Yes, it feels strange. Every year since 1980, I’ve either been covering first-round games or en route to cover first-round games on this Thursday, and this time I’m not. Due to budgetary considerations — me, I blame it all on AIG — I won’t be attending the 2009 NCAA tournament. On the one hand, I’m a tad sad. On the other, I’m sort of excited because …
I get to do what normal folks do, which is sit around watching games all day. I’ve totally forgotten how that works. I can tell you about my cruddy motel (yes, motel) in Evansville, Ind., or how it feels to commute between first-round sites, which I’ve done a half-dozen times, or the ice storm in Syracuse or the time Billy Packer snapped at me — he called me “fella” — at the Georgia Dome, but I have no real memory of how it feels to stay home in front of the TV.
Being all about interactivity, I will share my personal observations — at an NCAA site long ago, Alex Wolff of Sports Illustrated and I dubbed such things “personal obs” — with you lucky folks. I’ll be here from noon till 6 p.m., at which time I will … well, I’ll assume I’ll ready myself to watch more games.
And if things get boring I’ll tell you about the time my Radio Shack TRS-100 crashed at the tournament in Birmingham and the late Van McKenzie, the AJC’s legendary sports editor, sent a replacement over via Greyhound. (You meet the nicest people at the Birmingham bus station in the middle of the night.) Or the time Dale Brown called me out of a press conference in Knoxville to tell me I’d made his daughter cry.
Or the time I tried to talk to Danny Manning’s father Ed, then a Kansas assistant, and KU aide Alvin Gentry started yelling at me because I was “the guy from Atlanta” who wrote something mean about point guard Cedric Hunter. Or the time Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs called me “some jerk in Atlanta.” Or the time …
OK, I digress. I’m guessing we’ll have time for digressions. But stick around and we might also have a little fun, and somewhere along the line I’ll tell you about Seth Davis’ dad.
CBS isn’t even on the air with the tournament yet, and we’ve got our first semi-bogus controversy. President Obama picked his Final Four and didn’t include Duke, which prompted Mike Krzyzewski, who’s used to getting his way, to advise the chief executive to focus on the economy. So here’s what I’m wondering: When Coach K does yet another of his goofy commercials, should our President issue an executive order requiring that he stick to basketball?
One thing more. President Obama (pictured above, to the right of my feet) revealed his picks to the famous Andy Katz of ESPN. It has been a big few days for Mr. Katz. Not only did he get to hang with the Prez, he had his photo taken with Dickie V. and me last week at the ACC tournament. I’m guessing the latter was a bigger thrill.
We’re about to get underway here, and I thought it only fair to tell you who I’m picking this afternoon and why.
LSU over Butler: I have a bad feeling about this one, given Butler’s NCAA history, but this isn’t the same bunch of Bulldogs. It’s younger. And LSU’s pretty good. And John Brady isn’t coaching there anymore.
Memphis over Cal-Northridge: I’ve got the Tigers losing Saturday, but not today. (Losing to Maryland, another pick I know I’ll regret.)
Texas A&M over BYU: No real reason. I just think it’s funny that Billy Gillispie’s old team made the tournament and his new one is in the NIT. Oh, and have you noticed that Tubby Smith’s new team (Minnesota) is in the Big Dance as well? Sure you have.
Northern Iowa over Purdue: You aren’t a real hoops maven unless you pick one 5/12 upset. And Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley Conference, which always represents rather well.
Radford over North Carolina: OK, I’m kidding. But if Ty Lawson doesn’t play, this could be close for 25 minutes.
Maryland over California: And I just know Greivis Vasquez will turn the ball over 15 times and make me look like a moron. (See, I’m fatalistic about my picks.)
UConn over Chattanooga: I picked UConn to win its regional, but I’m starting to wish I hadn’t.
Washington over Mississippi State: I actually sort of picked State to win the SEC tourney, which it did, but I don’t trust Rick Stansbury in the Big Dance. And the game’s in Portland, which is, I believe, closer to Seattle than to Starkville.
CBS just reported that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has been hospitalized and will not work his team’s game this afternoon. George Blaney, who used to be the head coach at Seton Hall and Holy Cross, will step in.
Memphis leads Northridge by three points at the half but wouldn’t seem in real trouble. Butler has closed its gap to six against LSU. Texas A&M is comfortably ahead of Brigham. And Tim Brando is making me lose my religion.
Because I’m tired of hearing cracks about my TV — and also because the wireless was getting iffy in the bedroom — I’ve relocated to the living room.
And Northridge is up by three, inside nine minutes. Who was the idiot complaining about being fed the Memphis game?
An amazing thing has happened: The NCAA tournament is two hours old and I haven’t lost a team. Memphis pulls away. LSU holds on. Texas A&M eliminates BYU for the second year running. And now you’re asking: Why did A&M and BYU play two years in a row? Doesn’t the committee shy away from rematches?
Usually, yes. But BYU presents a singular seeding problem. The school refuses to allow any of its teams to play on Sunday, and therefore BYU must be seeded into a Thursday-Saturday subregional that feeds into a Thursday-Saturday regional, which narrows the grid by half. You might recall that in 2003 the committee, which was chaired by a BYU alumnus, forgot and had to redraw its bracket after it had been released to accommodate the Cougars.
Chattanooga leads Connecticut by two. Carolina leads Radford by 12. Purdue is up by 12 on Northern Iowa, which I picked to win in a moment of insanity, at halftime. And Maryland leads Cal by three with 7:31 remaining.
And here’s the Associated Press story on Calhoun’s still-undisclosed illness.
Winding down now. Nothing much has happened since Memphis took control at the end. UConn and Carolina won by about 100 points between them. (Ninety-nine points, to be precise.) Maryland pulled away against Cal. Only one lower seed has advanced, and you couldn’t call Maryland much of an underdog against Cal. I’ve missed one game (Northern Iowa lost to Purdue) and still am not terribly satisfied.
I mean, I wait 28 years to sit at home and watch Day 1 of the Big Dance like a normal person, and I don’t get a single Szczerbiak or Valparaiso moment. All I got was Tim Brando talking about “attacking the rack.” Had I paid, I’d want my money back. But I didn’t, so I’ll just go off and sulk.
Until tonight. Something great will happen then, I feel sure.