Relevant Rankings and Irrelevant Bubble

5 Feb

It is now February and time to start hearing about the “weak bubble” and how the at-large pool is full of mediocrity, at least that’s what those who cover college basketball like to trumpet seemingly every year.  Just like hearing the mantra of “rankings don’t matter” all year long and while I agree with those two soapboxes for the most part, I also believe that it is those two things that can in part help another soapbox of the pundits, the growth of the college basketball fandom.

Starting when they first throw the ball up in November we hear how polls and rankings don’t matter, and they don’t for the most part.   Where they do matter though is the role they play in getting people to watch.  Take this past Saturday’s match up between Indiana and Michigan.  Hoop fanatics watched because of how good the two teams are and how important it was in the Big Ten landscape and in terms of potential seeding for the NCAA Tournament.  Casual fans, at least in part were drawn to the game because it was #1 vs. #3 and that’s ok because they saw a tremendous game and may bring them back to watch more.  It is those numbers that don’t matter help draw more fans to games and the longer they stay seeing good basketball and hearing about storylines that we fanatics discuss nightly.

Now as winter turns to early spring we hear lamentations again about weak bubbles and how the bracket needs to be filled with someone.  The question I have is if the sport is to grow does mediocrity and filling out the bracket even matter outside of those who eat, sleep and breathe the sport?  For instance do people remember how up or down Georgetown, Wisconsin or their conferences were in 2008 when they were beaten by Steph Curry and Davidson on their way to the Elite 8?  Odds are not, but I bet they remember Curry and the Wildcats.  In four years do you think people will remember that Connecticut was 9-9 in the Big East before riding Kemba Walker to a national championship?

My point is that in the grand scheme of things the strength or weakness of teams in the field in any given year are largely irrelevant to those we hope to attract to the sport on a more consistent basis, but why?  The answer is twofold.

First, field strength doesn’t matter nearly as we would like to think because they don’t remember anything about that aspect years down the road.   What they do remember are really good basketball games between two teams.  They remember Duke/Kentucky, Gonzaga’s battle with Florida and the runs by George Mason, VCU and Butler, they don’t remember or perhaps even care about the paths they took.

So while we hear about irrelevant rankings and weak bubble, those things help get the attention of the public so that they can see what will all want the world to see, good basketball.  It doesn’t matter if the game is between two top-five teams in February or a 3rd round game between the 6th ACC team and 4th in the Big Ten team that goes into double overtime.  People get attracted by the things fanatics have a big disdain for and they are kept around by compelling competitive hoops.

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