(This was originally posted back in 2006. Most of my current readers weren't privy to this blog back then which qualifies this as a throwback...)
This is THE best time of the year for any basketball fan. March Madness. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. No offense, but the women's tourney just isn't near as exciting. The Men's tourney is where it's at. Better than the NBA Finals and even better than the Super Bowl, as far as I'm concerned.
In recent years, I haven't been as amped as for it as I used to be back in the day. There was a time back when my boy E was in town and we worked at the same God forsaken place that we would make this time a national holiday. I would only take vacation during two times a year: the weeks that I would have my oldest children in the summer and the Thursday and Friday of March that were the two first days of the NCAA Tournament. Although I haven't done that in quite a while I still look forward to the tourney every year.
As of late, the overall collegiate talent has suffered a bit due to all the early defections to the NBA. That was the one good thing about that new NBA rule with not allowing kids to jump straight there out of high school. Not only should the quality of NBA games increase but you would think the NCAA would too since there's now more of these kids going to college.
I have very fond memories of all the years that I've been watching March Madness. And I mean the actual games themselves, not just the memories of the getting together with other folks. Then again, there were some not so fond moments as well. Because I often write this to amuse myself, I figured I might as well touch on those times as well...
My top 3 worst memories (in order of worst memory to me):
UNLV loses to Duke 1991
Everytime I think about this game, I get more and more ticked. I clearly remember sitting in my dorm room watching it yelling at the television. UNLV had arguably the best basketball team in college basketball history that year (sorry Fab Five but it's true), and my favorite NCAA basketball team of all time. The NCAA had it in for Tark that year because they could never catch him on violations. In fact, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson almost had to sue the NCAA to prevent them from putting UNLV on probation. The two of them intentionally came back for another year for a chance to repeat and the NCAA was messing with their draft status. But the NCAA got them in the end anyway.
After ransacking EVERYBODY in their path that year, they met Duke in the Final Four. They were the two best teams in the country and there's no way they should have been playing in the same bracket. They should have been playing for the championship. Long story short, the refs called THEworst game I've ever seen. Every call went Duke's way. UNLV was taken out of their game having to play both Duke and the refs and Duke wins.
Iowa State loses to #15 seed Hampton
In 2001, ISU had a squad that many thought had all the potential to FINALLY get to the Final Four. There was some talk that they could even win it all, having a #2 seed. Okay, maybe that last part was a stretch, but a brotha can dream.
Instead, they run into the "buzzsaw" that was Hampton. They make history and become one of the few #15 seeds in history to ever bow out in the first round. Pretty much every one of them, including all-world guard Jamaal Tinsley, played like crap.
And to make matters even worse it was to Hampton. One of my partners from back in the day, Bill Spears, was a Hampton grad and he would always brag about how great the school was. Fortunately, at that time I hadn't talked to him in quite a while so he never was able to locate me to rub it in that his alma mater upset mine. Even though we have recently reconnected he still hasn't brought it up. I'm sure it's just a matter of time.
Iowa loses to UNLV in Elite Eight
The year was 1987. The BJ Armstrong-led Iowa Hawkeyes had the best squad Iowa has EVER had(and I'm quite sure will ever have). Roy Marble, Gerry Wright, Kevin Gamble...even Brad Lohaus when he was decent. This was back when I still liked Iowa because I hadn't yet committed to going to Iowa State. There was no way a squad like that should have lost. But they did.
As much as I hated to admit it since I did like Iowa then, I thought it was sweet irony. Iowa had just gotten rid of a much better coach in George Ravelling and got sorry Tom Davis. George left Tom with a stable full of superstars. Anyone could have won with those superstars. However, Tom was in way over his head. Had George been there, they could have easily won the whole thing. Instead, they gave the brotha his walking papers and karma bit them in the arse.
Now that I've got the bad moments out of the way, let me touch on the good ones so I can end on a good note. Naturally, these would be in order of my most favorite to least favorite:
Kansas wins National Championship
The same year that I was graduating high school, 1988, Kansas and Danny Manning found themselves in the championship game. They were already lucky they were even in the tournament since they had a record 11 losses. They were the first team to win the title with that many losses.
Now I realize I have spent most of my life in Iowa. Don't matter. I am a Kansas native no matter what ANYBODY says. I was born there. The majority of my family is still there so that's where my home-state allegiance will truly lie. Unless they play Iowa State, of course. Plus, this was the closest that a team I could somewhat associate with would win the whole thing so it only stands to reason that I was going to pull for them.
This would definitely have to be qualified since UCLA has won more championships than any other school in NCAA history. The one in 1995 was the only one I cared about. That was the year where I entered the office pool as I did every year about that time. It was the first and only time I would ever win the pool.
It really was pure coincidence that E was the one facilitating the pool. Everybody was screaming foul play because of that when it turned out that I won and he came in second. I may cheat on games from time to time but that was a time when I actually was on the up and up. I had actually done a lot of research that year to put a lot of time and effort into my picks. That would be the last time that I ever entered an office pool.
Arkansas wins National Championship
I had mentioned briefly in a previous blog that my cousin, Reggie Merritt, played for this squad. That was years ago during so I'm sure even those of you who have been here since the beginning may have forgotten that. Maybe Reggie got a lot more pine than he got time, but he was still on the squad. That's more than most of us can say.
Anyway, that alone would have been enough reason for me to want them to win it all in 1994. There was also the fact that they were headed up by an African American head coach: Nolan Richardson. This would have been at a time when you could count the number of African American D-1 head coaches on one hand. Or maybe two but barely two hands, if that.
So there it is. My March Madness "brief" summary. It doesn't matter that this is yet another year where the watered-down talent will probably lead to an average Tournament. Even a tepid March Madness is better than any other sporting event out there.