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Riding the NCAA wave

Jonathan Freeburg
Jonathan Freeburg

The national champion has been crowned and we have another March Madness behind us.

Every year, we comment how this has been the most exciting one yet, and it seems that it grows into something even more the next year. If you’re a bit confused what I’m referring to, it is the annual mega match-up that makes March Madness one of the most user-involved events in sports anywhere.

The NCAA Men’s 64 Team College Basketball brackets have literally millions of participants that play each year. A total of 64 teams, with the odd “play-in” games, ranked from No. 1 to 16 in their respective divisions, are eventually played and whittled down to just two remaining teams, who faced off this last Monday night. The winner is the national champion.

I’m not sure how many brackets, if any, you completed this year, but I only do one. I think when you have multiple brackets, you have somehow missed the point of going with one strong, heartfelt lay it all on the line entry, that lays everything on the line.

My brackets took a hit early with Arizona losing in the first round to Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo. While I did not have them going to the Final Four, I certainly did not have them losing to Buffalo. Thankfully, Kentucky beat Buffalo, ending what would be a very short-lived nightmare.

The Cinderella team this year was from a small, Chicago-area school named Loyola. In all honesty, I did not remember that Loyola even had a basketball team, let alone a good one. Loyola plays in the Missouri Valley Conference of college basketball, which includes other area schools like Bradley, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Valparaiso.

Being from the hometown, so to speak, I did give Loyola two victories in my brackets, beating Miami of Florida in round one and getting by Tennessee in round two. I had them falling to Nevada in the third round, which, not to state the obvious, they did not.

It looked like Loyola was going to be the unstoppable force in this year’s tournament. After beating Nevada, the Ramblers went on to beat Kansas State, who came into the tournament ranked ninth, which propelled them into the Final Four; the four best teams in college basketball.

Sadly, Loyola’s dream season came to an end Saturday night when they lost to Michigan by 10 points. They had led by as many as 15 points in that game but in the end, they simply ran out of gas.

What has made Loyola such a wonderful and enjoyable story in this year’s tournament is all the side stories. Like Clayton Custler and Ben Richardson, who have played together since third grade and won a state championship at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park, Kan. Or the 98-year-old Sister Jean Schmidt, now known affectionately worldwide simply as Sister Jean. The good sister has her picture on socks, T-shirts and even has a “Sister Jean Bobble Head,” which, when I tried to buy one, was told they were sold out.

At 98, you wonder how many more basketball games she will see, but I’m sure if Loyola has another season next year like they did this year, Sister Jean will be there in some form.

Usually, college basketball holds my attention just slightly longer than soccer. But this year, I caught the dream and rode the wave. Can’t wait until next year!

JONATHAN FREEBURG, of Ottawa, is an attorney, works for Lloyd’s of London and can be heard on WCMY-AM 1430 radio. He also blogs for Major League Baseball on MLB.com. He can be reached by emailing sjaquins@shawmedia.com.

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