In the News & Observer today, Ned Barnett wrote that the era of the dominant schools surviving to the Final Four may be coming to an end. He acknowledges that powerhouse programs made it to St. Louis this year. He goes to say that NC State, Wisconsin, and West Virginia coming so close shows that these “have-nots” are rising and may change the face of Final Four basketball in the near future.
I respectfully disagree. The upstart, have-not, Cinderella story happens every year. It’s nothing new for one of these teams to reach the Elite Eight before falling to a traditional power (and sometimes they reach the Final Four).
In 2004, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State, Connecticut, and Duke made the Final Four. We can safely say that they are schools with tradition. But, look at the teams they beat in the Elite Eight. Only Georgia Tech faced a powerhouse program, Kansas. Oklahoma State beat upstart St. Joseph’s. Duke beat Xavier. Connecticut beat Alabama. There were more upstarts in the 2004 Elite Eight than in this year’s edition with Arizona and Kentucky who are traditional powers. Only West Virginia and Wisconsin came as surprises, but bear in mind Wisconsin has done this before – they reached the Final Four in 2000.
In 2002, Kent State (a 10 seed) reached the Elite Eight. That same year a 12 seed, Missouri, also reached the Elite Eight. In 2001, 11 seed Temple reached the Elite Eight, as did non-traditional power Southern Cal. In 2000, UNC defeated Tulsa in the Elite Eight (remember, Tulsa was actually the higher seed, a 7 to UNC’s 8).
Long story short? I just looked back at the NCAA Tournaments from this decade and showed that there was more evidence of parity and upstart have-nots showing their stuff in past seasons than in this one. Sure, scholarship limits have made it possible to have non-traditional schools reach the Elite Eight or maybe the Final Four on occasion, but this is certainly nothing new that is peculiar to this year’s event. I do not see a trend towards a power-shift, or even a decline in the dominance of the traditional power programs.