Basketball Tournament Season is Finally, Mercifully Back After a Year of Struggle

By Johnny Ginter on February 26, 2021 at 10:10 am
Ohio State men's basketball player Justin Ahrens

There was, actually, a Big Ten men's basketball tournament in 2020.

You probably missed it. That's okay, it's not really your fault.

It consisted of two games between Minnesota/Northwestern and Indiana/Nebraska on March 11th, 2020. Shortly after announcing that due to COVID concerns, the conference would no longer have spectators in attendance, the Big Ten just went ahead and canceled the whole thing anyway. Which was the right move, but it should also be noted that Indiana, as the highest seeded team to win (at No. 11, they beat No. 14 Nebraska 89-64) can now claim to have won the tournament, their first ever.

Pretty much everything else was called off in quick succession. The formal declaration of a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11th spurred almost all sporting events to shut down immediately, and that of course included the men's and women's 2020 NCAA College Basketball Tournaments a day later. March 12th was supposed to be the debut of Ohio State men's basketball in the Big Ten tournament.

You know the rest; you lived it. A year of quarantines, stress, struggle, death, and in the midst of all of that, an attempt to find at least a little normalcy in our lives by restoring sports back to something resembling a traditional schedule.

And... it kind of worked! Baseball had a season, which wrapped the Reds' aggressive mediocrity around me like a familiar warm blanket. The NBA pulled off their bubble, as LeBron won another championship. College football completely justified an extremely weird, shortened season by resulting in the Buckeyes handing Dabo his own ass on a platter. And hockey might've existed, but as a Blue Jackets fan I'm trying not to think too hard about it!

All of those things are great. I'm so happy and thankful for all of the work that so many people put in to make those sporting events happen, because God knows we've needed it in the last 12 months. But I am a selfish man. I want more.

I crave... chaos.

Not the bad kind of chaos that keeps us up at night, worried about the state of the world. The good kind of chaos, that makes me chortle with glee as a 12 seed inevitably wrecks a five seed and I briefly sit in the top 20% of brackets on ESPN. The kind of chaos that has some skinny five foot nine dude from Racine rain threes on the best team in the country for a half. The kind of chaos that convinces me to be a fan of Prairie View A&M for a week, even though I don't know their mascot or where it's located (Panthers and Prairie View, Texas).

And, damn, even just logistically both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments are going to be utterly wild.

Indiana is handling everything. The Big Ten men's tournament will take place entirely in Indianapolis, with the first ten games being played from March 10-12 in a bacchanal of hoops that ushers in the next several weeks of actual factual Madness. Ohio State, a men's basketball team you might've heard of, is reeling right now after having lost two critical games in a row to the state of Michigan; but to be completely frank my frustration about that fades in the face of my excitement that I get to care about the implications of those losses for tournament season.

The big boy tournament should be even more entertaining. Mostly taking place in Indianapolis as well, but buoyed by other venues around the state, the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament will indeed happen and be kickass. Outside of two teams (or, annoyingly, three now) who look pretty damn dominant, the field is extremely wide open, meaning that the aforementioned Prairie View A&M or James Madison or some money laundering operation disguised as a university might make a deep run in the tournament. Upsets will happen. Someone will score 50 points in a losing effort. Two highly ranked teams will play a game with 95 total points and then the winner of that game will lose in the next round because some guy named Chet hits a last second bunny three feet away from the hoop.

That, my friends, is nature healing.

On March 11th, a year to the day that everything went sideways, there will be four successive Big Ten men's basketball tournament games played, starting at 11:30 Eastern and going until I pass out on my couch later that night. I will enjoy every single second of it, in part because I know now how easily it can be taken away.

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