Column: Just A Thought

By DARRIN SMITH

Like I said last week, March Madness has arrived. I love the tournament every year because it gives the little guys a chance. I am especially loving it this year because the little guys have stepped up to the challenge and slain some giants. Previously in the tournament a #16 seed had never beaten a #1 seed. Well, thanks to a college I never even heard of (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), we have now witnessed the ultimate Cinderella story come to fruition. The folks at #1 Virginia may try to forget the unimaginable 20-point upset they took, but the #16 UMBC Retrievers never will.
I believe that basketball has a decided advantage over football simply because of the tournament. In football only four teams, right or wrong, are selected to decide who is the best. Anyone not selected is immediately eliminated. A bunch of folks on a committee, many of whom have never played, decide who are the best four teams in the NCAA. The problem is every year, three or four teams, who are just as good, end up sitting at home watching. In basketball however, sixty-four teams get to compete and the best team wins no matter what conference they are from or how big their school may be. In other words, everyone has a chance and they all get to dance.
Every year, teams “shock” bigger schools in the tournament, but UMBC now holds the title as the biggest upset ever in basketball. A title that the boys at Appalachian State arguably own in football because they crushed Michigan in front of 110,000 screaming Wolverine fans a few years ago. In every sport, the little guy (underdog) always has a chance, basketball just lets them prove it. Football sticks their noses up in the air at the little guy. It’s kind of sad if you ask me. If you need proof, ask the folks at Central Florida how it feels to go undefeated and get snubbed.
UMBC was not the lone Cinderella in this year’s tournament either. Buffalo, a 13 seed, wiped out #4 Arizona by 21 points. Another 13 seed, Marshall, waxed the floor with #4 Wichita State. And lastly, two #11 seeds, Loyola Chicago and Syracuse, slayed two dragons each so far with Loyola defeating #6 Miami and #3 Tennessee, while Syracuse knocked off #6 TCU and #3 Michigan State. Loyola Chicago plays against #7 Nevada and Syracuse takes on #2 Duke tonight in the Sweet 16 round. To add even more drama and excitement, there are two #9 seeds remaining as well with Kansas State and Florida State. I’m excited to see how it all turns out but make no mistake, I’m pulling for the underdog.
Always pulling for the underdog can be the most rewarding thing ever when the little guy wins. On the other hand, it is painful most of the time because way more often than not the little guy doesn’t make it. It is a tradeoff for sure, but that is just how I like it. I’m always for the little guy, unless they are playing Georgia Tech. Then all bets are off.
I often see our little schools here as the underdogs. For whatever reason, we are hardly ever loaded with talent but are almost never outmatched in heart. Maybe it is because I’ve always lived here and pulled for the local boys, but I will take a team with heart any day over one with just talent. In my opinion, talent and heart are something you either have or you don’t. You can have talent without heart and heart without talent but when you have both, you are unbeatable. On the same note, one without the other is incomplete. I just think a team with heart is a much better way to go. I think a coach can go a long way developing talent but it’s much harder to teach heart. Most little guys have heart and we are definitely the little guys, like it or not. Not saying we can’t win championships though, just most people would never expect it. No one expected UMBC to win except them.
It’s just a thought but one worth thinking.