Hard to imagine a better time of the year

Some random thoughts as, finally, we may be heading toward spring:

n The best three days of the year are the first two days of the NCAA Tournament – today and Friday – and the NFL’s championship Sunday. A case can be made for Final Four Saturday, but by that point, Cinderella’s glass slipper has been shattered, and the intrigue has been replaced by familiarity. What makes the Big Dance special is flipping on the TV these next two days and seeing some 14 seed with a No. 3 on the run.

n In part because the schools in our most immediate region, Penn State and St. Francis, have been to a combined five NCAA men’s tournaments in the last 23 years, local basketball fans have come to count on Pitt each year, not necessarily to make a deep run but at least to be a regular in the bracket.

n The Panthers, unfortunately, have mastered losing to lower seeds and, in an 8-9 matchup today vs. Colorado, will be doing well to get a shot at top-seeded Florida on Saturday. Maybe Jamie Dixon, a better regular-season coach than he is in the tourney, will relax the Panthers should they be fortunate enough to survive the Buffaloes.

n With the majority of NBA players spending only a couple of years in college – if they go at all – the coaches have become the best bets. That’s why my Final Four includes Louisville and Michigan State, a pair of No. 4 seeds peaking at the right time, along with Creighton and Florida.

n Is this the year Coquese Washington’s Lady Lions go deep? The role of the star guard, like Maggie Lucas, is magnified in the postseason.

n Local ties at the Dance: Mike Iuzzolino, former St. Francis, Altoona and Bishop Guilfoyle standout, is completing his first year as director of basketball operations at seventh-seeded New Mexico, which meets Stanford in the South Region on Friday with winner likely getting Kansas. Former Red Flash coach Dave Magarity became the first coach in NCAA history to lead both a men’s and a women’s program to the tourney. Magarity guided the Marist men there in 1988, and this year has the Army women’s program, the Patriot League champion, as a 13 seed at Maryland on Sunday. Magarity took over the Army women in 2006 following the sudden death of Maggie Dixon (Jamie’s sister).

n Former WTAJ ace and local native Rodger Wyland is the radio play-by-play man for the University of Albany, which defeated Mt. St. Mary’s in a First Four game on Tuesday. Albany’s reward? Florida.

n Congratulations to Alli Williams on an incredible career with the St. Francis women.

n Finally, I look forward to catching some of the tourney with my Cove friends in memory of Lynn “Wimp” Ranalli, who started the tradition before passing away in 2008. This year, the Central and Williamsburg folks will also be keeping in mind Kay Bechtel, who hosted the gathering with her husband, Mark, but lost her fight with cancer in August. Each will be looking down fondly on what’s affectionately known as “Ball Camp.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.