How do you know a brand is damn near bulletproof?
When the functional quality of its product is mediocre, when the buildup to the part that matters is totally irrelevant, and when fans can count on one hand how many people they can name who are associated with the product, and yet you still bang out record television ratings....that's a bulletproof brand, my friends.
March Madness -- the tournament, the fanfare, the brand -- cannot be touched. To the average fans, the players are just a bunch of jerseys running around playing, not really playing all that well, and so long as there are games in March and those games have drama (actual and gambling-fabricated drama), people will watch.
They're watching this year in record numbers, and there's certainly been something for most everyone -- a decent amount of upsets, some feel good stories, and an upper tier that should eventually give us a pretty good Final Four, the road to which goes through Houston this week!
The first weekend had winners and losers. Let's look at the highlights....
4. Mike Brey Notre Dame made the Sweet Sixteen this weekend for just the second time during Mike Brey's 15 year run at Notre Dame, the first berth coming in 2003 (and ending after one game with Arizona). At most power conference schools, this would be reason for restlessness among the fan base, and while there are certainly some Notre Dame fans who probably clamor for change, the fact remains Mike Brey isn't going anywhere. Nor should he. At a school where his program is a clear second class citizen (everyone is after football), Brey has found a formula that works fine for Notre Dame -- he gets to the tournament most seasons, pulls off a few upsets, graduates players, and represents the school well. And if this team weren't in Kentucky's region, who knows? He might have the school's first Final Four team since 1978. As it is, it's definitely been a nice bounce back from the rare sub .500 Brey season at ND. Oh by the way, he coached Saturday's nail biter against Butler just hours after learning his mom had passed away suddenly from a heart attack....
Incredible. Mike Brey is definitely at the top of the Sagarin ratings for "Coach I'd Most Like To Have A Beer With."
3. Ron Hunter For the long shots in the tournament, the value is in the experience of traveling one more time as a team, and who knows -- maybe even winning a basketball game! Ask schools like Valparaiso, Florida Gulf Coast, or on a much grander level, Butler what NCAA tournaments wins or runs can do for a school. Georgia State's head coach Ron Hunter gets it. His team upset Baylor in the round of 64, gave Xavier a good go in the round of 32, and most importantly, he may have sewn up Father of the Year....
Ron Hunter is second behind Brey on the Sagarin ratings for "Coach I'd Most Like To Have A Beer With."
2. Sportsbooks Thursday's run of underdog love was well documented. When you added the 4-0 ATS start for dogs in the First Four to Thursday's games, the Davids got off to a 16-4 start against the spread. Then on Friday, there was an unprecedented run of the better seeds winning their games straight up, 15-1 to be exact. Only Dayton's win to cap out the night kept the chalk from going 16-0 straight up. But here's the thing -- even with the chalk winning, they weren't really covering the spread. Dogs STILL went 9-7 ATS on Friday. And unders are hitting a monster pace, which means that the sports books in Vegas (whose clientele this time of year is like 90 percent amateur bettors) are killing it. Amateur bettors love favorites and overs. Needless to say, not a ton of frivolous shopping going on in the desert casino malls this weekend.
1. Kentucky If there's one thing that was hammered home the first weekend, it's the possibility (likelihood?) that this whole thing might just be the Kentucky Invitational and the trophy ceremony will be more of a coronation than a celebration. For the first half of its Saturday game against Cincinnati, Kentucky played maybe it's C- game. Maybe. And they went into the locker room up seven at the half. The list of teams that can reasonably compete in a fully focused situation with Kentucky is short. Probably can count it on one hand. In Vegas, Kentucky was a 50/50 shot to win it all going into the tournament. That shouldn't change.
4. Bill Self I don't think this was one of Bill Self's better Kansas teams, so the fact that he coached them to a number two seed speaks to how good a job he did in the regular season. Still, though, a two seed is supposed to make it to the second weekend, and as he typically does this time of year, Self gagged. My colleague Nick Wright summed it up in a series of tweets...
I understand that unless you make the Final 4 as a #1 seed you've underperformed your seed, so it's a tough bar to clear... BUT...
— nick wright (@getnickwright) March 22, 2015
In 12 NCAA Tournaments, Self at KU has underperformed his seed 8 times, overperformed it 3 times (04, 08, 12) and played to it once.
— nick wright (@getnickwright) March 22, 2015
There ya go.
3. Studio show I'll be honest, I haven't watched much of the CBS/Turner studio shows this tournament, mostly because they do such a good job of staggering the start times of the games that there's very little real down time where you can't watch actual basketball. So I did some studio viewing early in the day Saturday and Sunday when there's only one game on. A couple years into the Barkley/Kenny Smith experiment, here are the positives and negatives:
POSITIVES: Analysis of actual game flow, analysis of players as pertains to NBA futures, Clark Kellogg is light years better than Shaq as a "third banana" with Kenny and Charles
NEGATIVES: Blatantly obvious they watch little to no college basketball when it comes time to make predictions, and here's the thing -- they actually have segments totally built around the two of them making predictions. At this point, the numbers indicate people don't care. They just like having Kenny and Charles on there, so it is what it is.
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2. Viewers Something has to be done about the amount of time it takes to play the final two minutes of a game. Why teams need five timeouts in a game where there are already built in timeouts every four minutes is beyond me. It took the final 1:13 of regulation in the Notre Dame-Butler game over thirteen minutes to be played. That's totally unacceptable. Again, ratings are through the roof, so the chances of it getting fixed are probably even less now than before the tournament, but the problem is palpable.
1. The Big East Eventually, the name "Big East" is going to lose some of its 80's and 90's equity that was largely built by teams who are no longer in the Big East. One way to expose that? Lose five of your six tournament teams before the end of the first weekend. Eventually, the committee will realize that this is the "Big East" in name-only, the same way "Beverly Hills, 90210" was still technically "Beverly Hills, 90210" even though all of the Walshes were gone by the final season or two.
Same. Exact. Thing.