You never realize how much you love something until it’s gone.
For the past two years, the NCAA Tournament has been nothing like the incredible spectacle that brings us back to our childhood days.
In March 2020, no one knew what to expect, with most of the country in lockdown, waiting for “two weeks to slow the spread” to come to an end. The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA tournament was as depressing as anything we’ve experienced in sports, and yet most in society understood as we attempted to get a firm grasp on the COVID-19 pandemic.
And then there was 2021, the entire tournament played within a “bubble” in Indianapolis, with only 25% fan capacity allowed. Over the past two years, we’ve realized just how important the crowd is to sports — especially college athletics — and the lack of packed arenas took away much of the allure of the NCAA tournament.
In the 2021 semifinal matchup between UCLA and Gonzaga, Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs hit one of the more memorable buzzer-beaters in college basketball history. And yet, it didn’t have the same feel as thousands of delirious fans were absent from the moment.
But now, we’re back.
We’ve moved out of the COVID-19 pandemic, with mask and vaccine mandates being tossed to the trash heap all over the country. As I sat down to begin my marathon day of college basketball viewing, the CBS college basketball theme song blaring from the television, everything finally felt normal.
“The country is ready for the [NCAA] tournament,” said CBS Sports President Sean McManus.
You can say that again.
It was an amazing first full day of the tournament, with six lower seeds finding a way to win, and three games decided in overtime.
“This is wonderful,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway said after taking down No. 8 seed Boise State. “Honestly, to see the fans in the stands, this is true March Madness. Watching it in the past, when it happened to be in Indianapolis and no fans really, just family, that’s not March Madness. This is beautiful to just be here and seeing it with the family here, the fans here, everybody walking around in the city — that’s beautiful to me.”
We had two 12-seeds advancing to the second round of the tournament, with Richmond knocking off an Iowa team that many had picked for a deep tournament run, and New Mexico State ending UConn’s season behind 37 points from junior guard Teddy Allen.
“I’m a hooper, and right now at the level I’m at, this is the biggest stage, and this will be the worst time to fold,” Allen said.
And then there was the small school of 2,300 students from Jersey City, New Jersey, taking down one of the true blue-bloods of the college game.
No. 15 Saint Peter’s knocked out No. 2 Kentucky in an overtime thriller, making it the first time head coach John Calipari has been knocked out of the tournament in the first round as head coach in Lexington.
“Proud of my guys for battling, like we do all year,” Saint Peter’s head coach Shaheen Holloway said. “This is something that these guys understand, no disrespect to anybody, but we wasn’t coming down here just to lose. We came down here to fight and we did.”
And we’re just getting started.
There are another 16 games on the slate for Friday, with No. 10 Loyola Chicago — and Sister Jean — taking on No. 7 Ohio State to kick off the fun. The games won’t come to an end until early Saturday morning, with hundreds of thousands of fans packing bars around the country in order to watch their brackets get busted.
The NCAA tournament is fully back, and with it, everything finally feels back to normal.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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