Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thirty Two's Company

Capsules are being added throughout the day so scroll down for the later games

No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (27-7, Big East)
vs.
No. 6 University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (25-8, Pac 10)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1:05 P.M. EST

If Nova comes out like they did in the second half of their first game, against American, then they should win this game handily. If they come out like they did in the first half then UCLA will take control and have a chance to win a game in which neither team breaks 60 points. Trailing by ten at the half, the Wildcats came out after the intermission and pressed American. They pressed and they penetrated. They turned over the upstart Eagles and got to the foul line, ultimately sinking 23 more free throws.

No. 2 Memphis Tigers (31-3, C-USA)
vs.
No. 10 Maryland Terrapins (20-13, ACC)
Kansas City, Missouri
3:20 P.M. EST

Everyone's favorite Venezuelan-born college hoopster carried the Terps (27/5/4/2) past the Berkley Bears. Greivis Vasquez can fill it up. And, he seems to rise to the occassion (don't forget that triple double against UNC not too long ago). Which means that the Terps have a puncher's chance here.
Defensively they pestered Cal on the perimeter and will try to do the same to Roburt Sallie (who came off the bench to score 35 in round one) and the Memphis Tigers. Although Memphis got a scare put into them by Cal State Northridge I think they survive and advance today. I think they are too strong and too deep for Maryland. I think the Terps focus on defending the perimeter that the Tigers will use their strength inside. And that if the Terps pack it in that Sallie and Tyreke Evans will do their damage from the outside. While the Terps need Vasquez to win it for them, I think that Memphis can make adjustments to whatever Maryland does. And, John Callipari just got me a great deal on a used car so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt for playing in Conference USA (although midseason road wins at Tennessee and at Gonzaga help too).

No. 1 UConn Huskies (27-4, Big East)
vs.
No. 9 Texas A&M Aggies (24-9, Big 12)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
3:35 P.M. EST

My favorite philosopher on dark days, Freddy, once said that "whatever doesn't kill your coach makes you stronger." I never really thought about what he meant until today. I think UConn is primed for a deep run right now. The fact that they were able to blow the doors off their first round opponent with their coach in the hospital has to have them feeling like they are invincible with him back on the sideline. Even though they did top Missouri not too long ago, an Aggies win this afternoon would be the most shocking result of the day, in my opinion. And, I did pick them to advance past BYU. Yet, I see the point spread is just 10 (whereas LSU is getting 12.5 against UNC and Siena is getting 11 against Louisville. Maybe (read: it's likely) there is something that I'm missing here.

No. 4 Washington Huskies (25-8, Pac 10)
vs.
No. 5 Purdue Boilermakers (26-9, Big 10)
Portland, Oregon
5:40 P.M. EST

Part of the reason why I thought that Purdue would advance through to the second round of this tournament was because I watched the Boilermakers defeat Boston College at Madison Square Garden in November. Well, last night I watched USC drive right over BC. And, Washington beat the Trojans twice this season in Pac 10 play. Which, right now, seems a bit more impressive. They also beat UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State during the Pac 10 season. Add that to a non-conference win over the apparently formidable Cleveland State Vikings and the Huskies resume looks pretty impressive.
Purdue beat Northern Iowa to get here. Washington beat Mississippi State (who I picked to win). Again, advantage UW.
It should be mentioned that the fact that Washington's leading scorer is named Isaiah Thomas makes me cringe and want to root for whomever they play against. Luckily for them, they've also got a player named Quincy Pontdexter - who dropped 23 in round one - which means that they get a free pass on name-based discrimination from me.
If either of these clubs were playing the mid-major upstarts then I'd probably go for the underdog each time. But, since I've got to pick one of them, I'm going with the Huskies. On paper they are better and in real life the game is being played in Portland. So, I don't think this game breaks today's run of wins by favorites.

