It depends on whether you count Connecticut as an actual part of New England, I suppose, but when’s the last time we’ve had a field of 64 -- OK, 65 -- without the presence of a local team?
For the record (as well as household bliss with one particular Nutmeg State native), I recognize the geographical presence of Connecticut within New England boundaries, yet the state’s long-suspected allegiances to New York and the tri-state area put it at the forefront as a sort of border between US and THEM. You know where you fall. Connecticut? Always at the forefront of an argument. Besides, if you’re looking for an upset special, Jim Calhoun’s Huskies are looking weak and could be a nice appetizer for San Diego.
As for our other usual, or at least occasional, suspects in the NCAA Tournament, there is no Boston College. No UMass. No Vermont. No Holy Cross. No URI. No Providence College, a now-annual development that PC noted by saying “see ya” to head coach Tim Welsh.
Unless you’re psyched for some solid NIT talk (Go Rams! Rock on, Minutemen!) or the Collegiate Basketball Invitational (Brown, just a few wins away from bragging that it’s No. 98 in the country) your local rooting interest consists of one team.
Of course, this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the NCAA Tournament by any stretch, for the primary reason that fuels us on this very Monday on an annual basis: The lure of cash. Or simply “bragging rights” for those who fill out brackets “for entertainment purposes.”
Despite its boast as one of the country's premier college towns, Boston is a terrible college sports town. Last fall, we had the No. 2 football team in the country and it generated less fervor than did the Red Sox releasing their backup catcher last week. Stop 20 random people on Mass. Ave. and ask them which teams are still alive in the Hockey East playoffs. I'll bet one can even come close. There’s no scientific proof to debate the fact, but I can guarantee that Craig Breslow (Connecticut native, by the way) was mentioned more on our local airwaves than Tyler Hansbrough.
Division II school Bentley is 32-0 this season, and has just recently been getting some media attention, toward the end of the newscasts where directors usually place the “puppy on death row adopted by local mall to be Santa’s helper this holiday season” stories.
Yet, for three weeks, 10 individual days to be more precise, we actually care. We have the great RPI debate. We pay attention to great stories like Georgia and wonder if the Bulldogs have one more win in them. We don’t even know that much about Arizona State, yet we try to find one side of the fence to land on. We care less about who’s starting today’s Red Sox-Yankees spring training game in lieu of doing a preliminary breakdown of our brackets. OK, well most of us care less at least.
Boston will never be confused on any list of “Best college sports towns.” Nor will Providence, or yes, even you, Storrs. Burlington, Vt. and Durham, NH are nice little Northeastern microcosms of what a college sports town possesses, if hockey, not basketball and football, ruled the roost. Unless we’ve had the benefit of spending four (five, six…) years at any Division I institution outside of New England, it’s difficult to comprehend a world in which Bruce Pearl is the local equivalent of Curt Schilling.
If we had to rank local Massachusetts interest in terms of sport, it might go something like this:
1. Red Sox
5. BC football
6. BU hockey
8. BC basketball
9. UMass basketball
10. The Kells Beirut League
That’s just a guess, but the bottom line is, until that calendar hits mid-March, you don’t exactly hear a prevalence of hot college hoop talk in the gin mills of the Back Bay, do you?
Not that it discounts the local college basketball fan (beginning with Globe sports editor Joe Sullivan), but we just happen to be a pro sports town here in Boston. The Red Sox are World Series champs and are set to open the season in Japan. The Patriots just went 18…and 1. The Celtics are headed to the NBA playoffs likely as the No. 1 seed in the East, and have a legitimate shot at winning the title. The Bruins get two chances to prove that they can actually beat the Canadiens in a home-and-home later this week, which could be a preview of their first-round loss to Montreal next month.
Yet even we will be wrapped up in the NCAA tourney Thursday, office pools filled out, and a compelling reason to watch every game.
So, while I understand the rest of the nation is crying for us and our lack of teams in the tournament, we’ll be OK. It’s difficult to comprehend not being the center of the sporting universe, but it had to happen sooner or later.
Of course, if UMass ends up being the 66th-best team in the nation, you’re going to hear about it, for sure. Region of champions and all.