The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament has come to be my favorite sports weekend of the entire year. The Super Bowl is great, college football and NFL opening weekend is always exciting, but nothing lives up to the hype again and again like March Madness.
Forget the brackets and the (illegal) betting, the thrill of the contests is enough to keep anyone who somewhat likes basketball and sports on the edge of their seat. There were three buzzer beating wins this weekend alone, which is a tournament record. From Northern Iowa’s elation on Friday, to its devastation on Sunday night. Notre Dame getting the “Luck of the Irish” on Sunday afternoon to advance to the Sweet 16. Glass slippers were broken all over the place on Saturday and Sunday, and no real Cinderellas advanced to the second weekend.
A couple of lessons from the weekend:
First, never give up if there is time (or outs) remaining in a game. Of course, the Royals taught us this in Game Four of the American League Division Series in Houston last year.
While that was a lot of fun, Sunday was a better reminder for young basketball players that you, in the words of the late, great, Jim Valvano, never, ever give up.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 21, 2016
It was the largest final minute comeback in college basketball history. It is, in my opinion, one of the top moments in March Madness history. Not all games are on this scale or magnitude, but don’t quit. I once broadcast a game where the team I was doing the play-by-play for had a nine-point lead with 30 seconds left, and the opposing team stopped fouling and just stood back and let the time run off the clock. They quit. I noted on the air how they stopped fouling and how most teams would keep fouling and extend the game. The newspaper reporter for the other team took exception with me after the game, and said I was out of line for insinuating the team quit. Well, after last night, I think I have a pretty good argument. It won’t happen 99 percent of the time, but you never know when that one percent will happen.
The second lesson is, money still rules in college basketball. For all the upset wins on the first two days of the tournament, there are no “little guys” left in the field. Gonzaga has won too much and spends too much money on basketball, almost as much as some of the major programs. Syracuse is not your typical No. 10 seed, with veteran coach Jim Boeheim on the bench. Even Wisconsin, as a No.7 seed, is coming off a national championship game appearance just last April. Our Sweet 16 is filled with a bunch of schools that are considered major players in college basketball. I guess this leaves me trying to pick who to root for among schools that have had the least amount of consistent success recently. It looks like Oregon or Texas A&M, Miami, Virginia or Iowa State, and Notre Dame should be the schools I want to see get to the Final Four.
While the Sweet 16 lacks that wonderful Cinderella story this year, the games to get us here have been phenomenal, and I hope the second weekend can give us the same drama over the Easter weekend. But I can guarantee you, after Sunday night’s comeback in Oklahoma City, no one will quit no matter what the score is and how much time is left.