The best two days of the year

Thank goodness spring break was last week. The restorative properties of a classless week were nice, of course. But the best thing about this year’s spring break was one that campus sports fans were profusely thankful: This year, spring break coincided with the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament.

I like college basketball fine, but during the regular season, I’ll admit that the sport is barely on my radar screen, except for the Gophers. In a year such as this, when Minnesota was already out of contention for anything by Martin Luther King Jr. Day, college hoops are firmly placed on my back burner.

Come that special mid-March Thursday, this all changes. For two days, millions of fans wholly immerse themselves in all things college basketball. Digger Phelps is our sage,

Greg Gumbel is our oracle and Jim Nantz is the honey-tongued voice of the gods. For two days, high-tension, high-intensity playoff basketball begins at 11 a.m. and doesn’t end until 11:30 p.m., running almost continuously on CBS.

Keep your Super Bowls and NBA Finals. To me, these two days are the best sporting event of the year. I could give you a hundred reasons why, but in the interest of space, I’ve cut my list down to my top five:

1) Playoff anything is highly exciting, and no sport does playoffs like college basketball. In the tournament, there is continuous, spine-tingling electricity running through every game. It’s like the Super Bowl, game seven of the World Series and the back nine on Sunday at the Masters Tournament rolled into one. And they do it 32 times in two days.

2) Everybody has a bracket filled out this week, and on Thursday morning everybody is convinced in the backs of their minds that their picks are the right ones. Because of this, everybody is cheering their picks on with no regard to reason. It’s always highly entertaining to see one of your buddies angry enough to kick the couch after a heartbreaking loss from some obscure school that he couldn’t place on the map.

3) America loves an underdog, and there’s no better place to find one than in a tournament filled with colleges you’ve never heard of. Is there a more satisfying feeling than pulling wholeheartedly for an upset by a vaunted “directional school” and having them come through?

4) The all-day, all-the-time, on-a-weekday format: Sporting events are just more fun if they take a bit of endurance to sit through them, especially if you have to shirk your class or work responsibilities to be there.

5) CBS commentator Jim Spanarkel: He says more unintentionally hilarious things than anyone else ever allowed on television. I’m starting to think he has a sheet of paper with a list of vaguely vulgar-sounding basketball cliches and just goes down the list checking them off every March.

And so you can have your oft-over-hyped, one-night-long Super Bowls and the occasional game seven in another sport. Me, I’d rather watch these two days of college basketball than any other sporting event in the world.

By the time you read this, the tournament will be down to 16 teams. The best two days of the year are over, and I’m heading back to my regular rut – but all is well. After all, there are still a few underdogs left, and I’ve still got some of my picks to cheer for. What more can a fan ask for than that?

Jon Marthaler welcomes comments at [email protected]