Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Final Four Finally Ruined

By Dan Shanoff

Today's Calls: Chalk vs. Cinderella, Davidson vs. Kansas, Ryan Zimmerman vs. Chipper Jones, Johan Santana vs. Erik Bedard, Warriors vs. Mavs vs. Nuggets and More!

The Opening Pitch: The Final Four has been ruined. I'm not kidding.

College basketball's charm has always been the utter unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament.

When any mope can perfectly pick the Final Four just from the chalk, the tournament loses its most precious quality.

That was captured nowhere better than in the tournament's perfect record: All four No. 1 seeds had never made the Final Four in the same year.

Until now.

The reality sucks the fun right out of the tournament, just as surely as the air was sucked out of Ford Field when Davidson missed that 3 at the buzzer, ensuring the Final Four's doomsday scenario.

I have nothing against the Final Four participants individually; if three of the four had made it, this wouldn't even be an issue:

We could focus on UCLA's 3rd straight Final Four; or UNC's dominant run; or Bill Self finally breaking through; or John Calipari slaying the naysayers by finally winning a regional final with Memphis.

But with all four making it, the story is the irrevocable sullying of the NCAA Tournament's charm -- the "Final" moment of its Cinderella story.

Apologists will try to argue that having all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four is a good thing, that we'll see the "best." But that's not what made the NCAA Tournament the best playoff format in sports.

Don't be fooled: When predictability wins, fans lose.

NCAA Women's Tournament: For better or worse, the opposite is true in the women's tournament, where the advancement of big "names" like UConn, Tennessee and Rutgers is ideal for a sport always trying to find traction among casual college hoops fans. Every regional final is 1-vs-2 ... and that's a good thing. (Yesterday's Star: Candace Parker, the women's CBB POY who had 34 for defending champ Tennessee.)

MLB Opening Night: There was no better way for the baseball season to really start -- or for Nationals Park to make its debut -- than Ryan Zimmerman's walk-off home run to lead the Nats over the Braves. (I'm a Nats fan, so I'm obviously biased, but I think the new stadium is the foundation for a very good team in the future.)

MLB Opening Day: Aces everywhere! The best part of opening day is that it guarantees a slew of games showcasing the league's best pitchers. The five most intriguing:

(1) Johan Santana, making his Mets debut.
(2) Erik Bedard, making his Mariners debut.
(3) Tom Glavine, making his Braves ... return.
(4) C.C. Sabathia, reigning A.L. Cy Young Award winner vs. ChiSox.
(5) Ben Sheets vs. Carlos Zambrano, for N.L. Central superiority.

Here's some nice season-opening news for MLB: 70 percent of fans think that at least a quarter of players cheat by using steroids or PEDs (with one-third of fans thinking that half the players cheat), according to a new New York Times/CBS News poll.

NBA This Weekend: The difference between 1st place and 9th place in the West is 5.5 games, making the final two weeks of the regular season "playoff-ish." Every result could be the difference between home-court advantage in the playoffs ... and missing the playoffs.

At the top, the Spurs and Hornets are suddenly battling it out for HCA through the playoffs: Yesterday, the Spurs won their 7th in a row, and the Hornets hit the magic "50" mark, which would have seemed crazy a year ago.

Seventh spot a case study: With Golden State's win over Dallas on Sunday (counter-balancing their loss to Denver on Saturday), the Warriors, Mavs and Nuggets are all tied for 7th place, with one of the three likely to miss the playoffs.

I cannot believe a West team playing over .600 will miss the playoffs. Meanwhile, in the East ... well, let's just not talk about the East. (I have a playoff-format reform: Let's have the Celtics and Pistons advance directly to the East Finals.)

Heat Watch: Just when you think the humiliation in Miami couldn't get worse, they find a way to lower the bar. Sunday, the Heat were held to 17 field goals, an NBA-record low for the shot-clock era.

Indiana is the new Michigan: Does anyone want the Hoosiers' basketball coaching job? Wazzu's Tony Bennett isn't interested; neither is Tennessee's Bruce Pearl. Isiah Thomas said that IU hasn't contacted him ... as fans should hope it hasn't.

NFL Draft: Tomorrow begins the final sprint to the Draft. Here's what you can expect: Misdirection, and lots of it.

If a player is being questioned in media reports (particularly by anonymous sources), assume teams are trying to scare other teams away from drafting him.

But don't try to call it anti-competitive or bad sportsmanship -- it's all "part of the game."

(NBA Draft: Did Derrick Rose just pass Michael Beasley as the 2008 NBA Draft's No. 1 prospect? If you consider Chris Paul's impact versus, say, Kevin Durant's, Rose should be ranked as the top talent.)

The Last Word: Thank you, Davidson. In an otherwise lame set of regionals, the Wildcats provided more drama than all of the four Final Four teams combined. They deserved to advance to San Antonio.

Here is Davidson's consolation prize:

They may not have made the Final Four, but years from now, when people think back to the 2008 Tournament, they will remember Stephen Curry and Davidson's run more than they will the Final Four and eventual champ.

Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.
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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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