Why is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament the greatest prolonged sporting event of all time? Let me explain:
From a sportswriter perspective, it gets you out of covering the worst continuous sporting event of all time, which is spring football.
Spring football is a worthy exercise for players and coaches, but it tends to be meaningless. No one wins a starting job or depth chart position in the spring unless he wins it again in August, thereby rendering what happened in the spring meaningless. There’s that word again. Spring training in Major League Baseball is significant because when it ends, the season begins. Have you ever heard this during a season opening football game?
“He’s off to a good start in this game. He really had a good spring.”
No, you haven’t.
And there’s this. If there was no spring football, no one would miss it, because they would have August to catch up, not to mention fewer injuries. One of the original reasons for spring football was to keep college players in shape during the long off-season. Athletes for decades now stay in shape year round, rendering spring football meaningless.
If there was no NCAA Tournament, March Madness would still exist, but it would have a vastly different meaning. People all over this country would go stark, raving mad in March trying to fill a mammoth void, searching for brackets and trying to find Saint Peter’s or Northwestern State or Princeton or the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, which is not a campus police department in The Wire, on a map.
Maryland-Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed in history to beat a No. 1 seed when it cuffed Virginia, 74-54, on March 16, 2018. The other three schools above were all double-digit seeds who pulled shocking upsets.
With the NCAA Tournament, college basketball has something no other sport has – a band of Cinderellas just about every year that people pull for like crazy, often without knowing where the school is located. Just two weeks ago, nobody knew about Saint Peter’s, a small commuter school of 2,134 undergraduate students in Jersey City, New Jersey. That doesn’t happen in other sports.
Saint Peter’s, which had beaten exactly two teams with winning records before the NCAA Tournament, strutted in with a 19-11 record after beating Monmouth to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament. The Peacocks were an 18.5-point underdog to No. 2 seed Kentucky and beat the Wildcats, 85-79, in overtime. That was the fourth largest upset in the NCAA Tournament since 1985, according to oddsmakers.
After beating No. 7 seed Murray State, 70-60, Saint Peter’s beat No. 3 seed Purdue, 67-64, on Friday to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight. Before Saint Peter’s, No. 15 seeds were 0-for-10 in Sweet 16 openers. The Peacocks lost to No. 8 seed North Carolina, 69-49, on Sunday, but the Peacocks made this Tournament before folding up.
Those type of upsets of Kentucky and Purdue don’t happen often in football, particularly in the postseason. The College Football Playoffs, for example, tend to be blowouts.
Oh, and the Peacocks’ win over Purdue just happened to happen on National Peacock Day. Not making this up. And guard Doug “The Mustache” Edert of Nutley, New Jersey, clearly looks like he could be the male lead in a Jersey Boys remake.
“I think Jersey City’s going to be open all night,” CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle, who’s from Queens, N.Y., by the way, said after Saint Peter’s danced on Purdue.
“Open All Night” is a song set in New Jersey by one of New Jersey’s most famous natives – Bruce Springsteen, who was born in Long Branch and grew up in Freehold, and probably also didn’t know where Saint Peter’s is.
And there were other upsets on the way to the Elite Eight, which featured one of the highest seed totals in the history of the Tournament at 47. No. 10 seed Miami knocked off No. 7 seed USC, 68-66, and blew out No. 2 seed Auburn, 79-61. The Hurricanes beat No. 11 seed Iowa State easily, 70-56, on Friday to reach their first Elite Eight in history and play No. 1 seed Kansas.
“This is not something that happens every day,” said Miami coach Jim Larranaga, who took George Mason to its only Final Four in 2006 as a nation learned that school is located in Fairfax, Virginia. “For Kansas, it does, but not for Miami.”
TBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harland got caught up in shining moments after Miami’s win as he reviewed the Tournament.
“Kansas is the only No. 1 seed remaining,” he said excitedly as top seeds Arizona and Gonzaga had fallen the previous night to No. 5 seed Houston and No. 4 seed Arkansas, respectively, after Baylor had lost the previous week in the second round to No. 8 seed North Carolina. (Kansas beat Miami, 76-60, on Sunday to advance as the lone top seed.)
“And what about North Carolina? And what about the Duke Blue Devils? So many great stories as this Tournament continues to never disappoint,” Harland said.
And everything happens in about two hours. One can watch two NCAA Tournament games in the time it takes to watch a College Football Playoff blowout, a sleepy Thursday night NFL game, any Major League Baseball game, or – worse yet – one spring football game. And the games just keep coming on that first Thursday, then Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Three days to catch your breath, and more games on Thursday through Sunday. And we’re just now into Super Bowl week.
This NCAA Tournament is just getting warmed up with so many more great stories:
-The first Duke-North Carolina game in the NCAA Tournament ever will be Saturday at 8:49 p.m. eastern at the Superdome in New Orleans on TBS. Those two hated rivals have played 257 times since 1920, but never in the NCAA Tournament, even though they have been in the same NCAA Tournament 36 times. Until now.
-The “undercard” is No. 2 seed Villanova versus No. 1 Kansas at 6:09 p.m. on TBS. Can Villanova win without star shooting guard Justin Moore, who tore his Achilles tendon with 36 seconds left in Villanova’s 50-44 win over Houston Saturday and will not play?
–Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, this will be retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 13th and last Final Four – an NCAA record. And he’s playing North Carolina for the first time in the Tournament? North Carolina will either be the last team he loses to, or one of the last team he beats. Wow. Oh, and North Carolina coach Hubert Davis is in his first year as head coach and first Final Four. How cool is that? One’s exiting to immortality. The other one just started walking. Did Dean Smith draw this up?
And get this, when Coach K woke up on Monday morning and prepared to leave for New Orleans, he celebrated the 30th anniversary of perhaps the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history. Duke 104, Kentucky 103 in the East Regional final on March 28, 1992 in Philadelphia. Duke went on to beat Indiana and Michigan in the Final Four in Minneapolis for his second national title.
Who drew all this up? John Wooden? James Naismith?