- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Pervis Pasco took a victory stroll, his index finger pointed skyward, after intercepting the inbounds pass with 2.6 seconds left.
Oops. Traveling. Time left: 1.8 seconds.
Welcome to the month of scaled-down possibilities in college basketball.
Nothing captures the hand-wringing mood like a premature celebrator.
Pasco lost his mind, and Kansas State lost the game to Colorado by one point after James Wright banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the first round of the Big 12 tournament last week.
Pasco is emblematic of where college basketball is. It is a modest version of its former self.
The best player in America who is not in the NBA is not even in college. Hint: He drives a Hummer.
LeBron James is more well-known than the top collegians, suspect as they are. They are the best of the depleted rest, after all.
Chris Wilcox is with the Clippers, Richard Jefferson is with the Nets, and Kwame Brown is hanging out in Tony Cheng's neighborhood. That is merely the start of an impressive list. Duke's national-championship aspiration is in the NBA, in Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy.
If the game is bleeding, some of the wounds are self-inflicted.
As usual, as if on cue, the game's underbelly is intruding on the rah-rah fun. Scandal has come to Fresno State, Georgia, St. Bonaventure and Villanova. Fresno State and Georgia, in particular, pretended to be surprised after exercising a blind eye around Jerry Tarkanian and Jim Harrick Sr.
Last year at this time, the scandal of the moment involved Chris Webber's Michigan. His timeout against North Carolina has been expunged from the Final Four.
What you see in its place is a money-making machine that refuses to enter the new millennium. The call to reform is a call to sound almost serious. Books come first unless Jim Harrick Jr. is teaching the course.
This is Bracket Monday, the day after Selection Sunday. Are you up to it?
A novice is likely to be as accurate as Dick Vitale, the game's head cheerleader who remains a true believer.
There is not a dominant team in the 65-team mix, just some teams that are less equipped than others. The difference between the third-best team from a major conference and the top team from a mid-major conference is apt to be slim. Many of the upsets are not that at all, so labeled because of the brand-name bias.
The Terps are liable to advance to the Final Four or get bounced from the NCAA tournament in the first round. It is your guess, as good as anyone else's.
More than ever, luck is the sixth man of the teams that advance in the tournament.
Parity undoubtedly has been one of the tournament's appealing attributes over the years, though in the context of the quality teams at the top.
How about the national championship game between North Carolina and Georgetown in 1982?
Check out the players on the floor: Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins of North Carolina and Patrick Ewing and Eric Floyd of Georgetown. Sometimes the good old days really are better.
College basketball used to have March to itself. That grip is hardly as firm as it once was.
You can't tell most of the players without a scorecard, and even then, there is no reason to commit their names to memory.
ESPN, ever conscious of the shifting tastes among viewers, took up with the NBA this season after being wedded to college basketball the last two decades.
ESPN remains in the college basketball business, of course, but has felt compelled to diversify its basketball portfolio. For better or worse, it is the network that introduced James to America this season, as opposed to airing another college basketball game.
Maybe now more than ever, the tournament is a celebration of the unspoiled underdog. Those moments go down best.
Ron Hunter, the IUPUI coach, has been caught in the pure joy of it since his team won the Mid-Continent tournament last week. He is embracing the moment with a big smile, and it is easy to smile with him.
The tournament packages the dream better than any other sporting event in America, mostly because of the single-elimination format. A lot can go wrong in a 40-minute game, and often does with the tension high and everyone on edge.
Duke misplaced its sense of comfort in the tournament last season, Indiana fashioned the improbable, and college basketball was denied another meeting between Duke and Maryland, perhaps two of the last truly good teams in college basketball.

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