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March madness: better on ice

March 17, 2010
Marshall Independent

Every sports fan knows once the calendar turns over to March, college basketball becomes king.

Offices are littered with friendly brackets, while the fans hinge on every game from the play-in game through the national title.

Some of the nation's best will fall. A nowhere school will steal America's heart and broadcaster Gus Johnson will strain his vocal cords to the limit on something as simple as an inbounds pass.

College basketball will always get its usual pageantry in March. But lost in the hoopla is another NCAA tournament, one that offers more excitement than its ball-wielding counterpart - hockey.

Starting last weekend, the 58 teams that constitute Division I men's college hockey started conference tournaments as 16 teams look to break from the pack and play for the national championship.

College hockey doesn't have a bigger national tournament. In fact, there are fewer hockey teams (58) than seeds in the NCAA basketball tournament (65).

But of all those teams, only a handful stand to go very far. Good for teams like Lehigh and East Tennessee State for making the field of 64, but there's no chance they're beating Kansas and Kentucky, respectively.

And for all the talk of Cinderella teams in the men's basketball tournament, few ever approach the pinnacle. Two 11th seeds have made the Final Four (George Mason in 2006 and LSU in 1986).

The lowest seed to win the national title: No. 8 Villanova in 1985, the first year the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.

Villanova, a tourney regular in a power conference (Big East) is hardly a rags-to-riches story.

If Cinderella really wants to have fun, she should switch her glass shoes for some blades.

Holy Cross defeating Minnesota in 2006 was one of the biggest upsets in college sports history. Imagine the Pittsburgh Penguins lose to a pee-wee hockey team.

Last season, Bemidji State, the last team in the national tournament, upset No. 2 Notre Dame and made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Miami (Ohio).

As a Minnesotan, the national hockey tournament has more significance than the basketball tournament. Minnesota has the Gophers, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State and Bemidji State. In that group, the U of M has five national titles in 11 tries. Minnesota-Duluth also played in the championship game in 1984.

Minnesota's D-I basketball influence comes and goes with the Gophers. And because homework was an afterthought in 1996-97, the records show Minnesota has never been in the Final Four.

Let basketball get all the glitz and glamour this March. I'll be keeping my eyes on the ice rinks, watching the best college tournament in the county.



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