen and 2011’s Cinderella in VCU upset Kansas in the Elite Eight. VCU’s selection was so controversial it had ESPN basketball analysts up in arms. It’s safe to say that this year’s edition of March Madness has been not only incredibly entertaining but also dumbfounding at the same time. And there is a reason for all this parity.

2011 features an incredibly shallow pool of talent in college basketball. That may be a bit harsh but nonetheless true. There are no standouts this year, no guys who just scream future NBA All-Star. There are plenty of solid players but a glaring lack of elite players, a la John Wall or Blake Griffin.

There are good college players out there, like America’s darlings Jimmer Fredette and Kemba Walker, but they were stuck on teams that were otherwise short on talent. Fredette was forced into taking the team on his back, especially when Brandon Davies, his best big man, was suspended from the team. Walker was on a Connecticut team that prominently featured three freshmen, wasn’t in the preseason top 25, and had only one other player score over 10 points per game. On both of these teams the talent level dropped off significantly after their two stars, when historically other quality players surround the nation’s best players. Somehow, despite all this, Walker managed to lead UCONN to a national title.

Then there are the year’s two dominant teams, Kansas and Ohio State. Both were the two top seeds in the tournament and were dominant from the beginning of the season to the end. But neither team had superstars, just a collection of very good players. Sort of like the Nuggets after the Carmello trade. Jared Sullinger is a beast down low, but he routinely gets his shot blocked, as demonstrated in the Buckeyes’ season ending loss to Kentucky. And Kansas’ Morris twins are a fantastic tandem, but they couldn’t bully their way past a motivated VCU squad. The two top teams were good top to bottom, but lacked dominant players.

All of this set the stage for some tremendous upsets. With the talent level down, teams that never stood a chance in years past all of a sudden were in winnable games. Teams like Richmond, Morehead State, and of course Butler and VCU took advantage and upset traditional powers.

And they won for the most part being lead by players who with a dip in the talent pool are now on the level of many of the best players on top-tier programs. Players like Kenneth Faried on Morehead State, Justin Harper from Richmond, and Shelvin Mack from Butler are all projected first rounders in the NBA draft. Going in the same range as Kansas’ Morris twins and Kentucky’s highly touted point guard Brandon Knight.

All of this evened the playing field, and opened the door for well-coached underdogs like VCU and Butler to make a run, and in the process ruin millions of perfectly good brackets. They were solid teams who believed they could make it, and aided by some favorable circumstances, they shocked the college basketball world.