I can still remember exactly where I was when I heard Gus Johnson shout that out at the end of the Gonzaga-Florida Sweet 16 matchup in 1999. Gonzaga’s forward, Calvary, had just tipped in a shot to put the Zags up by 1, and Florida missed the ensuing possession to send Gonzaga to the Elite Eight. The Zags have not been back since, but fourteen years later they are a one seed, and at least by ranking are expected to make the Final Four.
I don’t bring this up because I am some huge Gonzaga fan. However, that moment, among others is why we love the tournament. You may remember exactly how you felt and where you were at the moment Laettner hit the Shot, Tyus Edney went coast to coast (ugh!), or Hampton’s Coach got bear hugged at the end of the game by one of his players. In a sense, this tournament has become more than about basketball. It has become a time to bond with buddies, pull for the underdog, and feel happy, sad, angry, embarassed, and relieved all in one final possession.
Although my alma mater, Xavier, is not in the tournament this year, I will still think back to the 2004 tournament as the CBS music comes on to signal the start of Thursday’s games. That was my Senior year at Xavier, and it was the year Xavier finally hit the big stage. After beating Louisville, Mississippi State and Texas, Xavier faced Duke, one of the ultimate blue bloods in college basketball for the right to go to the Final Four. All of my buddies and I drove down to Atlanta and went to the game. Though Xavier ended up losing that game (we got CBSed), I still fondly remember being with my friends for life on that trip, and it is something I will never forget. That is College Basketball and that is the NCAA tournament, and that is what makes the next two or so weeks so great.