Welcome to March, in this sports fanatic’s opinion, the best month of the twelve. The lone month when the dead horse beating morons (read Mike and Mike and the rest of their ESPN cronies) come up for a breath from the 24/7 NFL news cycle to discuss something else, albeit briefly. I understand that the NFL is king, but it would be nice to hear about some other happenings from time to time… but I digress.
Here in the Bluegrass State, we like our football and we like our baseball, but you better believe that you can strike up a college basketball conversation with anybody on the street any day, any time, anywhere. You can say what you like about the importance of conference games and what it means to play a mid-major in mid-November, but here it matters… they all matter. And that is what is so fantastic about this time of year, to me anyway, the entire county catches the basketball obsession that us Kentuckians carry all year.
I hope that you’ve already been watching. Tell me that you have been watching. The magic has already begun, it is in the small conference championships the past few nights. On Monday night, there were 4 such championship games, with final scores of: 78-74 (St. Mary’s over Gonzaga in OT), 59-56 (VCU over Drexel), 48-44 (Loyola Maryland over Fairfield), and 93-91 (Davidson over Western Carolina in double OT). That is a total of 3 overtimes and a combined margin of victory of 13 points. On Tuesday night, there were 3 more: 74-70 (Western Kentucky over North Texas), 52-50 (Western Illinois over South Dakota State in OT) and a 70-50 game (Detroit over Valparaiso) in which the winning team was losing at the half. All in all not bad TV… right?
Not only are these close games, these are close games with emotion running as high as it will get for the young men involved. If these teams are fortunate enough to make it to the big dance, it often results in a blowout, but that is not what matters. They are playing for the opportunity to make the trip to the tournament, to play in games on national television, to be able to tell their grandchildren that they made it. And the best part is that you can see it in their faces. Every time someone makes a big shot or snares a rebound, that look is there. You can see it on the bench with the rise and fall of walk-ons as the game teeters in the balance. The game winning shots, the rushing of the court… the tears on the sideline. The entire year of work coming down to one possession. An entire year in a pass, in a play, in a steal or in a shot. I’m not talking about major conference tournaments here, I’m talking Horizon League, Summit League, Sun Belt, and WCC. I’m not talking Wildcats, Orangemen, and Tar Heels… I’m talking Catamounts, Rams, Mean Green, Hilltoppers, Titans, Leathernecks, and Jackrabbits. Its about young men who have worked all year or maybe even 2, 3, or 4 years for this one opportunity, this one chance to get to play in the most exciting events in all of sports… the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. To get the opportunity to be the team that pulls the upset, the surprise in the Sweet 16, or the once a decade miracle in the Final 4. This my friends, is the best time of the year.
The major conference tournaments can be great as well, but oftentimes lack the intense drama of the small conference tournaments. Yet we still have seen more than our fair share of thrillers and stay up all night-ers (looking at you ‘Cuse and Uconn). Most of the excitement comes from the bubble teams with the win or go home (or NIT) mentality, and from the teams playing for a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
This brings us to the king of the office pool itself, the big
64 68. Is there anything better than parking yourself at a bar on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament and watching as many games at once as you can possibly handle? Beer in one hand and bracket in the other… celebrating wins of teams you haven’t watched all year, hoping that a mid-major beats that team you cannot stand with that coach who is a total douche, and all the while cheering with friends, family and some dude you met an hour ago that picked that upset too. It doesn’t get any better than March, and it doesn’t get any better than the NCAA Tournament. Let’s enjoy this one… I know I will. Go bars, go beers, go basketball, and most importantly… GO CATS!!
By: Dru Boyer