I know what you probably thought last week when you saw my column about the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments.
How indescribably good they are every year.
How unbelievably enjoyable – how much fun -- they are.
How wildly exciting they are.
You probably thought it was just some old guy waxing poetic about the greatness of college basketball tournament games, without any real evidence to support it.
And I can understand that, to a point.
To those who don’t follow the sport – not even these post-season tournaments – it’s just a bunch of young men and women in different-colored t-shirts, minus the sleeves, and short pants trying to throw a round orange ball through a round orange hoop – sort of like a big game of ring toss.
How monotonous! How tedious! How boring!
Then came last Friday evening, when the country – if not the world – discovered why they call these tournaments March Madness. If I were looking for proof for what I wrote – and I wasn’t, I guarantee you that – it came forth then with UMBC’s historic win over the Virginia Cavaliers in one of the final games of the first round of the men’s tournament.
That’s UMBC as in the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, not to be confused with the University of Maryland’s main campus in College Park, whose Terrapins compete in the Big Ten Conference against schools like Ohio State.
These are the Retrievers – as in Golden Retrievers, I guess, and you thought Terrapins was cool – whose school is based eight miles outside Baltimore and competes in the America East Conference against schools like Vermont.
Before Friday night, UMBC was known mostly for its lights-out chess team. With all due respect to those students, they have been checkmated – is that a word? – by the men’s basketball team.
Now the school will be known forevermore for the hoops program. The Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the modern history of the tournament. And the Cavaliers weren’t just the No. 1 seed in their region. They were the No. 1 overall seed of the entire tournament – all 68 teams.
In addition, the Retrievers didn’t just beat the Cavaliers. They beat them down to the tune of 74-54. It wasn’t even close. It was as if the teams switched jerseys before the game. But if the truth be told, heading into the game, it was thought that a 20-point Cavaliers win would not have been decisive enough.
But a 20-point Retrievers win? It was more than enough to put the school on the map. It was one of the greatest victories not just in the tournament, but also in the history of sports overall – any sport at any level at any time.
It was David felling Goliath – without a slingshot. He did it with his bare hands.
And it wasn’t reality TV. It was just reality, period.
The lure of the tournaments has always been that, even if you’ve watched a lot of basketball, you’ll likely see something you’ve never witnessed before. But what happened Friday is that adage on steroids.
It was … well, maddening, especially for the Virginia Cavaliers.