In case you were busy soothing your aching joints with an old-fashioned Epsom salt soak, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NCAA tournament Sweet 16 is set, and the biggest story thus far has been the run of Florida Gulf Coast University, who find themselves among college basketball's elite after an 81-71 win over San Diego State. Based on all my knowledge of the school from before the tournament started, "FGCU," which has probably been around for over a decade, has amassed a number of victories on their way to becoming a true school where NCAA basketball is played. The team features players, of which five play on the court at the same time, barring truly unusual circumstances, who shoot basketballs toward baskets, which is a thing those players do to get basketball points. They employ strategies regarding where they should run so that they can shoot basketballs from preferable positions, implemented by a coach with a unique backstory that I remember hearing about once but mostly forget. He might have been a baron of some sort? So mark it down in your personalized line drawing of college names: Florida Gulf Coast University is a school from Florida, probably located along the gulf coast, that plays basketball and is eligible for advancement in the NCAA basketball tournament. Up next for Florida Gulf Coast University is the University of Florida, a school that is also run by the state of Florida. Expect basketball shots, two strategic men telling basketball players what to do, and collusion.
Louisville, the tournament's no. 1 seed, advanced to the Round of 16 after dismantling Colorado State, 82-56, at the University of Kentucky's home court, Rupp Arena. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after the game, "Man, it's nice to be back at the old stomping ground, playing out of the home locker room. Hey, has anyone heard how the Wildcats are doing? No? Yeah, no, me neither. That's really unusual. But hey, tell John, old friend of mine, 'Thanks for the hospitality.' Also, we used all of the condiments that were in the fridge here. Hope that's not a problem."
On Christmas Day, the Miami Hurricanes basketball team found themselves in Honolulu, leading Indiana State, 47-40, with 2:25 left in the third-place game of something called the Diamond Head Classic. A day earlier, they'd lost to Arizona by 19 points in the semifinals, and it was hard to blame either the Canes or Sycamores for the ugly game that followed. It was a consolation, for god's sake, and they were making them play on the holiday. Miami's loss to Arizona was just their second of the season, but the first — a 63-51 embarrassment at the hands of Florida Gulf Coast — had taken the shine off a team some people had expected to contend for an ACC title. They followed that snafu by coasting through December, even picking up a home win over Michigan State to restore some luster, but now the doubts had returned. And the whole situation was about to get worse; Indiana State found one last spark — annoying, in a way — and rallied from a seven-point deficit to tie the game in regulation. That was it for Miami. They lost by two in overtime, adding a Hawaiian chapter to an ignominious start. The Hurricanes and coach Jim Larranaga were flying back to the mainland as yet another ACC punchline.
And the question we have to ask, here on January 24, is this: How did they go from there to here? How, in less than a month, did the disgraced Hurricanes manage to roll up a 5-0 ACC record and establish a two-game lead that makes them presumptive favorites for the regular season title? How did they wrap both hands around the soft neck of the conference, and how did they squeeze like giddy lunatics?
December 2007: Wichita East High School’s Bryce Brown, a five-star running back largely considered to be the nation’s top junior prospect, verbally commits to the University of Miami. With no-nonsense head coach Randy Shannon, dual-threat quarterback Jacory Harris, super booster Nevin Shapiro, and Brown, a dynasty appears to be on the horizon at The U.
February 2008: As it turns out, Brown’s verbal was anything but solid. Handler/cell phone salesman/self-proclaimed “most connected guy in Wichita” Brian Butler — a slimier version of Buddy Garrity, if such a thing is possible — reveals that Brown might instead opt to play in the CFL, likely because of his longstanding affinity for Saskatchewanian literature.
March 2008: After a month of careful contemplation, Brown decides against becoming football’s Brandon Jennings and narrows his college search to six finalists: Miami, Kansas State, Tennessee, USC, Oregon, and LSU.
March 2009: Lane Kiffin lures Brown to Tennessee. In retrospect, it’s a minor miracle that this marriage lasted as long as it did.
While agonizing over the possibility of a second straight Alabama-LSU title game, I think I came up with the worst thing about their horrible dominance: as a neutral college football fan, you have to pick a favorite.
Well, let me qualify that. A person like me, who is incapable of watching a sporting event of any kind (including youth Frisbee) without vilifying one team and venerating the other, needs to pick a favorite. Believe me, that is a hateful, torturous task in this world of Tigers and Tide. Anyone with a semblance of love for the amateur unpredictability of college football probably despises these two programs. They are the evil empire, magnified by a power of two. While the rest of us stand by and watch, helpless, Les Miles and Nick Saban have created near-professional super-teams in a non-professional sport, slowly sucking the competitive life out of the game.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Rays won three of four games in Boston to trim the Red Sox wild-card lead to two games. Seven of the Rays' last ten games are against the Yankees, and if they win the majority, they have a great chance to overtake the Red Sox for the last playoff spot. "Man," said Yankee manager Joe Girardi, "that would be rough. You'd hate to see something like that." In related news, his next four starting pitchers are Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Posada's mother, and a fan who won a contest.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Detroit's Doug Fister took a perfect game into the seventh, and the Tigers eventually prevailed, 2-1, on Ramon Santiago's 10th-inning walk-off home run. Fister didn't get the win, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave him a nice sticker with a yellow meteor and the words "I pitched like a star today!"