March Madness Begins: Resistance Is Futile

Georgetown Guard #5 Markel Starks pivots with the ball against West Virginia players #11 Nathan Adrian and #15 Terry Henderson in the final minutes of the opening NIT game.
Tim Riethmiller
Georgetown Guard #5 Markel Starks pivots with the ball against West Virginia players #11 Nathan Adrian and #15 Terry Henderson in the final minutes of the opening NIT game.

I swear to God I wasn’t going to watch any part of March Madness this year.

For one thing, I don’t think I can name you one player in the tournament, and I don’t mean just the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina, which qualifies as the best team nickname.

I mean there are some names I sort of recognize when one of the local sports ladies mentions them, much the same as my ears beam in recognition at the word "Tatar" which I’m pretty sure is not cold steak.

College sports is starting to elude me, it’s a form of sport dementia. I’ve stopped looking up two alma maters and their scores from Bowling Green and Oklahoma—except during football season, when I’m still a Sooner Boomer.

This year, there’s another factor. We don’t have too many dogs that hunt in this tournament locally. Maryland didn’t even qualify, although George Washington has had a pretty good season under its new coach and made it to the NCAA Tournament. (All right, I still read about college sports). That leaves us with Virginia, muttering, McCain-like, that today we are all Cavaliers.

By the way, Georgetown University, which was in three NCAA final games and one national championship to its credit from the bygone Patrick Ewing-John Thompson era, won . . . An NIT game, that is, beating West Virginia 75-65 at McDonough Gymnasium.

What kind of tournament is that, where you can play on your home gym? The Hoyas get to play Florida State, the top seed, fittingly in Tallahassee, Fla., Monday.

It’s tough to watch the NCAA games—it’s practically made of nothing but kids who just graduated from high school, other wise known as the Kentucky.

I made a mistake today. I wanted to see how American University, a 15-seed, might fare against a number-two seed, Wisconsin, in Milwaukee—what kind of tournament . . . oh, never mind. AU actually had a seven-point lead in the early going, but it was a false spring—like the one we keep having in the weather version of March Madness. Wisconsin crushed AU, 75-35, and that was the end of that, perhaps not a surprise for a team whose best player was a guy named Pee Wee. Still, it was a good year for AU, winning its conference tournament against considerable pre-season odds.

I made another mistake. I switched to another game, which, due to many channels and the worldwide web, you can actually do. It was Ohio State, the sixth seed, against Dayton, the eleven seed in a Buckeye battle between the Buckeyes and the Flyers. Score tied 55 to 55 with a couple of minutes or less to go.

And that’s when they reeled me back in again. Ohio State scored, then Dayton got the lead back with three straight free throws, and Ohio State scored with its star senior, the tough little guard Aaron Craft, bulking his way to the basket for a lay up to make it 58-57, ten seconds left. In a basketball game, especially during March Madness that is a lifetime of heartbeats. Sure enough, fella by the name of Vee Sanford banked a shot in with 3.8 seconds left, with Craft stilling getting a shot off before the buzzer, but it bounced off the rim.

I’ve seen this hundreds of times from years gone by: the winners building a pileup of squirming bodies, yelling and screaming, Craft laying on his back staring up at the ceiling in head-shaking disbelief.

In spite of the fact that college sports have become a mountain of greed in which schools change conference more often than Pat Riley changes shirts, in spite of the fact that freshmen come to school for NBA tryouts (for one year), in spite of the fact that the brackets are trending on Twitter and Facebook, instead of around the water cooler or the local bar, March Madness still provides some mad moments.

There was the insistent and still familiar voice of announcers Bill Raftery and his partner Verne Lundquist—“the drive, the shot, the touch, the kiss”—which is not a courtship scene but a description of Vee Sanford’s winning shot.

In moments like this, you remember Christian Laettner’s shot at the buzzer, ditto for a Indiana Hoosier beating Syracuse with a corner shot, Bobby Knight not throwing a chair, Georgetown coach John Thompson hugging the player whose mistake cost a championship game, Maryland under Gary Williams winning its one and only title, George Mason’s wondrous run to the Final Four, and maybe the first shot you ever made in high school.

And this just in: 12-seed Harvard beats five-seed Cincinnati 61-57. For his NCAA brackets, President Obama picked the game for Harvard to win. After all, he did go to Harvard Law School. Got to be true to your school

March Madness, indeed.

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Mon, 1 Sep 2014 19:24:21 -0400

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