I don’t give away my basketball heart easily. I thought they were dead against Davidson, and I thought Butler had more of everything. The old loyalties never die, but whatever it was that the selection committee, and their coaches, and they themselves saw in this season, had eluded me. But Thursday night, as the Verizon Center clock wound through the last three minutes, and I heard the old chants and the song and everything, and after I watched Marquette pick a conspicuously unenthusiastic Miami team apart in its 71-61 win in Washington, D.C., I finally handed it over. (Simmons warned me there’d be days like this.) Sometimes, the whole really is the sum of the hearts.
In case you were busy waiting in line at a food truck for what turned out to be not the best pork buns you've ever eaten, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Syracuse rode a dominant defensive effort into the Elite Eight, upsetting the Indiana Hoosiers, 61-50. "It's a disappointing loss for sure, but we can hold our heads up knowing we went down to one of the best coaches of all time in Jim Boeheim," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean after the game. However, Crean was apparently unaware that Syracuse had replaced Boeheim two years ago with a VHS tape of alumnus Jerry Stiller yelling, "2-3! 2-3! Rotate! Rotate! Come on, boys, get it together," playing on a loop on the sideline.
Marquette continued its impressive tournament run, as Buzz Williams's Golden Eagles knocked out Miami, 71-61. This marks Marquette's first appearance in the Elite Eight since 2003, which means it's time for About Last Night's newest feature: "What Ever Happened To " For our first "What Ever Happened To " we're going to look at former Marquette star Dwyane Wade, who led his team to the 2003 Final Four. It turns out that Wade has been playing basketball professionally with the Miami Heat since his college days. Thus concludes our first episode of "What Ever Happened To " If you have an idea for a long-lost star who you want to track down, leave his or her name in the comments, and we'll look into it for you.
Later this week, we'll get down to actual science and go through every bracket pick by pick. (And don't worry — the rage I feel toward the committee for putting four of the tournament's best teams in the Midwest Region, a.k.a. "The Group of Death," will still be strong. They will have to answer to Shane Ryan.)
But today, I'm speaking more generally. Rather than look at the bracket or obsess about matchups, this is about identifying the essential core trait of all 68 tournament teams. Could they win the title? Are they tragically flawed? Are they doomed from the get-go? Are they Wisconsin? All will be revealed, and when the 68 are properly grouped, we'll be ready to take the next step.
Let's start with the worst of the worst, and make our way up. Each team's seed is in parentheses.
Confession time: I have a bad relationship with GIFs. I'm 100 percent alone on this one, I know, especially among young Internet sports types. But to me, GIFs are like "Harlem Shake" videos — hilarious visual gag at first, until you become so inundated that you go numb and begin to hate the person who bought you your first computer and sent you on this horrible, soul-killing journey into the heart of the Internet. (Important note: This is for comedy GIFs only it doesn't go for the ones that are just meant to show a sweet dunk, a great goal, or any of the other sincere uses of the form.)
Watching a GIF, I get the weird sense that I'm being manipulated, as though I'm laughing begrudgingly at a stand-up comedian whose only bit is to hit himself in the face with a baking pan. The endless repetition is supposed to be what gives the image its humor, but something about it drives me crazy. It's like we're making snark-commodities out of human moments. (Actually, pretend I just said something along the same lines, but less pretentious.)
This is my only soapbox. I only care about destroying the GIF culture. But after all that big talk, I have to admit that I still laugh at the really good ones that transcend the medium, like Ben McLemore dancing. And the reason I'm mentioning it now is that I violated my own principles and yeah, made a GIF. I couldn't help it:
I know I should have stuck to my guns, but the way the cameraman went into soft focus on Kelly and readjusted to the fan doing the White Raven arms — it's like he was begging me to make a GIF. He was my serpent, and his comic shot was the forbidden apple. I hope this isn't the start of a slippery slope, but in three months you'll probably find me lying face down in a dark Internet cafe, dead from a GIF overdose.
Today is the first of March, and so I wish you a Happy March Day. March Day is the lesser-known cousin of May Day, which is a pagan holiday celebrated on May 1. But March Day is far more important because it means we're getting close to the most essential time of year: The Madness. When 64 become one, all shall be revealed. Hail March Day, for The Madness Is Upon Us.
(If there's ever an apocalypse that wipes out most of humanity, I hope the only thing future societies recover from our time is the paragraph above, with absolutely no context.)
Time for the top 10 games of the weekend. Note that a week from Sunday, the regular season is OVER.
In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
The Big Ten Road Trip, with all its local comforts, is over, and now it's time to plunge back into the chaos of the national scene. A huge part of college basketball analysis is projecting what will happen in the postseason. It makes sense, because the sport is defined by a few crazy days in March, but I always get a fleeting sense of regret around this time of year. I wish conference tournaments meant more, and I especially wish regular-season conference championships meant more.
