According to Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the poem Locksley Hall, spring is, famously, when a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love. (For his cousin in that work, but let's not get bogged down in details.) Despite the Banners staff's ancestry hailing from the same general area of the British Isles as the Tennysons, it seems our families diverged somewhere along the way because, around here, spring means that a young man's fancy is focused solely on basketball.
With the imminent passing of February and all of its miserable grey hued skies and wind chills hanging just a few degrees above zero, it's time to focus on the very best time of the year. March brings with it the first taste of decent weather, a chance to get back on the road either running or riding and, most importantly, wall to wall meaningful basketball games. Not counting Ivy Leaguers that are probably already mathematically eliminated, the very first bubbles will burst on March 3rd. That's Monday.
That day is when the Patriot League kicks off the nation's earliest conference tournament. The Big South and the Atlantic Sun get in on the act the next day, Smaller conferences kick off all the rest of the week, but it is the Ohio Valley that is first across the tape, awarding it's bid on March 8th after the crucible of four games in four days gives the conference its champion. Not long after that game goes final and someone (Belmont last year) finishes exulting over their impending 14 seed, the big boys begin play.
And that, of course, brings us to the Big East. There is no spectacle outside of the NCAA Tournament itself that eclipses the Big East conference tournament. Traditionally the earliest start of the major conferences, this year it tips off on March 12th, the same date as the Big 12 and the SEC. The noon tip of the Big East's first game was a fixture on ESPN until Fox Sports One swooped in with a winning bid this year, but the click up the dial will do nothing to lessen its impact. The MSG, potential Final Four squads, and Gus Johnson himself will ensure that the Big East will continue to be the Don of conference tournaments.
A day later the Big 10, so as to continue their annoying habit of delaying the selection show, will start their tournament. Other heavy hitters like the ACC also tip that day, as does mid-major conference the AAC. The Saturday of that week, March 15th, features no less than 13 automatic bids being awarded. The Big Sky waits until then to name a champion, as does the MAC and the Mountain West. The Big East and Big 12 champs will also be crowned that day, meaning its a smorgasbord of the obscure and the upper echelon who get to celebrate at the same time.
That, of course, is all just lead in to the day that there actually should be a petition to make a national holiday, Selection Sunday. If printing off that first bracket, perfect in jet black and pure white, doesn't get your heart pumping a little faster, nothing basketball related is going to do it for you. A mandatory purchase of the USA Today with previews of every team (published that Tuesday) signifies that the time to start inking in teams on one, and only one, bracket has finally come. There is no week in the calendar year more rife with possibility and anticipation than the one that leads to Thursday, March 20th and the Opening Weekend.
So, if you fell your heart's fancy starting to turn toward love this spring, I urge you to forget her, or him, or them and instead focus on what God really made March for, sitting on your couch, watching basketball. Anyone worth loving will still be there at the end of the month (I think). But this March? It's only happening once.
For a full look at the Championship Fortnight schedule, visit this awesome conference by conference breakdown on Blogging the Bracket.