“March Madness” provides stunning drama year in and year out. This year might just be the most thrilling yet. Cinderella teams have taken on a mythic stature in American sports. There is something about the underdog that over-achieves to take down the vaunted school with the big names and big bucks. This year’s Cinderella’s are the Dayton Flyers and Mercer Bears. However, has parity taken away the Cinderella hype that fuels March Madness?
Dayton managed to hold on Saturday night and upset Syracuse 55-53. This is the first time in 30 years that Dayton has made the sweet 16. On Thursday Dayton defeated their rival Ohio State by one point with a last second basket by Vee Sanford. Both wins have officially put the rest of the tourney on notice that Dayton is for real. Perhaps they should not give in to the hype of being a Cinderella because they have the fuel to go deep into the madness of March.
The Syracuse Orange Men (28-6) struggled throughout the game. Dayton’s attacking defense proved problematic. Syracuse missed all of 10 of their attempts from three-point land while the Flyers drilled seven three pointers. This was the first time in over 660 games that Syracuse did not make at least one three.
Star point guard Tyler Ennis had a chance to tie the game with two seconds left but his jumper clanged against the rim as time expired. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said that the last shot was a great one and that he had no problem with it. Ennis had beaten Pittsburgh a month ago with a 40-footer.
In order to be a Cinderella team you not only have to be a small school (David) going up against a big school (Goliath), you have to be likable as well. The team has to be something fans can root for. Both Dayton and Mercer are high on the likability scale. Mercer celebrated with their fans after their win over Duke, and the president of Dayton, body surfed through the crowd after their upset. America sees things like that and smiles.
Many believe the parity of the NCAA Men’s Basketball game has led to even more small schools rising to national prominence and that the Cinderella phenomena is just a myth to boost ratings. In today’s college hoops the one and done rule of the NBA has decimated many of the blue chip programs. A young star comes in and due to a lack of maturity may not be able to withstand a program that has played together longer. That was perfectly illustrated when the Mercer Bears took down the Duke Blue Devils.
Mercer featured a starting five of all seniors. That was the big difference when the small Georgia school ended Coach K’s run and perhaps Jabari Parker’s college career. The Bears sent Parker back to his dorm room to contemplate is he a one and done or will he wear Duke blue next year? Mercer goes on to meet Tennessee Sunday afternoon. Mercer beat Tennessee in last years NIT tournament.
Even if parity has evened things out in the NCAA, American sports fans still love a great store. Dayton and Mercer are giving hoops fans just that. If both advance it will indeed be a sweet sixteen. The world will wait to see if these two teams can provide enough fuel to burn up the Cinderella hype and simply be as good as any school in March Madness.
Commentary by Tony Bowers