Twice a year, non-sports fans and true sports fans come together as a result of 2 specific events in sports. These two events are the Super Bowl and the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Today is the day when the buzz of one of these two events begins…. Selection Sunday!
Let’s face it, people who don’t enjoy football still choose watch the Super Bowl for one of three reasons; the commercials, the halftime entertainment, or the social aspect of a particular party they are attending. Unlike the Super Bowl, which occurs on one particular Sunday in the beginning of February, the NCAA Tournament takes place over a 3 week period of time in March, hence the term “March Madness." Over this three week period of time, people who for 49 weeks out of the year couldn’t care less about sports, become emotionally invested in the game of college basketball, and the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament. Some do it for the bragging rights of an inter-office bracket pool, others do in hopes of this year’s “Cinderella” team making a run. One thing is for sure, March Madness is like a pandemic, one from which nobody is immune, and there is no vaccine.
March Madness began a bit earlier than expected for me this year, 3 days earlier to be exact, as the Minnesota Gophers found themselves on the bubble with only 18 wins going into the annual Big Ten Conference Tournament.
The Gophers handily defeated Penn State as was expected, and advanced to face Michigan State, a team who had defeated them twice this season, on Friday. This matchup turned out to be a real “barn burner” (no pun intended regarding Williams Arena). The Gophers prevailed in overtime thanks to Devoe Joseph catching fire, scoring 8 of his team high 17 in the extra period. The Gophers were then set to face Purdue on Saturday afternoon, another team who they had lost to twice this season.
Nobody could have predicted what happened next. The Gophers turned in by far their best defensive effort of the season, one in which they held the #5 nationally ranked Boilermakers to 11 first-half points. Had Jajuan Johnson’s buzzer beater at the end of the first-half not occurred, Purdue would have scored in the single digits! With the Gophers entering halftime leading 37-11, there was not much doubt that they would be facing Ohio State on Sunday afternoon for the Big Ten title.
The Gophers entered Sunday having played games each of the three previous days, and Ohio State having only played two. I was fairly confident regarding the tournament chances for Minnesota, having now defeated each of the regular season Big Ten champions, including an absolute man-handling of Purdue the day before. I think my exact quote Sunday morning went something like this, “as long as the Gophers don’t go out and lose by 30 today, we should be in the tournament.” Hmmmmmm…
The first-half was exciting, with the Gophers and Buckeyes exchanging baskets, entering halftime with the Buckeyes leading 33-30. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness in the second half of this basketball game. The Buckeyes opened up the second half on an 8-0 run that quickly stretched their lead to 11 points. The Gophers countered a bit and kept it within 6-8 points, but then… David Lighty… It was as if Lighty drank some of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” from the movie Space Jam (which as everybody knows, was a bottle of water Bugs Bunny disguised as some secret formula for playing like Michael Jordan, and was given to his cartoon teammates in order to give them the confidence needed to play well). All of the sudden he couldn’t miss, whether he was driving coast-to-coast through 3 to 4 defenders or hitting 22 footers, David Lighty absolutely took over the basketball game in the blink of an eye. He also apparently gave some of “Michael’s Secret Stuff” to some of his teammates, because at one point Ohio State made a field goal in 11 straight possessions.
Let’s also not forget about that other guy named Evan Turner, he had an OK day scoring 31 points, grabbing 11 boards, and dishing out 6 assists. Before I could even think about the irony of my morning statement, the final horn sounded and the Buckeyes had beaten the Gophers 90-61, claiming the Big Ten Tournament title. Following this game there were 3 things I felt pretty confident about:
1. I ABSOLUTELY would like the Timberwolves to receive the #2 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft, rather than the #1 overall pick. That way we wouldn’t be forced to choose between John Wall and Evan Turner, we would just get whoever falls into our lap, and by that I mean one of two future superstars. Right now, Evan Turner looks eerily like Dwyane Wade circa 2003, when he led Marquette to the final four. I would have to say, I wouldn’t mind watching him play for the Timberwolves for the next 10+ years.
2. I would now be watching the selection show with a crappy feeling in my stomach, because as I said earlier that day, “as long as the Gophers don’t go out and lose by 30 today, we should be in the tournament.” Well, they didn’t lose by 30, but they sure tried hard to do so, in the end falling short and only losing by 29.
3. Even if the Gophers were to make it into the field of 64 (65 if you count the play-in game, but let’s face it, who actually pays attention to that), they would be seeded fairly low and have to face a pretty tough first round opponent.
Of the two things that were to be decided today, I was right on one and wrong on the other. I was wrong about the fact that I would be watching the selection show, as I decided to head to Golfsmith to get my clubs re-gripped, as I had to take my mind off of the abysmal performance the Gophers had just turned in. I was correct on the other, and the Gophers did make the field of 64 as an 11 seed. They are set to face a 6 seed, Xavier on Friday, and although I truly love March Madness and am glued to the TV every single year, the tournament is just a whole lot more exciting when the Gophers are in.
Will this be the year that a 16 seed finally knocks of a 1 seed? Could we be saying in twenty years, “remember when Lehigh knocked off Kansas in 2010?” Who will be this year’s Cinderella? The Murray State Racers? The Siena Saints? Maybe the Minnesota Gophers?... Nobody knows, and quite frankly that is what makes this tournament so great. A father and his 4 year old daughter could both fill out brackets, with the father picking based on immense college basketball knowledge and his daughter picking based on which mascots she likes best or team colors, and she will most likely win. This is because any team can win on any given night, as Dick Vitale says, “it’s awesome baby!” So get out your brackets and pens and fill those bad boys out, because March Madness is upon us!