The opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament provides the busiest and best two days of the year for sports fans.
On that mid-March Thursday and Friday, all 64 teams play. There are 32 games, 16 each day, and all meaningful. They start before lunch and end close to midnight.
The second best two-day stretch for sports fans is the following Saturday and Sunday when there are eight games each day, and by the end of the weekend, the Sweet 16 is set.
March Madness is better when some of the little guys beat some of the big guys. Until this year, there had never been a No. 16 seed defeat a No. 1. But that finally happened when unknown UMBC took down mighty Virginia.
It is also better when there are buzzer-beaters. U.S. Reed had a very nice career at the University of Arkansas, but would likely just have been remembered as another in a long line of good Razorback guards. But when, as a senior, he sunk that halfcourt shot as time expired in the 1981 NCAA tourney to beat defending champ Louisville, Reed’s legacy and his life changed forever, and he became a Hog legend.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Arkansas’ 1978 NCAA Final Four team. The coach was Eddie Sutton and the stars were the Triplets – Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph.
Those four will be Arkansas athletic royalty as long basketball is played in the Natural State. They ushered in the modern era of Razorback basketball and set the stage for over two decades of success.
That group actually made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 1977. Up until that point, the Arkansas basketball program had made only four NCAA trips ever, the most recent being way back in 1958.
Under Sutton and then Nolan Richardson, the Hogs made 22 trips to the Big Dance in the 25 years between 1977 and 2001. The apex of course came with 1994 national championship.
The Hogs have earned only six NCAA berths in the 17 seasons since 2001. They have not made the Sweet 16 since 1996. That was 22 years ago.
There are Arkansas fans who were not even born the last time the Hogs advanced to the second week of the tourney who are now old enough to legally buy a beer. So it’s easy to see why fans get frustrated this time of year.
In this weekend’s Final Four, we have one matchup a lot of people expected in Villanova vs. Kansas. Both are No. 1 seeds. The other game features a matchup that almost no one saw coming in No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago.
I’ll pick Villanova and Michigan to win the semis, although I’m rooting for the underdog Loyola. Either way, I’ll go with Villanova to win it all on Monday night.