It’s All About The Matchup. Huh?

As I’ve blogged a few times, I am unable to make sense of college hoops.  Hoopserving the tournament recently, I’ve heard multiple people say that the upsets can be explained by the “matchup”  — the higher seeded teams lost because they had “bad matchups.”

Pardon me if I’m the only idiot who hears this talk and has no idea what the hell it means, but, um, I hear this talk and have no idea what the hell it means.

If you’re predicting a game, how do you know which team has the “better matchup”?  If one team has experience and the other has talent, who should win?  If one team is strong on the perimeter and the other is strong in the post, who should win?  If one team is athletic and the other team is disciplined, who should win?  What about if one team is good in transition and the other is good in a half-court game?

Maybe I’m missing something, but, in the abstract, it’s impossible to answer any of these questions.   Yet, once the game is over, if the lower-seeded team has won, we say that the “matchup” favored the lower-seeded team.  But, if the higher-seeded team has won, we just say that the team was BETTER.  Huh?

To make it a bit clearer, consider Northern Iowa and Kansas.  Northern Iowa won, and people are saying they were a “tough matchup” for Kansas.  Really?  A tough matchup?  Why don’t we just say they played better?  What made them a “tough matchup” other than the fact that they played their tails off?

So I’m not exposing myself to too much ridicule from whoever is reading this, let me be clear… I’m well aware that every team is vulnerable to certain types of opponents more than others.  But in the grand scheme of things, the better team generally finds a way to impose its style on the weaker team.  Millions of people picked Kansas to win the tournament not because they expected Kansas to play the same type of team for 6 straight games, but because they thought Kansas was the best team, and, therefore, was the team most capable of making whatever adjustments were needed to beat whoever wound up in its path.  If Kansas beat Northern Iowa, we wouldn’t be talking about how it was a “good matchup” for Kansas, we’d just be saying that Kansas is damn good.

When the weaker team wins, it could have something to do with the “matchup,” but, so far as I can tell, it generally has much more to do with the fact that, in a single elimination tournament, made up of teams with primarily 18 and 19 year-olds, playing a sport in which a team can hit a few 3’s and neutralize a talent disadvantage, it is more often than not those things – rather than the “matchup” – that explain the upsets.

And when the better team wins… well, that’s because it’s the better team.

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