The crazy thing about Cornell’s 13-point victory was that Temple shot nearly 52 percent from the floor, committed just two turnovers in the second half and still never really had a chance. No, Temple wasn’t as bad as the scoreboard indicated, Cornell was just that good.
Great shooting, as they say, can cure a lot of ills. In that regard Cornell wasn’t quite like Villanova against Georgetown, but they were pretty darned good.
The significance of Cornell’s win in the first round goes a little deeper than simply sending poor Temple and its 29-win season packing to give coach Fran Dunphy a 1-12 record in the first round of the tourney, though those are nothing to sneeze at.
No, the significant part about Cornell beating Temple was that an Ivy League team actually won a game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a bigger deal than one would believe.
For the past three years I had been harping on the notion that Ivy League teams should forego a bid in the NCAA Tournament and sign on for the NIT, or, if academics are the true priority at those schools, call it a season.
Though there have been plenty of so-called “upsets” in the first round of the tourney this year, Cornell beating No. 5 Temple is the only real “Cinderella” of the bunch. Oh sure, the NCAA likes to paint its basketball tournament as the most egalitarian of college sports championships, and for that organization it’s as close to a truth as we’ll ever get. That means it’s almost true, but not really.
Sure, the selection committee lines up all the teams based on some sort of secret formula and allows them to settle it on the court. In that sense the NCAA Tournament is cool, and, of course, it generates those ubiquitous brackets that used to infiltrate every office copier this time of year before such things as copier machines and paper became anachronisms. Now, every so-called “bracket challenge” or whichever cliché gets tossed around like the equally cliché office hoops know-it-all with multiple brackets in all of the pools, is online.
The Internet, believe it or not, turned the NCAA Tournament bracket into cultural wallpaper.
Nevertheless, every year at this time the NCAA, CBS and its corporate sponsors trot out the notion of the mythical Cinderella turning up at the last minute to be the babe of the ball and steal the show. CBS touts upsets and defines its coverage with a dizzying array of highlights and cut-ins at venues around the country in order to capture the faux notion that something in line with Chaminade knocking off No. 1 ranked Virginia in a tiny gym near the beach in Oahu. Instead, these “upsets” come from teams that play in the so-called “mid-major” conferences.
You know… the conferences the tournament selection committee looks down on because they don’t make it as much money as the teams from the Big East or ACC.
Typically, these mid major teams run out of upsets by the second weekend of the tournament. That's when the big basketball factories reclaim the tournament and follow the proper path assigned them by the selection committee. After all, CBS wants ratings for its tournament and knows that the alums and fans from Duke, Kentucky and Kansas tune in at numbers than the handful of folks that follow the basketball program at Ohio U. or Butler.
But occasionally a team like George Mason breaks through to the Final Four, which isn't as surprising as it sounds. Sure, George Mason plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which slips through the cracks of the coverage bestowed on the big conferences, but the CAA isn't exactly chucking the ball into the stands every time they touch it. They can play some basketball, believe it or not.
For one thing, painting George Mason and teams of its ilk as mighty little underdogs fighting against the monoliths is wrong. The mid-majors are not a David in the battle against Goliath, nor is it a mom-and-pop shop slaying Wal-Mart before it gets crushed and the organic nature of a downtown is destroyed. Actually, the mid-majors are just that — mid, majors. They are like the regional chain with shops across the region that takes a chunk out of Wal-Mart's market share. Sure, more people shop at Wal-Mart or Target or Starbucks, but that isn’t putting Giant or Acme out of business.
Still, there are true underdogs in the NCAA Tournament except for the Ivy Leagues. But if you think Cornell has a shot to get to the Final Four or past the round the Round of 16, just put that thought out of your head right now. It’s not going to happen.
There, I said it.
What's the point of having those teams in the “Big Dance” when all we get to read about come March is how no Ivy League school has won a tournament game since Princeton beat UNLV in 1998 or how Princeton upset UCLA in 1996 or almost beat No. 1 Georgetown and Patrick Ewing way back when.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that Penn made it to the Final Four, and I think I know the reason why. Ready? Get in really close so you can hear this...
BECAUSE IT WAS 31 YEARS AGO!
That’s why Cornell beating Temple is a bigger deal than a No. 12 seed beating a traditional basketball school.
Here are some handy dandy facts from an New York Times story published last year about Ivy League schools in the NCAA Tournament from 2007:
No. 3 Missouri 78
No. 14 Cornell 59
No. 3 Stanford 77
No. 14 Cornell 53
No. 3 Texas A&M 68
No. 14 Penn 52
No. 2 Texas 60
No. 15 Penn 52
No.4 Boston College 85
No. 13 Penn 65
No. 3 Texas 66
No. 14 Princeton 49
No. 6 Oklahoma State 77
No. 11 Penn 63
No. 6 California 82
No. 11 Penn 75
No. 2 North Carolina 70
No. 15 Princeton 48
No. 4 Illinois 68
No. 13 Penn 58
No. 6 Florida 75
No. 11 Penn 61
The average margin of defeat for the Ivy League teams: 15.5.
Until Cornell came along this season, I had always hoped that the Ivy champ would tell the NCAA Tournament, “thanks, but no thanks. We're not going to travel across the country to be a first-round hors d'oeuvres for a potential national title contender. We're going to take our chances in the NIT where we have a chance to win. We don't need to play the No. 3 seed and lose so everyone can call us ‘scrappy,’ or laud us for being, ‘student-athletes.’”
Yeah, I know this probably isn't a popular sentiment, but I can't understand the logic of a team going to a tournament that it has no chance of not just winning, nor being competitive. And who knows, after this season the Ivy teams could restart the losing streak in the tourney. Sure, Cornell beat Temple, but it had to shoot 68 percent and get nine turnovers from a typically steady team in which to do it.
Will the same thing happen against Wisconsin on Sunday? We’ll see.
Nevertheless, I'd like my odds of winning the Powerball over Cornell’s chances to win two games in an NCAA Tournament.