March Madness grabs the fan by the throat and doesn’t let go until three weekends of thrill, chills and spills are complete…with the canned final call and Luther Vandross-voiced video montage providing the exclamation point.  The McDonald’s Shamrock Shake also takes the believers hostage for 2-3 weeks (depending on how much green dye your participating location has)…and it is one beautiful journey.  Minty Goodness along with a box of Tagalongs and a bracket?  Be still my heart.  For those who don’t know if your local McD’s offers this seasonal treat, check out “www.shamrockshake.com”.  You’ll thank me later…

Georgetown (17-13, 8-10 Big East)– the Hoyas missed a chance to finish .500 in the league while also scoring their second top five win in less than a week… turning the ball over 18 times (same amount as the earlier matchup) in a 77-59 loss to the Wildcats.  Just how good is Villanova?  This team sweeps both games from Gtown for just the second time (granted, there were some Big East years where they met just once)…had already wrapped up its second ever outright Big East Championship (1982) and tied the 2006 team (#1 seed that lost to eventual champ Florida in the Regional Finals) for second-most ever wins (the 2009 team that made the Final Four won 30).  The Hoyas find themselves on the bubble’s underbelly– projected the 4th team out by CBS and 8th team out by ESPN.  GOOD NEWS!– “bracketmatrix.com” has them as a #1 seed for the NIT.  As the 7th seed in the upcoming Big East Tournament– there’s a first round game with last place DePaul.  If you can’t beat the Blue Demons on a neutral floor– you don’t deserve to dance.  A win sets up a rematch with Creighton– a team they beat a week ago in DC.

Shamrock Shake Funfact I– started in 1970 as the “St. Patrick’s Day Green Milkshake”.  Thank goodness they renamed it…Shammy sounds so much better than “SPDG” or “St. Patty’s“.

Alma Mater Update–the Orange ended their final regular season in the Big East by scoring 37 points in a loss at Georgetown.  Beside myself, only a Shamrock Shake kept me from jumping on the Metro Rails as I headed home that dark day (little did I know there’d be a Final Four run).  The #11 Orange (27-4, 14-4 ACC) concluded their first winter in a new league by beating a signature-win-hungry Florida State 74-58.  Jerami Grant’s return to the lineup proved to be the band-aid that delivered the team’s first road win by more than one possession since January.  The victory gives them a 2nd seed in the ACC Tournament–in the sub-bracket of  #7 NC State, #10 Miami and #15 Virginia Tech)…and stops the slide from what one month ago was the Overall #1 seed in most bracket models ( they’re a #3 in ESPN and a #2 in CBS).   But despite a nice finish for first team All ACC forward CJ Fair (22 points and 7 rebounds)…the ugly monster called “lack of depth” (4 players saw 35+ minutes on the floor, only 7 played at all) could rear its ugly head in Greensboro.  At least for now I don’t have to answer questions from my Maryland friends like “What’s wrong with your boys?”.

Maryland (17-14, 9-9 ACC)–nothing was wrong at 2:30pm EDT in College Park…as the Terps vanquished a season of last-minute losses.  The 75-69 overtime win over then-#5 Virginia was the team’s first signature win in a year where the Terps had written their first name in cursive only to run out of ink.  Credit a defense that held the Cavaliers to 9-31 shooting after halftime.  Credit Dez Wells heating up after intermission (16 of his 18 points coming after the break).  And credit Seth Allen for being on fire to start the extra session (scoring the first 5 points in OT).  Unfortunately NC State’s win keeps the Terrapins in the 8-9 game (against Florida State) with the winner facing top seed Virginia in Friday’s quarterfinals.  The latest NIT talk has Maryland getting a #5 seed from bracketmatrix.com…and facing West Virginia in the first round (with a trip to top seed Georgetown for the winner).  Can Mark Turgeon’s team catch fire in Greensboro?

Shamrock Shake Funfact II–in 1974 Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose was in the process of getting the Ronald McDonald House (for cancer patient’s families) built…and proceeds from Shamrock Shake sales contributed to the charity getting off the ground.  Proving that Philly fans may throw snowballs at Santa, but they’re all about helping the kids and enjoying minty goodness three months later.

Cruising the Commonwealth–the Tale of Two Programs continues with the best of times being tempered somewhat at Virginia (25-6, 16-2 ACC) after the Cavaliers came up short in College Park.  Joe Harris shot under 30% or worse for the fourth time in five games…UVa was outrebounded and missed 8 free throws in the loss.  The loss may keep them from getting a #1 or #2 seed (both models have the Cavs as a #3 in the South) but it won’t alter their Greensboro schedule–as they’ll play the winner of Maryland-Florida State Friday.  By the time they do play Friday in the ACC Quarterfinals…Virginia will have suited up for just two games over a 16-day span.  Not exactly ideal if you’re trying to hit your stride.  Virginia hasn’t reached Saturday (aka the ACC Semis) or the Second Weekend (NCAA Regionals) since 1995…and this team looks poised to end that streak.  Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16 ACC) is in the famed “10-15” First Round game Wednesday.  I’ve never been a fan of the double-bye bracket…but unless you trim the field to 12 schools that’s what you’ve got.  The Hokies lost their regular season finale 62-51 at Georgia Tech–missing 19 of their first 26 shots.  Jarell Eddie’s descent (27% shooting over his last 10 games) mirrored an offense that scraped to but even 50 points on the board.  The good news is they face Miami Wednesday–and the Hokies posted their only two league games against the Hurricanes this winter.

