I’ll be covering my16th consecutive NCAA basketball tournament this year and it has changed the way I view March.
One of the first things I told my wife, Debbie, after I met her four years ago was that I was gone in March. I’m not sure how it came up in the conversation. But it was important for me to give her some advance warning, just in case things took off.
When on a first date, most people talk about their favorite movies or former girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands and wives. By the way, that’s a bad idea. Do not talk about you exes on a first date. Consider this a public service.
Anyway, as we were sitting at River City Brewery munching on salads, I mentioned to Debbie that March – which at the time was a month away – was my busiest time of the year. I explained to her that it was non-stop basketball, from the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to the Kansas high school state tournaments an on into the NCAAs. Sometimes I mix in the Big 12 tournament, although there’s usually so little riding on that one that I don’t mind skipping.
Well, it’s March. The Valley tournament, probably my favorite event of the year to cover, is over. And we’re close to learning where Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State will be spending the early part of their postseasons.
All three are locks, in my opinion, for the NCAA Tournament. I’ve heard some question the Shockers’ chances, but I don’t understand the logic behind such a query. Wichita State is in, rightly so.
College basketball is primarily responsible for my travels across the United States. I figured it up a few years ago and will do so again once the tournament starts, but I believe I’ve been to more than 20 states while covering hoops. And I have been to all but a few of the major cities, although I haven’t visited Philadelphia. That is one of the second- and third-round sites, so perhaps I’ll get to cross Philly off my list.
Only problem with that is that the older I get, the more I don’t enjoy flying. It’s not like I’m white-knuckle scared of getting in an airplane. It’s more the waiting in line, checking bags, waiting in line, being searched, waiting in line stuff that I don’t like.
Last year, for instance, a group of us that included some friends from the Topeka Capital-Journal loaded in a van and drove to New Orleans for the Final Four. It was an interesting trip, all 15 hours to and from.
On the way back, we got stuck in a bad storm just east of Dallas that was producing tornadoes in and around the Metroplex. It forced us to find a hole-in-the-wall bar, where we played spades, checked the radar and had a few bottles of Bud while we waited out the storm. Don’t worry, the driving was done by those who abstained from the Bud.
We finally arrived home around midnight and that was that. College basketball was over for another season. It’s always such an abrupt end, no matter how far one of the teams I cover advances.
I remember Kansas losing to Bucknell in the first round at Oklahoma City in 2005. It was over so fast. That’s the only time during this long stretch of tournaments that I’ve been finished after just one game. I didn’t know what to do.
One of my best experiences covering the NCAAs as a columnist came in 2006, when Wichita State won two games in Greensboro, N.C., to advance to the Sweet 16 for a rematch against George Mason, who had beaten the Shockers in a BracketBusters game six weeks earlier. WSU lost that game, played in Washington D.C., but it was amazing the way the city got behind that Shocker team.
In 2008, both Kansas and Kansas State played early tournament games in Omaha. It was the start of a Jayhawks journey that led to winning a national championship in San Antonio. KU’s incredible overtime win over Memphis in the title game is easily the best and most dramatic game I’ve ever written about.
I covered an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in 1981. And what a year to cover Wichita State, which made it all the way to the Elite Eight after exciting wins over Iowa and Kansas, easily two of the 10 most-memorable games in Shocker basketball history.
So it’s that time of the year again. One of the most busy and exciting times of the year for me. Fortunately, my wife understands.