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Basketball fans live for this time of year

Article Published: Mar. 22, 2012 | Modified: Mar. 22, 2012

Last week, 68 college basketball teams entered the NCAA Championship Tournament on Tuesday, and by the time Sunday evening rolled around, 16 of them had survived.

This weekend, the Sweet 16 will be narrowed to a final four, with the championship to be played at the Louisiana Super Dome in New Orleans on April 1.

The annual NCAA basketball tournament is by far my favorite sporting event (sorry, Super Bowl), and I watched more games on television this past week than scientists had previously thought possible.

Like most basketball fans around the country, I filled in a bracket or two (three, actually) to participate in that annual tradition: The office pool. Come Friday morning, one of my brackets had done rather well with 15 wins versus one loss.

That was, of course, before Friday’s rash of crash-and-burn upsets. No No. 2 seed had lost in the first round of the tournament since 2001. Friday, two No. 2 seeds, Duke and Missouri, stumbled and fell in the span of three hours to Lehigh and Norfolk State, respectively.

Friday was one of those glorious days that sometimes happens in the first round of the tournament (technically the second round, if you believe the four play-in games matter) where mayhem rules, upsets are common and most people’s brackets end up in the paper shredder.

Being an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill, I have the Tar Heels going pretty darn far in my brackets. While the general consensus has been that the Kentucky Wildcats are the best team in the nation, some experts, including President Barack Obama, have picked the Heels to win in New Orleans just as they did in 1982.

Unfortunately for us Tar Heel fans, point guard Kendall Marshall fractured his wrist late in Sunday’s tournament victory over Creighton. Backup point guard Dexter Strickland was lost for the season back in January when he tore the ACL in his right knee.

Anyone who has been following Tar Heel basketball this season knows that losing Kendall Marshall is the absolute worst thing that could happen to UNC’s chances for a title. He is second in the nation in handing out assists and is coming off of six straight games where he has scored in double figures.

Marshall had surgery on his fractured wrist this past Monday, so there might be a chance that he gets back into the starting lineup by the time the Heels face Ohio (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes) this Friday. But how effective will he be?

It’s exactly this sort of drama that makes basketball fans such as myself look forward to March Madness all year long!

One bit of news from my alma mater that didn’t get as much attention as it deserved was the Lady Tar Heels basketball team not getting an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

During the regular season and conference tournament, the Lady Heels racked up an impressive record of 20-11 and had participated in the post-season tournament 11 years in a row.

When an obviously stunned head coach Sylvia Hatchell learned of the snub, she immediately declined an invitation to the less prestigious post-season competition: The Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).

“We’re North Carolina. We should be in the NCAA,” Hatchell said. “And with our record and tradition and where we finished in the conference, we should be in the NCAA.”

“I don’t want it to sound like we’re too good to go to the WNIT, but that wasn’t even in our thought process.”

Reportedly, Hatchell didn’t consult with her team before turning down the NIT invitation. It would’ve been interesting to hear what seniors She’la White, Chay Shegog and Laura Broomfield had to say about extending their collegiate athletic experience for a few more games.

If Hatchell was so concerned about making sure her team was NCAA Tourney-worthy, she should have put some better rivals on the Heels’ 2011-12 schedule. The only nonconference opponent of merit on it was South Carolina, which defeated UNC at a holiday tournament in Myrtle Beach. The rest of the nonconference schedule consisted of cakewalks in Chapel Hill against teams such as USC-Upstate, UNC-Greensboro, Kennesaw State, Savannah State, Lipscomb, ETSU and Gardner-Webb.

Who knows? Maybe Hatchell’s attitude of being too good for the Women’s NIT made it possible for the ASU Lady Mountaineers to get their invitation. They’ve certainly made the most of it, defeating UNC-Wilmington last Thursday and N.C. State last Saturday to make it to the Sweet 16.

They’ll take on the Lady Cavaliers of the University of Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville tonight (March 22) at 7 p.m.

I would have loved it if I could be cheering for the Lady Tar Heels in the WNIT, but coach Hatchell’s arrogance put that possibility to rest. Instead, I’ll be rooting for the Lady Mountaineers to win it all!

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