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MORRISSEY: People who criticize NCAA tourney are clearly missing the point

Sherwood Brown

Sherwood Brown

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You can’t make somebody love you.

Just because I can give you all the reasons you should love the NCAA tournament doesn’t mean you will. But if you can’t love Florida Gulf Coast, I’d suggest you have intimacy issues.

It’s hard to see how anyone could watch the 15th-seeded Eagles upset No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State and fail to see something special about the tournament. Yet I know you’re out there because I’ve heard from you. You’ve told me that March Madness is full of bad basketball, that the star power is at dangerously low levels and that the NBA is a much better product. Even my pal Dan McGrath, a fellow Sun-Timester, waxed poetic the other day about an NBA dunk to show how pedestrian the college game had become.

OK, great, but my brackets are a mess.

To say that people are missing the point of the NCAA tournament would be an understatement. It’s about drama, not excellence. I can’t help but be transfixed by it, even if the winning team struggles to score 50. Or as McGrath would say, “fiddy.’’

That flies in the face of why many of us watch sports. In general, we want to witness people doing things on a basketball court that we could never do.

This is different. This is a communal thing. It’s a participatory sport, as much about us rooting for the underdog we picked as it is the players trying to pull off the upset. A web of brackets ties the country together. Does the president of the United States fill out his round-by-round picks for the NBA playoffs? I don’t think so.

When Wisconsin lost to Mississippi on Friday, it was more than just another loss for those of us who had the Badgers going to the Final Four. It was a betrayal. On the other hand, Florida Gulf Coast has ruined brackets nationwide, and almost everyone smiled.

Do you understand? We develop an immediate emotional attachment to teams we wouldn’t otherwise notice. We care about the atrocious shooting in the tournament only as it applies to the teams we have picked in our brackets. We care that FGCU point guard Brett Comer is now our favorite player of all time. So sue us.

Stop wagging the index finger of disapproval and start enjoying the theater.

Stop looking at the players through the prism of the “next level.’’ The vast majority will never come close to competing in the NBA. This isn’t about that.

Even if all the things the detractors are saying is true, what’s the solution? Demanding that players stay in college at least two years before going to the NBA? Improving coaching at the AAU level? Forcing players to pass a remedial shooting class? Good luck with all of that.

I pity you purists because, while you were bemoaning the downfall of college basketball, you missed Illinois finally hitting the boards hard and giving second-seeded Miami the scare of its life before falling 63-59. You missed 13th-seeded La Salle and coach John Giannini, a Fenwick grad, beating Mississippi to get to the Sweet 16.

The best stories have good guys and bad guys. Maybe you, like me, think Ohio State’s Aaron Craft is the most overhyped player in America. Then the kid makes an open three-pointer to beat Iowa State and makes you feel like a fool for doubting him.

Maybe you instinctively gag at the sight of Mississippi’s hoggish Marshall Henderson, who emerged from the womb ignoring a wide-open teammate under the basket.

This is the time of year you suspend your basketball standards. Very few givens exist in this world, but one is that wonderfully strange things happen in every NCAA tournament.

For a day, Harvard was a basketball school.

For several days, Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield has been more famous than his supermodel wife, Amanda. OK, maybe not.

You see people dealing with the pressure of knowing that a loss ends their season. So Indiana’s Victor Oladipo struggles to stop Khalif Wyatt on Sunday, then hits a three-pointer to finish off Temple.

It’s not the NBA, and why people continue to want it to be is a mystery. Every one of these games matters.

I can’t make you love the NCAA tournament. You can’t forgive it for not being better.

All I know is that the idea of the tournament is to “survive and advance,” not “play like NBA stars and advance.”



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