Ben looks at the bracket

Journal Gazette columnist Ben Smith discusses the NCAA Tournament bracket that was released Sunday night.

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Associated Press
Valparaiso, which won the Horizon League championship, will play Michigan State in the NCAA tournament Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Hey, Bucky’s back and so is excitement

– The get-off-my-lawn brigade can stop shaking its bony finger and grumbling that college buckets ain’t what they were back when the set shot was in. I have seen the Madness revealed now, and I say it’s going to be Madder than ever.

How could it not be, with Valparaiso in again?

Close your eyes and you can still see Bryce Drew launching that three against Ole Miss 15 years ago, and the thing slicing through the nylon like a hot knife through butter, and then that glorious dogpile in the middle of the floor. And now Bryce is the man on the sideline, and Valpo has drawn Michigan State in the first round – look out, Tom Izzo – and who thinks college basketball can get any better than that?

I have been all up and down this bracket three or four times, see, and it isn’t anything but perfect. The Drew legacy vs. Izzo.

Florida Gulf Coast, which wasn’t a school until 1991, against Georgetown, a 15-vs.-2 you might want to keep an eye on. Virginia Commonwealth (Shaka Smart!). Butler (Brad Stevens!).

Davidson and Iona and Harvard and LIU-Brooklyn, whose nickname is the Blackbirds, vs. James Madison, whose mascot is the Duke Dog – a gray bulldog that wears a purple cape and a crown.

And speaking of mascots, did I mention Bucky the Bison is in again?

He’s the mascot for Bucknell University out of Lewisburg, Pa., and what’s awesome about that is the last time Bucknell hoops was rattling around America’s brain, it was 2005 and the Bison, a 14-seed, were knocking third-seeded Kansas out of the Dance.

A kid named Chris McNaughton banked in a hook shot over a kid named Wayne Simien with 10.5 seconds left to give the Bison their first NCAA tournament victory in – get this – 110 years of playing basketball. That made Bucknell, along with Yale and Minnesota, the oldest Division I program in the nation.

And now it’s back!

Don’t tell me that’s not great.

Even greater is that Bucknell gets Butler in the first round, which immediately got more than one talking head Sunday pondering the possibility that Bucknell could pull a Butler on Butler. Or how about Akron out of the Mid-American Conference (a 12 seed) pulling a Virginia Commonwealth (a 5 seed) on Virginia Commonwealth?

And there are people out there who still say college basketball is in a down cycle?

Listen, you get all the historic giant-killers in there, and you make a former giant-killer (Gonzaga) a No. 1 seed, and it’s like you’ve not only given the obligatory March nod to Cinderella, you’ve made her the CEO of the entire apparatus. And that doesn’t even take into account the sheer, gorgeous carnage that’s going to be the Midwest Regional (Michigan State, Louisville, Duke, dangerous Saint Louis and Doug McDermott and Creighton, all together? Seriously?).

It doesn’t take into account the fact that Indiana is one lucky third-rated No. 1, getting sent East to the weakest regional, or that Kansas, sent South as a No. 1, likely gets North Carolina in the second round, Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen and Georgetown or Florida in the Elite Eight.

Sounds like Bill Self should have sent the committee a bigger fruit basket.

So who wins?

That’s getting ahead of things, frankly. Plus, it’s beside the point – the point being, it’s the first two days that make this tournament, and the first two days have all the right characters in place.

Right, Bucky?

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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