The Big Dance is almost here. The warmup for me was watching the NCAA women’s basketball conference tournaments this past weekend. To the point, these women can flat-out play … and are well-coached. Maybe better than the men.
SEC champion and top-ranked South Carolina (32-0) is coached by hall of fame player Dawn Staley, a Philly girl who won a few gold medals for our Olympic teams.
Iowa sharpshooter Caitlin Clark had her 10th career triple-double in the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten championship game rout … and her amazing collegiate career just keeps getting better.
Trust me … you will see some wars on the road to the women’s basketball championship. And I personally think South Carolina’s women’s team could beat some NCAA men’s teams. Or, at least give them a close game.
Now, on to the most exciting three weeks of the sports calendar — March Madness.
Selection Sunday is this Sunday, March 12, with the men’s bracket being unveiled at 3 p.m. (CBS) and the women’s bracket at 5 p.m. (ESPN).
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the greatest college event ever invented, has provided so many memories —unbelievable finishes and individual performances. You must have yours… here are some of mine:
• Bill Walton (UCLA), 1973 — Walton was almost perfect vs. Memphis State, going 21 of 22 from the field (a time when dunking wasn’t allowed) for an NCAA championship game record 44 points. He single-handedly destroyed the Tigers, 87-66, giving the Bruins and John Wooden a seventh straight title.
• Houston vs. North Carolina State, 1983 — Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack made one of the most magical title runs in NCAA Tournament history … what dreams are made of. I must have watched that ESPN 30 for 30 documentary dozens of times.
• Georgetown vs. Villanova, 1985. An instant classic. Considered one of the biggest upsets ever, the eighth-seeded Wildcats shot 90% from the field in an iconic second half to win the title.
• Keith Smart (Indiana), 1987 — Smart’s baseline jumper in the closing seconds beat Syracuse, 74-73, in the championship game.
• Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV), 1990 — Tark won his first national championship in a rout of Duke. He told me it was the most electric moment of his coaching career. He lived for that. Making the Final Four wasn’t enough. Winning it all was. He reached the mountaintop.
• Kentucky vs. Duke, 1992. Christian Laettner and “The Shot” turned this East Regional final into an all-time classic. Short-handed Kentucky, so close to the Final Four, saw devastation appear with one long pass, one turnaround and one basket to give the Blue Devils the improbable 104-103 win.
Just a few memories to spark renewed interest.
This year … 68 teams to begin, with First Four games taking place March 14-15 … 32 teams remain after the first two days with the Sweet 16 left by Sunday night.
14 venues in 13 states, with the Final Four in Houston to decide “the chip.”
Get your brackets ready.