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March Madness Is Here, Long Live March Madness

Today is the first day of spring (no, literally) but it has nothing to do with the calendar. For as long as I can remember the start of the NCAA tournament has been the start of spring. Even on years where it wasn't the actual start of spring, it was the start of spring.

It meant that the snows would stop falling (probably), that girls in my class would soon be turning in their winter pants for spring skirts (it was a huge year for me when I made that link) and that I could ditch the bus and start riding my bike to school, thereby giving 11 year old me the 11 year old version of total and complete freedom. There was, and still is, nothing like coming home in the middle of the afternoon and having sport instantly in my life. No waiting for this 7 PM prime time bullshit, it was just there.

Spring has always been about hope, not that the summer to come will be that much different from the one that came the year before. But after a long, cold and grey winter we can all agree that we have had enough of that shit. So anything that calls spring to mind is going to have a positive association in our minds.

Even though springs have not been overly kind to the Bearcats for some many decades, there is always the chance that something magical could happen. This year that chance is larger than it has been in quite some time. I guess the winter and spring metaphor fits as much for the Bearcats as it does for the calendar.

In light of this season it becomes more and more difficult to think about how far the Bearcats have come during the Mick Cronin era. Suffering through the 2006-07 season, the first of the era, was so utterly depressing. It did not seem that it would ever be possible for my alma mater to ascend to the heights they reached at the turn of the century. It was only years out from the last truly great Bearcats team. But it might has well been the moon, and the program seemed as likely to ascend those heights once more as I was to board a spacecraft.

Yet here we are, in year eight of the Cronin era and the Bearcats are once more in the heart of the national discussion. There is work to be done, a few more mountain ridges yet to climb yet the progress is undisputed. Anyone who fails to see what Mick has done in Clifton does so willfully. Ultimately Cronin will be judged on how he does in March as much anything else, because March is where champions are crowned.

There is a relatively forgotten story about Mick, and it happens to be one of my favorites. Back in 2012 before the Bearcats hopped on a luxury bus bound for Nashville and the tournament Mick Cronin gathered his team in Fifth Third Arena. He gathered them on the north side of the floor where all the banners are hung. He pointed at the national championship banners from 1961 and 1962 and told his players one thing. If they did not plan on bringing one of those banners back to Cincinnati then they should not even get on the bus. He left without another word, and the team followed.

Well coach, its another year and another tournament, lets bring a banner home.

Go Bearcats!