March Madness isn’t a just cliche to describe the approximately two weeks where college basketball is front and center in the collective minds of sports fans across the country.
As I write this, the “big dance”, as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is also known as, has lived up to its dramatic billing through the first two days of the opening round.
Of course, my hopes of nabbing my share of Warren Buffet’s $1 billion with a perfect bracket went up in smoke after Dayton upset in-state giant Ohio State in one of the first games played in the tourney.
That shocker was only an appetizer for what would come. Harvard, Mercer, North Dakota State and Stephen F. Austin were only half of the lower seeds to move on from the Round of 64.
I think Sam Mitchell, the former Minnesota Timberwolves player and Toronto Raptors coach, is one of the biggest names among athletes to come from Mercer, which is one reason I enjoy March Madness. Seeing the smaller programs upset the titans of the game while stepping onto the national stage at least for a little bit seems a bit magical, at the least, if not inspiring.
A little note about Mercer University, the team that disposed of Duke: The private college in Macon, Georgia opened its doors in 1833 and remained open through the American Civil War and has many notable alumni including the high school football portrayed in Remember the Titans, Bill Yoast.
Toby Bear is the Mercer Bears’ mascot and had his own version of a Cinderella run through a national collegiate mascot competition in 2012. He was the top-ranked video qualifier for the National Cheerleaders Association’s National Collegiate Mascot competition and finished fourth. George Washington University Colonials mascot named George won the national title.
Getting back to the basketball tournament. I filled out more than my share of brackets with Michigan State coming out on top each time. Know the level of talent the team has now that everyone is healthy makes them a scary opponent to attempt to stop with four guards and Adrelan Payne a 6-foot10-inch, 245-pound senior. Florida seemed like too easy of a choice to win it all with a guard like Scottie Wilbekin. The senior absolutely took control of the second-round contest against Pittsburgh for 21 points but more importantly kept the Gators moving on offense and disrupted the Panthers on defense. It was impressive and no wonder why he was voted Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
Who knows if these guys can make it in the NBA, a league more about the individual players and highlights than playing the game as a team.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Charles Barkley has a great take on the topic of improving the game by forcing college players to stay in school for two years instead of the one-and-done option.
Common sense says the player would develop even more at all levels, physically, mentally and emotionally before entering a league filled with veterans that know how to expose every blemish of a game (poor shooter, lack of speed, lack of awareness on a court).
Yes, there is less scoring in the college game but that is more of a result of relentless defense than poor shooting – and there is plenty of poor shooting in the NBA.
In the end, March Madness will continue with the Sweet 16, Elite Eight and conclude with the Final Four April 5-6 in Texas, just in time for the Major League Baseball season to begin and playoffs in the NBA and NHL to kick into high gear.
Jason Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org