I love college basketball, everything about it. There is the less-than pristine play mixed with moments of balletic brilliance and the double-digit leads that are lost and gained again. There is nothing in sports like the final two minutes of most any college basketball game with less than a 10-point lead that can turn from certainty into bedlam. Three and four overtimes are not uncommon. And there is the thrill of an ACC shoot-out, leaving you to marvel at the accuracy of the shooters and the practice required to attain such accuracy.
But mostly my boys and I love to watch the little scrappy teams in little-known conferences — the Horizon, the Southland Conference (not to be confused with the Southern Conference), the American East and more. In the conference championships the lesser-known teams have to win to get to the NCAA tournament (i.e. they get an automatic bid), so every game is do or die. For players who obviously are not destined to play in the NBA it is their last opportunity for sports greatness. Can they make it to the tournament and step onto the court with the Big Ten, the Big East and all the other bigger and better-known teams? Maybe Cincinnati University or Montana University could be the Cinderella team for this year.
In the age of perfect professional athletes, here are kids that look, well, like kids you know. There are the 5-foot-9 kids who won’t ever play in the NBA but make astonishing passes. There is the overweight kid who looks like he may have wanted to play football but settled for basketball, and then lost in an agonizingly close game in one of the conferences you forgot existed. There are the teams with brothers (sometimes twins), with foreign students and with coaches who look to be not much older than the players. And don’t get me started on the psychedelic uniforms and the painted floors. (And that Big East sign painted on the floor at the Garden to look like it’s standing up is freaking me out.)
Forget Madison Square Garden; the more entertaining venues look like high school gyms with masses of students in school colors jumping up and down throughout the game. The best is the parents who have been watching their boys since grade school and now thrill to watch their sons get their moment in the sun. (That reminds me: There is a Sun Belt conference.)
Watching college basketball is a lovely reminder of the vastness of the country and the array of locales. Each previously unknown school prompts a consult with the iPad. Where the heck is Davidson? Wright State? Wow, there are a lot of good basketball schools in Ohio.
Did you know there is a school named Northwest State, which isn’t in the northwest ? (It’s in Louisiana.) The mascots are a source of endless amusement and discussion. What’s a Buckeye (tree)? What’s a Tar Heel, a Hoosier and a Hoya? Gosh, a lot of schools have bulldogs as mascots (Jack and Jack, Jr. at Georgetown, Uga at Georgia and Handsome Dan at Yale).
At a time when “flyover country” gets shortchanged in the media, here is where Big Sky country and the Mountain West loom large.
I’m sorry David Kindred is pining for the bygone days of super-dynasties. I, too, remember the perfect UCLA seasons (1972 and 1973). Before the shot clock came to college basketball the art of stalling, the four-corner offense, was a sight to behold. But like the era of only three network TV stations, smoke-filled rooms to pick candidates and the “Golden Age” of television, the memories can be better than the reality. What fun is it to have only one good team in the Pac- 8? (I barely got used to the Pac-10 when the Pac-12 came into being.)
But we’ve got Big Business, Big Labor and Big Government, — who needs big basketball oligarchs? Let professional sports have the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. For me, I’ll take Valparaiso, Long Island University of Brooklyn and Pacific. Hey, did you know there’s a school named Stephen F. Austin University? It lost in a heartbreaker to Northwest State University.