History’s Uppercut

Baylor Falls to Gonzaga 83-71 - Our Daily Bears

This happens to be more times than I figured on writing anything about college basketball, and it’s entirely the fault of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. And maybe I’ll never write another word about a sport I have no investment in, excepting for a signed basketball by the 1991 Duke team that won a national title. And that’s okay with me, because Gonzaga made me pay attention on Monday night.

Watch? Well . . no. I was tired and so I napped away the first half before waking to a Baylor rout in the making. And so I figured it was a good bet that the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers would remain the last undefeated champion in the sport. I didn’t feel the need to watch history take its best shot, because I know how that usually turns out.

The Zags had a great season at 31-1, even if that one loss looks bigger than the thirty one wins that came before it. That’s how it works in sports. History doesn’t play nice when it comes to matters of perfection. I’m not sure how many college basketball teams have gotten close to a perfect season. I remember UNLV losing their chance to that Duke team in the ’91 National Semis. And I think Kentucky had a chance a while back. Gonzaga got further than either of these teams, but still . . falling forty minutes short only feels worse.

The New England Patriots had the worst 18-1 record in NFL history back in 2007, seeing as how the one loss came in the last game of the season with a chance at perfection in their grasp. Since the Hoosiers perfecto of a season, many have tried but none have succeeded. Because the only sure thing about sports is that, more often than not, it flips the script on you when you least expect it.

To set a course for perfection is a brilliant sounding plan, but as former New York Giant Michael Strahan once remarked “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. And while he was talking about how his Giants took it to those perfect Pats, he might as well have been talking about history’s uppercut. It’s a keeper.

It doesn’t change the narrative, not for me it doesn’t. Because the Gonzaga kids earned the right to be immortalized by getting to the final game of the season with nary a pimple on their season’s resume. Inside the forty minutes they played last night, it wasn’t about wins or losses as much as it was about the chance to deliver an outcome whose echo will keep paying it forward for decades on end.

And in the end, the echo will carry. Sure, the ending is going to look a lot different than they were planning on. But they’ll be remembered nonetheless, and for a good long while. Until some other college team makes it through a season unscathed, at which time it will become their turn to figure out how to win the gauntlet with history breathing down their necks.

I’d have to believe the Gonzaga kids will be pulling for them.

 

Partly Interesting With A Chance Of Greatness

Beavers bound for Elite Eight with 65-58 win over Loyola | Ncaa Basketball  | hastingstribune.com

In lieu of common sense and because I don’t drink the way I used to, Imma dish yet again on the world of college basketball. Or more specifically, “March Madness”. For those of you unfamiliar with the college basketball tournament, congratulations! It means you have a life.

For the rest of the population, this month long carnival validates our belief in the underdog. It’s a time when fans can rejoice in the accomplishments of student athletes while paying homage to sacred programs run by coaches who value teaching above wins and losses . . . okay, that’s not it at all. Nope, March Madness is when fans blow their vacation money on schools they never heard of. It’s also a convenient excuse to drink too much beer and eat too many hot wings . . and call off work.

In spite of the much hyped moniker, there’s precious little madness to it all. It’s a tournament that involves sixty-four teams, although by now it might be sixty-eight . . or a hundred . . rest assured it’s a shitload of teams. They all have one thing in common, they’re all unpaid amateurs . . tall, lanky pups who’ve been seeded based on the opinions of a committee made up of . . you guessed it, NCAA suits. But it doesn’t matter what the suits say because these are kids we’re talking about here. And if the star player for a “prohibitive favorite” ends up getting dumped by his high school sweetheart? Well, you can use your bracket for toilet paper.

Tournament seedings are based on qualifiers such as conference strength, conference records, ranked vs unranked teams and other important sounding bullshit. But it’s all conjecture. You’re better off wagering a thousand bucks that you’ll run into your doctor in a grocery store checkout today than pluck it down on a group of young men who have little idea what their lives are going to look like next month.

The selling point of “Madness” is that there are upsets aplenty, but a quick look at three of the most talked about finals upsets tells a different story.

1983- North Carolina State defeats Houston: The late Jim Valvano was every bit the crooked recruiter as Houston, he was simply more charming.

1985- Villanova defeats Georgetown: Villanova is a big time basketball program, always has been. No upset there.

1991- Duke defeats UNLV: This was considered an upset because Duke’s roster was full of kids who went to class.

A couple years back, a sixteen seed (the lowest a bracket has to offer) beat the number one seed Virginia Cavaliers. But to go and call it a “monumental upset” is to conveniently forget that Bob Barker is older than the combined age of the Virginia roster. So there’s that.

Which brings us to this year’s darlings of the dance, the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs. They are now two wins shy of the title game, and it’s a tilt I would tune in to watch. Not because I believe they’re a mortal lock, but rather, because I know it’s never that easy when you’re talking about kids. Hell, the 2007 New England Patriots were a bunch of grown ass men with rings on their resumes and they got their asses handed to them in a one game winner take all contest.

