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Opinion

March Madness not living up to hype for college hoops fan this season

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March 23, 2007

We waited for this? Every year college basketball fans, and sports fans in general, wait for March Madness to begin.

This year, March 11 was the circled date on everyone’s calendars.

Selection Sunday for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament marks the end of another winter and the beginning of sacrificing quality schoolwork in favor of watching fellow students duel it out on the basketball court.

So how are your brackets looking? Let me guess, surprisingly good for once? That’s probably because this year there has been something missing from the tournament. This missing piece also happens to be the ingredient that normally makes the tournament good in the first place: upsets.

Before I go any further, let me address the grumbling I hear from some of you out there right now the grumbling from those who have already crumpled up their brackets and thrown them into the trash.

I’m talking of course about the people who travel west on move-in day. The Wisconsin Badgers fans who couldn’t help but follow their hearts instead of their brains while filling out their brackets. I’m sorry, but no, a UNLV team that has now won nine straight, beating a Badgers team missing its only legitimate inside presence, is not an upset.

That’s enough talk about a team that all logical thinkers had out of the tournament long before the Final Four. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only Big Ten team that needs to be addressed. Had Ohio State not had a number one seed next to the team name, and a probable number one draft pick on their roster, the Buckeyes would no longer be in this tournament. Greg Oden’s foul with nine seconds left against Xavier was the definition of an intentional foul. Of course, it wasn’t called, because this year the referees have decided to protect the top seeds and give them every call to go along with their favorable matchups and regional considerations. That’s why none of those top seed scares led to any actual upsets.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the tournament so far, and many of the games have been close enough to provide ample amounts of fingernail biting and hair pulling.

In addition, this year’s tournament is going to teach us something: clutch players win tournament games. And there aren’t many clutch players.

Before the tournament, I had a conversation with a friend about the top clutch performers in college basketball. Without having to think that hard, we quickly concluded that Acie Law IV of Texas A&M and Aaron Afflalo of UCLA had to be the top two.

It didn’t surprise me one bit that by the end of the tournament’s first weekend, both of them had sealed close victories by hitting free throws in the final minute of their respective games, pushing both of their teams into the Sweet Sixteen.

In a tournament that has had virtually no buzzer beaters, which are supposed to be as much of a staple of March Madness as Coach K commercials, clutch players have been hard to come by. Not to mention a player who actually makes his free throws.

This year is supposed to have the best talent college basketball has seen since Kevin Garnett made it cool to make the jump straight from high school to the NBA.

That said, I dare you to name three more clutch players in this entire field of 65 teams.

I’ll give you Kevin Durant, but unfortunately fellow freshman D.J. Augustin is the biggest ball hog in the country during crunch time, and with his absolute lack of anything resembling clutch, he completely cancels out Durant. That’s why Texas won’t even get the chance to take on UNC to try to make the most overly-picked upset of the year come true.

I would also accept VCU’s Eric Maynor as being clutch. He not only single-handedly beat Duke with six points in the last 86 seconds of the game, but also got the team into the tournament in the first place with two straight steals down the stretch to take down last year’s George Mason, George Mason.

As we all now know, and deep down knew all year long despite asking the question every day during the season, no team will be this year’s George Mason. Instead, this year is the first year since 1995 that no double-digit seed even made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

This isn’t the March Madness I have been hoping for all winter.

Mark Haley is a student at UW-River Falls.