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Keys to hoop victory: emotion, control

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There's a sports fervor ablaze across the land these days.

It is, of course, created by the NCAA's major college basketball championships, which is simply the best tournament in all of sport.

It started yesterday with 64 teams, a huge number that in itself makes it more fun for more people than the NFL playoffs leading to the Super Bowl; lose and you're eliminated, which leads to far more drama than playoffs that are decided by who wins, say, a best four-of-seven game series, as in Major League Baseball and the NBA.

There will be no weather delays and no wind making a mockery of the competition; there will be no question about the champion because the victors will have marched through a brutal bracket of all the best, unlike sports such as golf and tennis in which there is no single championship tournament.

The only possible argument against the college hoops extravaganza being tops can be waged by those who simply prefer a sport of another flavor. But, honestly, this tournament, like vanilla ice cream, is the best.

Why?

At root, it's the white-hot emotion generated in the hot-house environment of fans, coaches, and players who really care about the outcome. Watch a few minutes of any NBA game in the next few weeks, then switch back to the NCAA Championships, and you'll witness the disparate intensity levels.

There will be, between now and the title game April 3 in Indianapolis, a wall-to-wall panoply of shots that win games at the buzzer, stunning individual performances, controversies over calls, laughter, and tears. It's always thus.

No fan can erase the vision of Michael Jordan's jumper with 15 seconds left that won the 1982 hoops title for North Carolina over Georgetown. Nobody forgets the late Jimmy Valvano racing around looking for someone to hug in 1983 after his North Carolina State team upset Houston. There are so many moments like these.

A rollicking emotional peak in the history of the game of basketball - if you include all levels, both genders, all time - was March 20, 1954. That was when tiny Milan (Ind.) High School, with just 73 boys enrolled, up and whomped big and proud Muncie Central High for the Indiana state championship.

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