- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The NCAA selection committee throws the brand names and the nobodies together each March and lets CBS, ESPN and all the rest crunch it in epochal terms.

The illusion is better than the reality. It is not as if Fairleigh Dickinson is a genuine threat to reach the Final Four in St. Louis.

The NCAA tournament has become one of the rites of spring, starting with this morning, when Americans from sea to shining sea tear out the brackets from their newspapers and pick the winners and losers of each round.

The exercise makes instant experts of us all. The winner of the ubiquitous office pool is sometimes the person who embraces college basketball only three weeks out of the year. The office pool is another one of the compelling features of the NCAA tournament, the one dynamic that brings so many to the event.

It is not just about players diving for loose balls, cheerleaders in various rah-rah poses and bands playing their school songs. It is about those who dare to drop cash on an event that defies all manner of logic. And it is about hope. And dreams. And it is about that one night when it all comes together. And it is forever about the basketball fairy tale, the small school vs. the big school, as set forth in “Hoosiers.”

Everyone loves the nobodies, the little teams that could, a Winthrop or a Delaware State, even if everyone is hard-pressed to name one distinctive feature of the nobodies. This is the appeal of the event that no other sport can duplicate.

The single-elimination element is unforgiving. There is no better moment than the winning shot at the end of a game: the jubilation on one side and the despair on the other.

The best team only sometimes wins, the failing of the single-elimination exercise, and a tiny failing at that.

The NCAA tournament has grown up in a big way since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird met in the championship game 26 years ago.

The event is worthy on its own now. No star power is necessary, which is a good thing. The legendary stars of yesteryear are no more. There are no more college teams of the Georgetown and North Carolina ilk of the mid-‘80s, teams stuffed with future NBA players whose faces became familiar to fans.

Today’s best collegians are on layover. So many others skip even the abbreviated college experience.

Somehow the NCAA tournament has avoided the counterproductive consideration of what it does not have. It does not have, for instance, LeBron James, an unthinkable notion. He would be a sophomore. How amusing is that?

The show moved forward last night as No.1 seeds went to Illinois, North Carolina, Duke and Washington. Washington was the surprise after both Wake Forest and Kentucky hit speed bumps this weekend.

The late failing of Wake Forest denied the ACC three No.1 seeds.

As it is, the Blue Devils are perhaps the most vulnerable of the No. 1 seeds, if only because so much of their relevance is predicated on the 3-point shooting eye of J.J. Redick.

His floor game has evolved in three seasons, no doubt. Yet so much of who he is — and so much of what he does hides the flaws of the Blue Devils — begins with the 3-pointer.

To suggest the Blue Devils can win it all is to suggest that Redick can drop 25-30 points on six consecutive opponents, a daunting assignment for someone who feasts on the 20-footer.

The national champion needs five solid performances and one game steeped in good fortune.

As coaches like to say, “Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.”

That is especially true in the NCAA tournament, where so many games are decided on a shot in the waning seconds.

That one shot reflects both the beauty and cruelty of the event.

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