As the Andy Williams song goes, “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.” Contrary to popular belief, when that song was written in 1963, they were talking about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
While that may or may not be 100 percent accurate, for most sports fans, March Madness is one of the premier times of the year. It is a time to make brackets and watch them get destroyed. It is a time to root for the underdog after we stop caring about the $10 we just lost in our family bracket challenge. And it is a time to fall in love with a super fan.
Amidst recent scandals revolving around several teams — Duke, the University of North Carolina, the University of Texas, the University of Kentucky and Michigan State — providing impermissible benefits and preferential treatment to players, the 2018 iteration of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was in need of great upsets and excitement in order to mask what may prove to be a very messy situation.
Luckily, in just the first round, history was made when the No. 16 seed, the UMBC Retrievers, bested the No. 1 overall seed, the University of Virginia Cavaliers, in the greatest upset of college basketball history.
Coming into the tournament, UVA had an impressive 31-2 record and were the 20.5-point favorite before being bested in historic fashion by a team that was better known for its college chess team than it was for its college basketball team.
For UVA, everything was in place going into the tournament, as No. 1 seeds have been 135-0 in first round games, until now. Unless you’re a UVA fan, it is hard to not get behind a team like our Baltimore County brethren from UMBC. The America East Conference champions came into the tournament with many expecting them to be nothing more than a tune-up game for a UVA squad that was 20-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play and a favorite to make it to the Final Four.
It is not just the fact that UMBC beat UVA but how they did it. Despite a rigorous ACC schedule, the Cavaliers had not given up more than 70 points all year. Yet, the Retrievers put up 74 against the No. 1 ranked defense in all of college basketball, including 53 in the second half, on their way to making history.
In today’s sports world, witnessing history is hard to come by, and witnessing firsts is even more rare. A No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed was nothing more than a pipe dream, but after 135 games played between the two, it finally happened.
Oh, and the most important figurehead of the Catholic church since Pope Francis went viral around this same time. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 98-year-old chaplain of the No. 11 Loyola University Chicago Ramblers, became famous when she was interviewed after her favorite team, the Ramblers, upset the No. 6 University of Miami Hurricanes in the first round.
The Ramblers went on to defeat the No. 3 University of Tennessee Volunteers, the No. 7 University of Nevada Wolf Pack and the No. 9 Kansas State University Wildcats on their way to the Final Four with Sister Jean right by their side, as she has been for more than half of a century.
If you do not know who this woman is, please take a moment to look her up. This ray of sunshine has captured the hearts of so many, while also becoming a lucrative merchandise figure. According to the National Bobblehead Museum and Hall of Fame, her bobblehead is the best-selling bobblehead ever, with more than 6,000 being sold in just three days. Her likeness is being used on more than 25 different T-shirt designs.
How much compensation has she asked for? Nun. Instead, the royalties for the products, except for the bobblehead, will go to support the Loyola Athletic Fund, which supports the funding of the program’s athletes. Proceeds from sales of the bobblehead will be split between the school’s fund and Sister Jean’s Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Amidst all the craziness of the games and the players, Twitter officials reported that the 98-year-old nun was the most tweeted about person for the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament. According to Apex Marketing Group, who monitored news stories of coaches in the tournament, there were 5,681 stories about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and 9,727 stories on University of Kansas coach Bill Self. There were 20,526 stories that mentioned Sister Jean.
This woman, who offers scouting reports of the opponent with the team in the tunnel before almost every game, didn’t even have the Ramblers making it to the Elite Eight in her own bracket, but that is one of the things that makes her so pure. In a day and age where college basketball is surrounded in controversy, it is a pleasant surprise to see a story of a woman whose love of her basketball team is only matched by her religious faith.
No matter what happens during the rest of the tournament, at least for the time being, the world of NCAA basketball has some positives to reflect on amidst the investigations that may condemn several prominent teams and coaches.