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Tony Jones: I’m not exaggerating, NCAA tournament’s better than ever
First Published Mar 22 2014 05:04 pm • Last Updated Mar 22 2014 08:05 pm

I’ve worked at The Salt Lake Tribune for six years.

Throughout my tenure as a writer in Utah, my bosses have sometimes teased me for my hyperbolic nature, and for going overboard a bit in my analysis.

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I may fall victim to that here in this column. But I have a feeling that some of you may agree with me.

So here goes: We may have just witnessed the best and most compelling Round of 64 of an NCAA tournament. Ever.

A big statement, I know. But this time, I have evidence to back my theory. Show and not tell, if you will. On Thursday — the first full day of the tournament — four games reached overtime, the first time in history of the sort. That doesn’t count Vee Sanford’s game-winner to lead Dayton over Ohio State. That doesn’t count Texas beating Arizona State at the last second.

There was drama. There were upsets. There were great performances. There were comebacks and teams giving away big leads in inexplicable fashion. It was simply 12 hours of great television.

After the first night, I wondered on Twitter how that initial 12 hours could be topped. I received an answer Friday afternoon when No. 14 Mercer contained Jabari Parker, made all of its shots down the stretch and defeated mighty Duke. Just a few days before, Coach K wondered publicly how the Atlantic 10 conference received so many at-large bids to the Big Dance. Now, he’s at home, very prematurely.

This year cemented the tournament as one of the best four-day weekends in the country. For all that’s wrong with college basketball — players leaving early for the NBA, declining quality of play — the parity around the nation is a good thing. You don’t have the great team anymore. But there are plenty of good teams.

Most importantly, the mid-majors have narrowed the gap between them and the blue bloods. If N.C. State hadn’t melted down against St. Louis, the No. 12 seeds would’ve gone 4-0 in the first round. It’s no longer a pipe dream for a double-digit seed to advance.

And that competition is the best thing that’s happened to college basketball in a long time.

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Twitter: @tjonessltrib

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