I love March Madness as much as anyone, but the truth is it's one of the worst postseasons in terms of crowning the actual best team. That's why it's great; you have to win on a given day, and the small sample size allows for the upsets and anomalies that give the tournament its character. In fact, of the six major American professional and college sports, I'd argue that college hoops is at the bottom of the postseason reliability spectrum. Here are my rankings, from most to least reliable:
Today's Shuffle is going to be a quick one — to get your college hoops fix, check out dispatch no. 1 on Indiana-Ohio State from my Big Ten road trip — but, wow, the wheels have really come off, haven't they? Let's do a list of 10 thoughts and conclusions from the weekend, except let's make it just like college basketball rankings and have the numbers mean absolutely nothing.
7. Nobody is good. Or everybody is good. But if everybody is good, then nobody is good. So in the end, nobody is good. Unless you reverse it, in which case, OH, JUST SHUT UP. THIS YEAR IS COMMUNIST. IT'S A PERFECT COMMUNIST YEAR.
With that in mind, who is communist icon Karl Marx's college basketball doppelganger? What about Friedrich Engels? If you take away the beards, I'm going with Marx as a young Bobby Knight and Engels as a fatter-faced Aaron Craft. But I'm not really happy with either of those, so please help me in the comments.
I was going to make a video of Illinois's comeback against Indiana, but then my editor Sarah Larimer sent me some of the coolest guerrilla footage of the year, from someone standing on the baseline. It starts with Brandon Paul heading to the line for two and hitting the first on a bank shot that Spike Friedman rightly called the most underrated part of the game, and continues through the end: Oladipo's turnover, Oladipo's block, and the incredible inbounds play to end it. Credit goes to Rob McColley for the greatest non-TV footage of the season. It's six minutes long, but the good stuff happens in the first three:
"The ACC tournament doesn't start until Friday," is a phrase I heard more than once Thursday, the day on which the ACC tournament actually started.
I was especially prone to hearing that sentiment, considering my penchant for complaining about the lack of quality basketball. Still, all good drama needs a setup; those first two establishing acts that make us care about the climax. Even a joke needs a foundation, and it remains to be seen which path this tournament will take.
Before we take a tour of the notable events from Thursday, here are the basics you need to know.
As the ACC tournament kicks off in Atlanta, two teams are in a dog fight for their NCAA tournament lives. The committee is notoriously mum about bubble teams in the week leading up to Selection Sunday, and nobody quite knows where NC State and Miami stand at the moment, but the consensus is that there's work to be done for each. Without one or two wins this week, the pity and consolation of the NIT awaits.
And that's not all they have in common. Both teams finished tied for fourth in the ACC with a 9-7 conference record. Both teams have first-year coaches — Mark Gottfried at NC State, Jim Larranaga at Miami. And both are enduring NCAA tournament droughts — three years and counting for Miami, five years for a State team recovering from the painful Sidney Lowe era.
I promise there's basketball later in this post, but I have to start off with the fans. Because Wednesday night at the RBC Center in Raleigh, while N.C. State and Miami were playing for their tournament lives, the Wolfpack faithful taught us all the three most important lessons about comedy.
1. Brevity = soul of wit.
To understand this one, you need to know three quick facts. First, Reggie Johnson is a Miami center who was recently suspended because his family received "impermissible travel benefits" from a team representative. Second, Reggie Johnson returned for last night's game against N.C. State. Third, Reggie Johnson is a big dude. A big, heavy, chunky dude.
But so are 200 other Division I colleges. What distinguishes Miami is not the passion for football, but the utter absence of love for basketball. Earlier this season, the Hurricanes earned a huge victory when they beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in overtime. Going into Wednesday's matchup against North Carolina, first-year coach Jim Larranaga, who inherited a talented team of upperclassmen from Frank Haith, had led the Hurricanes to a 15-8 record. His team kept getting better and better. Miami had won five of its last six. (The Hurricanes fell to no. 17 Florida State on Saturday.) An NCAA tournament berth was very much in play.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots 21-17 in Super Bowl XLVI. And that's after viewers were inundated with patriotic propaganda, from the national anthem to a crazy Clint Eastwood ad, without ever seeing one commercial featuring actual giants. Not one!
Eli Manning, who threw for 296 yards and led the game-winning drive, was named the game's MVP for the second time in his career. "GEE WHIZ AND JEEZUM CROW!" he shouted, waving his hat around in excitement. "GOLLLLLY, THAT'S SWELL!" He then stared at the Chevrolet Corvette he won, and wondered when Peyton would take him for a ride to the dairy for some iced cream.