Is there no better time of year than the three weeks of the NCAA tournament? Well, the baseball postseason and the NBA playoffs, but these are pretty darned close.
And as we prepare to guide you through the first and second rounds of this year's inexorable drive to name Nevada-Las Vegas as the 28th NBA franchise, we ask that you copy down the following three phrases on a sheet of paper:
March Madness, On The Bubble, The Big Dance.
Good. Now, roll the piece of paper they are on into a big ball and burn it, never to be seen or uttered again.
Now that that's done, let's take a look at some of the names, places and just plain stuff that will make this year's NCAA tournament so much fun.
* FIVE BEST NAMES IN THE FIELD: Forwards Tony Dunkin of Coastal Carolina, Philip Luckydo of Georgia State and Locksley Collie of Texas; guards Adonis Jordan of Kansas and Tony Bennett of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
Tony Bennett? Sure. Haven't you heard that old ditty, "I Left My Heart in Milwaukee"?
* THREE DRAWS YOU WOULDN'T WISH ON YOUR ENEMY (unless he's Lou Henson): Virginia gets to play Brigham Young in Salt Lake City, 40 miles from the campus. Towson State will draw Ohio State in Dayton, an 80-mile jaunt from Columbus.
And then there's Montana, which gets the pleasant little task of being UNLV's first victim. Want to bet that the Grizzlies didn't book hotel rooms in Tucson for more than one night?
* THREE PLAYERS YOU HAVEN'T HEARD OF, BUT SHOULD HAVE: Keith "Mister" Jennings, point guard, East Tennessee State. Jennings is a 5-foot-7 bundle of energy who is third on the all-time NCAA assist list and just happens to lead the nation in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage. He's a guy who deserves a courtesy title.
Ronald "Popeye" Jones, center, Murray State. The Racers very nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament last year, losing to heavily favored Michigan State by only four. Jones, who dropped 70 pounds to come in at a svelte 260, was the major reason. He is second in the nation in rebounding and he can stick a three-pointer, too.
Clarence "No Nickname" Weatherspoon, forward, Southern Mississippi. Weatherspoon is a 6-7 force who joins Keith Lee as ** the only two players in Metro Conference history to win three rebounding titles. He can score and dominate on the boards, but will he be enough to stop the Golden Eagles from their late-season slump?
* TWO TEAMS THAT SHOULD BE AT HOME, BUT GOT IN ANYWAY: Maybe the specter of Dave Gavitt, former commissioner of the Big East, still haunts the NCAA tournament selection committee.
How else to explain how two underachieving teams like Villanova and Georgetown not only got invitations, but fairly high seeds. Justice would be served if both got knocked out in the first round. And it could happen.
* TWO TEAMS THAT HAD A PRAYER . . . AND USED IT: Georgia State, which has a cool nickname (the Crimson Panthers) and a fine journalism school to boot, petitioned the NCAA to schedule their game against Arkansas early enough on Friday so that its best player, senior forward Chris Collier, wouldn't violate the laws of the Worldwide Church of God by playing on its sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
And BYU not only got to play in Salt Lake City, but also drew Thursday and Saturday games, so that it won't violate Mormon precepts by playing on Sunday.
* SIXTEEN TEAMS THAT WILL LIVE TO PLAY NEXT WEEKEND: East: Princeton, UCLA, North Carolina State, Temple.
Southeast: Arkansas, Wake Forest, Kansas, Indiana.
Midwest: Ohio State, Texas, Connecticut, Duke.
West: UNLV, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Arizona.
* FIVE HIGHLY REGARDED TEAMS THAT WON'T: East: North Carolina, Syracuse.
Midwest: St. John's.
* OUTRAGES OF THE WEEK: Normally, we would revel in making a prediction that came true. But we really didn't want to be proven correct in our pick last week that Maryland's Gary Williams would not get the ACC Coach of the Year award in voting by conference media.
Williams finished a distant third to Wake's Dave Odom and N.C. State's Les Robinson, proving that some sportswriters really don't leave the free food line soon enough to see the action.
And what kind of message did the NCAA send this week when it banished the Maryland women to Worcester, Mass., to play their first-round tournament game against lower-seeded Holy Cross when school officials had worked feverishly to assure that they could host a women's game and a men's subregional on consecutive nights?
And if Maryland had to hit the road against a lower seed, why couldn't it have played nearby George Washington, so that fans of both teams could have seen their heroes?
Get the feeling that the NCAA is missing the big picture?