1. No team from outside of a BCS conference has won the national championship in college basketball since UNLV twenty years ago. (The Tarkanian-coached UNLV teams had, uh, certain attributes that make them distinct from any current program. It appears that the mid-major who came closest to ending the drought - 2008 Memphis - also shared some of those attributes.)
2. Here are the seeds of the last 20 NCAA champions:
2009 North Carolina - 1
2008 Kansas - 1
2007 Florida - 1
2006 Florida - 3
2005 North Carolina - 1
2004 UConn - 2
2003 Syracuse - 3
2002 Maryland - 1
2001 Duke - 1
2000 Michigan State - 1
1999 UConn - 1
1998 Kentucky - 2
1997 Arizona - 4
1996 Kentucky - 1
1995 UCLA - 1
1994 Arkansas - 1
1993 North Carolina - 1
1992 Duke - 1
1991 Duke - 2
1990 UNLV - 1
14 #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, two #3 seeds, and one #4 seed. '88 Kansas, '85 Villanova, and '83 N.C. State are in the distant past and even those three noted Cinderellas come from the Big Eight, the Big East, and the ACC. If you want a good piece of evidence for my notion that the NCAA Tournament should be 16 teams instead of 64, this is it.
3. We are one year removed from an NCAA Tournament in which all of the 1, 2, and 3 seeds made the Sweet Sixteen.
4. We are two years removed from a Final Four that featured four 1 seeds.
So yes, Stewart, in light of that evidence, the distinction between schools that belong to the six BCS conferences and those that don't is "mystical." Mandel shows this bizarre ability to acknowledge reality:
As we move into Stage 2 of this championship, the favorites will remain those schools with the number 1 in front of them -- Syracuse, Kentucky and Duke. None were remotely threatened in their first two contests, and surely, we must assume, the clock will run out at some point for our friends at Saint Mary's, Cornell and Northern Iowa. It always does.
and then forget it a few paragraphs later:
But when the "best teams" aren't all that different than "the next-best teams," upsets happen. Here's guessing we've hardly seen the last of them in this, the nation's most egalitarian sporting event.
Mandel's line of thinking annoys me in two separate ways. First, it is a really good illustration of the recency fallacy. He takes one weekend of results and makes broad conclusions, completely ignoring a bevy of relevant facts that demolish his hypothesis. The clear trend in recent years has been for chalk to prevail in the NCAA Tournament. Northern Iowa beating Kansas and St. Mary's beating Villanova doesn't change that. Second, Mandel is feeding the media narrative that the NCAA Tournament is exciting and unpredictable. It may be exciting for people who want to reduce a season to three weeks, but the unpredictability factor is seriously overrated. Yes, there are upsets every year in the first two rounds (some years more than others), but at the end of the road, there is a team from a major school standing in the falling confetti in a dome somewhere. We like to imagine that the NCAA Tournament embodies the American Dream and that the little guy can go from nothing to glory, but just about all of the time, the little guy ends up face down in a pool with "The World Is Mine" rotating above his head.