NCAA Hoops Lookback: The Fatal Four

Due to, in no particular order, the following factors –

  • a super-concentrated acidic splash by John Oliver, indicting and ridiculing the entire NCAA basketball enterprise (can’t hyperlink right now, but it’s here: ),
  • my own manic attention to the CIS version of March Madness, spent watching the games of the (Ontario University Athletics) Wilson Cup and the following week’s Final 8 in Toronto (and a blizzard of hoops-related words that can be accessed just down there),
  • we don’t have a television hook-up, and apparently one of Howdy’s Current Foundational Principles (HCFP) is the refusal to pay for live-streaming of games on my laptop,
  • I don’t have many basketball friends,
  • increasing miles on the spectator-sport odometer, games-related grumpiness, impatience with commercials, crankiness over announcers’ clichés, and
  • (possibly?) growing good sense –

I didn’t watch any of the opening weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (HCFP No. 2: the “play-in games” earlier in the week to decide the last four Cinderellas invited to the Big Dance of 64 do not count. Round 1 of the tournament starts Thursday, not Tuesday. Lines must be drawn. <cough> Ahem. Right. It’s not climate-change denial or global terrorism, but from tiny seeds does a mighty apocalypse grow.)

(None of which explains why I’m writing about it so late. I plead lethargy, sloth, intermittent apathy and mild existential angst. And books. I was tired of writing there for a bit — well, my own, anyway. Glad that’s all over now!)

Okay, and since truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues, and I do aspire to virtuosity of some kind or another, I clarify: I did invite myself to Bernie and Wendy’s living room for the second Gonzaga game in the opening weekend, in case they failed again to make it to the Sweet 16. The Zags did, though CBS had switched to Oklahoma/Dayton, which had very little interest for me even though Dyshawn Pierre is an Ontario kid I liked reading about from China last March, during the Flyers’ stirring run ascent to the Sweet 16, to national jock consciousness and, lest we forget, to millions of new dollars flowing to a previously obscure Ohio school. (Well, obscure from an athletic point of view, that is. To me. I know nothing of its standing in biomedical research or the teaching of the humanities.  And who would care about THAT?)

Yes, and I waited ‘til the actual weekend of the second weekend — also known as The Elite Eight — jimmied the rear door at Wendy and Bernie’s (twice), and lingered like an especially blue-cheesy smell in their otherwise pleasant back kitchen. Here’s what I saw:

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Somebody Won: NCAA Basketball, UConn & Me(aning)

Shed that dolorous duvet of despair! The world is your oyster! said the Dread Voice of Unrelenting Pomposity. I’ve heard that voice before.

Me: Umm. What. Where’s the. What? I don’t even, like, like oysters.

Dread Voice: It’s a metaphor. Rise from thy couch, o scribe of the never-ending playground.

Me: I have a bad feeling about this.

DVUP: It is The Tuesday After. Evening has fallen in a hemisphere hungry for wisdom. Awake! Toll the bell! Ease their pain! And so on.

Me: Okay. Go on. I think I know what you’re going to say.

DVUP: The Madness has ended. The light is fading on the many Shining Moments. They need your strength and your vision and many, many words.

Me: How about a thousand? And while you’re here, why do they still call it March Madness when the Final Four is in April?

DVUP: Marketing. “April Antics” doesn’t scan. But enough of your irreverent frippery and procrastinative verbal flatulence, o bleary exile of the hardcourt heavens! Speak, for by Wednesday the Final Four is a dead letter. Speak, for the Madness cannot be said to have ended, truly, without your closing pronouncements. Speak, for the roundball world cannot rest easily, absent the soothing balm of your counsel and insight. And yes, 1000 of your words will nearly give them a picture. Go forth and type-ify.

Me: Dread Voice, I think you’re making fun of me again. Alright. I’m going. Do I have to use all those big words?

DVUP: Whatever. Get at it, worm.

The Dread Voice is always so encouraging.


For those of you keeping score, I picked none of the Final Four, but neither did you. I only got one right after the NCAA men’s basketball tourney got down to sixteen teams, and then went oh-fer again in picking the semifinal winners. I had Wisconsin, whom I’d configured as the Purehearted Badgers of the Right Student-Athlete Way, slaying the Evil Wildcats, they of the temporary study-vacation in Lexington, Kentucky and by the way what in the world were they majoring in, anyway? Billy Donovan, whom I’m old enough to remember as the dogged, over-achieving, once-was-chubby, sweaty Providence College whippet in an early VHS coaching video by Rick Pitino – c’mon Billy, that’s right, Billy, quickquickquickBilly, attaboyBilly! – was going to lead a plucky crew of talented (but not disgustingly so) Florida Gators over the 10%-graduating, barred-from-the-2013-tournament-due-to-academic-under-achieving, beat-my-Blue-Devils-in-the-’99-title-game Connecticut Huskies. Wrong again, and usually.

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Forward to the Final Four

When last your confused hoops correspondent waxed prophetic in It’s All About Sports! after the first weekend of American collegiate March Madness, when his bracket was significantly hobbled, he predicted an NCAA Elite 8 as follows.

Some of them really are students, I swear. But this image is disgracefully disingenuous, not that this post really wades into that swamp of “Student Athlete” dismay.

Louisville was to play Duke. Bingo! (Okay, a number one seed against a 2; it hardly ranked with Nostradamus, but I’ll take my successes where I find them.) I picked Duke to win through to tomorrow’s Final Four, because I always do, because: A) they often do, and B) I’m a Blue Devils loyalist. Coach K is great, even if he does do too much commercial shilling, and I always argue that there is a large percentage of available high school recruits that Duke can’t even consider because they genuinely need to be students in Durham. (I hope this is still true.) Louisville was just too relentless, and too quick in the backcourt, for Duke.

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Madness, Seen and Read

I didn’t watch a single regular-season NCAA basketball game this year. Some college hoops purists would snort that this puts me in the same category as (Sir) Charles Barkley, the NBA opinionator who parachutes down to see what higher (basketball) education has to offer to the pros, when national tournament frenzy grips the upper Americas. It puts me in the same boat as lots of people, actually, who join me in filling out a bracket — after ignoring the game all year — for all the unpredictable agony and ecstasy that reduce 64 hopeful squads to four, in two four-day weekends.

Sometimes, I can get some good video from here in Dalian. Often, though, madness takes its toll…

Unlike most late-March bandwagon-jumpers, though, I care about the college game, though I can’t watch any of it here in China. (I suppose I could try to stream games on my computer, but that’s not a hassle I volunteer for easily. It reminds me of my youth, when college games were hard to find on Canadian TVs, when even The Tournament was only partly available in the early rounds. That was before March Madness became a Brand.) I did see the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels live, minus their likely one-and-done Canadian star, Anthony Bennett, when they edged the Carleton Ravens in Ottawa last summer on a northern exhibition tour.

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