March: A month for madness and mayhem

by Doug Fricker

There is no better name for college basketball at this point of the year than March Madness. Something unnoticeable to the human eye occurs when February ends and March begins, opening the floodgates to a whole month of buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes, and unlikely heroes. Anything can, and usually does, happen in March.

This year, March wasted no time generating a buzz as top-ranked Duke, 27–1 at the time, fell to the unranked Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.

When the week of conference tournaments commenced, Syracuse went from a team on the bubble to winning four straight games, becoming Big East conference champions and receiving the automatic bid. Gerry McNamara, Syracuse’s “overrated” guard (don’t say that in front of his coach) proved his critics wrong during that four-game stretch with his heart-stopping, season-saving performances against Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Georgetown.

There was Monmouth, too. Little Monmouth created mayhem in West Long Beach, N.J., when they upset Fairleigh Dickinson to win the Northeast Conference Tournament and earn themselves an automatic berth in the “Big Dance.”

Selection Sunday rolled around and the bracket was released. The Missouri Valley Conference got four teams in, and it could have been five, except Missouri State was axed. Cincinnati and Michigan also had their bubbles burst, but their losses turned into someone else’s gain as Utah State, Air Force, and George Mason earned bids. George Mason’s inclusion drew some confused looks and criticism, but lo and behold, maybe the selection committee members do know what they’re doing.

Sunday to Thursday was a tough period, but fortunately we could get our fix of basketball with NIT (not-in-tournament) games being played. Everybody filled out a bracket during this time; some, like me, treated it as a deeply religious experience, with many hours spent researching and meditating, while others just went off of which team’s mascot would win in a fight. Sadly, the latter usually works better than the former, as we’ve got Tigers and Bruins but no Lions (oh my!).
On Thursday, Wichita State and Seton Hall tipped off at 12:20 pm, and Day One play continued for the next 12 hours.

A hot Boston College team needed double overtime to beat Pacific, reinforcing the whole idea that “anything can, and usually does, happen in March.” Chris Lofton sank an incredible shot from the right corner to let Tennessee squeeze past #15 seed Winthrop 63–61, and in what’s becoming an annual thing, a #12 seed knocked off a #5 seed with Montana winning over Nevada.

On to Day Two, when Jermaine Wallace made a shot that he will never forget. Down 63–61 against #3 seed Iowa, Northwestern State had the ball. They came down, missed, Wallace picked up the long rebound and from the left corner (and with a hand in his face) hit nothing but net to give the Demons a 64–63 win. Watching replays of that shot sends chills down my spine. History repeated itself as Syracuse and Kansas lost in the first round for the second straight year.

Louisiana State (Brady’s Bunch and “Big Baby” Glen Davis) made it to the Final Four with their victory over Texas in OT, but let’s backtrack to their second-round game when, down by two, LSU’s Darrel Mitchell drilled a three with 3.9 seconds left. It’s amazing how a shot like that goes on to change the whole course of not only a game, but a tournament.

UCLA also hung on by the skin of their teeth in their second round game against Alabama, eventually winning by three.

In what was possibly the most dramatic day of the tournament, March 23 saw Duke, West Virgina, and Gonzaga lose heartbreakers. J.J. Redick ended his career in horrible fashion, going 3–18 from the field, and yet Duke still almost defeated LSU. Later, WVU and Texas squared off in a good old-fashioned barn burner. WVU, behind tattoo-clad Kevin Pittsnogle, played catch-up before Pittsnogle hit a dramatic three to tie the game at 71.

WVU’s celebration was short-lived — along the lines of five seconds in fact, as Texas came straight down and sank a three of their own as the buzzer sounded. Texas was very close to being Pittsnogled, which I read is an actual verb, meaning to be victimized by a hot-shooting West Virginia big man. Instead, WVU got Paulinoed.

Then, UCLA scored the last 11 points to win 73–71 against Gonzaga. Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison epitomized the agony of defeat as he just lay face-down motionless at center court.
Connecticut pulled a win out of thin air Friday when they stunned Washington. UConn arguably has the most talent in the country, but they almost dug their own grave with their turnovers. Then Rashad Anderson came to the rescue with a three-pointer to tie it with one second left.

So many memories are made amid the madness that is March. Without it, life would be so bland. There are two great things about March. First, it’s not over yet, as there are still more games to be played and a champion to be crowned. Second, March will cycle through and occur again next year at around this time, meaning the whole process will start over again. Another season will sadly end when the championship is played next Monday, but don’t fret. Major League Baseball’s opening day is this Sunday.
Now, let me tell you what I love about baseball…