Sunday, April 08, 2007


Beware: Philosophizing ahead.

Last Monday, April 2, Florida won the national title by beating Ohio St. by nine, bringing the 2007 NCAA Tournament to an end. The next day, April 3, Fountains of Wayne released their fourth studio album, Traffic and Weather.

The former has a lot to do with why I haven’t bought the latter. Fountains of Wayne is, hands-down, my favorite existing band. The NCAA Tournament is, hands-down, my favorite annual sporting event*.

But these NCAAs didn’t even come within shouting distance of my expectations. They weren’t awful. They’re never awful. But after the glory of George Mason? In the wake of those insane regional finals in 2005? They were a disappointment. They were never anything more than adequate, nothing more than, well, a whole bunch of college basketball games.

If it wasn’t for just a handful of moments, they wouldn’t have even been adequate. Seeing Brad Maynor send Dive, er, Duke home after 40 minutes was as cathartic for me as it was for everyone else. Winthrop shaking that ever-fattening first-round gorilla off its back was hella sweet for a guy who still feels the tug of the old Big South alliance. Watching a team as selfless and inherently likable as Florida take home the grand prize—after gambling the NBA’s gazillions they would do nothing less than exactly that—made for a hell of a story. Not to mention it continued to keep important NCAA championships out of the heathen hands of the Buckeyes and the Big 10.

But this mainstream acceptance, even glorification, of this year’s tournament because of the absence of big upsets and alleged quality of the teams remaining? That doesn’t cut it here. First, it’s not like that mile-high stack of high seeds ever produced a truly classic game. Georgetown’s battle with Vandy was excellent and yeah, yeah, yeah the G-town-UNC game wasn’t bad--but only thanks to the Heels’ Greg Norman-esque gag job. The best game in the tournament, for the JCCW’s money, was SIU-Kansas, pitting the Salukis' mind-blowing man-to-man against the Jayhawks’ mind-blowing (and, from this perspective, damn unfortunate) two-point shooting--and SIU doesn't have a single player who's clsoe to the NBA radar.

But more importantly, who the hell watches the NCAAs for the quality of the basketball? When I want to watch basketball for the sheer joy of watching the sport played well, I’ll turn on the Suns and Mavs, thanks.

What I watch the NCAAs for is the surprise, the drama, the story the tournament offers. And the story of one megalith full of NBA stars beating another megalith isn’t a story. That’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s what the entire rigged college basketball system of Bob Hugginses and Hummer-driving AAU recruits and antibacterial million-dollar locker rooms is intended to give us. I watch the NCAAs for a re-affirmation that what’s intended and what’s supposed to happen sometimes doesn’t--that all the money and prestige and status in the world still can’t keep Connecticut from losing to George Mason, it still can’t keep a bunch of Patriot League nerds from toppling Kansas. Now those are stories.

This year, though, money won. Status mattered. This year’s NCAA Tournament was one of those realistic turn-of-the-century British novels where the rich gentleman engaged to the snooty rich girl falls in love with the smart-but-poor country girl, then marries the rich girl anyway and they all live unhappily ever after. You finish a book like that, you understand the author’s choices. You admire the craft. You acknowledge the realism. In short, you respect it. But you never fall in love with it. And I never loved the 2007 NCAAs.

So now, one of these days, I am going to buy the new Fountains of Wayne album, which because of the crushing brilliance of their first three I have mountainous expectations for. The same expectations I have every year for the NCAAs. One of them has already been good-and-not-great. It would hurt a little too much this week to learn that both of them are.

A mid-major-centric tourney wrap up and some blog news coming this week.

*As I mentioned earlier, the Iron Bowl or the Auburn-LSU game or a juicy season-opener would rank right up there in good years. But then, occasionally, there are also bad years.

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