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March Madness as illness: Northern Iowa's weekend in extremes

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing the NCAA tournament teaches us, it's that basketball is cruelty by appointment for nearly everybody, and we're all clamoring to sign up for the opportunity. We got a great opening weekend, which means that there were great finishes and buzzer beaters, equal parts joy and sadness. And a team that spiked impossibly at both ends of the spectrum in a span of two days. That's Northern Iowa.

This is how the Panthers beat Texas on Friday:

That is ridiculous. I mean, shut up, basketball, you're being stupid.

If Paul Jesperson doesn't make that shot, Northern Iowa might still win in overtime. Maybe the Panthers handle things in mundane fashion (by comparison, nearly anything would have appeared mundane) in the extra period. But he did make that shot, which made him responsible for one of the more memorable finishes in the tournament of the last few years.

If the Panthers win that game in more routine fashion, I'm probably not still thinking about their weekend.

There are 67 teams in the tournament on borrowed time, duration undetermined, and one win gets you another couple days, which is always a good thing in the moment. Not much beats the satisfaction of that first tournament win. We're alive! Fate unknown! Possibilities endless!



The cruelty of the tourney is that you can pull one out by the skin of your teeth one day, then have history drop a Steinway on you 48 hours later. Northern Iowa advanced in the first round with a half-court buzzer-beater, and then Northern Iowa authored the worst final-minute collapse in recorded college basketball history. How do you attempt to reconcile these things, or even approach coming to terms with them?

I'm an impartial observer and I'm having basketball pains over this. I know which game that team will remember the most, though, I know that for sure. But do you trade the experience of winning in that fashion for never having to endure a more terrible ending? Heck no. Never. Even when you test the limits like Northern Iowa did this weekend.

The tournament promises some fun, but it might (probably) hurt too. And on that note, congratulations, Northern Iowa, and I'm very sorry.