A rite of spring started last week with the opening of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. For the next two weeks all the talk around the water cooler will be about it. This is one of the best times of the year because it appeals to all people in the sports world. The diehard sports nut and even the casual fan are intrigued by it because of the game’s unexpected outcomes.
The talk of the NCAA Tournament has fueled the prospective move of Northern Kentucky University athletic teams from Division II to Division I. This move was highlighted last week when Gov. Ernie Fletcher stopped by Regents Hall March 15 to celebrate the “victory” of finally securing funding to build the long-awaited special events center on campus. The excitement grew when two teams from conferences the Norse are looking to join – should they choose to make the jump to Division I – made some noise in the tournament. The Panthers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, members of the Horizon League, will make their first Sweet 16 appearance in school history this week when they play the University of Illinois after defeating Alabama and Boston College in the first two rounds.
The other team is Oakland University Grizzlies from Rochester, Mich., who are from the Mid-Continent Conference. The Grizzlies made the NCAA tournament by defeating Oral Roberts University in the Mid-Continent Conference championship game, even though they had a losing record. They defeated Alabama A’M in the play-in game at University of Dayton arena before they ran into a buzz saw against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The exposure the teams get from the NCAA Tournament is amazing and invaluable. Think back to 1998 when Valparaiso University captured the nation’s heart in the tournament. Bryce Drew definitely created exposure for himself after hitting the last second shot against University of Mississippi. He was the 16th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets. He was last playing in the NBA for the New Orleans Hornets.
If a player from NKU gets picked in the NBA draft it would create a lot of exposure for this school. It will be a welcome sight when the ESPN trucks pull into the Bank of Kentucky Center. When a team plays on national television it’s a great thing because of the exposure.
A highlight of this past weekend’s tournament action was the highly anticipated border war between the Kentucky Wildcats and Cincinnati Bearcats. This was a great game. Although the better team came out on top, if these two teams don’t do battle for another 10 or 15 years, Bearcat fans will have that bad taste in their mouth for that long.
It will be an interesting next couple of weeks to see who can be the national champion.