The Big Dance: One Shining Moment

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Deep down, at least part of you wanted it to happen. Even the brackets were lined up that way. Good play mixed with a little luck and the hand of fate was going to bring Kentucky and Duke together in the championship game for a rematch of the '92 East Regional. Duke did its part and won the first semi-final game. Kentucky was 40 minutes away from a rematch and two games away from perfection. It was going to be epic.


And then Wisconsin crashed the party, and our brackets. In fairness, mine had already disintegrated earlier in the tournament; I'd picked Villanova to win it all because of temporary superstition.  I'd seen them in New York during conference tournament time, just like I'd seen last year's UConn squad that subsequently went on to win the national championship. ‘Nova would play Kentucky in the final and pull off the huge upset, just like they did 30 years ago against the already-anointed powerhouse Georgetown. But instead they crashed out in the round of 32. For what it's worth, temporary superstitions are just that -- temporary.


My friend Kelli's strategy of choosing likeable animal mascots -- which still led her to the conventional choice of the Wildcats to win it all -- may still have merit if how mascot traits match up with their teams' play was further evaluated. Kentucky's quest for a perfect season is over, but the Badgers wouldn't have been a bad animal choice, either. Fun fact: The upper and lower jaw of a badger is connected in such a way that enables them "to maintain their hold with utmost intensity." Wisconsin actually plays that way, too, sticking together and put the clamp on the Wildcats in a wonderful case of basketball art imitating animal life.

 

Perhaps they can do the same with Duke, in what will be a second consecutive shot at revenge in this tournament. Regardless of bracket picks, a fan map for Monday night would probably show a red nation with a blue spot around Durham, North Carolina. Even if these Blue Devils are slightly more likable this season, they're still Duke. And they've given their haters one more game to hate them, and one more reason if they win it.

 

***

 

During the tournament, my friend Matt was struck by a study from a Duke professor named Charles Clotfelter, who looked at fan loyalty using an interesting set of subjects: dead people. In the study, Clotfelter picked 26 colleges with unusual mascots and searched obituaries for references to that team.  Through that method, he found that about a third of die-hard college fans were alumni. Matt, putting that number in a commercial context, observed that if one-third of shares in a company were held internally, that would be a lot. But as Clotfelter noted about his study, fandom "represents an authentic cultural tie. To call big-time college sports commercial is accurate, but incomplete. It's the truth, but not the whole truth."

 

The whole truth encompasses the rivalries, the sentimentality, the Davids, the Goliaths, and all the other aspects that hook different types of fans, from diehards to casual ones, into this tournament. Whether you went with a heady tactical approach to filling out brackets or going with your heart and braving emotional devastation, it's now down to one game that we'll all watch, irrespective of what we thought would happen from the outset.

Still, great storylines still abound. Will Coach K's experience of having already coached in national championship games trump Bo Ryan, who is coaching in his first? How will AP Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky match up against Freshman Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor? Will Sam Dekker and Justise Winslow continue their standout performances or will we be lauding an unsung hero at the end of the night? How will foul trouble affect two teams with thin benches? And now that we know how Kaminsky dances to Ne'Yo and Pitbull, how would he get down to "One Shining Moment"?  The Tournament will soon be over, but the madness never ends.

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