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Mar 19

From my archived columns: Bring on the Brackets! Basketball in March—the way it is supposed to be played

“Basketball is a game that gives you every chance to be great, and puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”– Coach Bob Sundvold (former head coach at UCM and assistant coach at Mizzou and Missouri State)

I guess you could say that the game of basketball during March Madness is the way it is supposed to be played – flying high just like kites in the March wind.

During most of the regular season, basketball players know the pressure never eases up, and they know they have a chance to play well.

Normal everyday operating procedure for a ball team.

Come March, however, they know they have a chance not just to play well but also to be great, exactly what Coach Bob Sundvold said. And certainly, they know the pressure will ratchet up.

March Madness blows in with a fury each year when we flip the calendar from February to March, as though the weatherman just announced a severe wind advisory.

Conference championship tournaments begin, and miraculously and mysteriously, these very same players who played reasonably well during the regular season, now can fly and perform other inhuman feats, for one, levitating themselves toward the basket. Simply put, it is March Madness and flying happens, among other remarkable things.

We have seen it before, but we do not understand it.

Award-winning novelist John Edgar Wideman, described what basketball is like when it is played the way it is supposed to be played, especially in the month of March: “…basketball happens in the air; flying, floating, elevated above the floor, levitating the way oppressed peoples of this earth imagine themselves in their dreams.”

That thought leads me to an epic game played on March 12, 2009, at Madison Square Garden between Syracuse and Connecticut. Syracuse, No. 18, beat No. 4 Connecticut in six overtimes 127-117. According to an AP story at the time, everyone was left “exhausted, and except for the losing team, exhilarated.”

I know we were watching every minute of it in our household. When the game went into the first overtime, we thought we should call it a night, but just couldn’t quit watching. And according to my ESPN research, the game did not end until 1:22 a.m., three hours and 46 minutes after it began. I remember the exhaustion and the exhilaration.

Furthermore, I didn’t really care who won because it was the fact that the game was mesmerizing, played just the way it should be in March.

Not only were the players on Syracuse and Connecticut elevating themselves to astonishing heights and greatness, they were also enduring implausible pressure.

According to the AP account of the game, Jonny Flynn, a Syracuse point guard, inexplicably “had 34 points and 11 assists in a game-high 67 minutes, only three fewer than were played.”

The kid played 67 minutes without sitting down!

And that is why I love March Madness. They play the game the way it is supposed to be played—flying high.

Bring on the brackets!