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NCAA Basketball: Before the Sweet 16, Sweet Exhaustion
March 16, 2015  | By Gerald Jordan

Get out the dictionary of clichés, the thesaurus of hyperbole and anything else that will help interpret Dick Vitale’s ranting. It’s time for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So much about this tournament and this time of year is such fun that it’s hard to settle on a favorite moment...

Those who study teams’ road records and style of play in order to get a fix on how to prepare the office bracket will appreciate the “First Four.” Manhattan and Hampton, for example, don’t strike fear in the hearts of that bunch from Lexington, Kentucky, but the Jaspers and the Pirates face in Dayton Tuesday night in a play-in game on truTV, followed later by Mississippi and Brigham Young. The Manhattan/Hampton winner gets to wear the No. 16 seed into a Midwest Region game against Kentucky. Cue the funeral dirge.

But the tournament is such fun that even those poor relations bound for the sausage grinder offer viewers a spark of entertainment. And on occasion, those lowly relations serve up a real shocker, and not of the Wichita State variety, either.

The Mississippi/Brigham Young winner could turn out to be a bracket buster. So, too, could Dayton, which meets Boise State Wednesday night on truTV in the last of the “First Four.” North Florida and Robert Morris play in the early game Wednesday.

For college basketball fans, the “First Four” are the appetizers.

By the time the tournament is in full swing Thursday, the real fans will mimic little Regan in The Exorcist, head on a swivel, spinning to see highlights on truTV and games on Turner Network and CBS. What sweet exhaustion.

Follow form and bet the house on Kentucky. The Wildcats, top seeded in the tournament, have won 34 games this season – taking the Southeastern Conference regular season title and the post-season conference tournament. Arkansas was second to Kentucky, but such a distant second in both games (regular season and SEC tournament) that the two might as well have been in different leagues.

That makes for some provocative speculation about just how good Kentucky is. Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova – top seeds in their regions – are worth following, too. Also, consider Arizona, Virginia, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, Iowa State, North Carolina, Baylor…notice the pattern. The 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be quite a show.

The 2014 tournament also produced a spectacle, but one with a somber point: When the University of Connecticut hoisted the championship trophy, star guard Shabazz Napier said in a nationally broadcast interview just how hungry he was throughout the season.

“We do have hungry nights that we don't have enough money to get food in,” he said last year, almost feasting on a bunch of microphones stuck in his face. “Sometimes money is needed. I don't think you should stretch it out to hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing, because a lot of times guys don't know how to handle themselves with money. I feel like a student-athlete. Sometimes, there's hungry nights where I'm not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities.”

He did, and his Miami Heat National Basketball Association contract should mean that he’ll never go hungry again.

Napier’s remarks dovetailed with a federal court decision that favored Northwestern University football players’ rights to collective bargaining. And while the court battle plays out, the NCAA did change the rules on how much schools can spend on food for student-athletes.

In another decision that star athletes are watching, a federal court backed Ed O’Bannon’s anti-trust claim that players should be paid for use of their likeness and image. The former UCLA star was made aware of his likeness and jersey number used in a popular video game. He went to court. That decision has been appealed.
Still no word, though, on cutting the kids in on a share of the reported $800 million a year that CBS pays the NCAA for broadcast rights to the Final Four...

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