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March Madness: a real holiday season

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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What a wonderful month March is. St. Patrick’s Day is a great holiday and so is Pecan Day on March 25. But the best holiday of all is what we college basketball fans have coined as March Madness.

This month of basketball is the most prideful time of the year for fans as well as the most exciting games. KU, K-State, Iowa State and Missouri fans all come out of football hibernation (with the possible exception of KU, where it’s always basketball season), put their school colors back on and plea for a bid to join the madness (except for Missouri and Kansas State, who can go ahead and get ready for football season). This tournament transforms everybody into believers for one month.

With all the madness that occurs in a short amount of time, people tend to forget that every team is playing for a chance at a national championship. From the mid-major Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to the blue-blood Kentucky Wildcats, every single team is fighting to raise the trophy on the podium in Indianapolis. This is the only tournament in all of sports that gives the underdogs a realistic chance.

It’s simple: all you have to do is win your conference tournament and you’re in. Once a team makes the NCAA tournament anything can happen. There is no home-court advantage (except for Dayton, which was preposterous), every game is put on the bright lights of national television, and most sports fans are pulling for the underdog to win. The pressure is off. It’s all on the favorites to perform and Cinderella to pounce on mistakes.

The Final Four is this weekend, and the stage is set with a group of powerhouse programs and big time matchups. No. 1 seeded Duke faces the surprise No. 7 seeded Michigan State Spartans, and undefeated Kentucky goes against another No. 1 seed, Wisconsin.

Kentucky was one desperation shot away from a loss to Notre Dame in the elite eight last Saturday night. This was the best game of the entire tournament. As I was watching the final minutes of the game, with Notre Dame still in the lead, I began to think about the stakes of this game. Had Notre Dame held on and defeated Kentucky, it might have been the greatest upset in the history of college basketball.

No. 15 seeds have defeated No. 2 seeds before, No. 14 seeds practically beat a No. 3 seed every year (including losses by Baylor and Iowa State this year), and someday a historic upset will happen when a No. 16 over a No. 1. But would that even come close to what Notre Dame almost accomplished?

Whenever you think of great NCAA tournament upsets you think of Jim Valvano and the North Carolina State Wolfpack’s run in 1983, upsetting Michael Jordan’s North Carolina team, Ralph Sampson’s Virginia Cavaliers twice, and two NBA Hall of Famers in Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler of the Phi Slama Jama Houston Cougars. Or even the 1985 Villanova Wildcats knocking off conference rival and defending national champion Georgetown with Patrick Ewing. But a Notre Dame win would have surpassed even those great upsets.

This Kentucky basketball team that you’re watching is the greatest basketball team to ever play at the college level. They’re undefeated with NINE McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. Only two teams have ever won a national title without a McDonald’s All-American on the roster and Kentucky has nine of them. They’ve cruised through the season and are playing for the first undefeated season since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers of 1976 or John Wooden’s UCLA teams in ’72 and ’73. But basketball is hardly even the same sport as it was in those days. This Kentucky team would kick John Wooden’s teachings to the curb.

If Notre Dame had hit the buzzer-beating three, connected on two of its missed free throws early in the game, or found a way to prevail, it would’ve been the most amazing result ever in college basketball. It would verify that March Madness is truly unlike anything else. All you have to do is make it into the tournament and then let the rest speak for itself.

From the buzzer-beaters, the emotions, the tears of Adam Morrison permanently staining the Gonzaga uniforms and the pure joy witnessed on four national television stations, this tournament is the best time of the year. Sixty-eight teams all the way down to the one national champion.

I propose to make the first two days of the NCAA tournament a national holiday. No school, no work, just basketball. Does anyone do any work on those days anyway?