DENVER -- The hoi and the polloi are trying to shift the attention of the NCAA basketball tournament from “one shining moment” to a multitude of whining moments.
“Northwestern got jobbed.” ”The defending champions, the No. 1 seed overall, was beaten in an upset, and who cares about March Madness anymore?” ”Poor Blue Devils, and Madison Square Garden won’t have that dream matchup of Villanova-Duke.” ”My bracket has been smashed to pieces, and I’ve lost interest.” “My team lost because of terrible refs who are probably throwing the games, and they should called a block instead of charge.” ”This is one of the worst tournaments ever.”
I covered my first Final Four in 1974, when Bill Walton went wild in the old arena in St. Louis, and UCLA blew out Memphis State. And the reaction was: ”That was awful basketball.”
I’ve been hearing the same complaints, carping and criticism for 42 years. I’ve heard it through all the Finals Fours – about two dozen – I’ve attended. From a young Michael Jordan’s winning shot against Georgetown in the Superdome in New Orleans to the last championship played in an actual basketball gym – old McNichols Arena in Denver – when UNLV blistered the Dukies, to when Villanova had a buzzer-beater to win the title, to an incredible finish and victory by North Carolina State over Phi Slamma Jamma in ”The Pit” in Albuquerque.
Guess what, people?
The current tournament, which just completed the first weekend, is just like all the others – exciting and memorable with controversial (and even terrible) officiating and great college players.
What’s not to like? You don’t like underdogs? You don’t like tradition? You don’t like watching kids celebrating triumph and crying in defeat?
So what if you lost 10 bucks in the office pool? You didn’t really know what you were doing, anyway.
One year my late mom won the celebrity division of ESPN’s “Around the Horn” group that had more than 100,000 entries. My mom didn’t realize the difference between a 6-foot-11 center and a technical foul.
She won because she picked cats and dogs to win every game. And if cats played dogs, ”I think dogs can beat cats.”
Scoff. If you wanted to pick a winner, go with blue uniforms. Teams in blue uniforms have won 13 of the past 14 NCAA tournaments.
My ESPN bracket this year (and you can look it up) has the Kentucky Wildcats winning. I chose them in honor of my mother (cats) and because of the ”blue uniform” statistic.
Also, because I figured all those freshmen have grown up after playing more than 30 games.
Kentucky is still in, and has a legitimate chance to win, despite a close victory over Wichita State. But, then, Wichita State was undervalued by the tournament committee, and actually could have prevailed in the Kentucky game – except for those “freshmen.”
You don’t like a Kentucky-UCLA matchup in the Sweet 16? You must not have seen the oldest “Ball Brother” playing for the Bruins.
UCLA, by the way, has blue uniforms.
My guys in Las Vegas had chosen Duke to reign as national champions. (Perhaps because the Blue Devils wear blue uniforms). So they had to select someone else after the weekend.
Why not Kentucky or UCLA? Or how about the Tar Heels, who wear Carolina Blue.
Instead, the wise guys are now saying Kansas, which was my second choice for months up until the final day. Kansas is not a cat or a dog. It is a Jayhawk.
But the Jayhawks’ colors are crimson, and that’s right, BLUE.
Let me give you some facts that will prove that this tournament is not a dud. The Sweet 16 will have the second-strongest field of the past 20 years, based on seeds. Twelve of the 16 remaining teams were seeded No. 1-4. Fifteen of the 16 teams are from Power Five conferences. North Carolina, Kansas and Gonzaga are No. 1 seeds left, and what’s not to like about the Zags?
Think about power places like Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Arizona (Wildcats), which have won national titles. How about the Michigan story? The Wolverines have won six straight in the Big Ten and national tournaments after their commercial plane slid off the runway when they were headed to the conference tournament.
Butler (Bulldogs) is a team to consider, along with Press Virginia. Florida won back-to-back titles. The Oregon Ducks continue to waddle, and Xavier could become the first team whose school starts with the letter ”X” to earn a basketball champions.