Call me stupid — it wouldn’t be the first time — but I never have understood the cliché that goes something like this: “The bracket really has opened up.” It becomes a fashionable phrase whenever multiple low seeds advance to the same regional site.
It was uttered in 2008, when the three teams that joined Kansas in Detroit were No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 10 Davidson and No. 12 Villanova.
KU had little trouble getting past Villanova and advanced to a regional final matchup against Davidson. Some opined then that KU was “lucky” that Davidson advanced because it was seeded seven spots lower than Wisconsin. Funny, but Kansas didn’t look so lucky when coach Bill Self dropped to his knees and Davidson’s final shot hung in the air for six or eight days before missing. Heavy underdogs tend to play loose. Plus, Davidson wasn’t “lucky” to defeat Georgetown before knocking off Wisconsin, it was better than the Hoyas.
One problem with the whole concept that upsets make a bracket “open up,” giving a favorite such as KU an easy path to the Final Four, is that it elevates the selection committee to Solomon status. If a higher seed automatically is better than a lower one, why bother playing the games? Just have the four No. 1 seeds play it off in Houston.
The bracket has “opened up for KU” talk rages again, louder even than three springs ago. This time, the seeds are 10, 11 and 12 joining the Jayhawks in the Southwest.
Sure, Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth and Florida State don’t have as much talent as Notre Dame, Purdue and Louisville, but it’s not the team that has the best basketball players that wins, it’s the one that plays the best basketball.
KU’s Friday night opponent, Richmond, has won nine in a row, seven by double digits. During a hot-and-cold nonconference schedule, double-digit victories against Purdue and VCU drew national attention for the Spiders.
Which brings us to VCU, an 11 seed. The widespread lambasting of the seeding committee for letting the Rams into the field seemed justified, but they proved they belonged by riding 5-foot-10 water bug of a point guard Joey Rodriguez to three victories in five days.
The Rams blasted USC, Georgetown and Purdue by an average margin of 16.3 points and Rodriguez had 23 assists and three turnovers. Going into its game against VCU, Purdue had allowed two teams to score more than 70 points in a game: Ohio State (87) and Michigan State (74). With Rodriguez delivering the ball on time, on target, to a hard-cutting teammate freed by a series of screens, the Rams slaughtered Purdue, 94-76.
And the Jayhawks are supposed to do back flips because VCU advanced?
Florida State went 3-3 when 6-9 power forward Chris Singleton was sidelined by a foot injury, and 20-7 in games with Singleton, including a victory against Duke. Five of those seven losses — Ohio State, Florida, Butler, North Carolina twice —came against teams in the Sweet 16, four against teams seeded first or second.
Sure, Kansas will have the best basketball players this weekend in San Antonio, but it must play the best basketball to make it to Houston.