March Madness takes center stage: 'Wearin' o' the green'
In an ironic twist of fate, two of the more popular annual events fall on the same day this year with March Madness starting on St. Patrick's Day. March Madness may not match the history or alcohol consumption of St. Patrick's Day, but it surpasses all sporting events in excitement and Cinderella stories.
March Madness, aka the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men's basketball tournament, gets even the most casual of hoops fans parked on their couches or at sports pubs in front of TVs around the country. Some would argue that March Madness has overtaken the Superbowl for top honors as a must-see television sporting event.
Advertising rates state otherwise, but the NCAA basketball tournament has certainly carved out a niche of its own in sports viewing lore.
What's the big deal, you may ask? For starters, no other sporting event produces as many Cinderella story lines as the NCAA tournament. This is partly due to the fact that the tournament starts with 65 teams all competing for a shot at winning the national title, unlike the Bowl Championship Series in NCAA football that anoints two teams to play for the title.
While there hasn't been a true "no-name" team coming out of nowhere to take the big dance, there are always several early-round upsets, and some of the finals have produced David and Goliath-type results through the years.
In 1983, coach Jim Valvano and his North Carolina State Wolfpack defeated the University of Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma team that boasted future National Basketball Association players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Michael Young and Larry Micheaux. Houston came into the tournament on a 25-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in both polls. The way the game ended was even more incredible than the upset itself. With two minutes to play and the score tied at 52-52, NC State fouled freshman point guard Alvin Franklin, sending him to the line for a one-on-one opportunity. Franklin missed and the Wolfpack grabbed the rebound and patiently held the ball until the final seconds of the game.
NC State looked to get the ball to guard Derrick Whittenburg, but Thurl Bailey's pass was tipped by Drexler. In a mad scramble, Whittenburg grabbed the ball and heaved it toward the basket from 30 feet away. His desperation shot was short, but 6-foot, 7-inch sophomore forward Lorenzo Charles caught the ball in midair and slammed it through the hoop with one second left on the clock to stun the heavily favored Cougars 54-52 to win the 1983 NCAA men's championship.
Two years later, unranked Villanova upset top-seeded and defending national champion Georgetown 66-65, a team that boasted three future NBA players in Patrick Ewing, David Wingate and Reggie Williams. Georgetown had an explosive offense and a suffocating defense that held teams to a dismal 39 shooting percentage, best in the country.
Villanova had barely made it into the tourney with a mediocre 19-10 record, which included two losses to Georgetown in the regular season. It had never advanced past the Elite Eight, was unranked all season, and lost its final regular-season game of the year by 23 points.
Villanova squeaked past five opponents by an average of three points a game to make it to the finals. There they took advantage of the absence of a shot clock to slow the game down and patiently work the ball around for good shots. This limited Georgetown's offensive chances and Villanova knocked down a NCAA record 78.6 percent of its field goal attempts. Despite phenomenal shooting, the lead changed hands nine times in the second half and Villanova didn't take the lead for good until the 2:36 mark when Harold Jensen nailed a 16-footer to put the Wildcats ahead 55-54. Villanova missed only one second-half shot on the way to its only national championship.
Other great upsets over the years include Boston College's 82-75 victory over No. 1 ranked DePaul in the 1982 Midwest Regional second-round game and Duke's 79-77 upset over University of Las Vegas' Runnin' Rebels in 1991. The Rebels were the defending national champs that year and had handily defeated the same Duke Blue Devil team by 30 points in the 1990 title game.
Who can viewers expect as unlikely guests in this year's final four? That's hard to say and if I had the answer, I'd probably be making a quick trip to Vegas. However, there are some sleeper teams to pick for your office pool for at least an upset victory or two.
For starters, our own University of Florida men's basketball team appears to be peaking at the right time. UofF won its first Southeaster Conference tournament title and have now defeated Kentucky two straight times after its 70-53 win on Sunday, March 13. Other teams to watch include defending champ University of Connecticut, Gonzaga and University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Most experts have North Carolina, Illinois, Wake Forest and Duke making the trip to St. Louis, but since 1985, at least one No.1 seed has failed to make it to the Final Four.
So get out those national rankings, review the matchups, break out the RPI ratings and, last but not least, guess. Because no matter how big an "expert" you are, they still have to play the games to determine a winner. The action gets started at noon Thursday, March 17 - a fine day for this Irishman.
Islander's slam helps Bayshore JV to 12-0 victory
Island resident Pat Cole had three hits, including a grand slam home run over the left-center field fence to lead the Bruins to a 12-0 victory over Lemon Bay on Friday, March 11, in junior varsity baseball action.
Cole, a product of the Anna Maria Island Little League program, is a sophomore in his second year as the starting catcher for the JV Bruins. He's had at least one hit in every game for the 4-2 Bruins for a gaudy .467 batting average.
Roller hockey league starts up
Come join the Anna Maria Islanders Roller Hockey League at the Anna Maria Island Community Center gym for 3-on-3 interleague play. The center is offering beginner and advanced divisions, each with one game and one practice per week. Final registration and team tryouts will be held at the Center at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22.
Cost is $35 per player, which includes league play, practice and a jersey. Players must have their own stick, helmut with face mask and elbow and shin guards. Season runs through May, including special final week events.
For more information, call Andy Jonatzke at the Center, 778-1908.