As North Carolina State guard Scooter Sherill's last-second three-point attempt floats through the air on Mar 20, a group of rowdy males crouching beside the window of Blair's PE office holds its breath. The ball bounces off the back of the iron, and eighth-seeded California wins in overtime, sending some into raucous roars and others to the floor shaking their heads in disbelief.
This is March Madness.
For hundreds of Blazers and millions of sports fans around the country, the 2003 NCAA Tournament was more than a time to pick an upset and cheer; it showcased all that is right in college basketball.
But with more players leaving college early and scandals making big news, many critics are complaining about the decreasing talent level in college basketball. There is even discussion of paying student athletes as an incentive to stay in college.
Recent scandals at Georgia, Fresno State, Villanova and St. Bonaventure universities have put the NCAA in a bad light, but they are not a sign of the times. College basketball has always had scandals, and the fact that these were revealed at the same time is purely coincidental.
March Madness is about Gonzaga taking Arizona to double-overtime, Butler's improbable Sweet Sixteen run and Maryland's second-half 15-point tear to nearly beat Michigan State (who themselves pulled a big upset on Florida). Unlike in the NBA, any team can win on any night.
This year's tournament highlighted why the "new age" of college basketball makes the game even more exciting to watch. Now that top-level players from major programs are going pro early, mid-major schools with experienced seniors are more competitive than ever.
The quality of the game lost along with departing underclassmen is more than made up for by ultra-competitive March basketball. Two double-digit seeds (Missouri and Kent State) made it to the Elite Eight in 2002 for the first time since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985. The 11 through 15 seeds—the real underdogs—won nearly one-third of their first-round games in 2002 and 2001 (and more near-upsets this year).
College basketball has never been about showing the best players in the world—the NBA has always done that—but fans flock to college arenas to see more intense and unpredictable play than the professionals provide. Until the Nuggets beat the Lakers in a seven-game series or perennial bad boy Rasheed Wallace hits the floor for a loose ball when losing by 20, March Madness will be the best show in town.
As for the news-making scandals, they are minor compared with what goes on in the NBA, and they are being dealt with on an individual basis.
These kinds of things have been happening for years. That's not to say that they shouldn't be taken seriously, but in each case, individual schools or their conferences are taking appropriately strict actions.
When Drew Nicholas hit his off-balance three-pointer with less than a second to play to propel Maryland over UNC-Wilmington, nobody had this supposed decline of college basketball on their mind. When fifteenth-seeded Hampton beat Iowa State in 2001, fans cringed across the country—not because Marcus Fizer went pro a year before but because their team was upset and their brackets had burst. The pure emotion of college basketball today is as fun as ever. As fans of the national powerhouse Terps, Blazers should know better than anyone
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