From Way Downtown

It’s the first Monday of March, so we are once again nearing the time of “Madness” where 68 of the best college basketball teams in Division I converge to compete in the annual tournament to crown the NCAA champion.

One of my favorite moments of the tournament takes me back to when I was a fifth grader, back when NBC still had the rights to televise the tourney. The year was 1981 – Ronald Reagan had just been sworn in as President, and the Louisville Cardinals had won the tournament the year before against the UCLA Bruins. UCLA was the dominant force in college basketball at that time, not too far removed from the days of John Wooden and seemingly winning the championship year after year. The tournaments were smaller in that era, with only 48 teams making the cut, divided into four regions of 12 teams apiece.

On this day, they played Arkansas in a game in the round of 32. Louisville had just taken the lead with five seconds remaining by one point. Arkansas had to go the length of the court in that time, getting possession underneath their own basket.

Ulysses “U.S.” Reed was the ball handler who turned a moment of sheer panic into a moment Razorback hoops fans would never forget, and probably still haven’t forgotten.

Even the legendary Marv Albert had to raise his voice an octave or two to relay his surprise at the mid-court desperation shot finding nothing but the net. Basket good, game over, Arkansas wins by one point. (The three-point line wouldn’t be used in the tournament until 1987, six years later.)

The fifth-grade version of myself (no wait, I was in the fourth grade when this happened) was astonished, watching that moment of the game off of WFLA in Tampa. I had to think for a moment – did that shot go in? When I realized it had, I sat there bewildered. I was neither an Arkansas or a Louisville fan, but that was a considerable scene to digest.

Quite a moment. An “old school” moment for sure, but when I think of March Madness, that’s one of the first few things that pop into my mind.

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Ones And Sixteens

Even at age 45, statistics still fascinate me. Maybe not as much as they used to, but stats can be a powerful tool in sports, in politics, or in the news in general.

Up until the Super Bowl this year, I thought the most amazing statistic in sports was the anomaly that up until that classic Pats/Falcons Super Bowl, no Super Bowl had gone to overtime, winding up tied after 60 minutes of regulation play. Roughly, at least 1 NFL game in the regular season and beyond out of 20 such games needs overtime to decide, but after 50 Super Bowls, it had never happened in the big game.

Now that it finally happened this year (and I “marked out” big time when it did, dancing around the TV and saying to myself, “It happened! It finally happened!!!”), there is an heir apparent to the biggest anomalous stat in the sports world.

Since the NCAA men’s basketball tournament went to 64 teams in 1985, the teams are seeded in four regions: based on a combination of record and roughly the strength of schedule a given team plays. The best seed is to be a number 1 seed, while being a number 16 seed is the least desirable.

Counting the first round games this year, the 1 seed has played the 16 seed 132 times. The 16 seed teams have NEVER won, 0-132 against the 1 seed. In women’s college basketball, it’s only ever happened once, in 1998 when Harvard stunned the top seeded Stanford squad.

It will happen someday, but not until at least March of 2018.

Immunity From March Madness

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The Duke Blue Devils celebrate their 2010 NCAA basketball championship, along with their iconic coach Mike Krzyzewski in the middle in the suit and tie.

It didn’t happen purposefully, but I just can’t get into watching college basketball anymore. Not even the start of the NCAA tournament known as March Madness (which actually started two nights ago with a series of play-in games Tuesday night and last night known as the First Four) can get me enthused about watching college hoops.

I’ve been watching college basketball a long time. I can still remember the 1978 NCAA title game with Kentucky (led by Jack Givens) beating Duke 94-88 to win in St. Louis. That was the year before Michigan State (led by Magic Johnson) beat Indiana State (led by Larry Bird) in the ’79 title game that made college basketball a known commodity among us sporting coach potatoes.

My sports calendar, if you will, mainly revolves around the Lightning (apparently heading to the Stanley Cup playoffs), the Rays, and the Buccaneers. Between these three seasons and how they overlap each other, and the rise of the Internet and how sports are marketed on same, I find sports a revolving door of these three leagues, with a little auto racing thrown in on the side, plus the Olympics every even numbered year.

Either the football season is too long (which it is, since they now play the Super Bowl in February), or the college basketball season is too short. Heck, that would mess with March Madness and the trademarks the NCAA no doubt has on that moniker. April Anxiety just doesn’t roll off the tongue as good.