I love this time of year.
For the first time in two years, it finally feels a little more normal.
Two years ago, we were able to get though the high school basketball state championships and the junior college state tournaments.
But then COVID-19 struck, and we were left without March Madness, including the national tournaments for JUCO basketball.
Last year, even though we had the NCAA tournament (without fans), the FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII State Tournament was pushed back to the second week of April.
There was something strange about playing basketball a month later.
That’s why it was so good to see the Santa Fe College men’s basketball team cutting down the nets on Thursday. You could just tell it was time to go dancing with March right around the corner.
The Saints (24-5, 12-3 Central Conference) defeated Polk State College, 70-66, this past Tuesday on the road to win the program’s first conference title in 10 years.
They celebrated on Thursday during a ceremony on their home floor, where they went 15-0 this past season.
“I’ve had those before, it’s been 10 years, It’s about the players,” said Santa Fe College men’s basketball coach Chris Mowry, who won his fifth conference title with the Saints. “That’s their first one, and it might be their only one at Santa Fe. They’re only going to be here one or two years, so it’s great to know that at your two-year college you were able to win a conference championship. They’ll never forget that, and I’m really happy for them, I’m happy for our fans.”
To put things in perspective, Santa Fe is not ranked in the national poll, but they are receiving votes.
The Sunshine State is well-represented in the NJCAA DI men’s basketball rankings with No. 2 Indian River State College, No. 7 Chipola College, No. 11 Northwest Florida State College, and No. 14 Florida Southwestern State College
“Basketball in junior college is incredibly competitive,” Mowry said. “We have probably eight of the top 25 teams in the country. They just won’t rank that many in the top 25, but that’s how good Florida basketball is, so to win a conference title means a ton.”
Santa Fe, which will be the No. 5 seed in next week’s state tournament bracket, raked in the Central Conference honors as Mowry was named the Coach of the Year, Bradley Douglas was the Player of the Year, and Brandon Farmer and Hasan Abdul-Hakim were named to the first team.
“It’s a great feeling,” Douglas said about winning a regular season conference championship. “We’ve worked hard all season for it. It’s been 10 years since they won a conference championship so for us to do it with this group is big and it’s major for the program.”
Mix in No. 6 seed Eastern Florida State College, which is also receiving votes in the national rankings, plus No. 7 Polk State, and No. 8 Tallahassee and it makes for one exciting tournament in Niceville next Wednesday, March 2, through Sunday, March 6, at Northwest Florida State College’s Raider Arena.
It’s a grind. It’s comparable to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
The winner, and likely at least one at-large team, will advance to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, March 14-19.
I’ll be in Niceville providing coverage, while Marty Pallman will be in Lakeland, the site of the FHSAA boys basketball state championships, where we’ll have radio coverage of Hawthorne and Bradford (Starke) on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on 106.9 FM “I Am Country.”
March Madness is my favorite time of year.