By Eamonn Brennan
A funny thing happened between Midnight and March Madness: College basketball suffered through a full-fledged existential crisis.
It had been a long time coming. For the past two years, realignment has ripped rivalries and leagues apart. The one-and-done rule, in place since 2006, has led to constant accusations that the game lacks talent and, most of all, continuity.
The all-in focus on the NCAA tournament sprouted assumptions that the regular season doesn’t matter. The game is slower, more physical, and over-officiated within an inch of its life.
How many scorelines lived in the 50s? The 40s? The 30s? Too many.
And yet, despite all that, this season has been as fun as any in recent memory. There have been an inordinate number of tight games and exciting finishes, buzzer-beaters and court stormings.
Five straight weeks saw five new No. 1 teams. We watched five overtimes in South Bend and have sat glued to the television for entire Saturdays, whole weeks, when every game felt destined to thrill — and usually did.
No wonder everyone kind of freaked out. The game was being criticized from every corner while keeping us glued to the television. The criticisms were valid, and yet they missed the point. Or did they? Does any of this stuff even matter? Should we value process over outcome? Should we reward pragmatism or ambition? Science or art? And what does it say that I’m asking these things in the first place?
Are we overthinking this?
When your eyes tell you one thing and your heart tells you another, things can get confusing in a hurry.
In the end, this season proved at least one thing: College basketball will always have the insanity market cornered. Even when it’s bad, it’s oh so good. Never is that more true — or more widely apparent — than in March.
Each year at this time, we fill out our bracket and make up lame excuses to leave work and gather around the nearest TV and kneel before the glory of March, where anything can and usually does happen.
It’s why you’re here right now, reading this. March smiles upon us all.
But we shouldn’t settle for mere derangement, even come tourney time. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice aesthetic enjoyment in the first 35 minutes of a game to experience the thrill of last-second heroics in the final five.
We should strive for something higher, something much harder to define, something we have to see to know.
Allure. Glamor. Beauty. Watchability, for lack of a better term.
If you’re looking for crazy this time of year, you don’t have to look too hard. But if you’re looking for that something extra, for those qualities that elevate basketball into the sublime, you’ve come to the right place.
Before you dig into the field, and calculate your clearest path to bracket domination, let’s rank every team in the field according to that magical alchemy that we call “watchability.”
Here we value creativity, fluidity, pace, star power, eccentricity, execution, beauty and, yes, good old-fashioned success.
Here, if only for a moment, let’s ditch the science and appreciate the art.