March Madness Best Spectacle In Sports

by Kevin Burton

   You know how you sometimes smell something that might be smoke?

   You’re pretty sure it isn’t but you have to check it out. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. That would be a bad thing. Better find out.

   I feel a little bit like that now. It’s March Madness time and I am sniffing for evidence of Wichita State. 

   A lot of things smell sort of, vaguely, like smoke but are not. I’ve gotten used to my Shockers being hot at this time of year.

   Maybe I shouldn’t have used the smelling analogy though. The aroma that came wafting from Shockerland this year didn’t smell too good. 

   Wichita State is an NCAA tournament brand.  People filling out brackets will be a little surprised to see them not listed.

   What happened?  Long story. But I have been watching local media since the season ended for stories about players leaving the program through the transfer portal. Nothing so far, stay tuned.

   I was going to skip the tournament show Sunday since Wichita State wasn’t going dancing.  But I thought, you know, there is no guarantee that Wichita State will return to being nationally relevant. Maybe this is the new normal. I still want to be a part of it.  So I tuned in.

   March Madness is by far my favorite championship to watch. It is more compelling than the Super Bowl, the NBA finals or anything offered up by hockey or baseball. 

   I will miss the Shockers being in, but will content myself rooting against embodiment-of-evil teams such as Duke and Kentucky.

   Most of the special things that happened in Wichita in the previous decade had the fingerprints of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker all over them. 

   As their careers recede into the medium-distant past, that smell of smoke from a program on fire has grown much fainter.

   But I do see Shocker nation represented in this year’s tournament, a little bit anyway. Upon investigation Sunday, here’s what I found:

  We have former Shocker Assistant Coach Chris Jans coaching 12 seed New Mexico State against 5 seed Connecticut, Thursday at Buffalo. 

   Jans was an assistant on the Wichita State team that went to the Final Four.

   When former Shocker coach Gregg Marshall was under investigation for physically abusing at least one player, I started reading the Las Cruces newspaper, hoping to read speculation about Jans going to Wichita State. 

   But the timing was wrong and the Wichita State job went to Isaac Brown.

   I think New Mexico State is better than UConn, but the Huskies will be much closer to home and have most of the fan support.

   We also have former Shocker forward Trey Wade, now playing for 4 seed Arkansas against 13 seed Vermont. That game is also at Buffalo on Thursday.

   I was not sad to see Wade leave WSU, but I wish him well in the tournament.  He’s a good rebounder when he feels like it. But he shoots too many threes and he doesn’t box out.  He’s in the rotation at Arkansas. Judging by minutes logged, he’s the second or third man off the bench.

   Not sure this one should count, but there is Alex Lomax, reserve guard for 9-seed Memphis. His team plays Boise State Thursday at Portland.

   Lomax committed to WSU but never did play there. He was released from his commitment when his high school coach Penny Hardaway got the Memphis job. 

   I was sad to see him slip away, but he turns the ball over a lot when he plays against WSU. So maybe that worked out for the best.

   Former Shocker assistant Steve Forbes is coaching Wake Forest in the NIT. 

   Unless I am overlooking someone, that is it for former Shockers in the post season. Not much to keep me interested.

   Dayton, my favorite underdog team from my other home state, Ohio, missed out on the big dance when Richmond upset Davidson in the Atlantic 10 tournament final.

   The tournament committee chair said Dayton was the first team left out.

   Bummer. That is what they mean when they talk about tournament bubbles bursting.

   But I will just pick up other Ohio teams Wright State, Ohio State and Akron and see how far the underdog show can go.

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1 Comment

  1. Keep listening to those sports announcements. Dayton is a shoe in to be invited to the NIT, and I think Wichita State might have a shot at an NIT bid. As a K-State grad, I have reason to be disappointed too. K-State is really the one with no chance of post season activity. Our mutual friend and inveterate sports fan, Kathy Dawson, tells me she thinks that K-State should hire Greg Marshall now that Webber is gone, but I doubt they will consider it. They already had to let Frank Martin go due to player abuse, a few years ago. I doubt that they would want to visit that potential again. Of course I do have one good reason for still following March Madness. My most recent degree, my O&M credential, is from Texas Tech. While I do not like Texas much as a State, my experience at Texas Tech was good, and when I was there, their basketball program was at a low ebb. I am glad to see them move back into some minor national prominence. I wish they would have looked as good against the University of Kansas as they did against Iowa State.

    Now for my last thought – I do not think you or I have any reason to fear that there will be no future smoke from Wichita State or K-State. They both have basketball programs that have a history of ups and downs, but they always seem to bounce back again . I am older than you are, so I probably remember as a child growing up in Wichita, how prominent Wichita State basketball was back in the late 50s and early 60s. I remember some of Dave Stallworth’s buzzer beaters, and there were other NBA quality folks on those teams as well. I was at K-State during some of the Jack Hartman years, and I remember the enthusiasm from those years. The best thing a couple of sports smoke sniffers such as you and me can do is try to keep living and wait a few more years.

    Michael

    Liked by 1 person

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