Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sure Sign Of Spring: It's Blooming Basketballs

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Boy, THAT 30 years went by fast…

Before an explanation, consider this:

The oak leaf hydrangea has tiny white buds and the succulents are coming back, peeking out of the pine straw and growing up around what remains of last year’s strong arms, now brittle and heading toward hollow.

Signs of spring.

But even city folk know that the pregnant robin’s got nothing on television when it comes to announcing the end of winter. Spring’s in the air, and so are basketballs. Time for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships. Time to dance and all that.

Where’s the remote?

This week is one of the best to be a college sports fan. For sure this month is.

Conference tournaments – they’ve been going on all week! -- conclude today. Tonight, the Field of 64 will be announced, and those teams join in a tournament that won’t conclude until April 7, the Monday night before the start of The Masters on April 10.

Not a bad week for sports, and not a bad third week of spring, that second week of April.

But first, the tournament, something that’s become so popular, even the non-sports fans are drawn to it. If they’re not filling out a bracket – don’t forget that Warren Buffett’s offering to pay a billion bucks for a perfect bracket -- they’re at least watching SOME of a game. This tournament sort of gets infectious, like the early spring influenza epidemic of 1918 -- but without everyone’s skin turning dark red and feet turning black. Well, and 500,000 Americans dying.

A happier thought, about that billion you can win: register online. It’s worth a chance, but be aware that the chance is somewhere between 1 in 9.2 quintillion (that’s a nine with 18 zeroes) to the much more reasonable 1 in 128 billion.

Gannett’s Chris Chase reported in USA Today that, in layman’s terms, that means that if everyone in the United States submitted a bracket every year, a perfect one would show up every 400 years.

Of course, by then the field will have expanded beyond 64 teams – just my opinion – and the odds will be much higher, and we will all likely have passed away, so there you go. It’s not fair, but if life were fair, Elvis would still be alive, and all the impersonators would be dead.

What occurred to me on the eve of the tournament was that 30 springs have gone by awfully fast. It was 30 years ago right now that I was about to graduate from college. What makes 1983-84 a memorable spring to me, though, was that Louisiana Tech had just won its first of two straight conference titles and was heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. 

Some guy named “the Mailman” was on that team, as was another sophomore, Shreveporter Wayne Smith. Alan Davis from Monroe and Willie Simmons and Adam Frank, each from New Orleans. Robert Godbolt from Detroit. Seems like the other day …

That team went 26-7, lost in the second round to NCAA finalist Houston in a game that featured two future NBA Hall of Fame players, Houston’s Akeem Olajuwon and Tech’s Karl Malone. Who knew then?

Heading into the Conference USA Tournament earlier this week, Tech mirrored the 83-84 team with a league title and a 25-6 record. This year’s team either won a spot in the NCAA Tournament Saturday night – I’m writing this pre-then – or will wait for an at-large bid on tonight’s televised Selection Sunday show. If not that, they play in the NIT.
(ED NOTE: Tech lost in its conference finals and landed a third-seed in the NIT.)
Otherwise, the teams aren’t alike, but they both won and each had a personality you could pull for. Like the annual tournament, no two are alike, but they’re all good. For those three weeks of early spring, they do something nature can’t: they freeze spring for you, and make the time turn back, or at least stand still.