Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arch Madness: `Everybody Picks It Up a Notch'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Arch Madness: `Everybody Picks It Up a Notch'

Article excerpt

This is college basketball's time of elegance.

It is the time of year when conference tournaments fill the nation's sports plate. Tournaments everywhere, from sea to shining sea. Everybody is playing for a place in the NCAA Tournament. It is the time of year that makes college basketball special.

What gives the weeks in March an elegance, what sets them apart from the regular season, are the league tournaments and then the NCAA event. They're so different, so special, so full of the unexpected.

Cam Johnson, a Northern Iowa senior, tried Saturday to put it into words and couldn't do it. The best he could come up with is a feeling that exists for spectator and player alike.

It has to do with the urgency, the bands, the noise, the sense of theater, the hope among underdogs that they can live another day - everything that is rarely found in the Super Bowl or World Series. That's why the college tournaments and Final Four might be the best thing going in American sports.

So here's Johnson, backing Illinois State's Scott Taylor in from the top of the key in Saturday's Missouri Valley Conference Tournament game at The Arena. His long, blond hair bouncing. Backing. Backing. Looking for someone open. Here's Johnson deep in the corner, burying a 3-pointer. Northern Iowa wins 84-70. Johnson lives.

"Lose and you're done," said Johnson, who was willing to create whatever amount of fury was necessary to be sure he wouldn't be done. "Everyone picks it up a notch. Everyone gets down lower in their (defensive) stance. Fouls are harder. Shots are better. Everything about a tournament is better. It's the excitement, the atmosphere. I thrive on it. Tournament time is just the best time."

It was Saturday night for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale point guard Chris Lowery. He missed a jumper over Southwest Missouri State's Jermaine Kemp, pulled in a long rebound and nailed a desperation 15-footer on the baseline that beat the buzzer and the Bears 52-50.

Tulsa is the top-seeded team in the MVC tourney, putting a target on the chest of Tubby Smith, the league's coach of the year, and his Golden Hurricane. Tulsa finally slammed the door 91-82 on pesky Drake, the last-seeded team, but the victory gave Smith a headache. …

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