Of course, there’s still time for some club to knock off the Bulldogs before they get there. After which paid shills journalists and broadcasters will exclaim that “Cinderella” crashed the dance, even if it’s just not true. And what’s even dumber is that these talking pinheads can’t shut up long enough to let the games just be. To let the kids just . . be kids. In all their bluster, they miss the point of it all. Entirely.

The only thing that really has to be true is the chance.

Beware the Lies of March (Madness)

deflated basketball

Don’t worry, this isn’t a whiny, frothing rant on the shitty state of the sports world. No . . this is a whiny, frothy rant on the shitty state of college basketball.

I used to be a fan of college ball back in the day. Back when players stayed in school all four years. Back when conferences made sense. Back when fundamentals mattered more than gangster posing and preening and three pointers and slam dunk highlights.

This isn’t to say that players shouldn’t make the jump to the NBA if they possess the skills. Hey, if you can make baller money . . go do it! But this is to say that the pillars of the sport- Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski- have failed their young charges. Miserably. Not the one tenth of one percent who end up playing at the next level. They have failed the ones who won’t. But since those kids aren’t where the money’s at, no prob.

Rail on all you want about John Calipari being shameless. Damn the basketball factory he’s running at Kentucky, but yanno what? He is the only one who ain’t lying. And most of his starting lineup actually will get drafted by an NBA team. So there’s that.  See, all the rest of these coaches love Calipari, because he’s the punching bag for their transgressions.

This didn’t just happen overnight, mind you. It happened over decades and decades, as the money got bigger and the priorities of these institutions of higher learning became increasingly narrow and subversive. How else to explain how it is that many taxpayer funded schools wantonly recruit athletes with rap sheets . . recruit athletes from the other side of the world . . hire coaches in order to ‘bribe’ recruits into playing for them.

Why doesn’t someone ask Jim Boeheim how he got out from under the Bernie Fine scandal? Why doesn’t someone ask Jim Calhoun how, if he loved his kids so much, he could leave them and his school holding the bag when he walked away from a litany of transgressions, unscathed? Why won’t someone ask Pimp Daddy Rick Pitino what he’s smoking when he boasts of always having run clean programs? And why in the blessed fuck doesn’t someone ask Michigan State coach Tom Izzo to be real, or at least try? When Izzo says he won’t answer any non-basketball related questions in fairness to his players, why doesn’t someone ask about the women and the girls? Was it fair to them? Every single fucking question he is asked should be about the women and the girls.

And now we get “March Madness”- the most over hyped production since Waterworld, and every bit as anti-climactic. How else to explain a tournament where every single ‘upset’ is a subjective enterprise? I mean, a committee seeds the teams, which is overwhelmingly subjective. And then, when a nine seed beats an eight seed, everyone screams UPSET!. The truth of the matter is there are very few true ‘upsets’ in the tournament, yet we are led to believe it happens all the time and every year. It’s nonsense, perpetuated by networks who buy the rights to televise this tournament for a shitload of money, after which they lord over the NCAA. The tail wags the dog, and the tail is big money that leads to more corruption, which leads to the next scandal. After which the NCAA will get tough by taking wins away from a school, titles too. But it won’t change a fucking thing, because the system is built for cheating.

I know exactly one thing about this year’s tournament. My son’s school (Penn) is slotted as the sixteenth seed in some regional . . somewhere . . Whoville or Buttfuckswana who knows? What I do know is that these kids- all of ’em- will be pulled out of the classroom to go play tournament basketball for days, maybe even weeks at a time. Not that the high profile athletes have to worry themselves with missed class time, unless they want to be students. The academics are optional for too many of these kids, and the sad fact is that too few of these kids will make an NBA roster, so yanno . . a college education is kind of important.

The Penn Quakers will be playing the number one seed Kansas Jayhawks. The game will most likely be over before halftime, and Kansas will probably make another title run because they’re a minor league basketball team whose integrity as an academic institution now runs a distant second to being a basketball power, since that’s where the money is.

The Penn kids will be just fine, and who knows . . maybe a few of them will even be representing the Kansas kids before too long. Either as player/agents or in a court of law. Harsh, sure. True? Absofuckinglutely.

I’ll fill out a bracket in which I guess my ass off, but I will not watch a minute of the tournament. Because college basketball doesn’t need me, they already have their money.

Maybe it was always going to be this way. Maybe college basketball was destined to be a runaway train whose allegiance to the almighty dollar over every single other thing was gonna happen regardless. Maybe it was always destined to crash and burn in the same way Bobby Knight’s coaching career did, after one too many bad grandpa acts. Come to think of it, Knight is symbolic of college basketball- a high profile bully whose boorishness was overlooked because winning games mattered most. Knight was the literal bottom to a bottom line that honors winning games over all else. I wish Bobby Knight would’ve tried his act on the wrong person, just once. Because he didn’t need kudos and applause. What he needed was a good ass kicking.

So too, does his sport.