The NCAA Tournament field has been reduced by 52 teams since play in this year’s “Big Dance” started last Tuesday.
And for the 15th time since 1976, the Arizona Wildcats are left standing as one of the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats defeated 11th-seeded Belmont and 14th-seeded Harvard to reach their current tournament position. No, that’s not exactly a who’s who of college basketball (those teams are 1-9 all-time in the Big Dance), but I’m not writing this to point out the fact that Sean Miller’s team hasn’t been tested. They’ve beaten the teams that have shown up to play them in the tournament, and that’s all that can be asked of them.
The reason I am writing this is in response to a couple articles that have been written on ArizonaSports.com and KTAR.com recently.
My colleague Dave Burns wrote a piece Monday stating that the NCAA Tournament is better when Arizona makes a run toward a championship.
But when the Wildcats make a run our tournament watching habits evolve into something else. We become more emotionally invested. If you went to U of A you love them. If you went to ASU, you love to hate them. If you went to neither, you now have a rooting interest in the closest thing we have to a “local” team. It makes it a far more personal experience.
Legendary radio personality Pat McMahon also penned a piece on KTAR.com emploring Sun Devil nation to “get off their ‘A’ and support the Wildcats.”
But this year, the University of Arizona Wildcats are considered a real contender to take the whole thing for the second time. And you know everybody would love to see that happen, that is everybody but that loud, misguided group of Devil devotees who can’t imagine supporting anything south of Picacho Peak.
All due respect to both gentlemen, but as an ASU observer, student and fan of over 30 years, I can’t get on board with either article. I can’t think of a time that I’d ever root for a Wildcat team in any endeavor — unless some far-fetched scenario unfolded where Sean Miller’s team was the last line of Earth’s defense against a swarm of alien robots trying to end the human race — I’d support that cause. But basketball, football, academic bowl, canned food drive — it doesn’t matter, I want them to lose. Don’t get that confused with rooting for injury or ill will toward the Wildcats and their fans. It’s just a desire for the University of Arizona’s teams to fall on their face in competition.
So, no, I don’t think Arizona beating two overmatched foes to reach the Sweet 16 is good for the state, and no, I won’t be rooting for the Wildcats Thursday against Ohio State because the institution happens to be in the same state that I live in. By the way, are the folks down there still threatening to secede from Arizona? That doesn’t exactly scream state pride. If they don’t have it, why should I?
The fact of the matter is, Wildcats dislike Sun Devils and Sun Devils dislike Wildcats. It’s the way it should be. If the roles were reversed, and Arizona State was playing in the Sweet 16 (don’t laugh too hard, UA fans), I wouldn’t want the bandwagon support of the rival fans.
When it comes to college athletics, my two favorite teams are Arizona State and whomever is playing Arizona. Petty? Sure. But isn’t that what rivalries are?
If Arizona should happen to win Thursday night and go on to cut down the nets in Atlanta in early April, good for them. Enjoy it Wildcat fans, you should.
I’m certainly not speaking for Sun Devil fans everywhere, but I sure won’t.