One week from today, March Madness will have taken control of offices across the country.
When it does, executives will be trying to decide between Kansas and Connecticut — not for any business-related decisions, however. Instead, they’ll be trying to figure out who would win a potential regional final matchup between the two.
Plus, with 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible ways to fill out a tournament bracket, it’s by no means a simple process.
There are those who select all the top seeds and hope for the best.
Then you have the ones who think they can predict this year’s Western Kentucky, San Diego, Villanova or Siena, but for the most part, those are near-impossible picks to make.
Yet another process of choosing teams is based on the mascots or the team colors, but I’ve already given these methods too much credit simply in mentioning them as possibilities.
And while I’m all for sneaking looks at the brackets in between coffee breaks, conferences and TPS reports, I have one problem with all of this: the best week of the season is already upon us.
Of course, by “week” I mean the 11-day stretch from March 5 through March 15, dubbed “Championship Week” by the leaders of the sports world at the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.
While I’m not usually a fan of ESPN and its manipulation of the sports information world, Championship Week is one thing the Disney-owned company gets right every year. Now this may be because they have to sit idly by while CBS broadcasts 63 of 64 tournament games, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.
The 10 days prior to “Selection Sunday,” as well as the day itself, are the best 11 days of college basketball. Every year.
Sure, it’s fun to see a No. 15 team like Belmont nearly pull off an upset of No. 2 Duke. Oh, and let’s not forget the Cinderella story of No. 10 Davidson reaching the regional finals last year.
But, the unfortunate truth is the tournament never lives up to the hype. Ever.
Championship Week, however, is full of incredible storylines and some of the most passionate basketball you’ll ever see, since most of the teams playing this week have nothing to lose and everything to gain in winning.
Plus, the conference tournaments play a significant role in the selection process.
And as great as Joe Lunardi is at bracketology (perhaps because he is the inventor of such a term), there inevitably will be a number of upsets in conference tournaments this week that even Lunardi couldn’t see coming.
In fact, this past weekend already featured two lower-seeded teams winning tournaments, which burst the bubble of a pair of teams who, despite finishing first in their respective conferences through the regular season, will in all likelihood not be dancing come next week.
First, there’s Morehead State, the fourth-seeded team in the Ohio Valley Conference who capped an impressive run in the conference tournament — which included an upset of top-seeded Tennessee-Martin — with a 67-65 double-overtime victory Saturday over Austin Peay (who I was pulling for just to hear them chant “Let’s Go Peay!” in the Big Dance).
Though the Eagles will likely be a No. 16 seed and be home before the weekend like Tiger was at this year’s Match Play Tournament, the bid will be the team’s first to the NCAA field since 1984.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that a team’s first trip to the postseason in 25 years (or 26) is something special.
Second, the Atlantic Sun Tournament final Saturday was a blowout of epic proportions as East Tennessee State, a No. 2 seed, buried top-seeded Jacksonville to earn a trip to the tournament for the first time since joining the Atlantic Sun.
If that’s not enough drama in one weekend to satisfy you, consider Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference final. While most people were still adjusting to whether it was an hour earlier or later than their clocks said, Northern Iowa and Illinois State battled in an overtime thriller.
After Illinois State made up an eight-point halftime deficit to send the game into overtime, the reality of the game was clear: whichever team played better in the extra period would go to the NCAA Tournament, the other would not.
In the end, the top-seeded Panthers of Northern Iowa celebrated a 60-57 victory after surviving a late 3-point attempt by tournament MVP Osiris Eldridge of Illinois State.
Following the game, Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich searched for something profound to say to his players, according to ESPN’s Pat Forde. Unfortunately, he found nothing.
“Come to find out, there was no profound today,” Jankovich said.
In fact, Jankovich admitted that he still hasn’t gotten over tournament losses from his playing days, more than 25 years ago.
Still not satisfied?
Well, the fun doesn’t end there.
Tune in tonight and tomorrow for a slate that includes five conference championship finals and the opening rounds of the Big East, Big 12, Conference USA and Pac-10 tournaments, among others.
When it all comes down to it, this week in basketball is one that can’t be missed. Period.
Besides, the more games you watch this week, the better you’ll do when you fill out your brackets “just for fun” next week, right? Let’s hope so.
Jordan is a junior majoring in journalism and political science. Have different thoughts on Championship Week? Want to discuss the NCAA Tournament? He can be reached at [email protected]