An irresistible combination of drama and charm

On the day I was married, the dance floor in the restaurant’s banquet room in Los Angeles was half empty and the crowd at the bar was three-deep.

This generally would be the norm at any social function, particularly with some of my friends, except for one significant detail: The bar was closed.

The draw? There was a television turned on. It was March 30, 1985, which also happened to be Final Four Saturday. The semifinals accounted for Big East euphoria — Georgetown vs. St. Johns; Villanova vs. Memphis State — and while I’m not aware if anybody at my wedding went to any of those schools, nor even realized what state all of them were in — it clearly didn’t matter.

(Postscript: In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best day to schedule a wedding. But at least we didn’t have it on Monday night, when Villanova was beating Georgetown. My wife and I were skiing in Aspen by then. Given his team’s historic loss, John Thompson probably wishes he had come with us.)

The NCAA tournament does this. There’s something about its scene that sets it apart. The college tournament has a charm that doesn’t exist in the pros. It even comes with its own special glossary of terms: March Madness. The Big Dance. Cinderella teams. Bracketology. Office pools. Dick Vitale.

The drama associated with a win-or-go-home tournament gives the tournament an edge over any other postseason. Emotions rise and fall, suddenly and dramatically.

Sports fans, who until March seemed oblivious to the college basketball season, now find themselves screaming, “We have to get the Butler coach! Wait, what’s his name? And where’s Butler?”

I’m convinced that more coaches get raises and job offers during the NCAA tournament than any other time of the year.

“If you are a basketball fan and like college more, it’s not because of the basketball,” said Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, the former Duke All-American who played in three Final Fours and twice was the East Regional MVP. “It’s because of the college atmosphere, the allegiance to schools and the NCAA tournament. It’s not because of the quality of basketball — now and the last several years, especially.”

Ferry echoes the sentiment of many: The quality of college basketball has eroded, in part because of early defections to the NBA. When Ferry played at Duke, the level of talent, depth and experience at schools led to “the type of teams that you just don’t see any more, at least not in multiples in one conference,” he said.

“In the ACC (in 1985-86), you had Kenny Smith and (Brad) Daugherty at (North) Carolina; (Mark) Price, (John) Salley and (Bruce) Dalrymple at Georgia Tech, all of the guys we had at Duke. Maryland was great. N.C. State was great.”

There were storylines everywhere. In that same year, Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie and Jay Bilas were at Duke; Len Bias was at Maryland; Chris Washburn and Nate McMillan were at N.C. State; Pervis Ellison was at Louisville; Larry Brown, Danny Manning and Ron Kellogg were at Kansas; John Williams was at LSU (which became the lowest seed, at 11th, to reach the Final Four), David Robinson was at Navy, Reggie Miller was at UCLA and John Feinstein was working on “Season on the Brink” at Indiana.

This college basketball season doesn’t nearly compare with that one, but the tournament and Final Four will provide storylines because it always does.

I didn’t realize it until just before I phoned Ferry, but his freshman season at Duke, when went to the 1986 national championship game, also was the first Final Four I covered. Duke finished 37-3 and was ranked No. 1. The Blue Devils defeated Kansas in the semifinals, but lost to Louisville 72-69 in the title game.

Ferry scored the final two points for Duke on a follow, closing the Louisville lead to 70-69.

“It wasn’t enough,” he said.

The No. 1 team went down. Denny Crum won his second NCAA title. Coach Mike Krzyzewski was still five years away from winning his first.

The Final Four this year is April 6. It’s is a lovely time of the year for a wedding. But for the sake of your guests, I would advise against it.