It is really March Madness this year.
The annual NCAA basketball tournament, which took a hiatus last season for obvious reasons, has been labeled March Madness for its unpredictable moments and wild and crazy game endings. It seems to always live up to the billing.
But this time it’s off the charts.
Not even considering what’s been happening on the court so far, the fact that the whole shebang is taking place in one city is a story in itself. All the action is taking place in Indianapolis.
It’s always been about 16 different sites for the opening rounds. Four more for the Sweet Sixteen.
And then, another for the Final Four.
On the court, the appeal of March Madness has been the prospects for upsets, and the emergence of a Cinderella team.
Even for those who are not sports junkies, the tournament brings out the passion of those who take part in office pools, more serious bettors, and those who merely appreciate wonderful stories.
Of course, the one major feature that really makes this event special is missing.
The crowds and the bands. That’s huge.
A fact that many viewers may not be aware of, is that rarely are the arenas filled for the opening round match-ups.
They’re just not, and never have been. That probably raises the eyebrows of those who under the impression it’s extremely difficult to get a seat to see a tournament game. But it’s true. The Final Four is a different story.
But it doesn’t matter, students and alums from the schools competing in the opening rounds, and their bands, do attend, creating great theatre, regardless of the total attendance.
As far as a Cinderella team this year. Well, Cinderella apparently has a few sisters.
There have already been more upsets prior to the round of 16 than ever before.
Perhaps the biggest is Oral Roberts. Seeded number 15, ORU has already knocked off second-seed Ohio State, and number seven Florida. Oregon State (12) beat Oklahoma State (4).
ORU shocks Ohio State
There have been several other double-digit seeded teams scoring big surprises.
One top-seeded team, Illinois was knocked off by Loyola of Chicago, which wasn’t that much of a shocker to me.
Loyola knocks out the Illini
So it’s been a wild first weekend of topsy-turvy results, and that’s only the story as of this writing.
By the time you read this, there may be even more.
Everyone who is an alum of one of the schools competing, naturally has a strong rooting interest.
I’m no different. That’s why I’m elated over the showing of 11th seed Syracuse thus far. So you’ll excuse my taking most of my time discussing them over all others.
This was a team on the bubble on tournament selection day came around.
Yes, the Orange were fighting for their lives to get into the Big Dance, but a closer look at how they finished the regular season indicated there would be no bursting of the bubble for Jim Boeheim’s crew.
They were an unspectacular 13-8 following a loss to Georgia Tech at the end of February.
But Syracuse turned it around with wins over North Carolina and Clemson, followed up by a third victory against N.C. State in the ACC Tournament opener. A heart-breaking loss to regular season champ Virginia ended their regular campaign, but it was clear the Orange were a far better team than they showed earlier.
They earned a spot in the NCAA’s, and this past weekend, upset San Diego State and West Virginia to advance to the Sweet Sixteen this weekend.
Why is anyone surprised?
History only repeated itself. Whenever Syracuse has trudged through the regular season and survived enough to become a double-digit seed, they’ve fooled the basketball world.
Five years ago, same story.
Considered lucky to get a bid, SU was a 10th seed and wound up playing in the Final Four.
In 2018, they were what they are now, an 11th seed, and got to the Sweet 16.
That’s where they are now, with Houston on the agenda this Saturday.
This is a team that has jelled big time. Their confidence is unmistakable. And with number one Illinois out of the picture, I can see a path to another Final Four appearance. Don’t count out Boeheim.
In his 45th season at Syracuse, and 35 trips to the NCAA tournament, his scenario has never changed.
It starts with the rarely-seen 2-3 zone defense and goes from there.
In the tournament, teams don’t have much time to try to attack it. They’re befuddled and find themselves behind the 8-ball. It’s not a stationary type of zone, but a moving, trapping style that takes most opponents out of their game.
The ones who are more successful are those who have been regular foes of the Orange. They’ve seen it, work on it, and can do well against it.
But this season is different for Syracuse basketball. The famed 2-3 zone has taken a back seat to one of the human stories that set March Madness apart.
Just think what it is like for the long-time head coach to see his son, not only play for him, but emerge as a star at the most important time of the year.
To put it simply, Buddy Boeheim is on fire.
In the victory over West Virginia he scored 22 of his 25 points in the second-half, including the game-clinching free throws to quell a Mountaineer rally.
Against San Diego State he had 30. In the loss to Virginia, Buddy scored a career-high 31. You get the idea.
He started out as a long-range shooting role player, became an integral asset as a starter, now he is the leader of the band.
Teammates look for him, he is not afraid to fire away. He’s become Syracuse’s star offensive performer.
How proud his father, and his mom Julie must be.
In my view, if the dream ends now, and the Orange fail to advance to the Elite Eight, it really won’t matter.
The season, and the story will be etched in the lore of Syracuse basketball and the NCAA tournament.
Jim Boeheim has a national championship etched on his extraordinary resume.
But I’m just wondering, whether they advance or not, when all is said and done, that this will prove to be the most rewarding season of the coach’s stellar career.