Ohio University will play the Virginia Cavaliers in the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament, also known as “March Madness” on Saturday, March 20. After defeating the Buffalo Bulls in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament, the Bobcats earned their spot as a 13 seed against the four-seeded Cavaliers. Ohio isn’t favored in the matchup by pundits or Vegas, yet you would’ve thought the Bobbies had won the whole tournament with their reaction after beating the Bulls.
That’s because the tournament, “The Big Dance,” is bigger for some than for others.
Take Kansas for instance. The Jayhawks have the record for most consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances – 31 straight times. A far cry from Ohio, which has 13 (soon to be 14) total appearances throughout its history. To put things into further perspective, 13 is the second-highest amount in all of the Mid American Conference.
The reasons for the disparity are multiple and not too surprising. Kansas and other schools like Michigan State or Gonzaga will always get the pick of the litter over mid-major programs when it comes to recruiting. The whole thing is a bit circular: the better players lead to greater success, which leads to more prestigious programs and conferences, which leads to better players. Sure it’s fun when a program like Duke and Kentucky misses out on the tournament, but that’s precisely because it’s so rare.
All this isn’t to bash Ohio for not getting the recruits that University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari does. It’s to say that those programs are susceptible to take a tournament berth for granted.
Ohio, on the other hand, hasn’t been to the Dance since 2012, and the team, the school, and the community at large are basking in the glow of opportunity. The future looks bright for Jeff Boals’ team, but the future is something for the rest of the MAC teams to worry about. For the first time in nearly a decade, we’re still thinking about the present.