BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An odd, frankly bewildering narrative began to bubble up around the first two days of the NCAA Tournament: This was boring.
"[T]his tournament has been as riveting as a C-SPAN marathon of Congressional energy hearings," wrote Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, who has apparently a different version of C-SPAN on his local cable provider than I do. (Also: Congressional energy hearings can be fun!) The New York Times called Thursday and Friday "somewhat" boring, which I guess is better, and SB Nation called the first day of the tournament "the most boring opening day in NCAA Tournament history," which it most certainly wasn't.
And what was the culprit for all this supposed boredom? Was there some sort of nothing-but-ball-screens experimental NCAA rule put in place? Did the players refuse to come out of the layup line? Did they decide to start curling?
Nope. The problem -- as always, in sports, entertainment, politics, culture, you name it -- is "expectations." The NCAA Tournament, like sports itself (and, really like life itself), is best experienced as pure, context-free sensation: You can explode in joy or collapse in despair in a second's notice, for no particularly worthy reason other than that you can. But while this feeling might not require context, it does require buildup.
Sure, the first two days of the NCAA Tournament didn't feature a bunch of upsets, and there weren't any buzzer-beaters. The lack of those things, however, is not a permanent condition. Those moments were always coming. Lamenting the lack of them when only half of these tournament games were over, claiming that somehow this had become boring (and then trying to find someone to blame for then, like there was an intern in a back room of the tournament, red-faced, holding some sort of cord he had forgotten to plug in), was destined to look foolish. Sports can't be just sensation; if all games were sensational, then none of them were. Sports are like the weather in this way. If you don't like the way your tournament is going, just wait. It'll get awesome here in a second.
Thus: It took just two games on Saturday for the 2017 tournament to drop its first bomb. In a taut, terrific game that felt more like it belonged in the Final Four in Phoenix rather than the second round in Buffalo, Wisconsin (a team packed with seniors who have spent most of their adult lives playing huge NCAA Tournament games) beat defending champion Villanova (who of course could say the exact same thing) 65-62 to officially put to rest any ideas that this tournament was anything other than riveting. The game was tight throughout, back-and-forth with five lead changes and seven ties; it was one of those games in which it felt cruel that either team would have to lose. Each team looked like it deserved to go to the Final Four.
This is the problem, alas, with some of the committee's poor seeding decisions. Wisconsin, with Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig and all their massive tournament moments (not to mention sophomore Ethan Happ, who might have been the Badgers' best player this year), was somehow a No. 8 seed, thanks to a rough February in the Big Ten and a committee with a bizarre, outdated reliance on RPI, which had the Badgers a ridiculous 35th best in the country. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, which, in a fair and just world, would have it playing someone pedestrian in the second round -- say, Vanderbilt, or Seton Hall.
Instead, the Wildcats were playing a team with players who were just in a national championship game two years ago, desperate not to see their collegiate careers end. Villanova has guys like that too, obviously, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, whom you might have a faint memory of from last year's national championship game. But that's the point. Villanova shouldn't have had to deal with these guys this early. And, frankly, Wisconsin shouldn't have had to deal with them either.
On the Selection Committee overall seed list, Wisconsin was No. 28. Badgers behind Creighton (24), Maryland (23), SMU (21), Minnesota (18).- Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) March 18, 2017
But whatever: More for us! The result was a game in which a bunch of extremely talented and experienced seniors kept trading punches for 40 minutes, trying to stave off the end of their career. With the game tied at 62 in the final seconds, Nigel Hayes, one of the more fascinating humans to play college basketball in a long, long time, pulled out a move that he claims to have stolen from Michael Jordan, though, really, didn't everybody steal everything from Michael Jordan?
Even if you are not with Hayes' views on the NCAA cartel -- though you should be -- remember that he's also the charming goofball who played around with the NCAA stenographers two years ago.
Point is: That's a true college basketball original right there, and exactly the type of dude who should not have to be playing for his tournament life against the defending champions who are playing for their tournament lives in the second freaking round. Then again, though: That drama and tension is the sort of thing that can happen when you don't have all those upsets people were all complaining about missing out on in the first round. You get an epic game between two teams who know exactly what they're doing and desperately do not want to lose.
It was an instant-classic moment in an instant-classic game, and there are so many more coming. That's what this tournament does, consistently, every year. You just have to take your time. They can't all be wonderful. That they can't all be wonderful is what makes the wonderful ones truly wonderful. You feel terrible for Villanova, a team whose place in history is already secure, and you feel so happy for Hayes and Koenig and the rest of the Badgers. You will feel terrible for someone, and happy for someone else, later tonight, and then again tomorrow, and then again next weekend. That's how this always works. The electric moments are perpetual. Are you bored? How in the world can you be bored?