A method to the ‘Madness’

kp column

By KOLBY PAXTON

It wouldn’t be breaking news if I told you that men are better with spatial memory.

We remember our own birthdays. We generally remember Christmas. We remember when we booked time off work to go see Lil’ Wayne and then he flipped out and nearly drowned himself with cough syrup. On the other hand, we struggle with dates void of self-serving incentive. Anniversaries, Mondays and other people’s birthdays fall into this category.

Our brains are not alone on the island of forgetfulness, however. Females are often completely unaware of equally important dates. That is to say, the vast majority of those harboring the X chromosome would fail miserably at providing even rough speculation as to which day their men will be pre-occupied and/or missing in action as a result of Opening Day, the first day of duck season, or the fantasy football draft.

Still, there exists rare occasions when the mind of a male and his counterpart work in perfect harmony; days, still, when a couple is equally excited about the very same event. With mere hours separating us from the round of 16, it’s time we pay homage to one such instance.

1.) The NCAA basketball tournament – otherwise known as couples’ therapy.

The end of the third week in March should be a nationally recognized holiday, as both men and women of all colors, shapes and sizes gather ‘round computer monitors, extend their respective lunch breaks, and root for players and teams they’ve never before considered in the name of bracket survival.

From the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee, across the plains of Texas, from sea to shining sea, girlfriends gloat well into the weekend thanks, in large part, to players like Cleanthony Early and Kaleb Tarczewski.

And no, she wasn’t breaking down the Gonzaga game tape, she just liked the Wichita State mascot. But it matters not to her significant other.

He’s getting all the hoops he can handle with zero complaints.

2.) Jai Lewis?

Of course, your grandmother has a bracket pool banner hanging from the rafters because no one else was crazy enough to ride George Mason to the Final Four. She just liked the name “George,” and that’s all the logic a person needs to randomly prevail in a tournament that is nothing if not predictably unpredictable.

The only trend is the lack of a trend. Missed out on Virginia Commonwealth’s Final Four run? Don’t expect to capitalize on the sequel. Just ask Jay Bilas.

Experienced point guards, floor generals like Ty Lawson, Hollis Price and Kemba Walker, are a semi-reliable source of success. But freshman are not incapable of quarterbacking a deep run – See: Wall, John.

Speaking of Wall, a year after his Kentucky Wildcats reached the Final Four, a shiny new crop of freshmen led John Calipari’s ‘Cats to a national title last spring. It was “The Year of the Freshmen” and it altered what we thought we knew about the make-up of a championship-caliber squad.

3.) Or so we thought…

The exploits of the Wildcats’ star freshmen, lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, along with fellow-first round draft choice Marquis Teague, are well documented. But, consider that the group also benefited from the leadership of senior Darius Miller and sophomores Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb. On paper, the latest edition of Calipari’s NBA mill was equally talented – if not more so. But the group was all fish, no seasoning. The same could be said for a group of UCLA Bruins that were supposed to save Ben Howland’s job. On the eve of the Sweet 16, Howland is unemployed and Kentucky is fresh off of NIT elimination.

4.) It takes more than star power to survive and advance.

Marcus Camby toted UMass to the Final Four in 1995. Carmelo Anthony did the same with Syracuse in 2003. But success using that formula is an exception, not a dependable byproduct. The college game differs from the professional game in that way. Obviously, it doesn’t hurt the cause to have a future pro or three on the roster, but rarely is a 19-year old dominant enough – and savvy enough – to carry his team to the promised land.

In the one-and-done era, talented freshmen are no longer the trump card. Seemingly everyone has an Alex Poythress – or, worse, Shabazz Muhammad. The game changer is cohesion, as so few teams are able to establish any semblance of that. Hence, of course, the success Brad Stevens has fostered at Butler with rosters full of players in their third, fourth and even fifth years with the program, even if those players will never sniff an NBA gymnasium.

Six of the top 10 freshmen in college basketball made the tournament. Only Tarczewski (No. 9) remains. Instead, the tournament has come under siege by the likes of zero-star recruit Tyreek Duren and the “Southwest Philly Floater,” former walk-on Sherwood Brown and his Florida Golf – er, Gulf – Coast squad of misfits, and former-Flame-turned-Blue Devil Seth Curry and the upper-classman dominated Dukies. The two most ballyhooed players still in the tournament, Michigan guard Trey Burke and Indiana guard Victor “Home Depot” Oladipo, were ranked as the No. 142 and No. 144 prospects by Rivals, respectively. In short, the tournament belongs to juniors and seniors who stuck around and realized star power via dedication. Prospects like Nerlens Noel, Marcus Smart and Anthony Bennett will dominate draft day. In the mean time, however, team basketball runs the court.

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