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NCAA Tournament gives us one thrilling story after another

Members Coastal Carolinmen's basketball team pose for 'selfie' with ESPN announcers Roy Philpot left Paul Biancardi after an NCAA college

Members of the Coastal Carolina men's basketball team pose for a "selfie" with ESPN announcers Roy Philpot, left, and Paul Biancardi after an NCAA college basketball game against Winthrop in Conway, S.C., Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Willis Glassgow)

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Updated: March 19, 2014 12:17AM

On March 17, 1989, I was in the bowels of the Providence (R.I.) Civic Center, wrapping up a story on how an eighth-seeded, green-jerseyed Notre Dame team, led by future ESPN analysts LePhonso Ellis and Digger Phelps, had dispatched
No. 9 seed Vanderbilt 81-65 in its NCAA tournament opener.

The plan was to type fast and join friend and college basketball czar Skip Myslenski of the Tribune to observe our common holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, before last call.

But this roar kept coming from the arena floor, and it wouldn’t go away. At halftime, the score was No. 16 seed Princeton 29, No. 1 Georgetown 21.

I phoned the desk. This was back in the day before e-mail and texting, when newspapers had enough people to answer the phone.

“Scrap that plan to put Georgetown’s rout of Princeton in the roundup,” I said. “You need to make room for a story.”

And what a story it was. The Hoyas escaped 50-49 when a pretty good freshman named Alonzo Mourning blocked his seventh shot of the game and “guarded” another shot in the final seconds that left Princeton coach Pete Carrill pleading for a foul call.

It ended up being a very different last call.

Even with Princeton losing, the memory of that drama remains vivid 25 years later. That’s why we love the NCAA tournament.

Things that are unthinkable today will happen in the next two or three weeks. Coastal Carolina over Virginia? Impossible. A 16 never has beaten a 1. But it’s going to happen one of these years.

If No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast can beat No. 2 Georgetown, which happened last year, and validate that with a win over No. 7 San Diego State, is it really that big of a leap for a 16 to beat a 1?

Not at all. That’s especially true when you consider the controversies this week about seeding. Did Michigan State and Louisville get screwed with
No. 4s? Did Wichita State get put in a killer region?

That stuff might be fun to argue about, but the coaches and players had better be thinking about how to guard their opponent and how to get their shooters open. Dedicated bracket pickers should be doing that, too.

Bracketeers also should pay attention to which team has the hot hand — although I never know what to make of that.

Could there be a team looking more dazed than Iowa going into this tournament? Yet many experts have the Hawkeyes, who have lost six of seven, beating Tennessee on Wednesday and UMass on Friday.

Can Iowa regroup? Of course. Do you want to pick that? Probably not, unless you wear black and gold. But what a heart-rending story — Fran McCaffery racing to the game after 13-year-old son Patrick’s thyroid surgery. How can you not pick that?

That’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament. Story lines are etched. Reputations are made. Coaching jobs are won — and lost.

Remember when Gonzaga and VCU were unknown little guys? Is anybody still surprised when they advance? Is this the year Bo Ryan gets off the Final Four schneid? Or will he remain on that “coaching legend, no Final Fours” perch?

Will this group of Michigan State seniors be the first to miss the Final Four since Tom Izzo turned the Spartans into a Midwestern juggernaut?

Never mind that the answers will be hazardous to your bracket. The memories are what matter.

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