Introducing the 2020 NDN Men’s Basketball Tournament of Big Wins

Yes, this is a basketball post. Keep reading anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

While we’ve all been following along these last few weeks on our Back Room and Politics boards discussing COVID-19 and its debilitating effect on our lives, our thoughts still drift to March Madness and the excitement we’ve been denied. Even causal Irish hoops fans love to tune in during the NCAA tournament and revel in the intensity of a single-elimination event where one team walks outta there a winner and the other team just walks outta there.

But in 2020, we had Coronavirus madness instead, leaving us thirsting for competition. This thirst must needs slaked, and in the interest of NDN being just the slakers to slake it, I sought an alternative.

I’d seen some other poll-based competitions around and about. Some of them compared former players, and some compared teams/seasons. All good in their way, but eventually you drift into apples and oranges territory — different players, different skill sets, etc. — which is where the whole thing can break down.

I picked a different path — the games themselves.

Each game is a self-contained event, inspiring elation or consternation. Each game has contributed to Notre Dame’s program in its own way, with an influence often well beyond the season in which the game occurred or the rosters who played it. Determining which game contributed the most — the “biggest win”, if you will — should be a satisfying exercise, yes?

It should, certainly, but there’s an elephant in the room: Any Irish men’s basketball fan worth anything knows what the most famous game in ND history is. They’ve watched the YouTube clips, they celebrate it every January. Kinda makes the whole thing anti-climactic if we’re going to end up in the obvious place.

So what’s the point of burning all the calories, I wondered. How do you make the exercise interesting for the participants?

Then, like a poorly-designed overhang on a roller coaster, it hit me.

These games aren’t being played now. There’s no inherent advantage to a team of athletes resting while two other teams complete, taking on the exhausted winner afterwards. This is a thought experiment. We can seed it however we want.

So I am proud (or at least not embarrassed) to introduce to you the

2020 Tournament of Big Wins

Here’s how the game will be played:

How Did I Select the Games?

Glad you asked, because in the words of Egg Chen, it wasn’t easy.

I selected and seeded what I feel are the top 37 victories in Notre Dame men’s basketball history since WWII, which is considered the modern era in NCAA men’s basketball. I realize that’s an odd prime, but the structure of the brackets made it necessary. I also realize that timeline excludes George Keogan’s championships and other quality wins, but you have to start somewhere.

I tried to keep the selection criteria simple. Big wins have both emotional and historical effects. A big win thrilled you when it happened, but also helped the program somehow. I’ve tried to represent both aspects on the list of 37.

Some criteria was obvious. For example, you’ll see every one of the wins over a #1-ranked team on the list. As Boston-College-esque as I personally believe it is to find satisfaction in denying success to others rather than gaining your own, when you’re among the programs best at toppling top-ranked foes, it’s folly not to acknowledge it.

But at the same time, chances are you won’t see wins over top-five teams that weren’t otherwise meaningful. It may have been fun watching ND pound #2 Pitt when you were a student, for example, but if it didn’t necessarily lead to anything, that doesn’t make it a big win, so it got filtered out.

Given the scope parameters, recency bias probably is unavoidable. A lot of ND’s best wins came during Digger’s heyday and the ups of Mike Brey’s tenure. I’ve done my best to spread things out, but chances are there are going to be seasons more represented than others. This isn’t a “biggest win of a given season” effort, it’s overall win, so be prepared to possibly not see your era in there.

How Did I Seed the Games?

Another excellent question. There’s probably a more elegant way to describe how the seeding will work, but I’ve chosen to call this a “feeder poll”, as in I will feed you the seeds along the way and you will choose the winners.

The first group will be the last eight seeds, #30 through #37. You’ll be introduced to those seeds, with an accompanying blurb about what happened in the game (for those of you not alive when they happened) and why that game is where it is in the seeding (for those of you who dozed off along the way).

Over the course of the week, you the voters will whittle those eight teams down to one. That winning team will be the bottom seed in the next round, which will introduce the next seven highest seeded teams (seeds #23 through #29 plus the previous winner). We’ll rinse and repeat until we have our winner.

To wit:

  • Week 1: Seeds 30-37
  • Week 2: Seeds 23-29 + Week 1 winner
  • Week 3: Seeds 16-22 + Week 2 winner
  • Week 4: Seeds 9-15 + Week 3
  • Week 5: Seeds 2-8 + Week 4 winner

An imperfect method, perhaps, but it’s the one we’re going to try.

“Wait a sec,” I hear you saying, “I don’t see the #1 seed in there.” You’re right, you don’t, because as I said, we all know who the #1 seed is. In a sense, these games are playing for second.

But rest assured, #2 will get its chance. Once we’ve determined a winner from the lower seeds, that game will go up against #1 to see which truly is the biggest win. It’s likely still to be #1, but internet people are funny, so you never know.

Watch this space later this week for the introduction of the first eight seeds and the tournament shall begin.

One thought on “Introducing the 2020 NDN Men’s Basketball Tournament of Big Wins

  1. Kevin ONeill says:

    “In a sense, these games are playing for second.”

    That’s how everyone discussed the NCAA Tournament during most of UCLA’s run.