Each March, 64, well 68 college basketball teams put on dancing shoes in hope of being the last team dancing or at least one of the last four teams playing basketball in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament aka March Madness. Typically, by this time of year the madness has cooled and the traditional powers are vying to see who will be the eventual champion. Not this year. Apart from North Carolina there is all new blood remaining in the tournament. South Carolina and Gonzaga are making their first ever appearance in the Final Four and Oregon is making their first appearance in 78 years.
UNC by all measures is a traditional power program. The Tar Heels have been winning since the days of Frank McGuire through Dean Smith and presently with Roy Williams and bolsters a roster with 6 McDonald’s All-Americans. Oregon won the very first NCAA tournament and has not been back to a Final Four since. Gonzaga and South Carolina are making their very first appearance in the final weekend of the tournament. Coaches Dana Altman (Oregon), Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Frank Martin (South Carolina) are all making their Final Four coaching debuts.
This was a season where as many as twenty teams looked to have a chance at a Final Four appearance and South Carolina wasn’t one of them. This was as wide open a field as there has ever been. So, it is no surprise how things have played out this year.
March Madness with all its vainglory slides into the sanity of April like Yo Gotti in a DM. Cinderella has returned from her first weekend pass and traded in her dancing shoes for slippers and the comfort of a good seat in the dorm room or student center. Blue Bloods like Kentucky and Duke are usually left to figure it all out and entertain us. And as much as we enjoy the week one shenanigans of 12 seeds beating 5 seeds and 15 seeds scaring the heck out of a 2, we really enjoy watching the big names with the high-profile players battling it out. You don’t think so? You disagree? Two words…Kentucky/Carolina.
There is only a single projected one and done player remaining. Can you guess who that player’s name? I’ll wait. Even UNC with all its history and success is a team of no-names. Not that these young men can’t play, it’s just they are not known to the casual fan. Even Justin Jackson, a projected 1st round pick, is largely anonymous as well as the other 5 McDonald’s All-Americans on UNC’s roster. Oregon has some talented players, but none were highly recruited nor were they high school All-Americans. South Carolina has one, PJ Dozier, although Sindarius Thornwell has played like one throughout this tournament. Gonzaga has two, Nigel Williams-Goss and the remaining one and done Zach Collins. Basically, unless you watch college basketball all season or are friends with the “Jay Dukies”, Bilas and Williams, you are not familiar with these guys or these programs outside of UNC. Anonymity is endemic to the college basketball landscape. The best players don’t stick around long and the players that stay and develop aren’t household names, only known commodities to their individual fan bases.
Despite these factors and the lack of familiarity, we watch and we watch in droves. The tournament has proven to be the star even when the quality of play is down. The ratings are way up from the regular season and as high as they have been since 1991. But more telling than the Neilsen ratings is the construction of these teams. They all have upperclassmen and during this year of parity that seems to be the deciding factor on who gets a chance to win. So, we won’t get to see Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, UCLA and the prospective lottery picks on those rosters, but we will see the teams that have played the best basketball led by mature rosters of young men that are getting their chance to be a SOMEBODY. Get familiar…. or not, but one thing has been proven true, we will tune in next March to the watch anonymous players from Universities we can’t locate on a map in search of madness all the while hoping for sanity.