WATCHING BLANK SCREENS — For a lot of college basketball players, especially seniors, this should’ve been the happiest time of year.
But thanks to precautions undertaken to stem the spread of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, the NCAA Tournament is no more. For the first time since 1939, the Big Dance will not be populating our television screens.
For the first time since the NCAA announced a 14-year deal with CBS and Turner Sports, the nation will not swell with the annual cries of, "What channel is TruTV on?"
But this is still March, and the 2020 season still deserves its "One Shining Moment."
Let’s start with the one team in the state of Utah that had been guaranteed a bid: the two-time defending Mountain West Tournament champion Utah State Aggies.
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One Shining Aggie
There was still work to be done.
There were still moments and memories to be shared.
But barring an NCAA extension of eligibility for its winter sports (like the organization is planning for all spring sport athletes), the electric career of Utah State star Sam Merrill (and the three others who celebrated senior night in Logan) is over.
It’s time to remember the 2019-20 season, courtesy of Utah State’s Aggie-only edition of the March ballad "One Shining Moment."
Merrill finishes his career with 2,197 points — the second-most in Utah State history behind Jaycee Carroll, as well as 475 rebounds and 477 assists in 131 games.
He’s accomplished a lot and is unlikely to return for another year — even if given the option, he recently said.
BYU's Selection Sunday, simulated
The hardest part about the season’s end is the finality of the moment.
It’s the lack of that final celebration for seniors to see their hard work — made especially hard for seniors like BYU’s Yoeli Childs, who came back for his final season with the intent of taking the Cougars to the Big Dance for the first time in his four-year career.
It was hard for Jake Toolson, who returned to BYU after starring with coach Mark Pope at Utah Valley, a better man, key starter, and returning WAC Player of the Year.
It was hard for TJ Haws, the final member of the once-fabled “Lone Peak 3” who finally had a chance to lift the Cougars to a portion of the hype they had once inspired.
These seniors won’t get that moment with this year’s NCAA Tournament. But thanks to the folks at CBS, they got to experience just a little bit of Selection Sunday with a simulated show based on the most recent bracket projections.
Our team has been dreaming of Selection Sunday since May—our Seniors have been working to earn it for years! Thanks to Greg Gumbel, @ClarkKelloggCBS, and @SethDavis for letting us see and feel what today could have been. Enjoy. Everyone stay safe. Love you Cougar Nation! pic.twitter.com/C9BuW7ceDR— Mark Pope (@CoachMarkPope) March 16, 2020
“Clark, these Cougars made their presence felt in the West Coast Conference,” faux show host Greg Gumbel says.
“The BYU Cougars. High-octane offense personified. Spurtability in spades. They shoot the three, older, veteran team; nothing’s going to faze them,” responds Clark Kellogg.
“And in Yoeli Childs, they’ve got a back-to-the-basket big who can eat, big-time. A tough out will be the Cougars.”
“I’ve loved this BYU team all season long,” adds Seth Davis. “The best 3-point shooting team in the nation with Jake Toolson, TJ Haws, Alex Barcello firing around Childs on the inside.
“If BYU makes the run through the bracket that I expect, the mustache on Zac Seljaas is going to be the most famous mustache in basketball since Larry Bird.”
Adieu, 2020 season
There’s still hope for the NBA, and MLS, and the NHL, and Major League Baseball, and all the other top-level professional sports who suspended operations to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
But there’s no hope for the NCAA Tournament. It’s gone, and college basketball fans are still working through the various stages of denial, anger and acceptance at the Indianapolis overlords’ decision.
We won’t fault anyone for reacting how they continue to react to the news. It’s not for us to tell you how to believe.
But we are here to celebrate the remarkable 2019-20 season, from Merrill to BYU’s Yoeli Childs to Dayton’s Obi Toppin and the last team to lose a game: San Diego State, and the MAP of all maps.
Apparently, we’re not alone; YouTube user Max Goren compiled a video celebrating the best moments, from the regular season and the handful of conference tournaments we got to play.
Shout out to Obadiah Toppin. Shout out to Gonzaga, the surefire No. 1 seed who ran roughshod through the West Coast Conference (except for one night in Provo) for what feels like the billionth time. Shout out to Hofstra, clinching an auto bid for the first time since 2001. And shout out to all the other teams that made this season unforgettable.
You won’t be forgotten.
Stay safe out there, and remember: "Baseball" by Ken Burns is still available on PBS.