March Madness just isn’t the same

Watching college basketball in March is one of my favourite things to do. Every year (except for the first COVID year), the last few weeks of March and start of April are all about buzzer beaters, heartaches and watching a new batch of college kids shine or crumble under the pressures of the craziest sports tournament on the planet.

Just this past weekend I watched teams both steal and hand away games with under 10 minutes to go. While it’s hard to watch when a team messes up your bracket, it makes sense. These are essentially kids playing in front of millions of viewers. They are not professional athletes (yet) and with so few stars sticking around for more than a year, of course there will be meltdowns and brain farts.

But even with the unexpected teams moving on.

Despite the buzzer beaters and feel good stories.

To me, the tournament just isn’t the same. Maybe I am just getting old and after ## years of watching this tourney I am just getting crusty.

Back in the glory days there were more personalities. More stars or future stars that stuck around. More coaches who seemed to know how to coach and make in game adjustments. There were also number one seeds who looked unbeatable and programs that by just stepping on the court, they just screamed we are the favourites. You know, Duke, Kentucky, UNLV in the 90’s.

I grew up watching college hoops when Conferences were actually a thing. Now they rotate like musical chairs. I can’t believe I read UCLA is moving to the Big 10??? It used to be The Big East of Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s, Villanova etc.

Then you had the ACC of Duke, UNC, Wake, Georgia Tech and NC State. Elite basketball.

The Big 10 was Midwestern. The PAC 10 was West Coast. It all made sense.

Now if I had to match conferences and teams I would probably only get 50% right.

Then what about the legends of the tournament.

Carmelo, Kemba, Laettner, Rice, Chalmers, Smart, Jordan…..

Or the legends for other reasons. Chris Webber and Adam Morrison come to mind quickly. I can’t even remember one player from last year’s tournament.

It’s all a blur.

Sitting here as the Final Four approaches, I am just thinking of the memories that could last from this year. Purdue losing will probably be the lasting one as a 16 seed pulled the upset. Zach Edey’s face of disgust as he left the floor.

Or maybe Markquis Nowell’s 19 assist game at MSG? But they didn’t win the tourney. It tends to go hand in hand with what memories last over time. Maybe this weekend will delight us and give us something for the history books.

Without digging into Google or YouTube, I can’t think of a recent tournament where there was a player who made his name and carried a team to the title. Yes I know someone will think of one and let me know, but my point is, if I can’t think of it, are they legends?

It also used to be the NCAA tourney and the NBA draft were linked to the point of a great run in March that moved you into the lottery if you were not already there. It was a sneak preview of what the NBA rookie class would be like.

Now all the stars are from Europe or the G league and not playing in March. I miss that a lot.

The NCAA tournament has become even more of a school driven model. You follow the name on the front of the jersey, not the back. You make your picks based on mascots and now who the power forward is.

Maybe that’s how it always was. But I notice it much more. College basketball used to be something I followed once games started in November. Now it’s all about March. That’s it.

Sure, I could say that about a lot of things. Life changes. Things take your attention. There are far more things to do on a Saturday afternoon than there used to be.

But it also comes back to the lack of stories that gripped the basketball audience. The Fab Five. The hatred of Duke. Who was Rick Pitino coaching? Could anyone beat UNLV? Kemba mofo Walker.

Anyways, will my feelings of March Madness change my overall enjoyment? I don’t think so. I still fill out brackets. I still count those first two days as two of the best days of sports period. I know there will be buzzer beaters and I know there will be busted brackets.

But what I 100% notice is, it doesn’t stick with me the same. It doesn’t consume the part of the brain dedicated to sports anymore. It’s become very much like the World Cup. You parachute in and then never think of it again until the next time it happens.

The Madness used to linger in my brain for weeks and months after the fact. Chris Webber taking a few extra steps in the final seconds, not getting caught and then calling that famous timeout still gets to me.

But I am very happy to see the torch being passed on to my boys. They also are finding enjoyment in the tournament. They have experienced the highs and lows of their team (for whatever reason) winning and losing. They will remember the time Purdue lost to a 16 seed. Or players like Drew Timme.

The brand will never go away. There will always be a One Shining Moment. Even if March Madness just isn’t what it used to be in my opinion.

but as I say at least once per tournament – March Madness is undefeated for the unexpected to happen.

Maybe that’s all that matters.