Saturday, March 14, 2009

March Madness

The Temple Owls men's basketball team dumped the St. Joseph's Hawks by a score of 79-65 on Thursday, advancing Temple into the Atlantic Ten tournament semi-finals. The Archbishop Carroll Patriots boys basketball team overcame the Neumann-Goretti Saints in a 70-65 classic to advance into the PIAA Class AAA state semi-finals. These two results knocked my college and high school alma maters out of their respective tournaments and ended their seasons, but were just the beginnings of 'March Madness', the most fun and entertaining time of the year for true basketball fans. The conference and NCAA tournament championship tournaments in college basketball and the state championship tournaments in high school basketball which each take place this month are far more dramatic and entertaining than anything that the NBA can usually come up with in their pro playoffs that begin in May. In fact, the NCAA tournament draws the attention of even the casual sports fan both in watching the games and in following the progression of the 'bracket pools' that dominate many office conversations. The college teams are completing their respective conference championships this weekend, and these smaller tournaments will themselves determine many of the teams that will advance to the 'Big Dance' of the NCAA tournament. Tomorrow afternoon the NCAA, college sports governing body, will announce the field of 65 men's basketball teams that will compete for what is arguably college sports biggest prize. Over the next three weeks those teams will battle one another in a single-elimination tournament that will lead to the crowning of this year's men's collegiate basketball champions. At the same time the employees of many businesses and many groups of friends will copy the NCAA tournament bracket from the internet or from newspapers and will predict the outcome in a 'pool' format that has become a grand tradition of its own. They will find their efforts particularly difficult this year because there are a dozen or more colleges whose teams can claim to be legitimate title contenders. Beyond the top ten or fifteen teams in the national rankings it would surprise few prognosticators if a 'dark-horse' team takes a run at the championship this year. While my own St. Joe's Hawks will not be making the tournament this time around, both Villanova and Temple should receive calls to the dance when the opening matchups are announced tomorrow. At the high school level here in Pennsylvania, the top teams from around the state will be vying over the next week for the state title in four different divisions of play that are based on school sizes. This is the first season that teams from the Philadelphia Catholic League are involved in those state playoffs, meaning that now all of the major high school basketball powers around the state are officially competing against one another in a tournament format for a championship. My own alma mater of Neumann-Goretti was the top-ranked boys team in the state, the 14th-ranked team in the entire nation, and the favorite to win the AAA level title. But the loss to Catholic League rival Carroll in yesterday's state quarter-final game marked the Patriots first win over the Saints since 2001 and ended N-G's season. With just three losses all season, Carroll is now a legitimate threat to win the AAA title. There are also a handful of other local high school teams still alive in the state tourney in both the boys and girls competitions across all four levels. Spring is a great time for sports fans of every ilk, and amateur basketball's 'March Madness' may be the best of them all, a true slam dunk.

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