Mark Morrow/Sports Columnist
Mark Morrow/Sports Columnist

So how’s the NCAA Tournament been going for you?

How’s your 2019 tournament sheet looking? Have any teams going to the Final Four?

Anyone get caught skipping work since the 2019 “March Madness’’ tipped off?

Hmmm? Be honest…

There are millions, many millions of brackets filled out each year. Exciting times… Basketball Extraordinaire! A wild and crazy, fever-pitch event! Making it to the Big Dance is simply downright special!

A surprising foursome this weekend? Wonder how many actually picked the finalists… Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia, Auburn…?

It’s a real bummer for many of us that Purdue came up short and dropped that overtime thriller to Virginia.

Yet, there will be 2 other Hoosier connections in Minneapolis — Virginia’s Kyle Guy, the 2016 Indiana Mr. Basketball from Lawrence Central HS, and MSU’s Aaron Henry (Ben Davis 2018).

Still, that would have been so exciting had the Boilermakers reached the Final Four! Now, MSU has a chance to do the Big 10 proud with more of its late-season “March Madness’’ magic.

Speaking of “March Madness,’’ did you know that the term March Madness wasn’t always the NCAA ‘name brand’ for college basketball?

March Madness traces back to Illinois’ statewide high-school basketball tournament, which began in 1908.

When the inaugural college tourney was first created in 1939, there were only 8 teams. Oregon defeated Ohio State 46-33. The field grew to 64 teams in 1985; now it’s a 68-team field.

An Illinois high school official was the first to label it March Madness. It didn’t gain fame until 1982, when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger referred to the NCAA Tournament using the words “March Madness’’ during the event’s coverage.

Since then, the term has become synonymous with the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, an event that guarantees excitement, sweaty palms and great performances that often produce breathtaking, last-second heroics. 

So, is this the real March Madness Hoosiers have known and loved for years? 

I can tell you of at least one former Indiana high school basketball player — and there’s likely many more — that would argue that there was an even bigger, more exciting March Madness back in the day.

“The real March Madness was our single-class state basketball tournament in Indiana,’’ says Loogootee’s Bill Butcher.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of and remember HOOSIER HYSTERIA! You do if you are a true Hoosier and really love basketball.

Our state tournament has been Hoopla at its Best for many, many years. It’s an event that was revered by all Hoosiers and also considered the model of greatness by those fans and basketball school officials in other states.

That’s a point Butcher stressed during his Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech in late March.

“Yes, our basketball was special… that was the real March Madness,’’ he said, with plenty of conviction in his voice.

Butcher and the Lions — (coached by his Hall of Fame father Jack Butcher, with 806 victories the second-winningest coach in Indiana high school basketball history) — did not lose in 1975 until the state championship game against Marion.

Bill Butcher didn’t have to mention Class Basketball, which became our new way of life in the 1997-98 season — after playing the previous years as a single-class event going back to the 1910-11 tournament. The first state champion was Crawfordsville, while Bloomington North was the final single-class boys champion. 

Our annual 109th Indiana boys state tournament, all sanctioned by the IHSAA, crowned 2019 champions on March 23.

Bill Butcher stoked a fire that remains deep inside many former players and coaches and fans who grew up in Indiana and played in the single-class era. 

As one might expect, his words drew an applause from many of the 1,100 folks attending the annual HOF banquet.

It certainly created interest and started me thinking.

I kept thinking that had Bobby Plump, extremely vocal in his opposition of Class Basketball, been in the audience, the star of the 1954 Milan Miracle likely would have jumped out of his chair, raising his fist high and cheering.

Anyway, it was a memorable evening for many reasons as we all relived much of our cherished basketball history.

Indianapolis Washington, one of the most popular and  best teams in Indiana HS basketball history after producing a 31-0 record in 1969, was one of two teams honored (the other team honored was 1994 state champion South Bend Clay).

Coached by legendary Bill Green, the Continentals featured outstanding players such as George McGinnis, Steve Downing, Wayne Pack and Jim Arnold. All were there at the banquet.

Yeah, what a team! And McGinnis, in my opinion, is one of the top 3 players ever to come out of Indiana. Oscar Robertson is No. 1. Larry Bird is the other.

A meaningful quote from Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Hover, 84, also hit home to many Hoosiers.

“I love Indiana and never want to leave the state. Why would anyone leave Indiana in the wintertime to go to Florida? I mean there’s just so much high school basketball you can go see!’’

So whether you’re a fan of the single-class tourney over Class Basketball, remember this:

“In 49 other states it’s just basketball… but this is INDIANA.”

Yep, for many, our March Madness is still “Hoosier Hysteria’’ at its best!

-Mark Morrow, a Hall of Fame Indiana sportswriter, has resided in Hamilton County since 1989. You can follow him in The Times, and on Twitter at mmediamarko12. He can be reached at mediamarko5@gmail.com or by calling 317-460-8018.