I found it interesting that Indiana State was playing Wichita State for the championship of the Missouri Valley Conference on Sunday.
The Wichita State Shockers, a final four team from last year’s NCAA basketball tournament — better known as March Madness — were trying to remain undefeated as they entered the game with a perfect, 33-0 record.
The first thing that stood out to me was their opponent, the Indiana State Sycamores.
You see, the first college basketball game I remember watching was the NCAA championship game in 1979, which pitted the Sycamores and their star, Larry Bird, the pride of French Lick, Ind., against Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans.
That game — won by Magic’s Spartans, 75-64 — as much as any helped propel the NCAA’s college basketball tournament into the March Madness that it is today, not to mention the effect that Magic and Bird had on breathing life back into the National Basketball Association when both athletes turned pro later that year.
The game is still the highest rated game in the history of televised basketball with a Nielsen rating of 24.1.
The Sycamores entered the championship game ranked No. 1 in the country, thanks in large part to their perfect, 33-0 record.
So, as the Shockers looked to maintain their unblemished record Sunday, I thought it was ironic that it was Indiana State, a team that had started a season with 33 consecutive wins without a loss, playing a Wichita State team with the same record.
The Shockers, ranked No. 2 in the AP Men’s Top 25, won the game and will certainly be one of the favorites to cut down the nets April 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, known to many as JerryWorld and home to the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
They’ll enter the tournament as the first undefeated team since the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in 1991 and, if they can win six more games, they’ll try to become that first undefeated national champion since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, coached by Bobby Knight, accomplished the feat with a 32-0 record.
I think March Madness is one of the most exciting events in all of sports, mainly because regardless of who your favorite team is, the excitement level transcends the boundaries of fandom.
It is an event that allows colleges from small conferences to go toe-to-toe with the big boys from the major conferences, which sets the stage for some of the greatest David vs. Goliath upsets, like in 2012 when Norfolk State, with an enrollment of 7,200, beat the University of Missouri, with more than 34,600 students enrolled.
Once the field is set, millions will add to the excitement by filling out their own brackets to compete with friends and family in trying to determine who will be the last team standing.
Sports programming will be flooded this week with the major conference championship tournaments, leading up to “Selection Sunday” in six days when the NCAA selection committee, made up Division 1 athletic directors and conference commissioners, decides what 36 teams receive at-large bids and join the 32 automatic qualifiers.
So, let the madness begin. Who’s my pick?
Unfortunately, I tend to fill out my bracket with my heart instead of my brain and usually pick my favorite college programs to advance.
But if I had to pick the team I think will win, I’ll go with the Shockers of Wichita State.