After having written about the world of college basketball for two years, I submit this as my last column. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my opinions, and I hope that on occasion they were insightful and thought-provoking.
When I first developed the idea for this column, I considered a format that would have allowed me to analyze a variety of sports. Yet writing about anything other than college basketball simply did not feel right. Part of that is certainly due to the fact that we live at a university where men’s basketball is far and away the most popular sport. But there’s always been something else that has attracted me to college basketball in particular.
We hear a lot of sports tossed around as “America’s sport.” Football, baseball, even “sports” like NASCAR. But I truly believe that college basketball is the sport that most embodies the spirit and the values of America.
What other sport so fully brings out the unique characteristics of so many corners of this land? When you see St. John’s play, you see the gritty toughness that defines a city like New York. You watch Butler and you see the no-frills, workman-like demeanor of the Midwest. Go farther west and you’ll see a brand of wide-open, fast-paced basketball in the Pac-10 that exemplifies a region of open spaces.
As for the NCAA tournament, the annual culmination of college basketball, it epitomizes our egalitarian ideals. We’re a nation that pays homage to the American dream, the idea that anyone can make it in this country, regardless of background. Where is that more true than in the NCAA tournament?
Teams like VCU or Butler have a real chance to win it all, unlike in college football, where the computers would laugh at their strength of schedules. Tiny schools from obscure conferences are given the chance to compete alongside longtime powerhouses and to pull off unthinkable upsets — an inspiring notion in a country whose existence is the result of a massive upset some 230 years ago.
Perhaps most poignantly, college basketball reaffirms our faith in the future, a guiding belief of Americans in every generation. In professional sports, bad decisions can doom franchises to years of ineptitude. In a sport like college football, you need extensive strength and athleticism on both sides of the ball to be a serious contender.
But in college basketball, all you really need is for some special chemistry to form within a small group of individuals. We saw Connecticut develop that chemistry over the course of the Big East tournament, and it carried them to the national championship. A team like VCU, which hadn’t shown anything special all year, suddenly became a juggernaut that took down high seed after high seed. I don’t intend to diminish the role that talent plays, but a college basketball team that is playing with chemistry and confidence is always capable of beating teams that look better on paper.
And that means there’s always a reason for hope. You never know when the team that you’re rooting for will transform into a squad that exceeds your wildest expectations. Think of where Georgetown was in 2005, when it hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in four years. Who could have imagined that two years later the Hoyas would be in the Final Four? Rapid turns of fortune happen in every sport, but in college basketball, they are the rule and not the exception.
Many of the things that we value about college basketball — its differences in regional styles, a tournament that gives everyone a fair shot and the promise of tomorrow — are actually the things that have made this country so great. And that means that even as I move on from the Hilltop, I’ll continue to love the sport that should have a unique resonance with all Americans. I hope you will too.
Parimal Garg is a senior in the College. Taking the Court appears in every other Friday edition of Hoya Sports.