I love college basketball because out of all the sports it is unique. Every game means something--in fact, one game can decide if you are in or out of the NCAA field. Even with games of such magnitude, it is different from NCAA football--one loss does not disqualify you from the championship (unless you play your football in the SEC in which case you get two losses). There are no series like baseball, unless you count the home-and-home some conference teams play. And unlike the NBA or NHL your fate ends up being decided by one game, not how you play in four out of seven. I know you get, I like college basketball, but here's five reasons you should too.
Why did Towson and Binghamton make national news this year? Because they won. They avoided winless seasons. That might not seem like a big deal, and to most of us it probably isn't (except Towson's victory so that I wouldn't be reminded that Towson's last victory came against La Salle in December 2010). Towson went the entire year of 2011 without a win. These stories make national news because unlike any sport truly any team can be beaten on any night. Last year an 8 seeded Butler met a 3 seed in UConn in the national title game. Where were all the top dogs? Not a single number one seed made last years final four. That's an impressive statistic.
2. The Rivalries
Yes there's is Duke-North Carolina and USC-UCLA. The schools truly hate each other, and sometimes with good reason. But what I love in college basketball is the rivalries you might never hear about (even in football). Kentucky-Louisville, Kansas-Missouri, and Cincinnati-Xavier--these are the rivalries that give us some of the best (and also worst) moments in sports. I don't think anyone outside the city of Cincinnati understand how deeply Xavier and Cincinnati loathe each other until fists flew at this year's game. Regrettable? Unnecessary? Avoidable? Absolutely. But it shows how much passion there is, and how much the fans care.
Perhaps some of the greatest rivalries in college basketball are in our own backyard. The Big 5 has had some of the most memorable moments in the college game. Yes, it's been down in recent years--largely due to the struggles of St. Joe's and La Salle, but if in the preseason if I had told you the only Philadelphia team (including Drexel) with a losing regular season record will be Villanova would you have believed me? Probably not. Unfortunately the Big 5 does not play every rivalry game at the Palestra any more, but I give major credit to La Salle and St. Joe's as three of my four years in college the game between the Hawks and Explorers was held at the Palestra. The one exception was when the Hagan arena first opened. Another great thing about the Big 5 rivalries is the roll-outs (pictured above) exchanged between the student sections at each game--usually poking fun at the other teams coach, their record, or some news story that recently broke about the school.
What was significant about La Salle traveling up to play Fordham last Saturday? Well nothing in-particular, except that Fordham plays in the oldest on-campus gym in the country. All over the nation there are arena's that create electric currents through the fans. From Cameron indoor to Hinkle Fieldhouse, there are games to be seen from spectacular vantage points.
In all of sports there is no venue I like going to more than the Palestra located on Penn's campus. There's a couple of reasons I love the Palestra so much. It's old and the architecture is really cool, but its more than that--it's full of history. THe walkway around the stands is filled with the history of college basketball and of the Big 5 schools. You could arrive an hour before a game there and not make it to your seat until tip-off. When you finally do find your seat there's not a bad angle in the building. Yes it's hot (extremely hot), but it adds to the energy of the student section--sometimes two student sections like this years St. Joe-La Salle or Penn-Temple games.
4. The Conference Tournaments
In 2008 the Georgia Bulldogs went into the SEC tournament with a 13-16 record. They left that same weekend with a big to the NCAA Tournament after running the gauntlet and defeating Arkansas in the final. If your team makes it to their conference tournament there is always hope. Last season's St. Joe's Hawks barely sneaked into the Atlantic 10 Tournament only to ride surprising victories into the semi-finals. Their resurgence this year can be traced back to the momentum of last seasons A-10 Tournament run.
5. The NCAA Tournament
Were you expecting something more original for number five? Well then, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but my favorite weekend of the entire year is the opening four days of the NCAA Tournament. It lasts for almost a month, the action is nonstop, and the drama is intense. It seems to me to be the only championship that allows for the stories like Butler, VCU, and GMU to make Cinderella final four runs--that certainly doesn't happen in college football. Of course everyone has a love hate relationship with these Cinderella's--more often than not, they destroy our brackets.
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