Today's NCAA tournament selection show got off to a rousing beginning with an unexpected "One Shining Moment" retrospective (set, thankfully, to the Luther version), which got my basketball blood pumping hard. Shots of the 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack and Christian Laettner's miracle move, interspersed with the bittersweet visages of Hank Gathers and Len Bias, stirred emotions already peaked after a day of tournament championships (yes, Virginia, you have an ACC title).
Then it was time to crunch the numbers, and a few first impressions jumped out immediately.
I'm glad N.C. State made the field, though I think the Wolfpack, ACC semifinalists with conference player of the year T.J. Warren, deserved better than a play-in (don't call it the first round) game. I don't, however, share the rather elitist perspective that the play-in games are only for small colleges and mid-majors. I have no problem with bigger schools with questionable resumes having to prove themselves in the beginning, but I have a problem with logic that, by virtue of seeding, argues that 14th-seed Wofford (no disrespect, Southern Conference, but this is not Davidson with Seth Curry) is a better team than the Wolfpack.
And in an ACC aside, Clemson, with its regular-season win against Duke and its 20-11 record, deserved consideration it clearly did not get (and I didn't figure it would). I am admittedly biased in favor of ACC teams, but that doesn't mean they're not, week in and week out, better than some other candidates.
Which makes me happy that Virginia, the ACC regular-season and tournament champions, got the fourth No. 1 seed, a possibility I barely heard discussed going into the bracket unveiling. Within 20-win reason, I don't care what your record is - and the Hoos' included just two conference losses - if you sweep the best conference in the country (there is no more Big East, per say, and I'll listen to Big Ten and Pac-12 arguments when the results match the rhetoric) you deserve a 1 seed.
You probably do not deserve a 4 seed if you're the defending national champion who put an exclamation point on your resume with a conference title, but that's the hand Rick Pitino's Cards were dealt. I don't think Pitino will have any trouble molding that perceived slight into motivation, but it's still puzzling.
Wichita State had to be a 1 seed because of its 32-0 record (the first team to go into the NCAA tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991), but it will be interesting to see how the Shockers handle being the hunted and not the hunter.
On a personal note, I was excited to see Coastal Carolina, a school I covered for seven years, celebrating its return to the Big Dance for the first time since 1993 (teal and black, baby), and it will be an exciting matchup for the middle of the country to see Dayton go up against Ohio State.
And finally, a word about mascots: You have the fierce (Buffalo vs. Panthers), the redundant (Wildcats vs. Wildcats), the seemingly unfair (Wolverines vs. Terriers) and the hard-to-handicap (Bluejays vs. Ragin Cajuns).
I'll be giving the much-touted CBS online coverage a spin, as for the first time in a while, I'll be working Thursday. But my blood is still pumping and I cannot wait for the two-week party that begins with the opening whistle and ends with the opening strains we all know: "The ball is tipped ... "
Lots of things change in life, as I've discussed at (probably too much) length in this forum, but some never will. This butt-wiggling happy squirmy time - the most wonderful of the year (not, it is important to note, the most wonderful day, an honor reserved for Opening Day) - will always make me feel an exhilarating mix of excited, anxious and 10 years old.
Teams come and go, coaches vow to stay and then leave, players show up for one year and vanish like smoke, and brackets get burned, but the spirit college basketball endures. Short shorts and Fab Five black socks and pink camo sneakers all clothe the inexorable truth: It's March Madness, and right now, every team has a chance.