Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Final Four

I have long loved the excitement and enthusiasm that the NCAA basketball tournament brings. For a few week much of the country is focused on the Thursday/Saturday - Friday/Sunday games. 65 teams start the journey that ends with one standing as National Champion for Division I men's basketball. At the same time the woman's tournament is being played. While the woman are not as spectacularly athletic as the men they play a great level of ball. I enjoy the woman's tournament because being shorter they play a brand of ball that is more reminiscent of the ball played in my era. No spectacular dunks, or "in your face" shot blocking, but excellent fast breaks, great three point shooting and tough no nonsense defense.

This is a time of year that everyone has a bracket and office pools become intense topics of conversation in the break room. It is as though we collectively take a break from the tedium and issues of life and even the President takes his hand at bracket selection on national TV.

What I really enjoy is the frantic pace of the tournament. In the first round there are sixteen games play in various parts of the country in a day. Sixteen teams go home victors, sixteen teams go home with the taste of defeat, yet they participated. Some stellar programs are laid low, some small colleges become heroic. It seems that everyone pulls for the underdog except when our favorite team is involved. The Friday round of sixteen games repeats Thursday's interest. Then come the round of 32 and there is intense interest in who will make the "Sweet Sixteen." The story grows around who will be the "Cinderella" team and how far will they go.

As the tournament progresses you get to see the variety of styles of coaching. The maddening, methodical pace of the Wisconsin Badgers, Bo Ryan's magic at work. The powerful, athletic powerhouse of Kentucky or Kansas is on display. Cornell, not an athletic scholarship on the team, but a smooth successful year for the "Big Red." Kansas gets knocked of in the Sweet Sixteen by a courageous and talented Northern Iowa team and expectations and hopes of young men lie dashed while other young men get to battle another day. Everyone has a chance. That is, I guess why I like March Madness. Everyone has a chance. In the end, a great team usually emerges victorious, but for a month in March we lose our distrust of society, we become involved in speculation with strangers and talk about common issues that will have no bearing on the direction of our lives. But just tell that to the players at Kansas, Kansas St., Kentucky and Syracuse who went home early humiliated at their lowly defeat when the expectations were so high.

It is a reassuring, fun, fascinating process our country goes through once a year. All made possible by the athletic prowess of a bunch of 18 - 22 year old young men trying.

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