The flu epidemic is everywhere nationwide, especially this weekend. It’s not that you feel sick, are running a temperature or have a flushed face. But yes, you probably have a high pulse, do get a rush and feel really cool.
The flu breaks out about this time every year across the country. Basketball fever. March Madness flu. It is really something, and probably lasts four days before you go back to work.
The field of 68 in the NCAA tournament is on the floor right now — shooting threes, driving to the basket, taking charging fouls and pulling off upsets. It is a wild time in the sports world.
UCLA and San Diego got to the tourney, though they skidded on their way to getting a seeding and getting placed.
The Bruins and Aztecs are not Indiana or Duke or any of the blue bloods. Their seasons of promise have been derailed just a bit along the way. Injuries and roster shortcomings have something to do with it. But they still get to play games in postseason and anything can happen in postseason.
UCLA’s Ben Howland is under fire as head coach. Empty seats at Pauley Pavilion, a boring offensive strategy, and a roster with holes in it are all part of the reasons fans are not amped about this team. Forget all the tourney berths and Howland’s career mark in Westwood (206-133). The last few years have not been typical of ULCA.
The John Wooden era was a long time ago, but the standard is still very much there. Howland has been plagued by the one-and-done issue, with all these recruits bailing early to go to the NBA. Shabazz Muhammad, the gifted power forward, seems like he will be the next to leave in an unending revolving door at Pauley.
UCLA has been beset by injuries too, so they could lose the first time around against Minnesota.
San Diego State has reached amazing limits with Steve Fisher, the former Michigan coach, who has made Aztecs basketball a must-see priority in the city, in a town that has no history of supporting the sport.
The Aztecs’ 13-1 start was probably a fog, hiding real shortcomings on the roster. The start was replaced by a 9-8 fade at the end of the season. Everyone thought the 35-3 run they had a couple of years back would become the norm. Not so.
Jamaal Franklin is a really good Mountain West Conference star, but not a franchise player. State has no inside post players, and their three point shooting guards have all been hurt. Oklahoma is the first opponent, then nationally ranked Georgetown could be next, if SDSU somehow survives.
But aside from the next 72 hours of madness, understand this: the NCAA tournament’s first weekend is really where it is at.
Who is going to be the next George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth or Gonzaga? Those are the upstarts that make the headlines with upsets. Is there a Butler out there that might be Final Four quality?
College basketball has become king in March. The history of the sport turning the corner is because of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. They were at Michigan State and Indiana State, and they faced each other decades ago in the tourney.
It was the launching point of what March Madness would become. Bird and Magic may have saved the NBA when they arrived. They have made March something special, too.
Close your eyes and you think of Duke’s Christian Laettner hitting a turnaround jumper for a tourney title win; the Houston Cougars’ “Phi Slamma Jamma” team with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler; Chris Weber’s ill-called timeout that killed Michigan; or the Georgetown pass that led to a monster Villanova upset.
March Madness is David Thompson’s jump shot for North Carolina State that snapped a UCLA 38-game win streak. It is Bill Walton going 21-for-22 in a UCLA win over Memphis State. It’s Bill Bradley of Princeton. And it is Don Haskins’ Texas Western team with all five black players shocking Adolph Rupp, the racist coach, and Kentucky back in the day in the 60s.
Now you know why everyone is calling in sick the next four days with March Madness flu. You will find the patient firmly planted in front of a TV, at home or even in a bar having a cold one to tone down that basketball fever.
You might be UCLA or San Diego State, with no chance at all, but you are in the tourney with games to be played and have a shot. We’ll all feel better come Monday after the first weekend of games, shootouts, shockers and upsets are done.
But realize there might be a flu relapse late next week, too. It will be the second weekend of the tourney.
And it might happen the weekend after that, too. Tough to get all this out of your system.
I am sure this will all pass.
See me a couple of weekends from now after I get a full treatment of Louisville-Indiana basketball in the NCAA championship game. I am sure I will feel good then.
March Madness, the cure-all for all that ails you right now, this minute, this day — if you are addicted to basketball.