The first time I covered the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was at the Joel in 2007, gathering string for my friend Sammy Albano’s website, Inside the Big East. I remember seeing Carolina take two wins and witnessed a Georgetown sweep on their way to the Final Four.
I covered it again in Raleigh the next year, when Carolina again took their first two games — amazing, isn’t it, how often the Tarheels always manage to begin March Madness with a nice home stretch? — and Davidson beat Georgetown at the front end of a good, deep run.
I was in the Greensboro Coliseum when Duke, a school that also seems to play an inordinate amount of early rounds near home, lost to Lehigh in 2012. It was indelible moment in my career, not just because I called the upset before halftime, but because I will never forget the thousands of Duke fans sitting in the stands with arms crossed and disgusted looks on their faces as they realized it was over for them in the first round. It was like someone had stolen their birthright.
There’s a reason that the NCAA has so many times chosen venues in North Carolina to host the early rounds of its most spectacular tournament, and it goes far beyond insulating UNC and Duke for the final — and most-watched — rounds of play, though that is certainly part of it.
It’s because fans in this basketball-crazy state know how to appreciate the exciting upsets and volatile matchups of the early rounds.[pullquote]And now, in the eyes of the NCAA, we are not so much basketball crazy as just plain crazy.[/pullquote]
And now, in the eyes of the NCAA, we are not so much basketball crazy as just plain crazy.
When the biggest college sports association on the planet blackballs an entire state from tournament play — particularly a state like ours, which has some of the most popular franchises within the organization — it means we really screwed up.
Not just the legislators who passed the abomination of HB 2, which has been like skunk spray to the reputation of this state, but the voters who elected them, the handicappers who funded them and all the people who stood quiet as they ran roughshod over this land of hoops and sunshine.
This reactionary makeover of our state has been going on for a long time; we all bear some responsibility. It won’t stop until we make some changes.
But if anything has the power to force North Carolina into the modern era, it’s college basketball. If Duke and UNC begin to lose their early games without the benefit of home-court advantage, expect a full-scale rebellion.