Sure, Madison Avenue would have you believe the Super Bowl is the only sporting event in the nation that could be likened to a national holiday, and baseball fans historically have had such an oversized opinion of their own championship that, despite having teams only in the U.S. and Canada, they call it the World Series.
But when it comes to true competition and the type of starry-eyed dreams that can be tied only to youthful enthusiasm, nothing beats March Madness.
For the next several weeks, Americans will watch players — kids, really — from schools that range from the large and well-known to the obscure, struggling against a single-elimination rule for a shot at the national title. And in offices, clubs, families and other organizations from coast to coast, people are filling out brackets — making this perhaps the nation’s largest participatory sport and adding immeasurably to the fun (even if productivity takes a hit).
But for the Utah faithful, there is only one choice in the men’s tournament this year. We are all Aggies.
Utah State not only qualified for the tournament, it got an automatic bid by beating San Diego State 64-57 on Saturday to win the Mountain West Conference championship.
How important is this for the Aggie basketball program? Consider this:
- Utah State has not qualified for the tournament since 2011, when the school was a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
- The Aggies have not won a tournament game since 2001.
- This year’s team overcame long odds. It has a new coach — Craig Smith was announced just last spring — and only four players returned from last year’s team, which finished a disappointing 17-17.
The team is led by Sam Merrill, a junior guard who was the conference player of the year and the MVP of the conference tournament. But first-year player Neemias Queta also is a force with which to reckon.
The Aggies open the tournament Friday against the University of Washington. The experts are calling this a notable matchup. As usual, a single loss will end the season for any team, so much is on the line.
As much as Utah fans ought to rally behind the Aggies, the media’s fixation on the men’s tournament can obscure the fact that another Utah team is playing in the “big dance” this month. The BYU women’s team is a No. 7 seed and will open play on Saturday against Auburn.
The Cougars were 25-6 this year and won the West Coast Conference. The team is led by Brenna Chase and Shaylee Gonzales, both of whom were named to the All-WCC first team. Also, Paisley Johnson was named to the All-WCC second team.2 comments on this story
In addition, it’s worth noting that Salt Lake City is hosting part of the first round of the men’s tournament, giving the city some positive sports publicity and giving locals a chance to show off their hospitality.
That may not be the same as the excitement of having several Utah teams at play, but it should be plenty to give locals a taste of the excitement that will have much of the nation enthralled.
At a time when people are as sick of political fights as they are of winter, you couldn’t ask for a better diversion.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial misstated that Utah State guard Sam Merrill is a senior. He is a junior.