The biggest sports story in the U.S. in March is the madness of NCAA college basketball tournament time. But that doesn’t start for another two weeks.
I’m just as enthralled by the first couple of weeks in March, the prelude to the Big Dance provided by the conference tournaments. I generally spend the last part of the week of spring break from Wingate covering college basketball.
Starting with an assignment tonight at Belmont Abbey for the semifinals of the men’s Conference Carolinas tournament, I’ll see at least six basketball games between now and Sunday evening. (Jayne is headed out of town for a couple of days starting tomorrow morning and she says she couldn’t have picked a better time to be gone, as I probably won’t notice.)
Tomorrow I’ll cover the St. Bonaventure-St. Joseph’s game in the Atlantic 10 women’s tournament at UNC-Charlotte for the Buffalo News, one of four first-round matchups. I’ll probably take in at least one of them besides the one I’m covering.
And I’ll wrap up the weekend with Saturday and Sunday coverage of the South Atlantic Conference tournament semfinals and finals in Hickory, an assignment I’ve had for the last four years running now. Unfortunately, for the first time since I started making that trip, there won’t be teams from Wingate there. The Bulldog teams were eliminated in the quarterfinal round, played at campus sites, on Wednesday.
What’s the appeal of tournament time? For me it’s pretty simple — multiple basketball games are that many times better than one basketball game. And it’s an event. The tournaments I usually attend aren’t on the scale of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament or even Charlotte’s CIAA tournament, but there’s a social aspect. It’s fun to see a lot of the same people you encounter throughout the season all in one place.
Which, frankly, is why I haven’t much cared for what Conference Carolinas has done with its tournament for the past couple of years. All games are played on campus sites, on the home court of the higher-seeded team.
I watched Erskine pull its second straight upset in the Conference Carolinas tournament tonight, routing the host Crusaders 69-44 in Belmont. Belmont Abbey, which entered the game with a 20-8 record and the No. 3 seed, got an unexpected home game instead of having to go on the road tonight when No. 7-seeded Erskine (12-18) pulled a huge upset at No. 2-seeded Mount Olive in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round. The home court advantage didn’t help the Crusaders, as it seemed like there were an almost equal number of Belmont Abbey and Erskine fans there.
And it wasn’t a tournament atmosphere, with just the two teams there.
I suppose spreading the burden of hosting among the conference is an equitable solution for Division II schools with more limited resources for athletics. (I think among Division I schools, the Big South Conference does it this way.) But it just doesn’t seem like as much fun.
Still, it was a good way to get the long weekend started. We’ll see what the next three days brings.