Shamrock Shake Funfact III–in an era when McDonald’s commercials featured such characters like “The Hamburgler” and “Mayor McCheese”…the fuzzy purple “Grimace” was the milkshake specialist.  Thus it makes perfect sense the green-furred “Uncle O’Grimacey” would become the patron saint of an ad campaign–and a hero to kids worldwide. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu6q8HzmQ7Q)

George Washington (23-7, 11-5 Atlantic 10)–the Colonials continue to be in the at-large middle class…listed by CBS as a #8 seed (in Arizona’s regional) and a #9 (in Florida’s bracket) by ESPN.  Atlantic 10 Player of the Week Maurice Creek notched 24 points and 7 rebounds in the 70-67 win at Fordham (the Rams made this one close thanks to outrebounding GW 45-28) to assure the Colonials of the #3 seed in the upcoming conference tournament–where they await the winner of UMass and Rhode Island.  They beat the Rams in January (17 points and 7 rebounds for Kevin Larsen) and lost to the Minutemen in February (shooting 37% from the field…turning the ball over 14 times and getting outrebounded by 4).  Help is on the way…in the form of second-leading scorer Kethan Savage as the guard returns after missing 12 games with a broken foot–albeit in limited minutes.

Shamrock Shake Funfact IV–the was briefly a “Shamrock Sundae” in 1980…that for some reason didn’t stick.  I’m thinking it was the lack of Uncle O’Grimacey in the marketing efforts… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOb7T1pqj08)

George Mason (11-19, 4-12) couldn’t escape the dreaded 12-13 game at the beginning of the Atlantic 10 Tournament as an 81-69 loss to Duquesne proves costly.  The Dukes hit 11 of 21 three-pointers and shot 53% for the game…as the Patriots regroup to face Fordham.  The Rams won only twice in league play–but one of those victories was against GMU as Branden Frazier scored all 22 of his points after halftime in a January 22nd 76-70 triumph.  Can Mason extend their inaugural conference campaign?

Maryland Womens Window– unfortunately the stay in Greensboro was brief for the #11 Terps (24-6,  12-4 ACC) as they couldn’t contain North Carolina during crucial stretches of a 73-70 loss to the Tar Heels despite 24 points and 11 rebounds for Alyssa Thomas.  The loss drops Maryland to a potential 4th seed (in Tennessee’s bracket with a potential second round matchup against 5th seeded Michigan State).  The good news is they’ll begin their NCAA Tournament run at Comcast Center.  The bad news is Alyssa Thomas is one year too old to benefit from a fantastic recruiting class that needs one more winter to transform freshmen Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough into major contributors that can carry a team in March.

Shamrock Shake Funfact V–the recipe now calls for whipped cream and a cherry.  Don’t be a fool…enjoy the beverage as nature intended.  When they changed to a clear cup I was at first taken aback.  There are certain things where less transparency is more…

American (19-12, 13-5 Patriot League)— the Eagles battle regular season champion Boston University Wednesday for the automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.. they torched the Terriers by 30 at Bender Arena (shooting 71%) but lost by nine in Beantown (getting outrebounded by 16 while committing 13 turnovers).  Tony Wroblicky got into foul trouble in the second game–something AU can ill afford again.  The Eagle D has carried them to the finals as they’ve held Colgate to 39% shooting and Holy Cross to 38% from the field.  A win Wednesday would cap a miraculous run for the team in coach Mike Brennan’s first season at the helm.

Howard (7-24, 5-11 MEAC) somehow emerges from a 5-way tie to claim the #8 seed.  I don’t know which tiebreaker put them over the top.  The Bison battle North Carolina A&T Tuesday– a team they beat in February by eight thanks to 23 points from James Daniel.  While Morgan State handcuffed the freshman to 4-16 shooting in a 68-66 overtime loss… that’s the only time the guard’s been held under 20 points since February 3rd.  The winner gets regular season titlist North Carolina Central in the quarterfinals…

Shamrock Shake Funfact VI–I reportedly consumed 61 Shammy Shakes in 1996…which I thought was the record (by one).  Sadly, due to the leap year there was an extra day of Shamrock Shake sales that year…that is why my ’96 total gets an asterisk (actually they list both records– there was never actually an asterisk).

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