Teams We Hate
Duke, Akron, and five more odious schools in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011, at 5:14 PM
The NCAA Tournament isn't all exhilarating buzzer-beaters and cuddly Cinderellas. Over the years, Slate has found a lot to hate about March Madness. In 2005, we loathed Chattanooga for "snatch[ing] aimlessly from a grotesque mascot grab bag filled to the brim with half-realized creatures, ethnic stereotypes, and footwear." In 2007, we detested Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, a "man who had his wife induce their son's birth so he could visit a recruit." Three years ago, we scoffed at the "ill-tempered, well-liquored Larry the Cable Guy aficionados" who root for the West Virginia Mountaineers. In 2009, we jeered North Dakota State —"the Van Wilders of the NCAA Tournament: elderly undergrads delaying passage to the real world for as long as possible." And every year, we've found it in our cold, black hearts to hate Duke. Speaking of which …
"When the teams were out there," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tells Sports Illustrated, in an interview about last year's national title game, "nobody watching was thinking, This pro and that pro. Where will they go in the draft? It was just about these kids at Butler and those kids at Duke. The word people kept using with me was pure. It just seemed pure."
This is an amazing gloss on becoming the weakest champion in the history of the NCAA tournament. Only Duke, which got the softest draw imaginable and got lucky on top of that, could be smug about being bad at basketball. Any one of history's pro-laden college champs—say, one of those Duke squads with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner—would have smoked last year's Devils by 30. This makes the Kyle Singler version more pure, if you're enough of a self-deluded moron to believe that an $11 billion industry is pure. Does Krzyzewski think the McDonald's All-Americans who populate the Blue Devils' lineup are picked out by Jimmy McDonald, an elderly retired coach who travels the country scouting high-school games and giving out penny candy to foster children?
"In 40 minutes that night there were no dunks," the Sports Illustrated story continues. "The teams had only two fast-break points. Two. And no player can remember a syllable of real trash talk." And thank goodness for that, because fast breaks lead to dunk shots, and dunk shots cause teen pregnancy. The Duke Blue Devils are not little basketball cherubs who play the way God and Clair Bee intended. Or maybe they are, and the school will soon announce its plans to tear down Cameron Indoor Stadium and Coach K Court and replace them with a rusty hoop nailed to a barn. Until that happens, Duke should do us the favor of shutting up as it rakes in its cut of the NCAA's TV money.—Josh Levin and Tom Scocca
University of Akron*
College basketball has been a safe haven for those of us who are permanently disgruntled ex-fans of LeBron James. King James never played college ball, so March brings no lingering reminders of Cleveland's one-time hoops savior, no matter how many screens you have tuned to CBS or the various ESPNs. Until this week, that is, when LeBron's hometown Akron Zips upset Kent State to win the MAC tournament. The Zips' coach, Keith Dambrot, guided LBJ to two Ohio state championships as a high schooler; his Zips bio makes it sound like the Akron coach all but molded James out of clay before presenting him as a gift to the world. Two of LeBron's high school teammates, Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce, played college ball for Akron. A fourth teammate, Willie McGee, is now an assistant for the Zips. Ugh—it's like a mid-major version of the Miami Heat. The only difference: When Miami loses, LeBron's still on SportsCenter all night; when the Zips lose, they have the decency to disappear.—Rachael Larimore
Penn State University
Watching the Nittany Lions reminds me of that old joke: The basketball is really terrible … and such small portions. On offense, the Penn Staters resemble Hoosiers extras with chronic fatigue syndrome. To compensate for their inability to shoot, pass, and dribble, the maladroit Lions impose awfulness on their opponents, plodding along at a pre-shot-clock-era pace that makes their games a slog to the merciful final buzzer. Penn State's 36-33 victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament should have cemented its position as the one team in America that's best kept away from television viewers—say, in the NIT. Instead, this slow-motion cavalcade of missed jumpers was the "quality win" that pushed the execrable Lions into the NCAAs. Perhaps it's time for the selection committee to consider an aesthetic requirement: If a team's playing style is like watching vomit dry, it's best to ask them to stay home.—Josh Levin
The champion of the Ivy League gets an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament every year, no matter how bad that team might be. This year, that team is Princeton, which won entry to the tourney by squeaking out a playoff win over Harvard, 63-62. The matter is not completely settled, I'm told, because the Winklevoss twins are said to be preparing a lawsuit. But they're likely to lose this legal struggle, too.
If you love college basketball—and I don't—you've got to admit that the Ivy League's guaranteed entry to the tournament is less defensible than any set-aside, quota system, or welfare operation known to man. It rewards mediocre players and mediocre teams from a mediocre league for merely showing up. Like the old-fashioned legacy admission to universities, the Ivy berth is an insult to everybody else who worked hard and excelled. If the Ivy League possessed self-knowledge in the quantities that it possesses self-esteem, it would reject this annual gift and demand a more meritocratic distribution of slots. As for the news outlets that hyped the Princeton-Harvard game (c'mon, New York Times!), we're on to you. Just how worried are you that your kids are headed to a safety school?—Jack Shafer