Long live Cinderella

By By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

National TV sports pundits are so predictable. There I was, watching a recap of the first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, when the analysts on CBS started up with their mumbo jumbo about how the tournament will be more entertaining and competitive because no so-called Cinderellas made it to the Sweet 16. All 28 double-digit seeds were knocked out in the first weekend for the first time since 1995.

On one hand, they make a good point. If the powerhouse teams knock out the would-be Cinderellas early, there will presumably be better match-ups in the later rounds.

But the magic of the tournament has little to do with good match-ups — every sport has those. Match-ups aren’t what make March Madness mad. The madness lies in the fact that anything can happen in a 40-minute game. Paupers can become kings.

The NCAA tournament is a microcosm of the American dream. We are taught as children that America is a land of opportunity. Potential success is around every corner for anyone willing to work hard enough for it.

That’s what makes America free, and that’s what makes the NCAA basketball tournament unlike any other sports event. Any school, be it Coppin State or Valparaiso, has the chance to become a national champion if it’s good enough.

All a team has to do is win its conference championship, dispose of a couple of low seeds and BOOM — it’s off to the races. Sounds easy enough. While such a run is highly unlikely, the teams are at least given the chance to test themselves against the best in the country, which I’m sure you recall wasn’t the case for the undefeated 2004 U football team.

When compared with the crooked, money-mongering caste system known as the BCS, the NCAA Tournament seems unsoiled and pure. Only a handful of schools actually stand a chance of achieving glory under the BCS system. It’s all about shutting out the have-nots while hoarding the money for the big schools, whereas the NCAA Tournament is all about inclusion.

The Huntsman Center hosted the first two rounds of the tournament in 2003, so I had the opportunity to watch four games in person, including No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 16 Vermont.

Fans in the Huntsman Center whose only connection to Vermont prior to the tournament had been their love of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream began rooting their guts out for the upstart No. 16 seed.

Vermont hung in there for much of the first half before eventually losing. But the same scenario is repeated all across the country in every arena every year of the tournament. If a high seed has a chance to send a low seed packing, suddenly the entire crowd is trying its best to sing along with the lyrics of the underdog’s fight song and encourage them on to victory. Those fans don’t care about future match-ups. They just want to see David kill Goliath.

If I were asked to name the last five teams to win the title, I’d be stumped. But I will never forget when Bryce Drew drained a desperation-three at the end of a first-round game against No. 4 Ole Miss in 1998, catapulting No. 13 Valparaiso into the second round of the Big Dance.

The Valpo win over Ole Miss and its win over Florida State in the second round are moments that define what March Madness is all about.

Who can forget the way Drew dove onto the court after he hit the shot or the crowd going insane or the coach-father and player-son embracing exultantly?

Match-ups? Ha!

Saying that the tournament is somehow better when no smaller programs make it to the Sweet 16 ignores what makes the tournament special.

That’s not to say that the tournament hasn’t been highly entertaining this year despite its lack of Cinderellas. The tournament is great every year — that’s a constant. But hoping for the elimination of all Cinderellas is the point of view of an evil stepmother.