Tuesday March 30th, 2010

The NCAA tournament encourages the myth of equality. You, too, can be George Mason. We relish that; it's in our national DNA. Rags-to-riches. Butler-to-Indy. In America, anyone can grow up to be president.

But, not anyone does. Thank goodness. By the time March Madness reaches the middle of its second weekend, we'd prefer sanity. It beats Butler in a national semifinal.

The Madness is great. Stop the Madness.

It's like prescribed medicine. Just because five upsets are good doesn't mean 10 are better. There is a limit to their effectiveness. It was reached when Northern Iowa KO'd Kansas in Round 2. It was exceeded when Butler beat Syracuse five days later.

Give me a tournament where, after the first weekend, pedigrees take over and pumpkins take off. The meritocracy is assured -- yes, Ohio, you really did beat Georgetown! -- but the aristocracy is preserved.

This year, it's been like Bastille Day. I'll see your Ali Farokhmanesh and raise you a Ronald Nored. Great stories. But great stories don't make for great games. Generally, great stories are preludes to great games. Cornell-Kentucky was a great story. As a game, it was something less.

Butler is a great story. The Bulldogs return home, to play a few miles from campus. A campus, by the way, which includes Hinkle Fieldhouse, home office for the inspirational sports flick, Hoosiers.

Fine, but get me a rewrite. And a semifinal featuring Syracuse, Kansas State, Ohio State or Georgetown. Cinderella works as a bedtime tale. We're not sleepy.

This has nothing to do with deserving to be there, or earning the right. It's about who we want to see. It's about the sex appeal of John Wall versus Evan Turner on Monday night. Or Kentucky and Kansas -- as good as Yankees and Red Sox -- scrumming for their latest Shining Moment.

The Phillies played the Rays in the World Series two years ago. Both deserved to be there. The Rays were a great story. Nobody watched.

We reveled in the stunners the past two weekends. Once the amazement cleared, all it all got us was a Final Four that looks like the Maui Invitational.

Only Duke honored its top seeding, and the Dukies are not compelling. Only West Virginia deserved its No. 2. The Mountaineers play in one semi. The other is Butler against Michigan State minus its best player, Kalin Lucas. The storyline is nice. The game? Wouldn't you rather see Kansas and Kansas State? So would CBS.

There is a formula here for a great tournament. Northern Iowa had it right: Kill a giant in Round 2. Captivate an entire nation. Provide the mother of all Madness moments: A little point guard named Ali Farokhmanesh, launching an inexplicable three to beat overall No. 1 Kansas.

Then lose in Round 3.

Bravo to the Panthers. Their Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State didn't dim their place in tournament lore. It cemented it. If they'd kept winning, beating Kansas would have seemed less monumental.

Kudos to Farokhmanesh. His arrogance was unmistakable, his coolness chilling, his moment lifetime. His team up one with less than a minute to play, against the supposed best team in the entire event, he gets the ball on the right wing, an open three-pointer right there, like a devil sitting on his shoulder. The shot clock is at 30 seconds.

Wise move: Pull up, run some clock, get fouled etc. Madness move: Square up. Pause. Ponder the meaning of what you're about to do. Give the devil his due. Shoot the ball. If a visitor from Mars were to land in Indianapolis today and ask for an explanation of the NCAA tournament, you'd show him five seconds of Farokhmanesh.

Then the Panthers lost to the Spartans. Farokhmanesh went 2-for-9 from the field. A memory was still frame-able, but order was restored. Too bad the rest of the tournament didn't play out the same way. As much as we revel in David hurling three-bombs, we'd prefer he'd stop in time for us to watch Kansas and Kentucky.

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