by Justin Cherot
It’s taken me a week and a half to muster up the courage to post this one. Why?
Simple: the saddest day of the year is when you get knocked out of pool title contention. For me, that day was Saturday, March 20th.
Things were looking so good going into the weekend. Despite a chaotic two days, I went 25-7 and only lost two Sweet 16 teams, one of which nobody outside of Ohio would dare think about picking (the other, Siena, was a fluke loss). So, after attending my daughter’s first ever fashion show–because that’s what father’s like to do on Saturday mornings–I went to work that morning feeling really good about my bracket. “Really good” might have actually been an understatement … I felt OUTSTANDING about my bracket. I was practically ready to count all the (hypothetical if gambling were legal) money coming my way.
I clocked out for my lunch after a very stressful morning that included the carpet-cutting machine not working and a confrontation with a customer about their granite not matching (you idiot, natural stone is highly variant… there’s a warning on the box). Immediately, I flipped open my phone and saw that the Villanova Wildcats–my national runner-up Villanova Wildcats–were trailing the St. Mary’s Gaels by seven at halftime.
I was a little worried, but not frantic. After all, this was a Big East team once ranked number one in the country. They’ll get a tongue-lashing at half-time and pull through. Sure enough, after playing around a little bit to start the half and falling behind by as many as 10, they came storming back, finally taking the lead at 53-51 with 9:41 left.
I exhaled… no way a Big East team once ranked number one in the country blows this lead against a team that can’t believe it let the other team back in it.
Except, the Gaels didn’t fold, and traded baskets with the Wildcats for the next eight minutes before finally, with 1:16 left, Mickey “if you passed me on the street you’d probably mistake me for an extra from Snatch” McConnell drained a three to put St. Mary’s up for good.
I was hypothetically pissed… since gambling isn’t legal and all. Losing a national runner-up on the second day of the tournament is never a good thing. But I consoled myself with the fact that as long as my national champion is alive I’m in decent shape.
Yeah… then I checked my phone before I left work and saw that the Kansas Jayhawks were down nine with eight minutes left to the Northern Iowa Panthers.
I raced home to catch the end of the game, walking in the door just in time to watch the Panthers continually wilt against the Jayhawk full-court pressure. No way a team that can’t even get the ball over mid-court is going to beat Kansas. No way.
In the possessions I watched, Northern Iowa was only able to break the Jayhawk pressure successfully once.
And it was the biggest play of the effin’ game…
I promised not to curse, but… Farokhmanesh. Ali Farokhmanesh.
Within five hours, not only had I lost my national runner-up, but I had lost my national champion. I guess I can take some consolation that 95% of the country lost a national champion, too.
My only chance to win the pool was Jimmer Fredette and his BYU Cougars advancing to the Elite Eight like I predicted. Going into the tournament I knew their game against Kansas State would be tough, but I counted on BYU not being scared against the Wildcats… that and the Clemente/Pullen backcourt shooting KSU out of the game.
So what happened? “Freeway” Pullen shot lights out and Fredette looked like a freshman starting in his first game for the first 35 minutes. The final margin was 12… but it could have easily been 30 judging by the smiling from the Wildcat players.
Already out of the pool running, I came into Sunday excited about the Maryland Terrapins run at a Final Four. I just knew if they beat Michigan State, they were bound for Indianapolis.
Then this happened…
Literally up until I posted the video I hadn’t watched it. Just as painful as listening to it on the radio. The loss shouldn’t take away from what realistically was a very good season… but why the @#$% are you pressing in that situation, Gary?
Not too many people remember, but that wasn’t the first time the Spartans prematurely ended the Terrapins season. Seven years ago–has it been that long already?–Paul Davis ended the Terps’ title defense by hitting a leaner with 4.7 seconds left.
So yeah… seeing Sparty in the Final Four has me a little “green” with envy.
With that out of the way, we’re left with one of the most random Final Fours in NCAA tournament history. No matter what happens, a five seed will play for the title for the first time since 2002 (yeah, the Indiana Hoosiers got worked by the Terps for the ‘chip).
Basketball purists love this kind of FF because, quite frankly, the four best TEAMS found a way to punch their way through the chaos. Yet, for CBS this has to be a ratings’ nightmare. Outside of a good mid-major story (and I hesitate to even call Butler a mid-major anymore), there really aren’t too many compelling story-lines, and two of the four teams are openly detested by about 90% of the basketball-viewing population (the aforementioned Sparty and the Duke Blue Devils). The other team, the West Virginia Mountaineers, is a blue collar bunch who plays at a paint-drying tempo.
A reflection of parity? Surely… but not ideal.
We love the idea of March, how pretty much the tournament is a metaphor for the American Dream: once the ball is tipped, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or how many McDonald’s All-Americans you have: anything can happen.
But then the idea manifests itself… and we’re left with a Final Four with maybe four players who have a legit chance at cracking an NBA rotation. Maybe four.
Is that going to stop me from watching?
Probably not… but then again I love basketball.
And– hypothetically– I need to make up for all the money lost this month during the tourney.