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Pope: Big Dance all about believing

Davidson's Stephen Curry (30) celebrates as Georgetown's Jessie Sapp (21) walks away following Davidson's 74-70 wsecond-round NCAA Midwest Regional basketball

Davidson's Stephen Curry (30) celebrates as Georgetown's Jessie Sapp (21) walks away following Davidson's 74-70 win in a second-round NCAA Midwest Regional basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 23, 2008. Curry lead Davidson with 30 points. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

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Updated: April 17, 2013 6:16AM



It’s the day before Selection Sunday, and all through the land.

Bubble teams are sweating it out, wondering, “will we get in?”

OK, that didn’t exactly rhyme. But you get the point. For college basketball fans, Selection Sunday means we’re getting this much closer to unwrapping the gift that is the NCAA Tournament.

In the past five years, I’ve been fortunate to cover a portion of three tournaments. And each produced memories that reinforced why this is one of my favorite times of the year.

In 2008, I followed the Indiana basketball team to Raleigh, N.C. The Hoosiers had slipped to a No. 8 seed after faltering down the stretch in the aftermath of the messy separation with Kelvin Sampson.

Despite the struggles, which included losing to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament on a miracle shot at the buzzer, there was buzz around a postseason run for IU. Eric Gordon and D.J. White were the stars of that squad. And if the Hoosiers could win their first game, North Carolina was waiting in the next round. Two historic programs with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line, talk about a made-for-television bracket.

There was only one problem.

Arkansas.

The Hoosiers couldn’t slow down Sonny Weems, who scored 31 points in a big Razorbacks win.

But the highlight of that trip was Stephen Curry and Davidson.

The guard put the Wildcats on his back in wins against Gonzaga and Georgetown at PNC Arena. It was incredible to watch a No. 10 seed work its magic. And it was fascinating watching a star emerge in front of our eyes on the national stage.

Curry scored 40 points against Gonzaga and followed it up with 30 more against Georgetown. Curry hasn’t slowed down. Just ask his opponents in the NBA.

The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight that season, falling to eventual champion Kansas.

A couple of years later, another surprise run became the talk of the tournament.

Butler’s march to the 2010 title game caught a lot of people by surprise. But the Bulldogs weren’t the typical team to play the role of Cinderella. Butler spent a portion of the season ranked in the top 15 in the polls. And the Bulldogs finished the regular season ranked No. 11.

Still, it was fun to watch a program reach such heights for the first time.

There are so many moments from the team’s two games in Indianapolis.

Knocking off Michigan State. Taking Duke to the wire in the title game. And of course, Gordon Hayward’s long toss that nearly went in. It has to rank as one of the most memorable missed shots in college hoops history.

It was also the tournament that put Brad Stevens on the map as one of the best young coaches in America. He matched Xs and Os with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in two entertaining games.

The thing I remember most is the atmosphere. Butler is located about a long 3-point shot away from Lucas Oil Stadium, and the entire city was bit by Bulldogs fever.

Indiana fans traveled well to Portland, Ore., last year for the Hoosiers’ second- and third-round NCAA games.

The Hoosiers opened with a win against New Mexico State. The next game, against Virginia Commonwealth, wasn’t going as well.

IU trailed by nine in the second half. Things looked bleak. But the Hoosiers didn’t give in.

Instead, they showed the fight that exhibited why the program was on an upswing. Indiana held VCU to four points in the final 12 minutes and capped the comeback with a late basket by Will Sheehey to make it to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002.

That’s what March Madness is all about.

Believing.

That was the case for North Carolina State in 1983. And it was the case for Villanova in its upset win against Georgetown in 1985. And as many around here know, it was the case for Valparaiso for a certain play in 1998.

So, do you believe that Gonzaga is a legitimate No. 1 seed capable of a Final Four run?

Do you believe this is the year that a Big Ten team — be it Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State — brings home a national title for the conference for the first time since the Spartans won it all in 2000?

Do you believe that Valparaiso has another trick or two up its sleeves?

Do you believe someone — perhaps Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. or Creighton’s Doug McDermott — will take over games just like Curry? And that St. Louis or New Mexico is capable of pulling off a Butler-type run.

I believe.

So try to get some rest — especially you bubble teams (half of the SEC comes to mind) — because the journey is about to begin.



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