Now that the mayhem that is March Madness has officially come to
a close, college basketball fans can take a moment to reflect on
one of the most intriguing seasons in recent memory. From the
memorable run made by Jameer Nelson and the St. Joseph’s Hawks to
Will Bynum’s unforgettable lay-up against Oklahoma State in the
Final Four, 2003-04 was truly a year to remember.

While a number of captivating storylines and topics of debate
unfolded over the course of the season, the three most compelling
and thought-provoking issues of the year, in my opinion, are as
follows:

 

East Coast bias has merit

As I sat in the media room of Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse,
huddled around a television set watching CBS’s March 14 coverage of
Selection Sunday, a general consensus seemed to be reached between
everyone in the room: the Badgers got the shaft, the ACC is
overrated and there really is an East Coast bias.

But for all the grumbling that took place following the
“travesty” committed by Bob Bowlsby and this year’s selection
committee, the six ACC teams represented in this year’s field of 65
all advanced to at least the second round. Add Duke and Georgia
Tech’s Final Four appearances and the Yellow Jackets’ victory over
Oklahoma State to this feat, and the committee’s respect for the
ACC suddenly doesn’t look so foolish.

Did the Badgers deserve better than a six seed? Sure. Despite
getting to play in Milwaukee, should they have had to play the best
three-seed in the tournament after playing just one game? No. But
for as badly as Wisconsin got hosed, the ACC and a supposed East
Coast bias are not why the Badgers were slighted.

Of the four teams that received better seeds than UW (Duke,
Georgia Tech, Maryland and North Carolina State), the only team
Badger fans could raise a legitimate beef over is Maryland. But the
Terrapins won their conference tournament and beat Wisconsin
earlier in the year, so one can see the reasoning behind Bowlsby
and friends’ decision. Also, the Big Ten Tournament Championship,
which the Badgers won, was never even factored into the committee’s
decision.

So, when looking for a scapegoat for Wisconsin’s snubbing, don’t
blame the ACC. Blame Florida, Cincinnati and the other obvious
“bracket busters.”

 

Early entry good for college basketball

The runs made by Xavier and St. Joseph’s and the strong showings
made by Richmond and Dayton in this year’s Big Dance turned the
tournament into a showcase for the legitimacy of A-10 basketball.
The Musketeers and Hawks both fell just one victory short of the
Final Four, and the Spiders and Flyers each gave their first-round
foes a run for their money.

It’s the stories and upsets like these that are at the heart of
college basketball. Bryce Drew’s heave at the buzzer to drop
Mississippi in 1998, Wisconsin’s improbable run to the Final Four
in 2000 and UAB downing Kentucky in this year’s tourney are a huge
part of what makes March Madness so entertaining.

But had LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh been
sporting college uniforms this season, would the four
aforementioned A-10 representatives or teams like UAB or Nevada had
similar success? Maybe. But the likelihood of these squads making
the same amount of noise would be drastically reduced.

Parity is a great thing, and it makes match-ups more intriguing.
While the runs made by some of the legendary Kentucky teams and
John Wooden’s UCLA squads are ridiculously impressive, giving up
dynasties is worth gaining competitive balance.

David versus Goliath clashes are only interesting when Goliath
goes down, and the likelihood of dropping a Goliath by the name of
Josh Childress or Lawrence Roberts is far greater than defeating
one by the name of Kobe, KG or LeBron.

 

Connecticut joins elite company

With their 82-73 victory over Georgia Tech, UConn captured their
second national title in the past six seasons. Boasting one of the
most solid defensive squads in the country and the best frontline
in recent memory, the Huskies finished the regular season as Big
East Tournament Champions and capped off the Big Dance with
arguably the most coveted prize in all of sports.

With the title, however, so too should come respectability as
being one of the nation’s top programs. Over the course of Jim
Calhoun’s 18-year tenure as UConn’s head coach, the Huskies have
had five 30-win seasons, have amassed 431 victories and have
produced a number of solid NBA athletes — most recently, Detroit’s
Richard Hamilton.

While Calhoun was cutting down the nets at the Alamodome Monday
night, Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewki and Roy Williams were merely idle
bystanders, likely reminiscing about their days in the sun.

Calhoun has raised the bar at UConn and has subsequently earned
the right to be mentioned in the same breath as these legendary
coaches.

His 1999-title team beat a seemingly untouchable Duke squad,
which featured the likes of William Avery, Elton Brand, Corey
Maggette, Shane Battier and Trajan Langdon — which still stands as
the best college basketball team I’ve ever seen assembled.

Take that for what it’s worth, but the fact that Connecticut
should now be mentioned in the same breath as the Dukes, UCLAs,
Kansases and Kentuckys remains.

Just ask Vermont, DePaul, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Duke, Georgia
Tech or any team residing in the Big East. They’ll likely tell you
the same.