I saddled up to my magical blinking box at 10am Thursday morning, all wide-eyed and fluttered. The advent of my favorite sports weekend over, the apex of the uphill roller-coaster that is the college basketball regular season finished.
Four days. 48 games. Every one of them broadcasted in their entirety on four channels and the Internet. It’s nirvana. It’s one 84-hour downhill plunge from chaos to order, with the most joyous and raucous of sights and sounds in between.
This year’s whirly-dervish of roundball left us all whipped and wasted. The cacophony consisted of a litany of down-to-the-wire contests, and a fun-filled procession of upset after upset.
Behold, your Sweet-16:
* 11-seed Marquette, near universally regarded as the last/worst of the 11 Big East teams to reach the tournament (of which there are just two remaining)
* 5-seed Arizona, sans former coaching legend Lute Olson, with one star and a supporting cast of starving extras.
* 2-seed San Diego State and 3-seed BYU, both from the Mountain West Conference, which hasn’t had two teams make it past the first weekend since before there was a west coast
* 8-seed, Horizon League entrant, and defending runner-up Butler, who upended top-seed Pittsburgh in one of the most bizarre finishes you’ll ever see in any sport … for any stakes
* 10-seed Florida State, a team that couldn’t shoot straight until last night … when they sledge-hammered 2-seed Notre Dame
* 11-seed VCU, of the CAA – a team many wished would’ve stayed home, who played an extra “First Four” game just to make the Field of 64, and who upset Georgetown and Purdue in two games miles away from competitive.
* 12-seed Richmond, token A-10 champ who became the first school to win NCAA tournament games as a 12, 13, 14 and 15.
The above nicely complement your college basketball Blue Bloods of Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and UConn, and your “wait, these are basketball schools?” contingent of Ohio State, Florida and Wisconsin. It’s a nearly perfect Sweet-16 field. And, yet, you want to take a snapshot and bronze it on your wall … because it will never be as interesting as it is right now.
When people say, “March Madness is perfect”, what they really mean is “The First Weekend of March Madness is Perfect.” For what follows is just a regular championship tournament. 75% of the games have already been played. We’re down to the last quartile; the madness gone from March.
By the time you reach the Final Four, there’s a mere 3 games remaining. Exhausted from the smorgasbord of incredible basketball that preceded it, the championship weekend feels like an epilogue, a coda. We remember shocking first-round upsets. We remember double-OT shootouts. Very rarely, do we ever remember championship games.
As Jalen Rose said in his superb Fab Five documentary (which I finally watched yesterday), and I believe I’m paraphrasing a little, “So we didn’t win the title. So what? How many people remember who did?”
He’s right. We remember the Fab Five. We remember George Mason. We remember ONIONS! and Gus Johnson and Princeton’s backdoor pass.
And that’s all great. But the brackets are burned now, the schools are buried, the egalitarian spirit quelled. All that’s left is to crown a champion. And that’s the least interesting thing we’ll do.