Josh Kendall

USC reminds us how much fun NCAA Tournament can be

Frank Martin seems an odd choice to bring the fun back to anywhere, much less Columbia.

Nightclub bouncers, which Martin once was, are notorious for frowning on too much fun. High school math teachers, another former Martin profession, certainly aren’t synonymous with light-hearted glee. Gruff-voiced task masters, of which Martin currently is as South Carolina’s men’s basketball coach? Nope, that doesn’t sound like fun at all.

But in the past two weeks Martin and his team have reminded Gamecocks fans the NCAA Tournament is a whole lot of fun. Just being part of March Madness is fun. Advancing to the second weekend is an absolute hoot. Want to know how much fun making the Final Four is? Just look out your window. It’s showing up all over town.

In an age where college athletics has given itself over almost completely to capitalism and the cynicism that goes along with it, the basketball tournament manages to be a ton of fun and the NCAA’s biggest cash cow. The College Football Playoff doesn’t look like a lot of fun, but the basketball tournament is a different story.

Look at Sindarius Thornwell’s face anytime in the past two weeks. He’s having fun.

Look at the videos of USC students splashing in basically every spot of standing water in the city, from the decorative pool in front of the Thomas Cooper Library to the fountain in Five Points. They’re certainly having fun.

Look at Martin. Even he’s having fun, engaging with a kid reporter in a news conference and seemingly appearing on every national television and radio show in existence.

It’s hard not to have fun in the NCAA Tournament. Especially if you’re winning.

This is why everyone from diehard basketball fans to your aunt who fills out her bracket based on team colors loves the tournament. This is why that terrible, terrible “One Shining Moment” song becomes a must-watch montage Monday night after the title game. Seeing the joy on the faces of players and cheerleaders and coaches is, well, fun. (All of you that watch to see the crying are bad people.)

South Carolina fans can be forgiven for having forgotten how much fun this is. Until the past magical 11 days, the Gamecocks hadn’t won a tournament game since 1973. They’ve won four this month.

On Saturday, the Gamecocks will play Gonzaga, a private Roman Catholic university in Spokane, Wash., with an enrollment one-quarter that of USC and a 7-foot, 300-pound center from Poland named Przemek Karnowski, who has a lumberjack’s beard. How is that not fun?

If they win, they’ll play for one of the most unlikely national championships in recent college athletics memory. If they lose, this was still a lot of fun.