‘March Madness’ will build on the memories again
After five trips to Montgomery and two to Birmingham in the last two weeks, the high school basketball season has finally come to a conclusion, and the time has come for me to shift my focus to March Madness.
The moments and memories that the NCAA Basketball tournament has produced over the years are countless. It’s one of the few sporting events that features at least one or two Cinderella stories a year.
Think about it. The Tampa Bay Rays were Cinderella in baseball in 2008, but how often does the World Series feature a team that goes from worst to first in a 365-day span?
The Super Bowl? Sure, nobody expected the Cardinals to make it this year, and the Giants derailed the Patriots’ perfect season the year prior. Other than those two outliers, odds are the participants are of little surprise to anyone.
But every NCAA tournament features a handful of bracketbusting outcomes. The most dangerous thing any team can do in March is believe its own press clippings, much less compare its tourney seed to its opponent’s.
You want examples? Here you go. Eleven years ago, Bryce Drew led an unheralded 13-seed Valparaiso team to an upset of four-seed Ole Miss by sinking a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Princeton used the backdoor cut (a lot) to take down defending national champion UCLA in 1996. Mike Anderson led a surprising UAB team to the Sweet 16.
Eight-seed Villanova took down Patrick Ewing’s No. 1 Georgetown team in 1985.
Jim Valvano coached N.C. State to an upset of Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler’s “Phi Slamma Jamma” in 1983, setting off a celebration that has been replayed ad nauseum.
And that’s another thing — the moments the tournament has produced.
Maybe I’m a sap, but there is nothing I love more than seeing a pure, unadulterated display of emotion in sports.
I love it even more when it
stems from an underdog knocking off the big shot.
Such was the case when 15-seed Hampton earned its first tournament win in 2001 by beating two-seed Iowa State 58-57.
Hampton coach Steve Merfeld’s celebration is an image that remains burned in my mind. He jumped around like a mad man before David Johnson picked him and carried him halfway across the court as Merfeld pumped his legs and arms in jubilation.
George Mason’s road to the 2006 Final Four was even more remarkable. The 11-seed Patriots stunned six-seed Michigan State, three-seed North Carolina, seven-seed Wichita State and, finally, one-seed Connecticut before falling to eventual national champion Florida.
It’s not often Cinderella wears the glass slippers for two weeks, but what a ride it was for those cheering for the underdog.
Right now, it’s still too early to pick the upset candidates. But needless to say, it won’t be long before a few more chapters are added to the memories the tournament has already produced.