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John Blanchette: The chill is gone, baby; the NCAA Tournament is about to get real

UPDATED: Wed., March 21, 2018, 9:54 a.m.

UMBC players celebrate their 74-54 win over Virginia in a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Charlotte, North Carolina, last Friday. (Chuck Burton / AP)
UMBC players celebrate their 74-54 win over Virginia in a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Charlotte, North Carolina, last Friday. (Chuck Burton / AP)

LOS ANGELES – Madness? Let’s get more specific.

It’s really March Schizophrenia.

Let ol’ Doc Basketball here explain.

You were in your glory last week, right? Turned on your TV and – boom – there it was: Loyola-Chicago and its soon-to-be-copyrighted nun taking down Miami. Lucky that while you were on the elliptical at the gym, the host of the podcast you were plugged into was repeating a line he heard on TV Sunday that Loyola was the “team nobody wants to play.” So you went all in on the Ramblers when the office gambling degenerate started handing out brackets. Not that you knew that was their nickname. At least the school name spotted you the C-H-I-C-A-G-O on the location.

So. Your first upset. The ultimate gateway drug. Give me more, you demanded.

Done. Buffalo over Arizona. You probably didn’t pick that one because you figured if the Wildcats were shelling out $100,000 for a player as you’d read, he’d have to be good enough to get them to the Final Four.

But wow! This crazy tournament! What could the next day bring?

Only NCAArmageddon. UMBC – the school the snobs in College Park call “the University of Maryland Backup College” – making history by being the first No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1. And by 20 points! Now, it didn’t torch your bracket – you had Virginia out in the Sweet 16 – but your wife’s is toast. That’ll teach her to have Tony Bennett as the top seed on her freebie list.

By Sunday, it was pure delirium: Xavier, another No. 1, goes bust. Nevada comes back from 22 down to beat No. 2 Cincinnati. Loyola wins again and Sister Jean becomes a Kardashian. And more.

“Yes, yes, yes!” you cried. “Bring us the finest meats and 11 seeds in all the land!”

And that’s the first week of the NCAAs: Par-ty!

But today? Time to sober up.

It’s like the difference between your first semester at college and your second, if you didn’t manage to hide your transcript from your folks.

The second week of the NCAA Tournament suddenly becomes about crowning a legitimate national champion and the, ahem, Integrity of the Bracket. Very serious stuff. Whichever team eventually hangs the banner, it’s supposed to have navigated a hard road.

For example, Kentucky has only had to beat seeds No. 12 and 13 to get this far, and now has just Nos. 9, 7 and 11 between it and San Antonio. Sure, John Calipari will try to make those teams out to be the Warriors, Rockets and Globetrotters, but c’mon – that’s the bracket equivalent of Saint Mary’s nonconference schedule.

On top of which, most of us are upsetted-out.

You’ve had your fill of Sister Bertrille. You’ve seen enough of Nevada coach Eric Musselman’s precocious daughter, Mariah. You’re burned out on Thursday’s Cinderella reverting back to a chargirl on Saturday.

Plus, those of you who still have an alma mater in the hunt – yes, that’s you, Zags – are starting to pucker a bit.

It’s getting real.

Of course, it’s better than not being alive. Ask Alabama guard Avery Johnson Jr., back on campus after the Crimson Tide were bounced on Sunday.

“I asked one of my teachers how the test would be on Thursday and he said it would feel like the 2nd half of the Villanova game,” he tweeted. “Alabama professors have no chill.”

Neither does the second weekend of the tournament.

Consider that Purdue’s crackerjack engineering school has been tasked with rigging up an elbow brace for their resident Gulliver, Isaac Haas, that can pass the NCAA’s safety code. If they succeed, imagine what a future recruiting advantage it will give the Boilermakers over mere liberal arts schools.

Consider that when Villanova’s Jay Wright and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins go X vs. O, we have to pick a fashion preference: business elite or Mafia casual.

Consider that if Michigan makes it past Texas A&M, that’s another $1.7 million for Jim Harbaugh to spend taking his team to Bali and other ports of call for spring football practice the next six years.

Consider that we have to pick a side between Jim Boeheim and Grayson Allen.

Consider that the West Coast Conference – currently enduring some put-down press as Gonzaga flirts with taking its game elsewhere – still has four teams alive in the postseason, compared to the Pac-12’s one. Presuming Gonzaga doesn’t finish what it started last year, do you suppose if Saint Mary’s wins the NIT, San Francisco the CBI and San Diego the CIT, they’ll be the schools invited to join the Mountain West?

Consider that we have to pick a side between a charming 98-year-old nun and an adorable 8-year-old girl.

That’s not Madness. That’s masochism.


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