There is nothing in our shared sporting experience quite so exciting as the run up to March Madness. There are games on constantly through March as teams position themselves for the top spots in their conference tournament, try to avoid not making that tournament, or scramble for wins for those elusive at large bids. Almost all of that has been lost this season.
Building narrative is vital in novels, tv shows (try The Boys on Amazon Prime, but not with the kids), movies, and any work of fiction. The human mind tries to force that narrative on to reality to the point that we frequently will unconsciously mold what has actually happened into our perception of what should have happened based on past experience or what we anticipated. College basketball always finds itself there come February in March. We know the best teams, the teams trying to go undefeated, the majors that are struggling, and the mid-majors that are making noise. Those things are all happening this season, but given the stop and start of the season, who knows where those stories are.
Akron is led by a 5-8 guard who isn’t a three point shooter. Drake is 16-0 but somehow is 45 KenPom places below the best team in their league. Kentucky is hilariously awful. Duke and MSU are struggling immensely. Absolutely none of this fits anywhere in a neat narrative about this season. Who know if any of it will even end up mattering or if this season will simply shuffle off stage left like last year’s did. Is anyone actually confident that 68 teams will show up in Indianapolis and play the tournament as scheduled? If it does, who will even be there to see it? What is a champion who wins a tournament that will almost certainly take place with replacement teams in seven locations within the same city?
It becomes hard to disentangle the malaise surrounding college basketball, with teams canceling games, players falling ill, and the odd pomp still surrounding every game from the malaise settling over most personal lives, with events canceled, friends falling ill, and an aimless sense of still progressing forward with life nowhere near normal. It’s hard to work up the energy for the usual March excitement when the grey scepter of February looms even more brutally hideous than usual.
For two hours on Saturday it was possible to slip away from that. Xavier’s games, even in this most bizarre of seasons, are a reprieve. It’s possible to forget everything when Colby Jones goes up for a game winner, the live wire that is Adam Kunkel does anything, Paul Scruggs puts his stamp on another game, or Jason Carter just plugs relentlessly away. That the Musketeers have lost another game lands as more than just another blow. It feels like a brief spark of hope is snatched away with every “postponed” tweet.
Maybe this is placing too much import on a sport. Maybe I, personally, am just sad I won’t sit down on the couch to watch a game with my equally excited kids and wife on Wednesday. Maybe it’s just February being February. It is, after all, the cruelest and longest of months. We all crave the return of that familiar March bubble excitement. I pray it still comes.