NCAA Tournament 2014: Expecting perfection from imperfect kids

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

The randomness and unpredictability of the NCAA Tournament is what makes it so great. But sometimes we think that kids are supposed to be perfect and make us happy. That isn't really fair.

SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

Before the ball had even hit the back rim, everyone connected to the Internet in Central New York had tweeted the following in some form:

"Why the %^$# did Ennis settle for two jumpers there?"

Dayton's victory against Syracuse in the Round of 32 cleared the way for the program's first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1984. The Flyers, a No. 11 seed, finished fifth in the Atlantic 10 this season, while the Orange started their season 25-0 and were runners up in the ACC.

Upsets are common in March, but predicting the right ones are difficult and trying to make sense of many after the fact is even more arduous.

The problem with this billion-dollar sporting event that puts a nation on pause is that its participants are just, well, kids.

College basketball is kind of a big deal to many people, both emotionally and monetarily, but that doesn't mean the maturity and intangibles of these "student-athletes" are keeping up with its growth.

In general, those who participate in the NCAA Tournament are quite wet behind the ears in terms of life experiences, especially now with fewer and fewer of the most talented players soaking in the full three- or four-year college experience. These players are at an age where they're facing certain adversity and challenges for the very first time--challenges that no amount of AAU games can prepare them for.

The first weekend of the tournament reminds of this, but some people refuse to accept that Tyler Ennis, the steadfast freshman point guard that he is, still has a lot of growing up to do, along with a number of players who found themselves in the middle of some of this weekend's most dramatic moments.

In San Antonio, North Carolina's Nate Britt was caught in-between calling a timeout and improvising the final play of the game after the Tar Heels gave up a layup to Iowa State's DeAndre Kane with just 1.6 seconds remaining.

Britt, a highly-touted freshman point guard like Ennis, screwed up. Because he wears baby blue and North Carolina fans expect their team to play into the second weekend of the tournament every year, Britt was supposed to possess the mental clarity to make the right decision the moment he received the ball.

The reality: it's just not that easy for teenagers.

VCU's JeQuan Lewis also still has room for improvement. He made a fatal mistake by fouling Stephen F. Austin's Desmond Haymon despite the Rams being up four with just seconds remaining.

What an idiot, right? Yes, it certainly was a mistake, but it is also a bit more difficult than you or I could ever imagine to not follow your instincts and defend the shooter when everyone is yelling. Sometimes thinking clearly in a tense moment is just as valuable a skill as slicing through a zone defense.

Lewis's screw-up probably means he won't make that mistake again, and chances are he'll get a chance to prove that in an upcoming NCAA Tournament.

And don't forget about North Dakota State's Taylor Braun. The Summit League Player of the Year was hyped as the face of a potential giant-killer the moment the brackets were announced. He didn't live up to the expectations, though, going a dismal 5-for-25 in two tournament games. While you sulk, Braun is back in Fargo, prepping for the school week like a few other million kids between the ages of 18 and 22.

Did he fail you? Maybe, but your bracket doesn't really matter, and Braun is really just a normal college senior from Oregon who made the most of his only Division I scholarship offer, which came from a mid-major school halfway across the country.

We say all the time that these are just kids, but it rarely resonates with us when our alma mater loses. We think that every player, many still teenagers, are supposed to be programmed to be both physically impressive and mentally flawless once the ball is tipped. In reality, part of the fun of college basketball is the randomness and the fact that we're watching something that is exciting but far from perfect.

For Ennis, it is clear he has an NBA career ahead of him, meaning at some point he will be presented with an equally as stressful situation as what he went through in Buffalo. Drawing from that game, and whatever else is thrown his way in the coming years, chances are good that he'll make the right play and add another highlight to his reel. He may even take a deep breath and attack the basket.

Think about all of this before you hurl that nice flower vase clear across your living room when your bracket goes up in flames. The more you rely on these kids to bring you joy, or take them to task for failing, the worse off you're probably going to find yourself.

Some college athletes may receive the same treatment from the media as pro athletes, but all are fallible. We shouldn't get it twisted.

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