College Basketball in Two Acts

By Jake on March 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm
Disclaimer: Mountain Lion may have been Mountain Housecat   Pictured: Mountain Lion after thorough submitting.

Like any upstanding denizen of the Appalachian mountains, the first thing I did to celebrate Ohio State's victory over Penn State was wrestle a Mountain Lion into submission. Manliness thus displayed, I retired to my apartment and cooked the traditional Manful Victory Meal of a veggie hot pocket (broccoli and low-fat cheddar) and pita chips. After a hour-long Power nap and a 10-minute eye-rest, I applied my Facial Cleanser of Dominance and ruminated on where, exactly, the Scarlet and Gray stand in the bigger picture. I realized three things: first, our last two games had the exact same scores, which is creepy as hell; second, Jon Diebler is a wizard; third, the last of game of the regular season is this Sunday, and it's against our newly-minted nemesis Wisconsin. Suffice to say, beating Bucky would be an ever-so-sweet coda to the regular season.

As important as that game is, the impending conclusion of the season inevitably leads to a kind of introspection. Like the lives that endlessly cycle through the Tibetan Wheel of Life, every Buckeye team is both the same as the year before and entirely new. There are agents of continuity: upperclassmen, the staff, the university and its traditions. There are agents of change: freshman, the non-conference schedule, Nike's latest attempt at "edgy" uniforms. But the most extreme expressions of this change/continuity dynamic lies in the dichotomy of the Conference schedule and the Tournament.

In the same sense that those stable elements of the program allow the Buckeyes to remain the Buckeyes, our conference opponents offer mostly familiar faces during the bulk of the season.  Their tendencies and personnel carry-over, giving our team more knowledge with which to plan but providing the same to the enemy. That's the reality we face on Sunday: a familiar opponent with familiar players, a familiar coach, and a familiar offense. We have confidence in Diebler, Sullinger, Buford, Lighty, Craft, and Lauderdale and we have confidence in Thad Matta, but the same is true of the Badger fans and their team. Throughout the long, grueling process that leads us to this final match, a certain amount of predictibility sets in. We learn who is a contender, who is a pretender, and who is Iowa (hint: it's always Iowa). It can be a very anti-climactic conclusion for many teams. Ohio State is assured of at least a tie, Iowa is assured of being terrible, and most teams know whether they're in the dance or not.

By comparison, the NCAA tournament is sheer anarchy. Sixty-five eight teams, many of whom don't even share a common opponent, face off with almost no time to prepare. Whereas the conference schedule provides stability, continuity, and predictability; the tournament schedule is a hectic maelstrom of upsets, meltdowns, cinderellas, and an ever-present sense of uncertainty. March Madness is the one thing College Basketball has that College Football simply cannot match. As exciting as the pageantry and hype surrounding the bowl games can be, it simply can't compare to the sheer insanity that is the NCAA tournament.Even more, it is the steady and predictable regular season juxtaposed with the frantic, mad March that gives the tournament it's punch. In the regular season, you don't have to give up on the championship after a couple losses, giving hope to many fans and players late into the season. Once you make it, however, the stakes rise and the intensity escalates. College Basketball is a two-act play. The regular season sets up the conflict: introducing the characters, the plot, and the villians. The tournament provides the climax. No matter what happens Sunday, I can't wait to see the conclusion.

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