Jim O'Donnell: Caitlin Clark and a Selection Sunday primer on the uncertainty of March fame

FOR A LESSON in the fleetingness of NCAA Tournament fame, look no farther than the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway.

Less than a year ago, young Adama Sanogo was being named Most Outstanding Player of the men's tourney. He and UConn — a No. 4 seed — rolled to the championship in fortunate and dominant fashion.

The Huskies never faced a higher seed than No. 3 Gonzaga. That was in the West regional final. They downed all six of their opponents by an average of 20 ppg.

So Sanago's somewhere on those midnight NBA charters from Houston, right?

Downing iced prawns bigger than Michael Jordan's hands while chillin' to Asake & Olamide on the $36,000 Warwick Acoustics Aperios headphones?

Not quite.

THE MALI-BORN BIG MAN is on a two-way contract with the Windy City Bulls of the NBA G League. Any midnight prawns he downs locally are likely refrozen and from a Jewel in Hoffman Estates.

The lesson is apt because it's Selection Sunday. That's the night when a wave of national sports frenzy sweeps in and slows to a dribble by the time of the championship game. This year, that title match is on Monday, April 8.

There's also a seismic Susan B. Anthony shift in the way tonight's bracket reveals will be viewed.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) shoots during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten women's tournament Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr) AP

The men go first, at 5 p.m. on CBS. The women's field follows at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

For the first time ever, the Caitlin Clark Factor suggests that the sequencing is correct.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) points after making a 3-point basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in the semifinals of the Big Ten women's tournament Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr) AP

THE MEN ARE an opening act. The women headline.

Assistant men's coaches may struggle to name the sixth man on Baylor. But eight-year-old kids in Swiftie Park know that Clark plays for Iowa.

The staggering number of upsets in the 2023 men's tournament also did little to enhance that event's appeal to bracket-picking egos. History suggests form will re-establish itself this time around.

CLARK'S PATH TO the women's Final Four in Cleveland (on April 5 and 7) is clear. Under the unique format of the women's tourney, the Hawkeyes will play their first two games in the Midwestern gothic of Iowa City. The first will likely be Wednesday night on ESPN.

Then it's probably on to Albany. Somewhere deep down the line, a crescendo tilt against Dawn Staley and her menacing South Carolina Gamecocks — unbeaten and the odds-on tournament favorite — should await.

If Clark and Co. make it to Cleveland, the average price for a Final Four ticket at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on the secondary market will hover around a record $400.

If she's not there, divide by 3.

THE MOST UNFORTUNATE PART of the next 21 days is that the collegiate segment of the Clark Experience will end. It's been a happy story, enlightening, all about the pursuit of basketball excellence within an organically presented insistence on acceptance and acknowledgement.

She has triumphed.

In Hoffman Estates, Adama Sanogo can only continue to work toward his hope of a second great basketball act.

His first was so fleeting.

March has always been able to put forth so many question marks.


More bare waves ahead for Chicago's wheezing ESPN-AM (1000): The no-rated flatliner could be forced to begin sharing a nighttime transmitter with the forgotten WYLL-AM (1160). (In the business, it's called “diplexing.”) The move is dictated by station economics. Good Karma /AM-1000 ringmaster Craig Karmazin recently ditched his FM signal in New York City and lost Jets' play-by-play in the process. …

The presence of Bruce Weber on the BTN's coverage of the men's conference tournament this week has been a reminder of what a paragon of class he was while directing Dee Brown and the mythic 2004-05 Fighting Illini. It was 19 years ago this weekend that his mother — Mrs. Dawn Weber — collapsed on her way into the United Center, intending to watch her son coach a Big Ten quarterfinal vs. Northwestern. Her funeral four days later in Milwaukee was a touching and surreal event. …

A telling essay by the authoritative Ray Paulick at his daily on the meltdown in the national horse racing wagering system last weekend. Bettors who should have been cashing winners into the thousands instead were only refunded core wagers after the AmTote hub went offline because of a third-party internet outage. It's beyond outrageous and a stark warn-away to speculators who have stayed with the dying game. …

Vastly underrated ESPN college hoops tandem: Boog Sciambi and Fran Fraschilla. Sciambi proves once again that he can play up — or down — to the skill level of his sidemate. Fraschilla consistently stirs an engaging mix of stored insights and in-the-moment currencies. (Q. for Marquee Sports: Could Fraschilla work some Cubs telecasts this season just to get a little fresh air into that wobbly booth?) …

St. Patrick's Day scheming: When the $2.4B College Football Playoff likely expands to 14 teams in 2026, broadcast partners and overseers should smack the shillelagh and just guarantee Notre Dame an automatic berth regardless of record. The national Irish fan base is large but the detest-the-Irish ranks are even larger. In any form, it'd be grand Charlie Weis/Barry Fitzgerald football theater. …

And Dale Demby, on the reloading Vikings signing Sam Darnold as a “bridge” quarterback: “What river are they trying to get across?”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Thursday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

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