Thursday, March 15, 2007

Maryland Wins, Duke Loses, and My Boss Toots

On Thursday at noon I slipped out of the office for a cool 2.5 hour lunch and the opening tip of the NCAA tournament. There's only a tournament tip-off once a year and let’s just say I live to be 70 years old. I can't be realistically considered a legitimate sports fan until I am at least 16 years old and the last 10 years of my life I'll be somehow incapacitated. Taking into account those assumptions I've only got 44 NCAA tournament tip-offs in my life to enjoy, therefore I should do whatever I can do to catch all of them.

The featured game in Washington DC was Maryland vs Davidson and there were plenty of Terps fans in the bar area that were ready to disown their team when the Terps were down 5 or 6 points midway through the second half. I was watching the game with a Terps fan and he kept asking me how many times the Terps were going to turn the ball over? I didn't really have an answer for him which was fine because my guess is that his was a rhetorical question.

It was a close game but Maryland separated in the end and won 82-70 (the final score doesn't reflect how close the game was). A few observations...both Maryland and Davidson loved to get up and down the floor. Neither was afraid to take a shot, though Maryland seemed to want to work the ball inside a bit more than Davidson. Davidson liked shooting the long ball and at one point they shot about three fade away three-pointers in three consecutive possessions. That can't be a shot you draw up in the huddle, but but if you're going to knock off a superior team, I guess you've got to expect to take a few and hit a few of those to come away victorious. Maryland was the more athletic team and didn't seem to want to run any type of set half court game or get in their lanes on the fast break. At times the game was about as orderly as a youth league game only with older boys that were 6'-6" and could slam dunk the basketball: guards released on the opposing team’s shots, outlets were rolled to the outlet man rather than delivered via a crisp bounce-pass, and there was no semblance of order when collecting a defensive rebound. That was fine for Maryland against Davidson, but Gary Williams' boys might not be so fortunate if they play that style against ODU/Butler.

Elsewhere in the tournament another ACC team was not quite as fortunate. The Duke loss late on Thursday night was not in line with my pick of Duke through to the Sweet 16. While I wrote that Duke would advance I did not adjust my brackets bring them in line with what I wrote. Two of my bolder predictions Duke to the Sweet 16 and New Mexico State over Texas were inaccurate but since I failed to adjust my brackets, it was only though my credibility was damaged, and not my brackets were spared.

On another paradigm, the Duke loss answered the prayers of tens of thousands in hater nation. But is this the Duke team that they wanted to see lose? The closest thing to a hateable that Duke had on the 2006-2007 roster was Greg Paulus and is he really that bad? He was picked on and beat up by the VCU press all night long and for the most part he kept his cool and only cried to the referee on one or two occasions. This Duke team didn’t have any of the hateable Blue Devils of seasons past: Christian Laetner, Bobby Hurley, Eric Meeks, Cherekee Parks, Alah Abdelnavbee. It did, however, have some on the bench in the form of Woj, Chris Collins, and the whiny coach Kryzewski. I don’t think that someone’s voice is a good enough reason to hate them and so I searched deeper for the source of all the hate for Duke. People hate Duke because they’re good. That’s the truth but it’s something the haters will hate to admit. It’s a good thing for most that Duke lost, however, because by the end of the weekend most’s brackets will be in disarray but the one thing they’ll be able to hang their hats on is bragging to their friends that “hey, I picked VCU over Duke.”

A brief story to relay about my boss which doesn't directly impact the brackets but it does relate to the NCAA tournament because it occurred while I was sneaking out to lunch. Before stepping out of the office on Thursday afternoon en route to the game, I went into the men's room. When I was leaving my boss was standing at one of the urinals. I didn't say anything as I think it is creepy to engage in conversation with a man at the urinal, but my boss did something equally as inappropriate as that when he "tooted" as I was walking out the door. the men’s room it’s definitely okay to blow your nose or even swear and curse, but it is not, in my opinion, okay to break wind. Passing gas is kind of like grunting in the bathroom, they’re both okay when you're in the stall because the assumption is that you’re anonymous. So long as you’re in the stall your identity is protected and you can’t be held accountable (it's good to be cautious about wearing argyle socks too as they can later be used to place you at the scene of the crime). Grunting and tooting are okay to do in the privacy of your home lavatory but not okay to do in the office lavatory. If it were a friend of mine I might laugh it off, but my boss I hold to a higher standard. He's in his position because he's better polished than I am, or so I’d thought.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Doctor Zhivago Talks NCAA Hoops

It’s bracket Monday, the day immediately succeeding Selection Sunday and office pools throughout the country are abuzz printing, copying and disseminating hundreds of thousands of 8” x 11” brackets which we will spend the next three and half days laboring over just to have our hearts broken when the darling we have going to the final 8 is eliminated on Thursday afternoon. If you’re not native to the USA chances are you’re not reading this blog, but in case you are throwing back a stein of Pils in Delft this is similar to the day that FIFA announces the groups for the World Cup. In my opinion, the World Cup is the world’s greatest sporting event, followed by the MLB playoffs, and then this event Americans call March Madness. And while the madness, in my opinion, started last Wednesday with the tip off of the power conference tournaments, the NCAA tournament is likely what most associate with the beginning of March Madness. And it is upon us. So without further ado let’s get to the brackets.

Let’s start in the EAST where you’ve got the #1 seeded UNC Tar Heels fresh off of their ACC tourney championship. They’ve stumbled down the stretch with four losses between Feb 3 and Mar 1 but they were able to recover in their conference tournament to hold onto that #1 seed. I still, however, don’t like them because they’re too young, showed chinks in their armor down the stretch, and most importantly their go-to-guy, Tyler Hansbrough, seems to be bothered by the Zorro mask he’s wearing. Don't rule Hansbrough out just yet as Rip Hamilton grew to play better with the mask than without, but until Hansbrough shows me something I'm going to pick against the young Tar Heels and begin looking forward to next year's rematch with Henderson and the Blue Devils.

Isn’t it a shame to see an aggressive foul impact the number one seeded Tar Heels and, as a result, the college basketball world so much. If it was an incidental foul which caused a twisted knee or a broken hand then it would be easier to forget. But this uncharacteristic thugery by a Duke player still leaves a bad taste in this fan’s mouth. The only justice is that Henderson’s suspension probably helped lead to Duke’s elimination in the opening round of the ACC tourney and their #6 seed in the NCAAs. In the end, however, both teams are suffering the consequences rather than just the guilty party.

UNC does get past Eastern Kentucky and Michigan State before losing to USC. Yes Southern Cal and not Texas will face UNC in the round of 16. I too looked forward to a UNC vs. Durant matchup in the Sweet 16 and while it pains me to predict the surefire national player of the years’ first and last NCAA tournament will come this Friday night, I just feel that the Longhorns rely too heavily on Durant to make a real push in this tournament. Since I don’t have Texas going deep (and many people do), why not shake things up and try to separate myself from the field and have them exit early?

In the bottom half of the bracket the Hoyas will not faulter, being helped by upsets pulled off by Texas Tech and Oral Roberts. Oral Roberts you say?! Yes. If they can beat Kansas in Lawrence then yes, I say they can beat Washington State on a neutral court. Georgetown will be the beneficiary of the upsets eliminating the #7, #3, and #1 teams in their bracket and only have to beat Bobby Knight’s Red Raiders, Derrick Byars' Vandy, and a USC team that would have just proved itself better than UNC to glide through to Atlanta. Still a tall task but one the Hoyas are capable of achieving.

Onto the South which is where OSU, Memphis, Texas A&M, and UVA are the favorites. In sizing up this bracket, I recognized that the top two seeds, have enjoyed tremendous success, with a total of only 6 losses between them. OSU has earned their ranking with wins over Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, and Purdue as well as visiting two other number one seeds, Florida and UNC, though they got pasted in both games. To this point Memphis hasn't played nor beaten anyone this season. As a result I’ve got Memphis bowing out in the second round to the Wolfpack of Nevada and, while OSU is able to hold serve until the regional final they’ll lose to Texas A&M there. Acie Law, a player who challenged Durant for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, will lead the veteran Aggies past Louisville, then Nevada, and finally OSU en route to representing the South Region in Atlanta.

Heading out West I find myself looking at an odd seeding. If the selection committee had called me on Sunday (which they didn't) and asked for my thoughts on the seeding I’d have flip-flopped Kansas and UCLA. Sure Kansas won the Big 12 while UCLA lost in the first round of their Pac-10 tournament, but during the previous 15 weeks was there ever a doubt in anyone’s mind that UCLA was better than Kansas? No. So in the course of 1 week’s games, albeit the conference tournaments, Kansas has overtaken UCLA. Not fair, just like stealing another kids shovel and bucket in the sandbox.

The West’s clear favorite has to be UCLA and one advantage that the committee did give them was that they'll be able to remain in California until they advance out of the region. The 6th seeded Blue Devils are very, very, very tough to overlook. Don’t forget that coach K is the winningest coach in NCAA tournament history and don’t think the Dukies will just lay down because they’re an underdog this time around. There are a huge number of Duke haters who love the scenario of Duke losing in round 1 or round 2 but I don’t know if I’m quite ready to drive the stake into heart of the Blue Devils just yet. Duke advances to the round of 16 on the back of Paulus, yes Paulus' three-point shooting, but then gets slobberknocked by a superior UCLA team in the round of 16.

The top part of this bracket will be won by Kansas, but as I’ve already stated, UCLA is the better team and will advance to Atlanta.

In the Midwest we’ve got the tournaments #1 overall seed which, from my understanding, should be given the easiest road to the Final Four. That’s the exact opposite than what I think they got. I think they have a brutal path to reach Atlanta so I find fault with the selection committee for their selections of tough, tough three and four seeds in this bracket along with one of the two #2 seeds that was still being considered for a #1 ranking all the way up until Sunday’s outcomes. I do agree, however, with the committee’s selection of Florida as the #1 overall seed and therefore am confident in their ability to safely navigate this minefield and eventually reach Atlanta.

This is also a tough bracket for me to pick because I was very high on Maryland’s and Oregon’s abilities to go deep into the tournament and maybe even advance to the Final Four, but not with the Florida Gators standing in their way. If Maryland and the sizzling Ducks had not been together and in the same bracket as Florida I’d have been tempted to have MD and OU facing off in a regional final, if for no other reason than the opportunity to witness two of the fiercest land/sea mascots the tournament has to offer (in fact to be completely accurate, the Ducks are a land/sea/air animal). But, as fate would have it, the Gators are in the same region and will have to knock them both off, first the Terps and then the Ducks, en route to the Final Four where they’ll face UCLA.

In the Final Four UCLA will be playing for the first time outside of California and that, coupled with the Florida Gators will prove too much for them as Florida advances to the finals. Georgetown’s big men will prove too much for the overachieving Aggies setting the stage for the Georgetown vs Florida national championship. The final will remain close until the second half when Florida’s athleticism and experience allow them to separate from the Hoyas and coast to a 85-74 victory for their 2nd consecutive NCAA Basketball Championship.

I can’t tell you how much I hate Joakim Noah’s post game dances and celebrations. I despise them! I don’t usually feel this way about player celebrations but Noah’s are not entertaining and they are awful. Since I hate Joakim Noah’s celebrations I will hate cheering for the Gators to continue winning and fulfilling my brackets. This is a catch 22. On the other hand, I do love Noah’s gritty play. I feel that the Gators are the nation’s most talented team so I will have to make them my pick to cut down the nets three weeks from now in Atlanta.