Monday, March 16, 2009

For New Jersey Its "March Madness Lite"

Opinion: Think about it. There are eight Division 1 men's college basketball programs in New Jersey. Last night on CBS the seedings were announced- and not one New Jersey school was among the field of 65. There were no surprises, none of the New Jersey teams were worthy of a bid. My Rutgers Scarlet Knights suffered another 20 loss season, Seton Hall was treading in the waters of mediocrity, Princeton awaits The Second Coming of Pete Carril- the Tigers were that team none of the Big Boys ever wanted to see in the first two rounds...remember the Tigers beating UCLA 43-41 in the tournament back in 1996?

That was a long time ago...and New Jersey, suffering in the throes of the greatest economic crisis since The Great Depression continues to lead the nation in at least one category- exporting Division 1 basketball talent.

Here in front of me is the sports page from a local paper. Pictured prominently are Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark, respectively products of St Benedict's Prep and Rahway- they're wearing the uniforms of #1 seed Louisville. Villanova, Pitt, Connecticut, all Big East powers, have cherry picked talent in this basketball rich state. And The State of Rutgers, declared by Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano, doesn't exist in basketball. Think of New Jersey's basketball talent as a resource in a small country, one that is always being drained away for the convenience of the superpowers, like oil or precious metals. For every McDonald's All American (like Mike Rosario) that decides to stay and play in New Jersey, three choose to go elsewhere. And that's the state of college basketball in The Garden State in 2009.

Once upon a time Selection Sunday was like Christmas morning, full of wonder and expectations. That's not the case anymore- and it hasn't been that way for several years now.

So the options for Jersey fans are; (1) Root for the a conference. This is Big East Country. Show your loyalty.(2) Root for individuals. Got a favorite player? (3) Root for a Six Degrees of Separation team. For example, my niece married a Cleveland State guy...and Cleveland State is coached by ex-Rutgers head guy Gary Waters. So I guess I'll be a Viking on Friday when they take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in Miami...with the Utah/Arizona winner the next opponent- and the #1 Louisville Cardinals sitting on top of the Midwest Bracket.

But there is option #4...there's the Women's Tournament, with their selection show tonight. Rutgers should be a 7 or 10 seed, but playing at home for the first two rounds. Should they survive, where they go would be anyone's guess- but in all likelihood that destination could be Trenton

So the Rutgers Women's Basketball team will be wearing the mantle of the sole representative of the state for March Madness 2009. And I'll be there on Saturday for Round One, happy to be in the RAC, embracing the Madness. But part of me will be bemoaning the overall sad situation of college basketball in my home state.

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