Floor Burns: Sound and Fury

Floor Burns usually runs on Sundays. Alas, hockey happened.

You know what this weekend's games really meant to Kansas, Kentucky, and Syracuse? Nothing. Those three teams are still the best choices for national champion, the talented crews that, barring a critical injury or suspension, will be favored to end up in Indianapolis in April. 

By contrast, Purdue losing Robbie Hummel last week means that Purdue is going to struggle to make it to even the Sweet Sixteen, much less further, regardless of what they do between now and March. This weekend's loss to Michigan State? Just confirmation that their March has already lost much of its potential for magic, thanks to Hummel's tragic ACL tear.

For the great teams, the ones fighting for one seeds or pod placement, these games at the end of the season signify almost nothing. The most a national title contender can do is gain a marginal advantage on the road to the Final Four, whether from weaker competition or a shorter road trip. These teams know their identities and their abilities; they know conference titles aren't the be-all, end-all of their seasons. They're playing out the string, saving themselves, waiting for the madness to descend.

Now, the less impressive teams? They're already in the midst of that madness.

They're either sounding the horn for their inclusion (XavierMarquette) or making their fans furious by failing to do so (Florida, Connecticut). As a Florida fan, I know the latter part well. It makes me sad that Chandler Parsons, who has been nearly this spectacular throughout conference play...

⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥⇥

...might miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year because Dan Werner passed up an open shot with seconds left.

It's the little things that really do make the difference for teams on the fringe, and it's for those teams that these frantic final weeks of college basketball's regular season are full of legitimate sound and fury.

The NCAA Tournament is magical in its first few days not because there are great teams facing off, but because teams that weren't stocked with five-star talent scrap against each other. That's happening right now, though, in contentious conference races, and it will continue to happen in conference tournaments. The point that is always missed when talking about tournament expansion is the one that John Calipari recently made (bolding mine):

⇥"The issue becomes if you expand, let's just open it up to everybody," Calipari said. "Why are we doing this? 'Well, we need to get 12 out of one league.' Then play better. Finish higher. I just don't agree with it. Where it is right now, it's hard to get in, which makes it neat. It's hard to be seeded right, which makes it great."

That is the task before every team that wants into the NCAA Tournament and finds itself in limbo in February or early March: play better. It's that concept that makes college basketball a better meritocracy than nearly anything in sports, spinning out new Cinderellas every spring; a team can play its best late in the season, then outplay a "better" team in the NCAA Tournament on any given day. (Hello, George Mason.)

And it's the prerogative that teams should follow, and the exhortation that fans should shout. That's where the sound and fury should be directed: at the teams that need to play better, not the ones that already have. They're more entertaining at this point.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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