Tuesday, March 24, 2009

All About Zona

With no Davidsons, Wichita States, WKUs, or George Masons running amok through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tourney this year, the 12th seeded Arizona Wildcats are emerging as the media darling of this year’s Sweet 16.

Last night interim coach Russ Pennell appeared on Pardon The Interruption. This morning I heard ESPN’s Shelley Smith entertain the possibility that Rick Pitino could be the Wildcats’ head coach next year in a featured piece about the squad from the desert.

Even the AP loves it some Budinger, Hill and Wise.

But Zona is hardly a Cinderella story. You don’t see too many mid-majors with a National Championship, four Final Fours, and a twenty-five year streak of Big Dancing.

Which begs the question: What’s the deal with those Arizona Wildcats?

They earned a date with the Cardinals at Lucas Oil by handily defeating No. 5-seed Utah and then No. 13 Cleveland State. While Utah was a single-digit favorite in the first round, the same can’t be said about the Vikings, so we aren’t looking at any real upsets here. There weren’t any buzzer-beaters. No drama in the Wildcats’ first two games. Why the hype? Why all the love?

Maybe perhaps it's because Zona is the last 12 seed in the tourney, making them the obvious choice for main stream media adoration. Especially when you consider that all seeds 1-3 are still dancing and that, outside of perennial March powers Memphis, Xavier, and Gonzaga, no non-BCS teams are still in. We don't have any true Cinderalla stories to celebrate.

Couple that with the fact that Arizona (21-13, 9-9 in Pac-10) is widely considered to have received the last at-large bid granted by the selection committee, throw in some speculation about how they’re trying to land the other team’s coach, add a touch of “the-head-man-on-the-sidelines-was-a-radio-analyst-this-time-last-year” and, boom, you’ve got some sweet, old fashioned sensationalistic sports journalism.

Am I complaining? No. Everybody knows that at some point the clock strikes midnight on Cinderella, that interim coaches living their dream job eventually wake up, and 12 seeds don’t do Final Fours.

I’m looking forward to putting this media puppy to bed on Friday.

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