No. 1 UNC Tar Heels (28-4, ACC)
vs.
No. 8 LSU Tigers (26-7, SEC)
Greensboro, North Carolina
5:45 P.M. EST

According to the Charlotte Observer, UNC point guard Ty Lawson had not practiced as of lunchtime yesterday. He was going to try later in the afternoon. And then, if all went well, he would be a game-time decision. I assume that he takes the floor to start. And I assume that he is not himself. This opens the door for the Tigers. And, they're going to walk through it for the upset win. Or, at least, they're going to walk through it to cover the 12.5 point spread. Go put a few bucks on that and them come back.
Back? OK. LSU's Marcus Thornton scored 30 in round one and made clutch shots down the stretch as the Tigers held off Butler. They had three players with 3 or more assists and played solid team ball. Chris Johnson blocked four shots and Thornton had four steals. They're athletic enough to play with UNC and they've got the go-to guy to make buckets down the stretch. Although Wayne Ellington had a 25-point game against Radford, I think the ease of that game will not have readied them for the intensity of LSU in the early stages. UNC showed that they could be had this year when teams really mixed it up with them physically and I think the boys from the bayou are going to do just that.

No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners (27-5, Big 12)
vs.
No. 10 Michigan Wolverines (20-13, Big 10)
Kansas City, Missouri
5:50 P.M. EST

If Michigan had been able to shut the door on Clemson in round one then I'd be very, very tempted to take them here. Mostly because those Griffen-less games that Oklahoma played late in the season made me not trust the Sooners. But Michigan didn't close the door on Clemson. They almost dropped the game. And, they've won two games in row just once (with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa) since the second week of January.
In their opening contest, Oklahoma took care of business. They blazed a wagon trail over Morgan State and Griffen looked like the best player in the country. He scored 28 points and pulled down 13 boards. He was also body slammed. Which was awkward for everyone. Morgan State's Ameer Ali flipped him over his back and to the hardwood in the second half. Ali was ejected. And Griffen got up. He's apparently fine. Which means that the Sooners are fine. Of course, if Griffen gets into foul trouble early and Manny Harris can get going then the Wolverines surely have a chance. But, I'm not betting on it. And, I'm the sort of guy who likes making bets so much that I just bet against UNC.

Parting Shot

Farewell Tyrese Rice. Au revoir Dionte Christmas. Adios Da'Sean Butler. Ciao Jeff Teague. Sayonara emprasario Austin. Njichaabira Tyler Smith. Tofa soifua Gary Wilkinson. Totsiens Ben Woodside. Agur Kevin Tiggs. Farvael Ryan Wittman. Selamat tinggal Kenneth Faried. Hoşça kal Tyler Kepkay. ᑕᕝᕙᐅᔪᑎᑦ James Jones. Fir Milenge Mark Titus. Rub Rakha Tony Douglas. auf Wiedersehen Matt Howard. Ha det Rodrigue Mel. Güle güle Jimmer Fredette. Beannachd leat Jordan Eglseder. Wédersah Stephen McDowell. øis revido Jerome Randle. Да пабачэння Artsiom Parakhouski. Chum reap lhear Jarvis Varnado. Sudie Lawrence Westbrook. Ditën e mirë Terrence Oglesby. Aloha Garrison Carr. Shalom Humpty Hitchens. Adzzislytödz D.J. Rivera. Vale Reggie Holmes. Chjëtji Trent Meacham. Chào ông Chief Kickingstallionsims. Làpìch knewël Jeremy Chappell. Tu heel k'iin Eric Maynor.

Mind Games

Yesterday I wrote fondly of the memory of watching Eric Maynor and his classmates at Virginia Commonwealth University upsetting Duke on the opening Thursday of the 2007 NCAA tournament. I claimed that the result of that game represented all that was pure and wondrous about sport. I wrote about how that game elevated my mood and left my workaday worries to be swept up along with the celebratory confetti that occasionally accompanies such stirring victories. And I stand by those sentiments. There are times when sport can bring out the best in people. When it can wash away stress and quell strife. Both for the participants and the spectators, sports can provide escape from a world that seems too small. And it can bring together a community that seems too large to ever share any collective experience. No matter what the people who think that they're too smart, too rich or too cultured ever say, there is value in the shared experience and the populist nature of athletics. Fandom is not the province of any one select group and not just the crutch of undereducated provincials. It's OK if it makes you irrationally joyful to watch your team win or to watch any team win when logic dictates that they shouldn't. In fact, sports are valuable, in part, because they are capable of eliciting such feelings.

