WASHINGTON, D.C. — For three weeks every spring, as the country thaws out from another long, cold winter, the nation’s eyes turn towards the NCAA tournament.
The attention it generates is unlike any event in sports, thanks in large part to the over-saturation of games, the one-and-done nature of the event and the fact that every person fills out a bracket in an effort to make a couple bucks in their office, frat, high school clique and church book group’s tournament pool.
If you’re ever going to cut out on work, is there a better time than when you can turn a two-beer lunch into a four-beer happy hour while watching four win-or-go-home games simultaneously? I wonder how many sick days are used on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament?
The entirety of American sporting culture is focused on the Big Dance for those three weeks.
It’s why legends are made in March.
What happens when a player has already become a legend without his Madness Masterpiece?
Doug McDermott will tip off his final regular season game on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. at No. 13 Creighton hosts Providence, capping off a career that will never be duplicated.
The 6-foot-8 senior forward is 34 points against from becoming just the eighth player in college basketball history to score 3,000 career points. He’s a shoo-in for the 2014 National Player of the Year awards. He’s going to be the first three-time, first-team All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale did it back in 1985, when Greg McDermott, Doug’s father, was still a sophomore forward for Northern Iowa. He spurred the Big East to pluck Creighton — located in Omaha, NE — from the Missouri Valley to join the likes of Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette in the mew-look Big East, and as a result, he should become the first player in NCAA history to be named Player of the Year in two different conferences. He’s currently the two-time reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year.
And to think, this is all coming from a kid whose own father, now the head coach at Creighton, didn’t even think he was good enough to play at Iowa State when he was the head coach there. Doug was going to follow in pops’ footsteps and play at Northern Iowa before the elder McDermott made the decision to leave Iowa State before he got canned and take over at Creighton.
He’s a once-in-a-decade talent buried inside a once-in-a-generation story line. There will never be another player quite like Doug McDermott.
But his story isn’t done yet, because his resume, his legacy, isn’t complete. Hersey Hawkins and Lionel Simmons scored a ton of points in college, but they are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as college basketball icons — and national champions — like Christian Laettner, Tyler Hansbrough or Danny Manning. Carmelo Anthony will never buy a meal in Upstate New York after he led Syracuse to the 2003 National Title. Kevin Durant’s one season and second round exit at Texas will be a footnote in every biography written about him.
Jimmer Fredette was a phenomenon, but Kemba Walker is a legend. Everyone will remember Steph Curry leading No. 10 Davidson to within a shot of the Final Four. Do you know where Damian Lillard went to college? Even Adam Morrison will forever be remembered for his March Madness moment, crying on the court after Gonzaga blew a 17-point second half lead.
A great career will make you an answer to a sports question at your local pub’s trivia night.
That One Shining Moment, however, is what lives on forever.
“I thought about that a lot coming back,” Doug McDermott told NBCSports.com in the bowels of the Verizon Center after Tuesday night’s loss to Georgetown. It was Creighton’s second straight road loss to start the month of March. The Bluejays had made the tournament the last two years, bowing out in the Round of 32 both seasons. “I think we’re capable of winning more than one game in the tournament, which is all we’ve been able to do the last two years. It’s something I dream about, something I just can’t wait to get to. We’ve gotta focus on what’s now, but that’s the one thing that’s missing from my resume.”
To a point, it’s an unfair burden for McDermott to bear. To be able to dominate offensively for three straight seasons despite being the focal point of every single defensive game-plan is incredible. What he’s done in the Big East this season is proof that rolling through Missouri Valley defenses wasn’t a fluke. The problem, however, is that what he did in the Valley went largely unnoticed unless you happened to check a box score the next morning or noticed a stat-line on the scrolling ticker during the Kentucky game. This season’s performance has been easily the best of his career, but it will be forgotten by the Sweet 16 if he can’t get his team out of the first weekend of the Big Dance.
To his credit, McDermott gets it.
“The lights are brighter, everyone’s out watching you,” he said of the tournament. “I think the grind of the regulars season speaks for itself. I don’t think you can evaluate a player over two or three good games.”
“On the other hand, the best play their best basketball in March.”
That, at least, is the narrative this time of year.
Such is life for a college basketball star.
“That’s the nature of college basketball,” senior guard Grant Gibbs said. “It’s not fair that you’re judged on your postseason.”
“But you’ve got to accept that’s the way that it is. You build all year for that moment.”
Is this the year? Can McDermott and Creighton finally play their way out of the first weekend and into the Sweet 16? Is he going to be remembered like Jimmer Fredette or Jay Williams?
It’s going to depend on his teammates.
What makes Creighton so dangerous this season is that they’ve surrounded McDermott with a group of guys that are all lethal three-point shooters, which essentially puts opposing defenses into a situation where they have to pick their poison: try to stop McDermott by sending help and hoping the shooters miss their open looks, or stay on the shooters and hope that you can contain McDermott 1-on-1.
The past two games, both losses, Creighton has shot 20-for-63 from beyond the arc. In Tuesday’s loss, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat combined to shoot 1-for-11 from three. That’s not going to cut it.
Doug McDermott, the player with more individual accolades than anyone in this generation, could very well have his One Shining Moment this spring, but it’s going to be determined by the guys sitting in that locker room with him.
“We have four seniors that have almost 20 years of college basketball experience in that locker room,” Greg McDermott said. “They get it. They know I trust them.”
“I think the best is yet to come.”