Ah, March, the time of year when it’s acceptable to leave work at noon, hit the nearest sports bar, and cheer for schools you’ve never heard of. This week I thought I’d take two of the major and Arkansas-relevant storylines and give you my take on them.
First, we must address the Rotnei Clarke issue. Now, I liked Rotnei. His mom would always keep me company when I worked for guest services and had to spend a boring two hours in Bud Walton before anyone showed up.
They were good people. So his leaving hurt in a sense. It was understandable and even logical, but I felt almost personally dissed, and I know I’m not the only Arkansas fan who felt that way.
Watching him play for Butler was strange. My dad kept saying, “See, if he’d stayed with us, we’d be winning this tournament.” I told him he was wrong. Clarke is a talented point guard and a good shooter but watching him play Saturday night also made me remember some of the reasons I don’t miss him (i.e. his play in a few crucial possessions late in the game).
Only Arkansas fans could get this bent out of shape about a player leaving for decent reasons and finding success somewhere else — did it with Damian Williams, doing it with Rotnei Clarke. No reason to believe this won’t happen again.
Second, I of course would not let this column go without mention of the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast University. What a great story. This is what March Madness is all about.
It’s not just a Cinderella team; it’s a Cinderella team that didn’t have anything resembling an established basketball program a mere five years ago, a Cinderella team with size and talent and excellent dunking skills, a Cinderella team that celebrates by clucking like chickens even though they’re the Eagles, which I still don’t understand at all but love with my whole entire heart.
Next up for Florida Gulf Coast is a matchup with the cross-state rival (that’s a joke) Florida Gators. Now the question for Southeastern Conference fans becomes: root for the best story of the tournament to continue or root for your conference’s only shot at the “better than you at the things we aren’t even good at” victory?
This isn’t a call I’ve made yet, but regardless, it will be a phenomenal event and although not a rivalry going in, it will probably resemble one coming out. FGCU’s coach Andy Enfield said Sunday of Florida that “we tried to schedule a scrimmage with them in the preseason, but I guess now we’ll get our shot.”
The possibility of playing in the Sweet Sixteen against each other was surely unimaginable to Billy Donovan when he shot down Enfield in October — he might like to have that decision back.
So with these few thoughts, I hope you all keep enjoying your Madness, keep neglecting other responsibilities and keep cheering your hearts out. It’s only March once a year, and this year is more than we ever could have asked for.
Liz Beadle is a writer for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every other Wednesday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports