Monday, March 29, 2010

The Madness Continues: And then there were 4!



17 years ago, I remember babysitting my neighbors and Christian Laettner hit the shot. The kids were asleep so I let out a silent scream. It was unbelievable. There’s nothing like March Madness, and this year has been no exception. Buzzer beaters, overtimes, and Cinderella stories.

I watched the 1st round at work via cbssports.com. It was fun being sneaky and catching Nova almost getting bounced by Robert Morris, Murray State’s buzzer beater, and BYU surviving double overtime with Florida. There was an even a Boss Button on the site; if you clicked it, the video feed would switch to a business chart. Ingenious.

Somehow and someway I’ve caught every single game whether it was at a bar with friends, at work, or at home. I love it, but there have been some consequences. My girlfriend tells me, apparently, that I’m not a very good listener while watching the games. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, she’s right. And I’m sorry. But it’s March Madness. I’ll buy her flowers in April.



There’s the gambler in me that loves the tournament. Every day, I break down a new scenario in my head that could make me the winner. “If there’s an upset here, and then Baylor makes it the final 4, I win!” But, unfortunately, just like with scratch tickets, I barely ever win.

I was in two pools this year, but it didn’t stop me from rooting on Northern Iowa over Kansas. I happily handed over my $20 entry fee for the memory. Winning the bracket is more about pride than money anyhow. And if I’m not gonna win it, I’m rooting for the underdog.

And this year has been all about the underdog (Ohio, Murray State, Cornell, Washington, Old Dominion, St. Mary’s, Northern Iowa, Xavier, Butler, Michigan State…on a side note, it was a little odd that most of the upsets occurred on the 1st day of each region. Were favorites less prepared because they played first? Did the favorites play better on the 2nd day because they saw what happened on the 1st day? Who knows?)

The Underdog



I was so impressed with St. Mary’s that I asked Omar Samhan to be my friend on facebook. He accepted!

I somehow ended up at a “Cornell” party at a bar and rooted on Big Red as they thrashed Wisconsin.

I watched Georgetown go down, then Villanova, then Kansas, Kansas St., Syracuse, Ohio St., and Kentucky. What the hell happened this year?



Well…here’s a quick personal story that captures this year’s tournament.

Several years ago, I was playing pickup in LA. Somehow, I ended up on a team with this guy named Evan Burns. He was 6’ 6”, all muscle, all athlete. I mention the name because he was a top recruit for UCLA, but he never passed his SATs, got into some trouble, and lost his scholarship. As a result, he dropped out of school and ended up playing pickup with guys like me.

So my team was Evan Burns, me, and 3 duds. On the first play Burns, through an alley-oop to himself off the backboard and slammed it home. Holy shit. This guy was sick. Three dunks later, and we blew out our first opponent.

But something happened in the 2nd game. We played against five guys who knew how to pass, cut, play defense, box out, and hit the open shot. These guys couldn’t touch the rim, but it didn’t matter. They exploited matchups, used their quickness, and double teamed our all star. Thirty minutes later, we lost, and were pushed off the court.

This seems to be the theme of NCAA basketball in 2010. It’s not a one man game. It’s a team game. This is what really separates the NCAA from the NBA. The best team wins; not the team with the best players.

I watched Syracuse, Kansas, Kentucky, Kansas St. and Ohio State all go down for the same reason. They gave the ball to their all-stars and everyone else just watched. Meanwhile, their opponents scrapped, clawed, and did the dirty work.

Here are some staggering stats from this year’s tourney:

Kansas St. had 0 assists in the first half against Butler. Zero!

Kentucky ended up shooting 4-32 from three point land against West Virginia. At one point, they were 0-20.

Syracuse committed 18 turnovers against Butler.

Naismith Award Nominee Sherron Collins of Kansas shot 4-15 with 5 turnovers against Northern Iowa.

One of my favorite quotes of the tournament was from Bruce Pearl (a native of my hometown, Sharon, MA!!!) After 6th ranked Tennessee upset #2 Ohio State, he said: “It was our 10 versus their 6.” What he probably wanted to say was: “It was our 10 versus Evan Turner.”

Turner will be a top 2 pick in the NBA draft this year (either behind or in front of John Wall of Kentucky.) When he gets to the NBA, he can make all the one-on-one moves he wants. He can even take a few extra steps since it’s the NBA. But in college, it’s a team game. Tennessee won that game because they played as a team. And Ohio State lost because they played like it was the NBA—give it to the all-star and watch him make his move.

Shut Up, Bill Simmons


I read the Sports Guy on Page 2. I listen to his podcast. And I read his books.

But Mr. Sports Guy, please give it a rest about college basketball. Bill lives in an alternate universe where he believes the NBA is far superior to March Madness.



His knowledge of NCAA basketball seems to be on par with his tipping skills. (A story for another time.) Just stop talking about the tournament, please.

The Final Four

BUTLER

Butler is by far the best story of these final four teams. In the next week, you’ll read countless articles comparing them to Jimmy Chitwood’s Hoosiers. They’re playing 20 minutes from their campus and will definitely have the home crowd. Their coach is a year older then me, and he looks like he’s 12. They scrap. They hustle. They have underdog written all over them. Will they win it all? Probably not. But how great would it be if they upset Duke for the title!

Text of the month was from bruisahb after Butler knocked off Kansas State: “The Butler did it, in the Salt Lake conservatory with the three point dagger!”

MICHIGAN STATE

H to the Izzo.

Tom Izzo has done it again. Despite being a #5 seed, Sparty and the Spartans are back in the final four for the 6th time in 12 years. They’ve provided some amazing moments so far including the buzzer beater against Maryland. Don’t count them out for another chance at a title. (On a side note, I watched the Michigan St.—Maryland game at a sports bar called Tonic and they refused to put the sound on for the game. I was furious. Who does that? I ended up making my own “call” for this game, but man, did I miss Gus Johnson.)

DUKE

It wouldn’t be a final four without a villain. As much as I hate Duke (If they had lost to Baylor, I would’ve been $150 richer.) it’s probably good to have a team in it that you despise. It always fun watching Duke lose and seeing all the rich, preppy kids cry. But if Duke wins, it would spoil what has been a great tournament so far. Plus, I couldn’t handle the Lakers, Yankees, and Duke winning all in the same sports year. At least the Colts choked against the Saints. Let’s hope Duke does the same.

WEST VIRGINIA

There’s actually two Butlers in the tournament. Da’Sean Butler is the other one. He has proven to be one of the best players in the country. I knew this team was for real when they won the Big East tournament (of course, I still picked them to lose to Kentucky.)

I read a great quote about Butler after he banked home a three pointer at the buzzer to beat Cincinatti in the Big East tourney. Lance Stephenson (from Brooklyn hence the bad grammar) was the man guarding him. He said: “I tried my hardest to strip him but he made an incredible move and an incredible shot. I was all over him, nothing I could do. I couldn’t do nothing different. I actually fouled him.” When a reported asked if it was a lucky bank shot, Stephenson admitted Butler called BANK when he released it. Not much more you can do.

I’m actually supporting West Virginia for a couple of reasons. Kevin Pittsnoggle, Mike Gandy and the gang provided me with some of the best NCAA memories from about five years ago. If they win, I hope those guys are invited to the parade. And my second reason: I just love that Take me home to West Virginia song by John Denver. That John Denver’s full of shit, man so here’s another version from The Office by Dwight and the Nard-dog.



FINAL FOUR PREDICTIONS:

West Virginia 71
Duke 67

Butler 62
Michigan St. 56

Take me home…country road…to the place… I belong:

WEST VIRGINIA 66
BUTLER 59

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