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Life Without NCAA Tournament Basketball Differs by Generation

Youth in Arkansas have hardcourt disconnect with those in 40s and older
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A miracle run by the Arkansas Razorbacks remains the last hope of NCAA Tournament basketball by a team from the state of Arkansas. 

The Little Rock Trojans made it to the Ohio Valley Conference finals behind a pair of former Razorbacks having won 13 of their past 14 games. Yet, they began the game ice cold, falling behind 21-4, and after expending all their energy to make it close, finally ran out of gas against Morehead State.

Then, Arkansas State and former Razorback Derrian Ford made a surprise run to the Sun Belt championship game against 30-3 James Madison. The Red Wolves had won 8-of-9 and were on the high of knocking off top-seeded Appalachian State in the semifinals. However, they too would run out of gas and fall by the wayside.

That only leaves Arkansas. The Razorbacks are vastly improved and have become a team no one wants to face in the SEC Tournament, yet the odds of the Hogs running the gauntlet of the entire tournament from Day 1 to the championship game unscathed are borderline impossible.

Because of this, the people of this state face the unnatural feeling of March Madness going off with no vested interest. It might not feel as odd for the younger generation which has experienced it more often, but for those in their mid-40s, it's just strange.

From the day I was born until the day I graduated high school, the state of Arkansas had no team in the NCAA Tournament only once. That took place in 1987. 

There's a forgivable reason for that being the year. Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson's daughter passed away during January of that season, so no one can blame him for not having his heart fully into it. 

Arkansas should have had a representative that year. Little Rock, known back then as UALR, was a powerful force under head coach Mike Newell. 

The Trojans upset No. 3 seed Notre Dame the year before, then took No. 6 seed NC State to overtime in the Round of 32. They were a good team the following year and won their conference championship. 

Unfortunately, they were upset by Georgia Southern in the conference tournament at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock and were left out of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they knocked off Baylor, Stephen F. Austin and Cal (which was played in Pine Bluff for some reason) to advance to the Final Four of the NIT.

During my 45 years of life, the state has failed to put a team into the NCAA Tournament only nine times. That means for 80% of my life, there's been a local reason to watch the first round.

The total years would have already reached 10, but Arkansas-Pine Bluff won the SWAC Tournament in 2010. The Golden Lions even made a little noise by knocking off Winthrop in the play-in game before being served up as the sacrificial lamb to No. 1 seed Duke.

For those who are younger, the concept of Arkansas having a team in the tournament isn't as automatic. For instance, a 21-year-old saw the first three years of his or her life with no participation. 

Then, in 2009, 2012 and 2014, in the midst of their most formative years, there were no Arkansas teams. To add to the disconnect, the Razorbacks were also absent in 2010, meaning those who only keep up with the Hogs were without a representative for four out of six seasons.

Mix in 2019 and you find a 21-year-old has lived through eight years of no teams representing the state in the NCAA Tournament. It's hard to comprehend that someone 24 years older has only seen that happen one more time.

For nearly 40 percent of their lives, these younglings have been deprived of having an in-state reason to sit down and enjoy the NCAA Tournament. It's hard to process such a massive change in experience and perspective.

It has to have created a cultural disconnect similar to the one my generation has with the group that experienced Razorback football from the 1960s to the early 1980s. It was impossible to comprehend a world where football was played in a glorified rec league with only white players and wide receiver sized linemen. 

Even harder for me to wrap my head around was that Lou Holtz, the then dominant national championship level coach at Notre Dame once coached Arkansas. It just didn't make plausible sense. 

So, if this ends up being another season where the state of Arkansas is once again left out of the NCAA Tournament, don't get too upset with the younger generations if they don't understand what the big deal is. 

This is pretty normal for them. They simply can't comprehend your pain and frustration.