Thank you to the first week of NCAA Tournament for proving my point. We have started the best month in sports and I’ll get back to this year’s action in a few minutes.
Over the years, this tournament has provided us with so many special moments. It started the Magic Johnson vs Larry Bird rivalry in 1979. It introduced the world to Michael Jordan in 1982. Only a year later, NC State shocked the basketball world by defeating a seemingly unbeatable Houston squad and provided us with one of the most unforgettable scenes as Jim Valvano ran all over the court just looking for a pile to jump on. (Quick note: If you haven’t seen the 30 for 30 special on ESPN covering this team, please give it a watch. It’s absolutely wonderful.) Villanova beating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown team in 1985 remains one of the biggest upsets in history. Two years later, Keith Smart’s baseline jumper dashed the hopes of Syracuse as Indiana claimed yet another crown. Danny Manning puts on a show in 1988 as Kansas takes the title. Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice lead Michigan to a title in 1989. The UNLV squad that started the 90s, Laettner takes down Kentucky, The Fab Five, 40 Minutes of Hell, Mateen Cleaves leading Michigan State, Melo leading Syracuse to a title as a freshman, George Mason’s improbable Final Four run, Mario Chalmers at Kansas, Shaka Smart leading VCU to the Final Four and last year, John Calipari leading Kentucky to the title to finally silence his critics. While these are legendary moments with legendary figures that will never be forgotten, they are only the tip of the iceberg. What makes this tournament so special are years like this one.
Yes, we have the big names back in the Sweet 16. Coach K and Duke, Izzo and Michigan State, Pitino and Louisville, the return of Indiana basketball as a threat. And history tells us that more than likely, the favorites usually do win. But let’s be honest, the fun and beauty of this tournament usually lies in the stories that develop over the first week and this year, there is no shortage of stories. Harvard wins their first tournament game ever. Wichita State lived up to their nickname, shocking No. 1 Gonzaga in the round of 32 to advance. But let’s face it, Gonzaga almost didn’t even make it that far as they were pushed by No.16 Southern in their first contest and they weren’t the only one. Kansas survived a scare as well, which leads me to believe that we are getting ever closer to the year where a 16 seed knocks off a 1 seed. The team I feel sorry for is La Salle. They had to fight just to play in the round of 64, beating Boise State in a First Four matchup, then beating Kansas State and Ole Miss by a combined four points and yet they’re not getting a lot of press. And the reason they’re not is because America has completely fallen for Dunk City and I’m on board.
Florida Gulf Coast University is exactly why the NCAA tournament is great. These are a bunch of kids that nobody has heard of that attend a university that has only existed since 1997 and what do they do? As a 15 seed, they completely take it to Georgetown, including probably the most exciting play of the tournament thus far. So what’s the big deal, we’ve seen that happen before. But instead of getting smoked in their next game as every other 15 seed has, they decide instead to run San Diego State and championship winning coach Steve Fisher out of the gym. And it is moments like these that have always made this tournament so special and it’s not only FGCU that I’m talking about.
I see it every year and I never get tired of it. These kids care. Whether it’s a senior on a losing team that knows he’s going to take off his uniform for the last time or a freshman that hits the big shot to send his team to the next round, these games are something that they will never forget. From tears of joy and triumph to tears of heartbreak and defeat, you can’t help but be swept up by the emotion that this tournament produces. And this is why we continue to watch game after game, round after round, and year after year. The Road to The Final Four has begun and what a ride it has already been. The Sweet 16 starts Thursday and only promises to bring more excitement and more drama.
The best month in sports is upon us. Enjoy the experience.
COMING SOON: THE BEST MONTH IN SPORTS, PART 2-THE RETURN OF BASEBALL