Despite all of the problems in college athletics, I always feel good the day that the NCAA tournament bracket is announced.
Don’t you? Don’t you love this week and all that goes with it?
“This,” Wofford coach Mike Young said minutes after his team clinched its berth by winning the Southern Conference tournament, “is the magic carpet ride.”
He’s right. Wofford, hailing from my Spartanburg hometown, is one of the smallest schools in this year’s 68-team field.
An NCAA bid is not a birthright for Wofford like it is for Duke or Gonzaga or Syracuse or North Carolina. It is a blessing.
At Wofford – and at N.C. Central in Durham and at Coastal Carolina just outside of Myrtle Beach – this week is truly a magic carpet ride. The Terriers, Eagles and Chanticleers, respectively, will get their national TV exposure and the chance for a cameo in the next syrupy edition of “One Shining Moment.”
If they don’t win a game well, that’s what everyone expects. If they do – or even if they come relatively close –then it’s more “ice cream and rainbows,” to use another one of Young’s pet phrases.
The NCAA tournament, with its four TV networks and billion-dollar bulk, is an American colossus. But it also is a place where the ol’ American Hustle still can win out, where an N.C. State in 1983 or a George Mason in 2006 or a Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 all can be celebrated for doing something amazing. Even Princeton, which nearly upset Georgetown in 1989, still is remembered with misty-eyed nostalgia.
Much as I still like to hold a newspaper in my hands, I still want to hold a bracket. Ultimately, it’s easier to do your picks online these days. But there’s something about printing a bracket and then studying it, imagining the possibilities, that is far more tantalizing than looking at it on a screen.
As for the six schools in the draw from the Carolinas:
• I was glad to see N.C. State slip into the field – that upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament got the Wolfpack in. But playing Tuesday to earn the right to try and play two more games the same week against unfamiliar foes is a tough way to make a living. I think N.C. State will survive and advance in Dayton, Ohio, against Xavier, but there’s no way the Wolfpack gets out of Orlando, Fla., without a loss.
• Duke’s No. 3 seed could have been higher, and its region looks like the most difficult. With three of the 2013 Final Four teams sharing the Midwest bracket, the Blue Devils will need to play better than they did against Virginia during Sunday’s ACC tournament final to get to the Final Four. But staying home in Raleigh for two games will give them a boost.
Coastal Carolina also won’t go far to play, but unfortunately it got No. 1 seed Virginia in its first game Friday in Raleigh and should be back at the beach by the weekend.
• San Antonio, Texas, will be an unlikely hotbed for N.C. hoops, as both North Carolina and N.C. Central (with its first NCAA tournament bid ever) will play there.
I thought the Tar Heels got a reasonable draw and seed (a No. 6) – at least their nemesis Kansas is nowhere nearby. N.C. Central’s No. 14 seed also could have been worse, although playing No. 3 Iowa State will be a nearly insurmountable challenge.
• As for Wofford, the Terriers got a No. 15 seed and will have to play No. 2 Michigan in the first round. Unless Wofford is suiting up Armanti Edwards, there’s not much of a chance.
Remember “Dumb and Dumber?”
Of course you do. Jim Carrey is trying to date a good-looking woman. When he asks if he has a 1-in-a-100 chance of going out with her, she responds coldly: “I’d say more like one out of a million.”
Carrey looks downcast for a moment, then brightens.
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” he yells. “Yeahhhhh!”
That’s the NCAA tournament.
I’m telling you, there’s always a chance.