The NCAA Tournament, which has been criticized for its declining talent level over the years, sent out a reminder Sunday that if it’s theater you’re looking for, you might want to pull up a mezzanine seat.
We saw Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer against second-seeded Xavier. He shot from the last bit of real estate available in a corner of the court, the ball hitting nothing but net, giving the seventh-seeded Badgers a 66-63 victory. Koenig’s follow-through took him toward the Wisconsin bench, which buried him in hugs. Actor Bill Murray, whose son, Luke, is an assistant coach at Xavier, stared blankly amidst the desolation of the Musketeers’ cheering section. This time it wasn’t his patented deadpan look. It was a deathly look.
The same day, Northern Iowa blew a 12-point lead with 35 seconds left against Texas A&M. Poor fundamental basketball on the Panthers’ part, for sure, but those 35 seconds had everything that Shakespeare liked in a play: blood, sweat, suicide. Texas A&M won in double overtime to advance to the Sweet 16. Northern Iowa has found its way home by now but is probably still lost.
And so on, as usual.
No, the talent level pales in comparison to past tournaments and certainly to the NBA. But we look at each year’s competition in a vacuum. We look for moments, plural, and so far, this year’s version has had a lot of ridiculously fun moments, at least for the viewing audience.
I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could find examples of the NBA offering up the kind of drama the NCAA Tournament offers on a yearly basis. But I don’t want to look. I like the idea that I can tune in to the tournament and know that something extraordinary is going to happen. My NBA friends will say it’s a lesser product. Of course it is, but did I mention it comes with brackets?
With the country fully engaged, the NCAA Tournament has reminded us again why it can’t be beat for entertainment value. The games matter.