It's March and the madness has returned
In the moments following the best basketball game I saw all season and the craziest finish I’ve seen in all my years of doing this, I almost sent out a factually inaccurate Tweet.
I typed, “That’s March for you.” Then I realized it was Feb. 28. I was a day early. I caught myself and didn’t send it, but I think I would have been forgiven either way.
March may as well be a state of mind.
Few sporting happenings are more synonymous with a time of year than the madness of basketball in March. Baseball has October, but the NFL playoffs stretch from the holidays to February and the NBA playoffs last, what, four months? The Stanley Cup, top prize of our wintriest sport, comes out in the very un-wintry June.
But March and basketball? We’ve got something there.
I’m a college basketball diehard. For me, March is the most wonderful time of the year, synonymous with high-intensity games, buzzer-beaters and the upsets that you never saw coming. It’s wonderful. The first two days of the NCAA Tournament should be national holidays.
It’s so big that the term March Madness is actually trademarked by the NCAA. (Knowing them, I’ll probably be the subject of an investigation as a result of using the term, but that’s a story for another day.)
The great thing about basketball in March is that – trademarked or not – the NCAA doesn’t own the madness.
High school basketball tournaments in the Midwest apparently inspired the first use of the phrase, and that’s fitting. In gyms across the country, this time of year is special. I had some pretty fierce elementary school battles in my day. Lump them in too.
Last Thursday, it found its way to CCRI for the opening round of the Rhode Island state tournament. After a good game between Barrington and Mt. Pleasant, Cranston West and North Kingstown stole the show.
The Falcons were seeded 14th and they lost twice in the regular season to the third-seeded Skippers, both by wide margins. This time, they didn’t blink. The game was close at every stop, and not in the nobody’s-making-any-shots kind of way. West shot better than 50 percent from the field and – in a classic March twist – got a huge performance from an unlikely source. Tyler Fann, a steady role player, lit it up for 23 points.
The Skippers kept coming, but West wouldn’t budge. In the final minute, it looked like the Falcons were on their way. They took a three-point lead and then carried a one-point cushion into the final 18 seconds. North got several shots up on its next possession and scrapped for offensive rebounds, but time was ticking away. A jump ball with seven-tenths of a second left kept the ball with the Skippers, but it didn’t seem like it would matter. While the teams traded timeouts, those final seven-tenths seemed like a formality.
They were not.
North senior Justin Pratt got loose on the inbounds play and made a three from the corner to win the game. It touched off the wildest celebration I’ve ever seen, with North Kingstown fans storming onto the court. I don’t think any RIIL officials were even upset. Who could blame the fans?
It was crazy. And while March 1 was still a few hours away, I was already turning the calendar page.
March had arrived.
In the days since, there have been more great high school games in Rhode Island and hopefully there are more to come at this weekend’s Final Four. When that’s over, college conference tournaments will take center stage. Then comes the Big Dance.
I can’t wait.
Basketball is a special sport, one that’s more primed for upsets and drama than most. Mix together momentum with effort, put it on a big stage, sprinkle in a little luck and a good shooting night, and crazy things can happen.
That’s March for you. Officially.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.