It all starts in November, not March.
Long before the office pools and Selection Sunday chatter commence, college basketball dazzles devoted followers for four months.
And unfortunately, a multitude of casual spectators don’t show up for the play until the final scene. They don’t know what they’re missing.
Saturday’s action, anchored by a classic matchup between Kansas and Missouri, proved that college basketball is far more than a delicacy to be enjoyed for three fabulous weeks at the end of the season.
The two Big 12 titans, Missouri and Kansas, did not play a basketball game. They staged a battle, one that demanded overtime. One that necessitates the continuance of the rivalry. One that stirred up the Twittersphere, as blessed witnesses tried to grasp what they’d just seen.
Celebrities, pro athletes, Kansas fans, Missouri fans, reporters … anyone near a TV as the Jayhawks’ 19-point comeback unfolded attempted to capture the moment. Kansas sank the Tigers, 87-86.
Comedian Aziz Ansari tracked the action: “Kansas just put in Jeremy Lin!! Don't know how or why but this game is awesome!!! #Linsanity”
Kansas alum and Miami Heat point guard Mario Chalmers didn’t let preparations for NBA All-Star Weekend festivities (he competed in the 3-point contest) stop him from offering this take on the game: “Congrats to my jayhawks. That's the way to fight to the end.”
After the game, its hero, Tyshawn Taylor, tweeted: "if it was camera crews following us tonight it would be something like a movie and that's no b.s."
The epic matchup showcased the pre-March drama that’s often overlooked.
College basketball bumps up against every major sport in the country. College football bowl games tend to overshadow the sport until January. The NFL steals the national spotlight through early February. There’s spring training and the start of the baseball season. And the NBA.
There’s always competition for college hoops. Always another option for the sports fan with a remote attached to his palm.
But college basketball was at its best Saturday. Why would anyone change the channel?
In Kentucky, one of the greatest defenders in college basketball history made a strong case for national player of the year honors. Anthony Davis recorded 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks during the Wildcats’ 83-74 victory over Vanderbilt. It was the 14th time that Davis had blocked at least five shots this season.
Meanwhile, Thomas Robinson -- the other top contender for national player of the year honors -- countered with 28 points and 12 rebounds.
Standings and computers don’t decide postseason berths in college basketball. So in late February, borderline NCAA tourney teams audition for a group of decision makers who will determine their fate from a hotel room in Indianapolis in two weeks. Their collective desire to earn that postseason bid is often undeniable.
Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa State lost to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Not Purdue, a squad that should have locked up an NCAA tourney slot with a 75-61 victory at Michigan on Saturday. Terone Johnson scored a career-high 22 points.
It was the first home loss for the Wolverines this season. It snapped Purdue’s seven-game losing streak against ranked squads.
Desperation inspires greatness this time of year. Alabama, Northwestern and VCU boosted their postseason aspirations with Saturday wins.
Connecticut nearly knocked off Syracuse in Storrs, Conn., but a late dunk by Fab Melo and Kris Joseph’s 21 points prevented the upset and the Orange won, 71-69. Virginia held North Carolina to 54 points and a 2-for-14 mark from the 3-point line, despite being outrebounded 44-29. The Cavs didn’t necessarily need the win (they lost 54-51), but it certainly wouldn’t have hurt their postseason profile and it would have elevated their seeding.
Saturday offered a few upsets, too. St. John’s beat Notre Dame even though it had lost its previous 10 games against ranked teams. Bradley Beal had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Patric Young recorded 11 boards.
Florida couldn’t hold off ... Georgia? TCU outplayed New Mexico?
Temple was on an 11-game winning streak before it ran into St. Joseph’s on Saturday.
Duke (70-65 win over Virginia Tech in overtime) could have fallen, too.
It’s not surprising. It’s the norm.
The theatrics that captivate the country during March Madness begin in the fall. Every week, as some folks dismiss the national college basketball scene, the game offers something amazing, something worth watching and enjoying.
Perhaps the Missouri-Kansas tussle, and the fantastic battles we've watched thus far, will entice the casual fan who only pays attention to college basketball in mid-March.
Enjoy the buildup to Selection Sunday and March Madness.
But next season, make sure you show up in November. We seem to get this level of action every week.