By Lenn Robbins
Can you imagine, “One Shining Moment” played in one empty dome?
March Madness with no crying fans? Or euphoric fans? Or any fans?
As much as the oft-misguided overseers of the NCAA are hell bent on playing their cash cow known as the NCAA Tournament before full houses, they can’t ignore what’s taking place in every major sports league and around the world. Doors are closing to fans because of Covid-19.
Which would mean what for a Big Dance that’s shaping up as one of the most unpredictable of all time? Wagering mayhem.
In no way are we making light of this pandemic that has every reasonable person questioning how to live his or her life today, tomorrow, a month from now. There is much we don’t know about this global health threat other than it has killed thousands and dramatically affected the quality of life around the globe.
But fans or no fans in the arena isn’t going to stop the millions of dollars wagered on the Big Dance. Here’s where it gets tricky.
If the season were to end today, Gonzaga would get the No.1 seed in the West Region as per noted Bracketologist Joe Lunardi. The Bulldogs would play their first two games in Spokane, giving them a huge home court advantage.
Unless, of course, there are no fans in the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. There goes that home court edge. What’s to prevent a much-maligned Arizona team (the No.8 seed), which lost by four to the Zags earlier this season, from extracting some revenge?
The same holds for Kansas, which is projected to be the overall No.1 seed playing in Omaha. The Jayhawks might not need much fan support to get past No.16 Winthrop but we could see a very physical Houston team giving Kansas fits.
By this reasoning, this would be the Tournament of Upsets. No home crowds for the top seeds equals more opportunity for the underdogs. Or would it?
Consider this scenario: When Loyola of Chicago became the fourth No.11 seed to advance to a Final Four, the Ramblers started their run in Dallas, where Texas Tech, a No.3 seed was only school to have a home court advantage.
But the Red Raiders, who advanced to the regional final in Boston, would never have faced the Ramblers, who won the South Region in Atlanta. The six other teams in Dallas all got behind Sister Jean-led Loyola-Chicago.
The same held true in Atlanta where the Ramblers two opponents – Nevada and Kansas State – had no geographic advantage. The Georgia Dome became Chicago South, especially after K-State ousted Kentucky.
We see this all over the nation every time a “Cinderella” shows up. The crowd backs the underdog. It’s what March Madness is all about. The Ramblers earned their four wins but would they have gone as far as they did without enjoying the mojo as the fan favorite? Doubtful.
By that logical reasoning, this should the Tournament of Favorites. Without the dual burden of being the higher seed and facing a crowd darling, the superior teams should prevail.
This is March Sadness – having to consider the ramifications of empty arenas when filling out your bracket or laying a wager. But you better consider it. Because you know the oddsmakers in Vegas already have.
March Madness begins in earnest this week in the metropolitan area. Here are our picks:
Atlantic 10 Conference – Dayton. No one else is close.
American East – Vermont, see Dayton.
Big East – Seton Hall. Talent, toughness, experience – the league recipe for success.
Big Ten – Michigan State. See Seton Hall.
Colonial Athletic Association – Hofstra. The Pride is playing its best defense of the season.
MAAC – Siena. The best point guard in the league, Jalen Pickett, is the difference.
Northeast – Robert Morris. Home court advantage.