Saturday Morning Quarterback

Andy Reed • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 11:16 PM

The Madness is about to hit a crescendo

College basketball's Christmas Day is almost here.

Selection Sunday's the day when Greg Gumbel tells college basketball fans whether their team has been nice [good enough to make the NCAA tournament's field of 68 teams] or naughty [not good enough].

The game's marketing mavens call the NCAA tournament "March Madness'. In truth, the madness has been going on all month as teams have been jockeying to get into the Big Dance.

To me, the final shopping days are more interesting than the ones after the big one has started. Sure, there are early-round upsets which whet the mid-major appetites. But, a Butler or a George Mason aside, the big dogs usually set the universe in order during the Sweet 16 round and it's the teams one normally expects to be slugging it out by, no fooling, April Fool's Day. Unless it's my favorite team is one of the waltzing Final Four, it's the journey which is more interesting than the final outcome.

It's the anticipation of what's going to happen which makes for the real madness, the jockeying now going on in conference tournaments from coast to coast. Iowa State won in the Big 12, so Tennessee better beat Mississippi State if the Vols want to make the final dance card.

Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm may not be Santa's elves, but they try to be moles in calculating RPIs and whatever else the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee may be thinking.

Perhaps no team is wondering more if it will receive another NIT lump of coal or toys from the Committee than MTSU. The Blue Raiders were awful good for 28 nights this season, but just awful enough last Sunday in the Sun Belt semifinals to make Kermit Davis Jr. want to send all the milk and cookies he can to the hotel where the committee [which traditionally prefers ice cream] is holed up. For what it's worth, Middle Tennessee State hasn't appeared in either Lunardi's or Palm's bracketology since its hiccup against Florida International.

Not that the NIT has been all bad to MTSU over the years. Some of the Blue Raiders' brightest basketball moments, including a pair of wins over the Big Orange, have come in the secondary tournament.

But MTSU doesn't want to beat Tennessee on the road to the Big Apple again. The Raiders would rather repeat their conquests of Kentucky [1982] or Florida State ['89] on the Road to the Final Four.

Just as the Christmas luster quickly wears off once the presents are opened, once the bids are handed out, it's one and done for the couple of hundred mens and womens teams who are playing in either the NCAA, NIT, WNIT or a couple of other tournaments whose initials few can remember.

Right now, the anticipation of whose name is going to be called Sunday or, in the case of the women, Monday, is what makes March maddening.

Those teams on the bubble had better grab a Sunday afternoon nap before Santa Gumbel slides down into a widescreen TV set near you.

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