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Living the NCAA Tournament Part I

In my senior year at Saint Louis University the Billiken basketball team is in their first NCAA tournament in twelve years. I’ll be attending the tournament as a completely biased fan and will share the experience in this multi-part feature. 

Selection Sunday

10:30 a.m.

On Sunday March 11th, I woke up around 10:30. I got up and stumbled to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror and saw a guy with a pounding headache, a three-week beard, and fast-food stains on approximately 79% of my t-shirts. Both my roommates had already left for their respective spring break trips and I was alone in an apartment that had become oddly messy in the 12 hours since their departure.

After a few moments of thinking I realized that my look had nothing to do with any sort of depression. In fact, I was quite happy. What it had everything to do with was basketball.

I came to Saint Louis University, a school with no football team, three and a half years ago, ready to put all my eggs in the Billiken basketball team. I knew they had a long road to respectability, but like many of my freshman class, I had faith in the relatively recently hired coaching legend and Dunkin’ Donuts platinum customer, Rick Majerus. I hadn’t even stepped foot in my first class before I had said, “If we can just make the tournament once before I graduate then I would travel to see them play.”

Well this year we were poised to make the tournament. And as it became more and more of a reality I began to become even more obsessed with college basketball. I read every edition of Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology” and stared at each one for at least twenty minutes. As the conference tournaments approached I was becoming an addict. I was watching every college basketball game I could possibly watch. Unfortunately, the conference tournaments were played at the same time as midterms and the combination of the two led to my untidy appearance.

Let’s rewind again for a bit. A few weeks ago my mind was almost made up on going to the Gulf Shores in Alabama for Spring Break. A bunch of my friends were going and it was pretty much guaranteed to offer incredibly poor decisions and unbelievably funny stories.

But before I committed to the trip I remembered the claim I made freshman year to go to the tournament and realized that the first round would be over spring break. So I canceled on my friends and texted another good buddy of mine and basketball fanatic, Donnie, and proposed, “Wherever the team goes, let’s go.” Add in the fact that my amazing girlfriend offered to buy my (not so cheap) tickets as an early graduation gift and five minutes later it was a plan.

1:15 p.m.

I put pants on.

4:00 p.m.

I get ready to head over to Donnie’s apartment to watch Selection Sunday. In the past few weeks we had gone over all the hypothetical tournament locations and came to the conclusion that two of the eight possible venues were out of the question for us to travel to. The plane tickets or gas money to travel to Portland, Ore. or Albuquerque, N.M. would be too expensive for two people who ate Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches for dinner the previous night.

5:00 p.m.

The moment of truth is upon us. I arrive to the Donnie’s apartment and we enter the building’s cinema room and put the big projector on CBS.

Both of us had discussed every possibility of who we might play in the first round and neither of us could stop pacing the room. As Greg Gumbel slowly announces the bracket he gets to Portland. Out of fear, both of us are sure that he is about to say our school’s name and our plans would be crushed. When he said Wichita State, we both jump up and down and high five each other. At that point we knew we were going to the tournament. We survived a huge scare and we were confident.

Moments later they get to the West bracket and mention that Memphis will be the eight seed playing in Columbus, Ohio. I look at Donnie and say, “This could be us dude.” He nods his head. And sure enough, Gumbel says, “And they will be facing Saint Louis University and Rick Majerus’ squard.”

Donnie and I celebrate childishly for five minutes.

For the next forty-five minutes we talk about the match-up (we both agree that Memphis will be tough, but that if we win we are equipped to pull the massive upset of number one seed, Michigan State in the next round) and plan the trip. Donnie is from Cleveland so we agree that we will leave a few days early and stay a day or two at his house and then take the two-hour trip to Columbus on Friday morning.

We then go ahead and buy our tickets. We opt to buy the pass that will get us into all the tournament games that will be played in Columbus, including the second round games on Sunday. We take a moment to salivate over the long days of college basketball that we will be taking in.

With uncontrollable smiles we head to Taco Bell for a celebratory meal. It turned out to be one of the best Taco Bell meals I have ever had and I don’t think it was just because their taco shells are now made out of Doritos chips. I think that maybe I was also tasting a little bit of anticipation.

***As a quick bonus here are my Final Four picks: Indiana, Florida, Florida State and Kansas.

I have Florida vs. Florida State National Championship with the Florida State Seminoles cutting the nets. All those weeks of watching too much basketball has either makes me a basketball genius or totally insane. Without any number one seeds in the Final Four you guys are probably leaning towards the latter.

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