That's why they play the games

Shhhhhhh! And let them play the games.

This directive goes out to fans, experts, analysts (yours truly very much included), and hoop junkies everywhere.

The voices of discontent were clear. Lower seeds playing at home is just absurd and grossly unfair. Dayton was too difficult a regional and, specifically, Tennessee got jobbed again.

Now that two rounds are in the books, neither of those complaints carries much weight because funny things happen when they actually play the games.

While I understand the frustration about the homecourt advantage for some lower-seeded teams (it came fast and furious from the Rutgers' faithful), the fact is, the host school rule has had very little overall impact on the tournament. This was illustrated again with the first two rounds this year.

For the third straight tournament, no lower seed on its homecourt actually won. Pittsburgh didn't upset Tennessee. Rutgers beat Michigan State in East Lansing. Even in 2004 when three lower seeds (Chattanooga, Minnesota and UC Santa Barbara) did take advantage of playing at home with upsets, five higher seeds playing "road" games still managed to win. That's a 5-3 record for the higher-seeded road team. Fortunately, the committee has been able to avoid the total of eight such games that we saw in '04, but the numbers have shown it probably doesn't matter that much anyway.

The case of Stanford and its second-round loss at Maples Pavilion further proves the point -- and that is that we have all probably made too big a deal out of this homecourt rule. While still contending the tournament would be better without it as I did in a column earlier in the season, the fact remains that the fairness and balance have not been negatively affected.

Speaking of Maples, perhaps Marist and Florida State also seemed to have debunked the issue of travel. Three thousand miles and three time zones didn't bother the Red Foxes or the Seminoles. Both teams just went out and played and are still standing. A lesson could be learned by all of us.

Simply playing the games has also made all of us chest-beaters that Dayton was such an unfairly difficult regional feel just a bit foolish after two rounds. Much of that analysis was built around the idea that Tennessee was once again unfairly treated. Too many elite teams in the Lady Vols' region, many of us said. Ohio State was better than a No. 4 seed, we shouted. Maryland and Oklahoma were the best 2s and 3s in the entire field, we proclaimed without reservation. How could all be in the same region?

Then an amazing thing happened. Of course, they played the games.

Turns out Ohio State wasn't under-seeded. A No. 4 seed was more than justified for a team that limped to the finish. Marist did as much to expose the Buckeyes and some flawed analysis.

Forgetting the fact that Tennessee could never have played both Maryland and Oklahoma anyway, Lady Vols fans must now see that conspiracy theories should be left to Mel Gibson movies. If Ole Miss has any more to say about it, Tennessee won't have to play either the Terps or Sooners. How's that for irony?

Of course, none of this will keep me from complaining about something next year. Almost assuredly the same can be said for all of you. This story just serves as a possible caveat to being too loud until, that's right, say it with me, they play the games.

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