Wednesday, March 19, 2008

mad*ness: (noun)

1. the quality of being rash
2. craziness, foolishness, folly;
3. stupidity, especially a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience
4. unrestrained excitement or enthusiasm;

It's the night before the greatest four-day sporting stretch in North America, which only leads into the best long-form sporting event this side of the World Cup. All the 6-7 tweeners are tucked tightly in their beds with visions of Erin Andrews dancing in their heads. All the grizzled newspaper men are still clean shaven and have barely started creeping out the cocktail waitresses at the many downtown chain hotels to which they are dispatched. Assistant coaches are checking taped hotel room doors and head coaches are scribbling defensive sets on yellow legal pads while ignoring goodnight-text-messages from their wives.

And, then there is us. All of us budding bracketologists and amateur armchair analysts with our crumbled paper brackets and ink-stained finger tips and paper cuts in places that there shouldn't be paper cuts. We've all watched so much television and thought so hard and then flippantly filled out online brackets (speaking of those, get on it http://whatwouldoakleydo.blogspot.com/2008/03/first-ever-best-ever-wwod-pool.html) in a matter of seconds with a click here and a click there. Here a click. There an upset. Everywhere a hunch, hunch.

It is in these actions that the madness of March is really exhibited. After all, even the lowliest play-in game loser is still just a basketball team going about it's business the way it always does. They play ball. They make bounce passes and set screens. They rotate too late from time to time and watch some shots that felt pure rim out. Win or lose there is nothing particularly "mad" about what they do. They win some. And they lose some. Even the close games are just games. Buzzer are beaten every night in some gym, some where. Such shots are reserved for this time of year. Just the way that we react to them is.

We scream and holler loud enough to make Gus Johnson nervous and make wagers upon our wagers and fill out brackets for office pools that contradict the brackets we filled out in the big money pool at the local watering hole. We bet against ourselves so many times over that it's hard to know how to feel about scores as they scroll across the bottom of the television screen or as they refresh on our computers at work. Yes! Vermont beat Syracuse!!! Oh, NO!!!! Vermont beat Syracuse??? It is us, the frenzied fans and degenerate undedicated college basketball fans who are the mad ones.

Looking at those definitions of madness I know for certain that all pertain to my own behavior during this bestest of months. I have made rash and foolish decisions while filling out my bracket. I've been shown repeated folly in the amount of bets that I make on these games (even though, I swear, I actually do pretty well). And, perhaps most important of all, I am so often overcome with enthusiasm that forces me to jump out of my chair and hand out high-fives to strangers and also leaves me incapable of learning from the experience of busted brackets and the memories of March-past. So, according, to the dictionaries of the world I am indeed mad. And, so are you. But that's OK with me as I've always liked the mad ones.

Like Jack Kerouac said, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

For the mad-sports fan (and don't let any literary types cover up the fact that Kerouac was a two-sport star coming out of high school in Massachusetts and went to Columbia on a football scholarship) there is no better time to "be saved, desirous of everything at the same time" then during the first four days of the NCAA Men's hoops tournament. And, there is no one who I would rather watch these games with than the mad ones. The ones piling 2 buck drafts on 25 cent wings on Thursday nights and telling me for the fifth time in the first-half how crazy it would be if that walk-on from Drake could lead his team to the Elite Eight and how Hansbrough can be had Harangody if UNC doesn't get the calls.

This tournament is for the mad ones. It is for us. Enjoy.

Wednesday's Starting Five

"What, Is This Guy From Boston?" Edition

1. The Boston Celtics. I got the impression late in the third quarter of last night's win over the Rockets that the Celtics would prefer to only play teams on 22-game winning streaks. That's how strong their desire to impose their will is. It was clear last night that there was no team that they would rather have been playing against, and beating, than the Rockets. And that late anger-filled, slicing through the paint, tomahawk jam by Garnett showed that they want to be beat every good team by as large a margin as is possible. They are intense and they play team defense. And, they are, I guess, the best team in the NBA on any given night for the length of 48 minutes. But what about over a seven-game series? I'm still not sure.

2. The Boston Red Sox. A big brouhaha has developed in Florida as the Sox players have boycotted a Spring Training game and have stated that they will refuse to board plans for Japan (set to take off later today) for their season opening set against the Oakland A's. The reason for the insubordination is that the team's coaches are being shorted a stipend that had been promised to them as part of the conditions for agreeing to take this trip to start the season. Commendably the players have chosen to stand up for their well compensated but far less-compensated-than-themselves-coaches in this dispute. And, yes, the dollar figures are ridiculous. $40,000 is a stipend? For a coach? For a short-ish business trip? Really? I don't see that much in a year. Seriously. That being said, I totally agree with the underlying principles for all of this.

UPDATE: Everything is "resolved." The Spring Training game will start late and the team will head to Japan.

3. Former Boston College QB Matt Ryan. After eschewing the Senior Bowl and some of the Combine activities at the insistence of his agent, Matty Ice finally had his chance to shine yesterday at his Pro Day up at Chestnut Hill. According to all the accounts I've read, he was undeniably solid if not entirely spectacular. Although I'm not sure how any QB can generate that much excitement for a room full of scouts by simply throwing passes to uncovered receivers. I did read (in many places, but Don Banks at SI.com has a good recap) that he completed 48 of the 52 passes he threw. Three of the four incompletions were drops of good balls and one was an over throw. That ain't too shabby.

4. Mount Saint Mary's. The first game of the 2008 NCAA Men's Tournament has been played. And, nobody noticed. And, nobody's bracket was busted. Or even touched. The play-in game, largely ignored by automated brackets and most office pools, was last night in Dayton and Mount St. Mary's toppled Coppin State for the right to play UNC on Friday. So, they've got about 60 hours to enjoy being winners...

5. Ohio State Football. Since I'm in full on basketball mode right now I couldn't really care less about this college football news but here it is anyway: the most sought after high-schooler declared today that he'll be attending Ohio State next year. His name is Terrelle Pryor. He is a 6 foot, 6 inch quarterback from near Pittsburgh. He'll likely sit next season behind returning senior signal caller Todd Boeckman and he has high hopes of being absolutely boondoggled by an SEC team in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Good luck with that.

Benched. The streak. It's over. The Rockets just didn't have it last night. And they were playing against a team far too good to be able to grind one out an off night. With three very tough road games (NOH, GS, PHX) in the next few days it is possible that we can all resume ignoring the Rockets again very soon. Well, it was really fun while it lasted. I hope that they can snag two of the next three in order to keep themselves in the mix for the #1 seed in the West.

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