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Friday, December 19, 2014

Column: The year of David: Flaws keep teams back

March 1, 2011

When I look at the state of college basketball, I see a mosh of talented teams – none extraordinary, but all trying to appear so. Dozens of teams strive for greatness, but even the favorites seem to eventually drown in their own flaws. It’s a group of faceless, nameless impostors – a room full of Slim Shadies, with the real thing sitting anonymously somewhere in the crowd.

We’ve seen a parade of No. 1 teams over the past month, each one earning the spot, waving to the crowd enthusiastically, and then subsequently bowing out in increasingly gut-wrenching fashion. Supposed “underdogs” have rushed the court at least three times this season after “shocking the world.” My question is: How many times does David need to beat Goliath before David becomes the favorite? After seeing it again and again, we all start to expect the top dog to stumble. So, when No. 1 ranked Duke lost to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Saturday, nobody blinked for a second.

Granted, the season didn’t start this way. The defending NCAA champion Duke Blue Devils started the season as the preseason No. 1, touting impressive depth headed by the two-headed monster of Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. They held that post for an impressive 10 weeks, looking virtually indestructible. They were firing on all cylinders - getting three-point shooting from Singler, Smith and Seth “Not Steph” Curry, and valuable frontcourt energy and rebounding from the Plumlee brothers. But then, on Jan. 12, they lost at Florida State (as they seem to do every season), and just like that all hell broke loose. The carousel of No. 1s had been set in motion.

And so it went. Ohio State held the post for four weeks, before finally falling at Wisconsin. Next in line was Kansas, who was No. 1 for approximately 45 seconds, before being blown out by rival Kansas State in its first game with the new ranking. This past week, Duke regained the top spot, just in time to lose to Virginia Tech and keep everyone’s head spinning. It seems the “No. 1” tag has become less of a privilege and more of a kiss of death.

Of course, this level of parity throughout the sport can only mean great things for the upcoming NCAA tournament. With so little separating No. 1 seeds and No. 10 seeds, there’s bound to be no lack of upsets. And that’s what makes March Madness a spectacle to behold - anyone can win at any moment. George Mason can reach the Final Four against all odds. A picture-perfect shooting touch can somehow make “Jimmer” a household name. For Mizzou fans, Marcus Denmon can hit a three-quarter shot in an eventual upset of second seed Memphis. And this year’s madness should be even crazier than most.

So, my advice to future No. 1 ranked teams: Keep losing. Keep crumbling under the pressure of opposing crowds. Keep turning the ball over down the stretch of close games. Keep missing the first free throw in one-and-one situations. The more you stumble, the more fun we’re all destined to have in March. It’s still weeks away, and my bracket is already busted.

As more favorites go down, it becomes increasingly apparent that this year’s class has no Goliath. BYU and San Diego State can attest to that personally. Davids are running rampant, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. Get your slingshots ready, because March is going to be a wild ride.

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