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Klaus: NCAA gifted South Carolina home court against Duke

| Friday, March 24, 2017

As college basketball dives into the second weekend of March Madness, I’m still having an tough time coming to terms with a small, yet undeniably significant, detail regarding the tournament’s first weekend, and specifically South Carolina, the team that pulled off arguably the most astonishing upset so far. While the seventh-seeded Gamecocks certainly deserve credit for subduing a talented Duke team that many had predicted to win both the East Region and the NCAA championship, my mind is still trying to wrap its head around the location of South Carolina’s first two games — Greenville, South Carolina.

Though it might seem petty to continue to fixate on one of the many dubious decisions of the selection committee nearly two weeks after the reveal of this year’s bracket, I find it truly dumbfounding as to how NCAA tournament coverage both on Selection Sunday and after Sunday night’s game has largely avoided the obvious advantage that South Carolina had in playing its games in its own backyard — a privilege typically granted to only a region’s higher seeds. Of the other seven seeds in the tournament, only Dayton was afforded an opportunity comparable to that of South Carolina from a distance perspective, as the Flyers were placed in Indianapolis. However, as anyone who watched their first round game knows, the Flyers semi-convenient location did not compensate for the fact that they were pitted against an outrageously under-seeded Wichita State team.

Of course, South Carolina was not supposed to even be a NCAA tournament site in the first place. After the NCAA decided to seize host opportunities from North Carolina for its ongoing series of archaic responses to social issues, Greenville was granted the opportunity to host a portion of the tournament’s first two rounds. However, this decision was made in October and doesn’t at all support the selection committee’s logic for giving South Carolina such a favorable draw.

I realize that disparaging the NCAA selection committee is a futile exercise. There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that the committee acts to maximize the excitement of matchups, an approach that some fans have even argued is what the committee should impel themselves to do. Still, the excitement maximization argument does not seem to hold up in this circumstance. While underseeding Wisconsin in the same region initiated a compelling second-round matchup against Villanova, a South Carolina-Duke contest received a meager fraction of the attention from fans and the media before tipoff Sunday.    

Obviously, this is to not to say that Duke’s premature exit was unjust, and that the Gamecocks only won because of the location in which the game was played. South Carolina, widely considered the least dangerous of the cohort of seven seeds, earned its victory with its flashy offensive outburst in the second half and turnover-generating defense. It just remains unclear why that victory came on a “neutral” court that was conspicuously closer to the campus of the team with the lower seed.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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