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March Madness 2017: Tickets punched, dreams dashed

We finally have a couple of dancers on the floor.

The Wichita State Shockers, Winthrop Eagles and Florida Gulf Coast Eagles are on to March Madness, winning their respective conference tournaments. While neither is expected to do much (the same was said about Florida Gulf Coast a few years ago, before it rolled to the Sweet 16 as a 15th seed), it’s the chance that an upset could be pulled that has all of us waiting for the tourney to begin.

With 65 spots still technically up for grabs, we’ll see plenty more wild nights. It’s Championship Week when the national blood starts pumping for college basketball, when people begin to itch for a bracket. In college football, every game means something, but the bowl games make the season very anti-climatic. It’s the exact opposite in basketball, with everything building slowly until it explodes into a crescendo.

Of course, there are the cruel moments as well. The Monmouth Hawks looked like a sure bet to finally make it to the NCAA Tournament out of the MAAC for the second year in a row. Last year, it crashed and burned before getting into March Madness, and now, somehow, it has happened again. On Sunday, Monmouth lost to the Siena Saints, who advanced to the conference title game despite being 17-16 overall. Once more, the dreams dies for everyone on Monmouth, while the Cinderella tale lives us within the boys from Siena.

The same despair might be felt by Illinois State, with the Redbirds once again being crushed by Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference. Illinois State only lost twice in conference, and both times at the hands of the Shockers in blowout fashion. Despite being 27-6 and 17-1 within the MVC during the regular season, a lack of quality wins might keep the Redbirds in the NIT, something incredibly unfair but realistic.

Finally, the major conference tournaments are going to be a blast. Which teams are going to fall early and hurt their seeding? Which team that has no chance will make a run from nowhere, forcing another contender off the bubble? Could we see Missouri rally in hopes of keeping Kim Anderson afloat for one more day in Columbia? Could St. John’s ride the play of freshmen guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett to a Big East title? Probably not, but it’s fun to dream.

A week from now, we’ll know who the 68 teams are. Then we can rush to fill out our brackets. And, for those lucky enough, you’ll be boarding that flight to Las Vegas. Until then, don’t turn the television off once. Pay the electric and cable bills, and enjoy the show.

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