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March Madness is over? The magic remains

Mar. 28—Fans of college basketball, even the most casual of fans, are familiar with this time of year. It's when teams can see the end but, first, they must survive March Madness.

Some say the entire month of March is when upsets happen and basketball is at its most entertaining point.

For me, the madness doesn't last two or three weeks. It lasts only one: opening weekend.

The arguments about teams missing the NCAA Tournament (Looking at you Big East) are still fresh in everyone's minds.

It's when you see upsets, or teams barely hanging on, happen. It's the weekend for teams like Oakland University — from Michigan not California — and James Madison or Yale to pull off stunning upsets. A team is set to become the latest Cinderella team.

Teams are sent home that people expected to make a run. Brackets are busted and torn up. It's chaos. It's madness.

But, it's only for that weekend. Why?

Because the second weekend and Final Four are meant for the big programs, the traditional teams, so to speak.

Sure there have been runs of lower seeds making a run in the tournament. There was George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010 and 2011 and Loyola Chicago in 2018.

These teams made magical runs that captured the basketball world and gave hope to the smaller programs. These are not the traditional powers that are North Carolina, Duke, and UConn.

These programs are the ones that make deep runs in the tournament on a regular basis. Each season is about preparing for a run in March.

Smaller programs or conferences routinely just want to make the tournament, as only one team gets in from there. These could be the American East or the Northeast conferences.

For the record, both Vermont and Wagner, the winners of those conferences, lost in the opening round to the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, respectively.

I'm not knocking the smaller conferences at all. I actually find myself rooting for the upsets during the first weekend. I find myself getting excited when I see a close game happening rather than a blowout.

But, as we near the end of the tournament it's time for chalk to take form.

In the East region, which many expected to be the hardest bracket, UConn leads as the top seed. In fact the East and Midwest will be represented by the 1-2-3-5 seeds. The West region has the 1-2-4-6 seeds. Only the South has a slightly busted bracket with the 1-2-4-11 seeds.

The 11th seed? Doesn't that counter the argument?

Not necessarily when the 11th seed is NC State.

I'm not knocking the little guy, I actually root for the upsets as I mentioned. I just believe that when we turn the corner and hit the Sweet Sixteen, it's time for the true contenders to step up.

Sure, there are times when a lower seed makes a run. It's magical as these teams get hot at the right time.

And the rarity of those makes those runs memorable. If you witnessed any of those they stay with you. I'm sure people even remember runs like NC State had in 1983. It was before my own time but I've heard enough stories and seen highlights to feel like I witnessed it.

It's what makes the NCAA tournament special. It's something one can always expect to happen. It's what breaks brackets and causes people to rip them up.

It's basically a tradition at this point. and I don't see it going away anytime soon.

The opening weekend is meant for those shining moments, but as we near the Final Four chalk takes form.

It doesn't diminish the tournament to not have a Cinderella in the Sweet Sixteen. In fact it makes it more exciting as the top teams vie for a national title.

It might not be as crazy as one would expect, but it's still magical.