Arguing over whether sport should be important misses the point. What is and what should be are different things. Perhaps it would be better if that were not so. But most of us don't have the luxury of eschewing pragmatism for the sake philosophy. And in this 9-to-9 life that we live eight days a week what is is the most important thing. In other words, I don't care if you think that sports shouldn't be a big deal. Heck, I wish that the internet truly was a meritocracy as it was intended. And that democracy didn't devolve into oligarchy when carried out on a large scale. Things are the way they are. And, it's far more helpful to deal with life that way rather than keeping it at arm's length because it should be as good as you think that you are.

Anyways, night's like tonight really make me realize the meaning of these games. Tonight, Boston College lost in the opening round of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament to USC. Tonight, the New York Knicks lost to the Sacramento Kings in a regular-season game that was crucial to the team's bid for a playoff berth. In and of themselves, these two results mean nothing. My life is unaltered. If anything, these losses might save me some money. But they do bring all my individual frustrations and sorrows up tight. I can feel the breath of missed opportunities on my neck like full-court pressing defenders. And everything that I had hoped a game could make me forget is only made all the more relevant when my team doesn't win. Just as a championship or unexpected upset victory can give us license to crow and be proud, a loss can allow shame and melancholy to walk through that same opened revolving emotional door that Maynor and VCU opened to exhilaration and relief with their shock win two years ago.

The power that sports has allows it to tease out not just our mostly latent capacity for euphoria but also the disappointments that we all feel but do our best to lock away. When they highlight the rewardless sacrifices, dashed hopes and futureless tomorrows that we all face. Which is why you see fans weeping or smashing or otherwise acting as if the loss of one game is far more significant than it is. Those moments are conduits for all the emotions that wouldn't show otherwise. The moment when BC's senior guard Tyrese Rice turns away from his soon-to-be victorious opponent - who is dribbling out the waning seconds of the last game of the season - and tiredly tugging at the headband hugging his furrowed and sweating brow, reminds us all of the times when we face our final disappointments. If we vicariously enjoy their triumphs then we share their defeats. The big losses bring us back to the time that we didn't get the girl. Or, more accurately, when we got the girl but couldn't keep her. When we cast a vote and it didn't matter. When we didn't get the promotion that we worked so hard for. When we knew we were good enough and had prepared but didn't deliver. When Endy Chavez made the catch only for Aaron Heilman to surrender a home run to Yadier Molina. When the veil was pulled between us and the thing that we thought we could have through sheer force of enthusiasm and effort. When the American dream was revealed to be nothing but a literary device. And you found yourself carrying wilted lilies to the grave of Horatio Alger.

Should it take the loss by a sports team, composed of strangers, that I support to make me experience everything lackluster about my life? No. It shouldn't. Should it take the collapse of our financial system to realize that predatory lending practices are not for the best? Nope. Again, things are not as they should be. They are as they are. And my teams are losers tonight. In the end, they always lose. Just like most teams do. And that makes me feel like a loser. Just like many people often feel.

I'm a Knicks fan. I'm a Mets fan. I'm a BC fan. I'm a Jets fan. Tonight it feels like the things in this life that I root for, that I want to see succeed, inevitably fail. Withered relationships with friends and former lovers, potholed avenues towards progress and sports teams may have nothing in common (unless, of course, it really is all my fault each time) but the empty feeling in your gut and the tightness in your jaw. Which means that the experience of one can remind you of the other two. Which means that a flood of emotions unrelated to whatever game you're watching and unasked for on a Friday night might never be farther away than a jump shot for the other team.

Thankfully, the joys of birthday candles, fifth dates and new socks also are never farther away than a Ronald Moore three-pointer in double overtime. Which is why we pay our money down and get in line for the rollercoaster. Because, unlike the other travails of our lives which take months and years to rise and fall, these games can lift us up after forty minutes. The clock is always ticking down towards relief. Or sorrow. But it's always ticking, either way. And there's always another game.