I thought I had March Madness a couple of times, but they were false alarms. Like when you think you’ve won the lottery, only to have the last number come up wrong.

The field for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be announced later today. For the 74th consecutive year, the University of Maine will not take part. There will be no anticipation of an impending matchup insured by a conference tournament win. No CBS cameras will be in Orono to watch nervous Black Bears see if they survived the bubble.

I have friends who went to North Carolina, Syracuse, Connecticut, Kansas and Missouri. This time of year is basketball Christmas for them. Even my pals who went to Vermont have seen their team play in the tournament.

Us Maine alumns, we got nothing. Not even one good, old-fashioned butt-kicking from a national powerhouse in the first round that we can look back at and say “It was ugly, but we were there.”

The tournament began in 1939. You’d think that Maine would have fallen into the thing at least once, right? Remember how exciting it was when the Maine women’s basketball team was going to the NCAA tournament? The men need to experience the same thing.

Maine has come close to the tournament only a few times, and hasn’t played in the conference championship game in eight years. The Black Bears haven’t even won a conference playoff game since 2005, so the following list of almosts and not quites comes slightly dated.

• 2004. Maine was the No. 4 seed, and No. 8 Stony Brook did a large share of the Black Bears’ dirty work, knocking off No. 1 Boston University in the quarterfinals. Maine beat the upstart Sea Wolves, but couldn’t handle Vermont’s Taylor Coppenrath in the championship game, losing 72-53.

• 2002. As the No. 5 seed, the Black Bears upset top-seed Vermont in the semis, but left any momentum at the door when they played Boston University in the America East final, losing 66-40.

• 2000. This is what many Maine fans refer to as “The Year That Got Away.” Maine finished the regular season second in America East, and with Rumford native Andy Bedard at guard, and Nate Fox in the post, the Black Bears looked strong going into the conference tournament.

Bedard suffered a wrist injury in a quarterfinal win over Hartford, blowing up Maine’s chances. Delaware rolled the depleted Black Bears in the semis, 68-46, and Hofstra went dancing instead of Maine.

• 1994. This might be the second-strongest team in Maine history. The Black Bears finished second in the conference, and lost a close final to Drexel, 86-78. The game went back and forth before Drexel pulled away late.

• 1991. Maine lost the North Atlantic Conference title game to Northeastern, 57-46, but that was OK, because it was the Black Bears’ first appearance in the conference championship game. We were sure they’d be back and win it soon.

The 2011 season looked good, for a while. The Black Bears led America East at the halfway point, and had quality non-conference wins at Penn State and UMass. But in February, the Black Bears fell apart like a Chevy Nova, finished the regular season in third place, and were upset by No. 6 Hartford in the conference quarterfinals.

This isn’t an indictment of Maine head coach Ted Woodward. None of his predecessors got it done, either. There’s no institutional success with which to measure Woodward. His teams adhere to the Maine men’s basketball tradition of just getting by.

Us Maine alumns have never known the joy of filling out a bracket and advancing the Black Bears to the second round in a fit of pure homerism. We’ve never known the thrill that comes with putting a scare into one of the juggernauts, before fading in the second half.

My friends who went to other schools are going dancing. I’ll just stand outside the gymnasium — again — and stare at my shoes, a tournament wallflower. I don’t expect the Black Bears to be good dancers. Just once, it would be nice to see the Black Bears take a twirl.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
[email protected]

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