On Thursday morning I sat down in my apartment wearing a t-shirt and shorts and turned on the television. From 10 a.m. til about 12:30 I didn’t do much sitting, as the Dayton Flyers and Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball teams played out a thrilling game to kick off the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in earnest.
I’m a University of Dayton graduate and live and die with the Flyers more than any other team by far, so this game had special significance for me. For those of you who don’t know, UD hit a shot with four seconds remaining to take a one-point lead and win the game (oh yeah, and crawl out from under that rock).
The games have kept coming since. There may be some Colorado fans around here and that’s just about the only start-to-finish blowout the tournament has had (sorry if you root for the Buffs). Otherwise, with four overtime games, two buzzer-beaters and several double-digit seeds advancing, it’s been a near-perfect first couple days.
Now, the Dayton win made this year’s tournament even sweeter for me, but the point is this: there’s no better event in sports and it’s not close. Year-in and year-out, the men’s basketball tournament provides sports fans with something you don’t get from any other event.
The main reason for this is the way the tournament works in giving unknown teams a chance. In pro leagues there are too few teams to have a squad like a North Dakota State or a Mercer (bonus points if you know where Mercer University is located). Those teams are filled with guys who are playing basketball because they really love the sport. That’s the only reason, because you don’t play at North Dakota State to get drafted in the NBA.
There’s also the matchup of usually young, supreme athletes playing vs. a more experienced group that’s never played in front of more than 5,000 people before.
Really, the tournament is what sports are all about. Not like college football, where only the cream of the crop are given a chance to show off to a national audience, and not like pro sports (which I love), where money, business and egos get in the way of the action too often.
Rarely do the underdogs make it through to a Final Four or a championship. They rarely even make it past the first weekend. But that’s not what’s important.
Even for the non-seniors on a team like North Dakota State, odds are this will be their only visit to the tournament. So everybody takes on a sense of seizing the moment and plays like crazy.
It’s why these are the best few sporting days of the year. We’ve got two left this weekend. I’ll be back in my shorts and t-shirt.
GO FLYERS. Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.