The Early Lead: The Big Dance is back in all its glory
By BRANDON HURLEY
It hit me all at once Sunday evening. The emotions were almost too much to handle.
The wonderful sounds of the College Basketball on CBS theme sent an exciting shiver down my spine. This is what we missed. It’s amazing how a few simple sounds evoked such powerful memories, but that is certainly what happened.
It’s been two years since we’ve witnessed the great spectacle that is the NCAA basketball tournament. Nearly 24 months spent agonizing over this tantalizing sprint.
I was lost without the tournament last year. The Coronavirus shutdown eliminated last year’s event, and as we all know by now, absence makes the heart grow fonder. I needed competition in my life, and it hurt to not have the greatest spectacle to fall back on. Which is why It’s more important than ever to cherish everything the showcase has to offer.
My infatuation with the Big Dance goes back to my childhood, cutting out the bracket each year from the local newspaper, pinning it to the closet door and hand-writing the winners after every game. I live for these days each spring. I even skipped out on two days of Colorado snowboarding during one incredible spring break to hangout in the condo by myself watching as many games as I could.
I know, I’m a nut. But, to me, March Madness isn’t an annual event, it’s a lifestyle.
Finally, the spectacle has triumphantly returned.
There really are so many delectable things to love about the best tournament in the world. As an ode to the Great Return, it’s time for me to share the items I’m most excited for as we await tip-off Friday
As a disclaimer, yes, I had to pause in the middle of my writing to watch a number of highlight videos, the temptation was too much. Gus Johnson is a national treasure who’s been gone on Fox for far too long.
Anyway, let’s get cracking and discuss what makes the NCAA tournament so amazing.
• Bracket bonanza
March Madness can’t begin without millions of brackets floating around. Yes, those wonderful things that will dominate office conversation for the next three weeks. Who is Bobby picking as a Cinderella and why does he have those teams in the Final Four? Can we get Uncle Steve in our pool this year? Is Gonzaga really the best team? There is so much fun to be had in predicting the outcomes. If any of you are like me, I love to print off my completed bracket and highlight my winners and losers. Heck, I may fill out 29 brackets this year to make up for lost time.
• Sports gambling is legal
To piggy back off the above bullet point, this year’s March Madness is the first time us Iowans are able to legally gamble on the outcome. What a time that will be. SHEEESH, I am fired up.
From who makes the final four to constant line movement and outright winners, there’s no shortage of things to put money on. The brackets are no longer the only incentive for degenerates to take in the tournament - we can bet on every over/under total and throw a few wild parlays together to make things real spicy. Add in the ability to place all these bets from from our couches is that much more tantalizing. I’m ready.
• Arguing about sports
Won’t it be nice to have an entire month’s worth of sports-related content?
We’ve had momentary instances in the past year in which we could openly debate sports, but the NCAA tournament allows humans all over the country to discuss a single tournament for three entire weeks. It’s going to be such a remarkable breath of fresh air as we step away from discussions over politics, the pandemic and other annoying, time-consuming topics. This is America’s chance to let loose a little bit and have some fun with sports. We need it. Come at me with your championship hot takes and your Cinderella hopefuls.
• The stars have the stage
March is a time for the elite to step out of the shadows and captivate a nation.
Iowa’s Luka Garza, the national player of the year and now two-time All-American, is a blast to watch. He’s from the mold of the old school, and I love every moment of it. The senior’s knowledge - on and off the court - is what impresses me most. His sheer size, dedication and progression are obvious. There hasn’t ever been a Hawkeye who’s taken such a gigantic leap from his sophomore to junior year - securing the all-time scoring record proves that point. But it’s rather refreshing how composed and prepared Garza is during his interviews. Not even an hour after Selection Sunday on CBS was he being interviewed on Sportscenter, yet he knew who Iowa’s first round opponent, Grand Canyon, had beat as well as what players they needed to watch out for.
Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham is perhaps my second favorite player behind Garza. The point guard has an NBA repertoire already, and his size and length will translate quite well at the next level. The Okies are a dangerous team with the rookie at the lead. Pay close attention as
Cunningham attempts to take the tournament by storm.
Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu is a dynamic athlete who’s confidence is undeniable. He can light up the nets, take it to the hole with remarkable efficiency and even has a keen ability to find the open man. He’s exceptional. The Illini are a scary good squad, and I expect them to make a deep run. And what do you know? There’s a chance Dosunmu and Cunningham could face off in the Sweet Sixteen. What a matchup that’ll be.
• Nostalgic upsets and buzzer-beaters
I alluded to this earlier, March Madness has been a massive part of my life for decades. I remember the days when Gonzaga was a legitimate underdog, knocking off the big boys as the velvety pipes of play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson excitedly shouted their presence to the world. Early round upsets fuel my passion. How can you be mad about a 14-seed knocking off a third-seeded blue blood? The years of Florida Gulf Coast and Dunk City were absolute perfection. Bryce Drew and Valparaiso shocking the world with his buzzer-beater three? Forever etched into my memory.
The best way to win an NCAA tournament game is by nailing a ridiculous shot as the buzzer sounds. There isn’t a moment in sports that is more thrilling than a spectacular March Madness buzzer-beater. The raw emotion and excitement is unmatched. It’s really a tremendous treasure that sticks with us all.
• Location, location, location
Indiana is the hotbed of basketball. You could probably throw Kentucky in there as well. Those states are still incredible places to take in a game, which makes this year’s location even more delicious. How blessed are we for the chance to witness the world’s greatest basketball tournament take place solely in the state of Indiana?
Schools will take the court in some of America’s most famous arenas, including Assembly Hall in Bloomington, home floor for the Indiana Hoosiers as well as Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs. This is a unique showcase, one I’m sure none of us will ever forget.
Indiana, it’s your time to shine.
The build up to the NCAA tournament is easily more stressful than the actual thing, but it’s riveting in the same vein. The excitement makes it incredibly hard to focus on anything other than college basketball’s magnificent spectacle. From TV segments to detailed podcasts and articles, there’s certainly no shortage of information to prepare us for the Big Dance. If you can’t find a way to get fired up about the tournament, than you likely don’t have a pulse.
• Team Pride
Having an important dog in the fight makes March Madness a million times more enjoyable.
My school and my team finally has a legitimate chance to make a deep run in March for the first time in 22 years. It’s a wild thought to imagine.
I was 9 years old when the Iowa Hawkeyes last made the Sweet Sixteen. That’s disgusting. I vaguely remember that run, but ever since, the Hawks haven’t made much noise. That’s a hell of a lot of basketball to watch without the deserving reward. A ton of pain and heartache, disappointment and stress. During that 22-year span I’ve graduated from the University of Iowa, secured multiple jobs and helped raise an 11-year old son. I’ve bought a car, camped thousands of times and visited New York City and attended an NBA Finals game. So much has gone on since the Hawks last made a deep run, it’s time for my alma mater to end the suffering and pull through.
If all those points weren’t enough, the NCAA tournament is a heck of a lot of fun. It’s mostly pure, and comes at us incredibly quick. Let’s enjoy this one, it may be gone sooner than we expect.