Final Four Lessons … Monday Cup O’Chiefs

If the Green Bay Packers had not driven home the point back in January and early February, then it was solidified over the weekend in the world of college basketball.

The one thing the Chiefs could learn from the madness of March and the run to the Final Four is simply this – just get into the tournament. Don’t worry so much about winning the division or home-field advantage and all those elements that have always been part of the discussion when making the NFL playoffs.

Just get into the tournament. It’s the team that plays well at the end that has a chance to win a championship. It doesn’t matter how you start. It matters how you finish.

Ask Kentucky and Connecticut, two college basketball powers that entered the NCAA tournament three weeks ago with a marginal chance to make the last four teams. Neither team won their regular-season conference title; in fact UConn was tied for ninth in the Big East Conference.

Butler was a Final Four team last year, but they were not even ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 the week before the tournament began three weeks ago.

And Virginia Commonwealth – a team that didn’t even meet on Selection Sunday to see if they were chosen for the tournament field. They were pretty much talking about the NIT.

But VCU made the bracket despite the fact that during the season they lost to conference rivals Georgia State (12-19) and Northeastern (11-20) and were 3-5 in their last eight games leading into the NCAA tournament. They were ranked as a No. 11 seed.

There’s a bit of apples to oranges in trying to match the NFL against college basketball. The structure of the playoffs is very different and in the world of hoops there’s always a second chance for teams because of the human element of filling out the bracket after the automatic qualifiers.

But one of the common strings that connects them both – just make the damn tournament. Don’t worry about how; just get into the bracket. From that point anything can happen. Another shared trait – it’s one and done. These are not the best of five or seven games to the title. It’s win and advance, lose and go home.

The bitter finality that fans of Kansas, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida felt over the weekend is something that Chiefs fans know only too well. Lose in the tournament and it’s like hitting a brick wall at 100 m.p.h.

The book says the best way to win a Super Bowl is to win your division, post the best record in the conference and get home-field advantage. They did that in 1995, 1997 and 2003. They did it with two different head coaches and three different starting quarterbacks.

They went 0-3 and got nothing.

Watching hoops over the weekend one of the best comments I heard came from the coach of the women’s basketball team at UConn – Geno Auriemma. What he had to say was transferable to any sport, any level and any league:

“It’s easy to be a winner when you’re winning. You find out a lot about yourself when you have to go and win. We found out a lot about us today.”

Winning doesn’t just happen. It’s earned. VCU got hot in the tournament and they are now two victories away from the most improbable championship winner in NCAA tournament history.

But that ability to win was built in the weeks and months – sometimes years – that came before. From there, it’s all about timing, about getting the opportunity, about making the damn tournament.

2 Responses to “Final Four Lessons … Monday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • March 28, 2011  - Nathan says:

    As a VCU alum, I’m shocked at what they’ve gotten done these last few weeks.
    Here’s to the Chiefs doing it next year!

  • March 28, 2011  - wgs says:

    Though not a KU fan, I have to admit that I am beginning to feel sorry for those that are. The mid-majors have rained on KU’s parade so many times they must feel like Noah. The fact is though that there is a ton of talent in this country and it gets spread around. Additionally, the good mid-majors are usually older, more experienced, more disciplined and play a little different style of basketball. To learn how to beat them, you have to play them. Maybe KU would be better of scheduling Creighton home and home instead of playing Emporia and Ft Hays. The record and pre-tournament ranking might suffer but the March disappointments might be less.

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