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Bosco’s Corner: Tourney time is here, finally

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By Anthony Bosco

Last Thursday I awoke to the realization that March had finally arrived, the month that with it brings spring, eternal hope and some absolutely fantastic basketball. Given the choice of the three I’ll take basketball, hands down.

For those of you who have not experienced the phenomenon known as March before — and if you haven’t, I don’t know why you’re reading this column — you are missing a lot. You are missing one of the greatest sports in the world being played the way it was meant to be played, with skill, athleticism and all the passion that could only be conjured up by scholastic athletics.

I missed too many Marches in my naive youth, thinking that the pro game was the epitome of the basketball world. But I finally realized a few years ago that there is no competition, really, for college basketball in March, no equal to be sure.

The thing with March Madness is that just about every college in the nation that fields a basketball team has a shot at the national championship, be it at the Division I, II or II levels. And what can be more American than that?

Take Queens College, for example, a Division II school that recently earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, despite failing to win its conference tournament, won by the still undefeated — as of this writing — Adelphi Panthers.

If a conference holds a tournament at the end of the season, most winners of those tournaments earn an automatic bid to the “Big Dance.” Not every conference holds such a tournament, like the PAC 10, but, for the most part, every team in the country still has hopes entering March, no matter how slim.

The St. John’s Red Storm is such a team. Head coach Mike Jarvis declared after his team was blown out by the Duke Blue Devils that the team was going to concentrate solely on defending the Big East Tournament championship it had won a year ago.

And, truthfully, winning the Big East is the only way St. John’s has a chance of making the tournament. But that is no small order for a team not receiving a bye in the first round, something the Red Storm fell short of doing. Teams playing in the first round need to win four straight games on consecutive days against some of the best teams in the nation.

But no matter how slim the possibility, teams like St. John’s all over the nation still have hope.

Some would say that a team like St. John’s, certainly one of the best 64 teams in the nation, that doesn’t make the tournament does a disservice to a true national championship and that automatic bids to smaller, weaker conferences only offer up sacrificial lambs to the top seeds.

I am not one of those people, obviously. I think that teams like Winthrop, which earned its third straight bid to the NCAA Tournament, or the Iona Gaels, winners of the MAAC tournament, belong alongside the Dukes, North Carolinas and Marylands of the world if only because it sets up the inevitable upset.

There is nothing more compelling in the world of sports than the old David vs. Goliath scenario, a routine played out every March. And every March it seems there are Cinderella stories galore in the NCAA Tournament, teams that are not supposed to win, but somehow find a way, the experts be damned.

Of course for teams like St. John’s that find themselves on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament, there is the National Invitational Tournament, a competition made up of the best of the rest, of teams with records better than .500 that did not get an invite to the Big Dance. It gives those teams something to play for, a national championship of their own.

It’s not a perfect system. If some bipartisan group selected the best 64 teams in order, regardless of conference, a lot of the games would certainly be more competitive, the bigger schools would have more representative teams and television ratings would probably be a bit higher.

But by opening the field to all conferences, it means that every school has a shot, a chance, a prayer of going all the way to the Final Four.

With so many schools vying for 64 slots, that means a lot of schools have a heck of a recruiting tool. When Craig “Speedy” Claxton left Christ the King for then-struggling Hofstra, a lot of experts scratched their heads thinking that he belonged at a big-time school, not a small one like Hofstra. But that one recruit, smart enough to know that his game could well lead a team in a so-called weaker conference to a tournament championship, had the last laugh.

Claxton took Hofstra to the NCAA Tournament last year, and the exposure he received — usually against players he was head and shoulders above in his conference — led to him being selected in the first round of the NBA draft. And, by the way, a bevy of quality recruits followed Claxton to Hofstra, making the team a legitimate threat in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to pull and upset this year, without Claxton.

But in the end it is the games, the action, the players that make March Madness what it is to me, the absolute best time of the year to watch sports.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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