Hoops Heaven: Not much can rival the madness

It’s about time the weather warmed up to where shooting baskets at the nearest park doesn’t involve dribbling over a snowdrift. Because for the past few weeks, the body temperature of most basketball lovers has been rising toward serious hoops fever.

Basketball bedlam takes place every March, but this time around is already particularly interesting. From the NCAA’s frenetic finishes to the sad sight of scandal unraveling proud programs, and with Division I hoops all over the television, plus prep championships in Lynchburg and a round of the Division III sweet 16 in Ashland, basketball is everywhere this weekend.

And it’s going to get better.

Some would argue that, Super Bowl aside, the biggest days in American sports are the Thursday and Friday that start off each year’s NCAA tournament.

I can remember friends in college skipping class on the first two days of the tournament, staying glued to tiny dorm-room televisions watching Old Dominion beat Villanova, Richmond upset South Carolina and Weber State knock off UNC.

Is there really a more enjoyable sight in sports than watching a team storm the court at the end of the game? I love watching a team make a big shot to win a quarterfinal like Missouri did on Friday just as much as I like seeing a small-school team like UNC-Wilmington or Holy Cross celebrate their next trip to the big dance.

College basketball isn’t the same as it was five or ten years ago, since the biggest stars have begun to bypass the college courts to jump to the NBA. But the tournament’s one-and-done format keeps it forever interesting. (At the risk of embarking on a familiar crusade, how could the gridiron powers-that-be not want the same thing for Division I football?)

Even those of us who miss seeing stars like Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Elton Brand and Rasheed Wallace in college jerseys, resume watching college basketball as the conference tournaments get underway. And it’s been worth it this year, as some of the nation’s top-ranked teams (No. 1 Arizona, No. 3 Texas, No. 7 Florida, No. 10 Xavier, No. 15 Maryland) have fallen victim to surprising upsets.

Stunning victories and wild finishes are much of the fun. Don’t you just know someone will be telling the story of Thursday’s crazy Kansas State-Colorado finish for years to come, just like people still talk about Villanova beating Georgetown, Richmond upsetting Syracuse and that Bryce Drew shot for Valaparaiso?

Last year, we were lucky enough to get NCAA first-round men’s games at the MCI Center in nearby Washington, D.C. This year, Boston, Nashville, Tenn. and Albany N.Y. is as close as the men’s tournament will come, but have no fear basketball junkies. The women’s tournament will twice be within a three-to-four-hour drive, at Old Dominon’s Constant Convocation Center in Norfolk and Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa., March 22-25. The women formerly held the first and second rounds on campus, but have gone to pre-selected sites this year.

If that isn’t enough, more basketball than you can blow a whistle at will be a day trip away in the next week or so.

The city of Salem, a suburb of Roanoke, will play host next weekend to the Division III final four, as it does annually. The nation’s top-ranked team, Randolph-Macon, lost on Friday night, but arch rival Hampden-Sydney played Saturday night in the elite eight. The Yellow Jackets and Tigers were two of five Virginia and D.C. teams to make the little big dance. Catholic, Mary Washington and Christopher Newport also made the 48-team field.

Closer to home, Wednesday’s Northern Virginia Hoops Classic will pit Fairfax County’s top seniors against a team from Prince William for the first time, at G.C. Marshall High School near Tyson’s Corner. Though most of the county’s top prep basketball players are juniors, Stonewall Jackson’s Tyc Snow, Osbourn Park’s Adam Hinton-Moore and Brentsville’s Brian Owen should lead a pretty strong county contingent against the best from Hayfield, South Lakes, T.C. Williams and such.

If tournament games and all-star classics aren’t enough — if you’ll spare the self-promotion — there’s always Hoops Fest. Capping the prep season with two-ball, 3-point shootouts and a dunk contest that all raise money for charity serves as a reminder that sports and our devotion to them isn’t as meaningless as some might have you believe.

If all that basketball-watching gets you as giddy as it does me, you can always lace up the ol’ high tops, grab a basketball and roll on down to the park and yell “I’ve got next!”

Keith McMillan is a staff writer and award-winning columnist for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messener. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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