Saunders: March without a local men’s team in the Sweet Sixteen? It’s Madness, I tell ya

bsaunders@newsobserver.comMarch 26, 2014 

For sports fans in the Triangle, March roared in like a lion.

After all of our men’s basketball teams got dribbled out of the NCAA tournament, though, the month is going out like a toothless pussykitten playing with a ball of yarn.

Except for the UNC women’s basketball team, a ball of yarn is the only type of round ball that’ll elicit any interest around these parts. For everybody else, it’s “wait till next year.”

No longer at the top

For just a minute there, it looked as though the Triangle had reclaimed its position atop the college basketball world when N.C. State, Duke, UNC-CH and N.C. Central University all qualified for the men’s tournament. The Lady Bears of Shaw, Duke’s female Blue Devils, the Wolfpack women and the Tar Heel ladies were all poised to further enhance our self-proclaimed status as the center of the basketball universe.

This was, as we proclaim at the beginning of every March, the most wonderful time of the year. Quicker than it takes a referee to call a 3-second violation, though, March Madness became March Sadness.

Duke was knocked out in the first round by a school that you had to consult Google to find. NCCU was sent packing that night. N.C. State was defeated by a team it led by 16 points with a mere 8 minutes left, and UNC lost when Iowa State University’s 3-point shooters channeled the ghost of Harold “The Show” Arceneaux – if you have to ask, don’t ask – and forgot how to miss.

Shaw’s women went to West Virginia and lost a close one to Gannon University in the Division II first round, N.C. State’s women lost to BYU, and Duke’s women got bulldozed by DePaul.

Not even schadenfreude

Add it all together and what have you got?

A lot of free time, that’s what. Without Duke and Carolina, two of the most polarizing teams in the area, we’re even deprived of good old-fashioned schadenfreude – the pleasure we could take in seeing our rivals routed. Darn.

“It’s back to life,” Andrew Robinson said when I waylaid him on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. “All of a sudden, I have a lot more time” to indulge in photography. For Robinson and many fans of men’s college basketball, the season ended when the clock ran out on the Heels.

Robinson, a 1979 UNC graduate from Roanoke Rapids, smiled when he said this, but it was a smile without mirth.

For purists, those of us who like to see good, fundamental basketball that doesn’t have to include rim-shaking dunks, women’s basketball is a worthy diversion, but it doesn’t elicit the emotions, TV ratings or bragging rights that the men’s games do.

It took a lot of hunting, but I eventually found someone in the Triangle who wasn’t disappointed in the results. Far from being bummed out, Nicholas Decker, a student at the UNC School of Law, was almost giddy.

“I went to N.C. State undergrad, but I’m not disappointed,” he said. “OK, a little bit. I’m proud. We had a pretty good run. I expected Carolina to do better, but State – we out-performed, and I got to watch T.J. Warren.

“I was happy with the results,” he said. “I’m slowly becoming more of a Tar Heel fan, but it’s tough, man.”

Watching the remaining teams in the Sweet Sixteen isn’t a priority for Decker or Robinson, who said, “I may or may not watch it. If I’m sitting there when it comes on, I’ll watch.”

The way he said it, though, it’s unlikely he’ll find himself sitting there.

Fortunately for the local watering holes, there are fans like Zachary Heavner, a junior chemistry major at UNC.

“I’m a classic ACC fan,” Heavner, of Apex, said. “Virginia’s still in it. I’m glad Syracuse is gone. I really can’t care for them much, but I will still watch the tournament, and I’ll be there for the ACC until we’re all out.”

Mindy Amerson, marketing director for Carolina Ale House, one of the sports bars where fans congregate to root, root, root for their team, said she didn’t expect a huge falloff in business.

“It’s certainly difficult not seeing a local team still playing,” she said. But she added that she’s confident people will still gather to watch the remaining teams.

“What’s nice about this area is, we have many transients” – people from elsewhere rooting for other teams – “so we’ll see strong sales.”

She may be right. Perhaps those transients will be eating their wings and drinking their ale, but I’m guessing most Pack, Devil and Heels fans will find something else to occupy their time over the next couple of weekends.

What’s that?

Oops, gotta go. I hear an untouched sock drawer calling my name right now.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or

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