Thursday, March 23, 2006

A fan re-surveys this year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament: gyring and gimbling

The tournament resumes tonight! O frabjuous day! Calloo, callay!

But in the midst of the Meridian's happy dance in celebration of the resumption of the Big Dance, I fear I have some dismaying news to report: I must speak a bit of truth to an acknowledged intellectual power of the blogosphere (not that he'll ever see this, mind) before indulging in some pre-game chat.

We have all experienced this before: someone whose intelligence we admire nevertheless has some sort of fixation that his/her admirers, try as they might, just can't get their heads around yet keep on admiring him/her anyway . . . but then goes and says something so boneheaded, so inexplicable--the intellectual equivalent of blowing the rent on booze--that we've got to say something so as to retain our integrity. Such is the case with Matthew Yglesias and his adoration of pro basketball. Thus far, said admiration has left me shaking my head but has seemed harmless to me. But now comes this post in American Prospect, in which he so derides the college game and, in particular, the tournament, that I kept thinking it was a joke. But he seems completely in earnest, so much so that he just does not seem to be watching the same game I am. I'll not rehash the whole argument here, and in any event another smart guy, Jason Zengerle of The Plank, here makes most of the responses I would make. But I will say this: Yglesias' basic standard in his preference for the pro game over the college game is competence: the pros are better players, so why wouldn't the truly discerning fan prefer the pro game? Well, okay--up to a point. Along with competence should come passion, in sports as in Life generally. The recent video of the autistic high school kid who was put into the game by a coach and proceeded to hit those 3-point goals is about that kid's passion for the game. That buzzer-beater by Northwest State that defeated Iowa--the players got so excited that they started to embrace each other, and the game hadn't even (quite) ended--was about passion. The pro game--in particular the ridiculous length of the playoffs--is utterly lacking in passion when compared to the college game. With the college tournament, the object ultimately is not to determine the best team but the best team ON THAT DAY. Instant passion, no? What sports fan cannot appreciate such a dynamic? Apparently, those content with mere competence cannot.

Anyway. Now that I've dispensed with that heresy, the true believers and the recently-converted are invited to



And now they are 16. Three of them, including Wichita's own Wichita State U. Shockers and those Jayhawk-slaying Bradley U. Braves, are so-called mid-majors. Because WSU will be playing George Mason, the other mid-major, on Friday, one of those mid-majors is already guaranteed an Elite Eight spot--and a shot at a Final Four berth. But: all 4 #1 seeds--U. of Connecticut, Villanova, Memphis and Duke--remain, the first time in an even-numbered year since 1990 that all 4 have survived the first weekend. UCLA and Texas are the two remaining #2 seeds.

What does all of this mean? For one thing, a most intriguing game tonight between Bradley and Memphis. Few if any are giving the Braves a chance in this game because of the Tigers' athleticism, but Kansas' speed is comparable to Memphis', and Bradley counterd that well with surprising speed of its own and a team that plays well as a team. And more to the point, no one had given Bradley a chance in either of its previous tournament games (the other was with Pittsburg of the vaunted Big East), and look where they find themselves. By this point, I don't think anyone should be surprised if Bradley pulls this one out as well.

The other game of note is the mighty Longhorns against the West Virginia Mountaineers. While I share the national sentiment that it's incredibly difficult to root against a team, any team, with a player surnamed Pittsnogle, the mighty Longhorns have a chance to make me happily mistaken in my assessment of them. The 'Horns had trouble with Penn, as I suspected they would (they historically have struggled against the Ivys, Princeton in particular), but they looked really fine against a good NC State team, winning by 20. Texas also has the advantage of having played against (and defeated) West Virginia earlier in the season. It should be a good, close game, with the 'Horns (I hope) pulling it out.

It has thus far been a marvelous tournament: most games have been close--including a couple of the #1 vs. #16 games--and it really is a thrill to see the mid-majors as a true presence in the tournament and not just oh-by-the-way reminders (to, even, media "experts" as well as to fans) that other conferences besides the Usual Suspects play not just competitive but good (yes, GOOD) basketball, too.

And thus the Tournament hath slain the Jabberwock.

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1 comment:

Ariel said...

Due to Aidan's arrival (he's reading this with me, thus the necessity of typing with one hand) I'm behind on my blog reading. But a hearty congrats on a solid tourney run for the 'Horns. I've been hearing reports that Tucker will be back next year and Aldridge is thinking about returning (!) despite a projected top-three spot in the draft. So no worries.