Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Mudita

Best. Nowruz. Ever.

Northern Iowa, Ali Farokhmanesh and the Vernal Equinox

In and around New York City, the weather was delightful this past weekend. Saturday, in particular, was sun-splashed and warm. It was a glorious day. It was a holy day.

And, no, I'm not talking about those of who us who consider the first four days of the NCAA men's basketball tournament to be some sort of civic holiday. Which I do. Rather, I'm talking about the vernal equinox.

March 20, 2010 was the vernal equinox, one of two days during the year when there is a location on the equator above which the center of the sun is directly overhead. The day during which this moment occurs is composed of equal parts day and night. Each year, this occurs once in late March and once in late September.

For centuries this has been a holy day. It was considered the first day of the new year in many ancient calendars and is still commemorated by celebrations around the globe. In Persian culture, the day is called Nowruz which roughly translates into "New Day." Possibly begun by Zoroaster, the holiday is still widely observed in Iran (present-day Persia), throughout the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, large swaths of the former Soviet Republics and even parts of China. It's sort of a big deal.

And for Iranian hoops fans this one had to be the most joyous Nowruz in years. Because Ali Farokhmanesh shot the Panthers of Northern Iowa University into the Sweet 16. The American-born Farokhmanesh, whose father played for the Iranian volleyball team in 1980 Olympic Games, hit key three-point shots in each of UNI's upset wins over UNLV and top-seeded Kansas. His game-killing shot against the Jayhawks was particularly impressive.

With his team leading with less than a minute to play, most teams would have drained as much of the remaining time off the clock before taking a shot. They would have played it safe and looked to seal the game at the free throw line. Farokhmanesh (pronounced fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH) stunned everyone, most specifically Kansas, by lofting an uncontested three-point shot from the wing early in the shot clock. His shot was pure and the game was all but won. It was an amazing show of courage and calculation. His sweet long-distance stroke has endeared the senior marketing major to a national, and perhaps international, audience. His player bio at Panthers' website lists his favorite sports memory as "qualifying for state basketball tournament at Iowa City West."

I'd imagine that he's got a few new moments to add to his list. Best. Nowruz. Ever.

Day 4 Postmortem: Cinderella in Red

The lady in red is dancing with me cheek to cheek
There's nobody here, it's just you and me, It's where I wanna be
But I hardly know this beauty by my side
I'll never for get, the way you look tonight

Complete with two days of frantically maximizing and minimizing windows on my computer and deftly switching feeds to avoid commercial breaks at work, one daylong marathon of drinking cheap draft beer at a bar and one afternoon into early evening of laying around the house with games on the television, the past 96 hours had a little bit of everything that I've come to love about the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

Also, a smattering of gambling. There was that, too.

Looking back over the enervating four-day stretch, I'd say the teams that I was most right about were Cornell, Purdue and Murray State. And I was most wrong about St. Mary's and Xavier, having tapped both teams for first-round exits.

I was most impressed by Syracuse and most surprised by Washington. With Wes Johnson having regained his early-season form (he went for 31 and 14 as the Orange rolled the Zags), Jim Boeheim's group have looked unbeatable. Kentucky has looked as explosive as ever while Ohio State, Kansas State, Duke, St. Mary's and West Virginia have all outclassed the opposition. Purdue has shown tremendous resolve on the defensive end while Michigan State, Xavier and Butler are playing like teams that have been on this stage before.

That leaves is with the Panthers of Norther Iowa and the Big Red from Cornell.

Cornell has flat-out dominated matchups with Temple and Wisconsin. The Ivy Leaguers are +13 on the boards after outrebounding both opponents. They are also got to the line a lot more than Temple and made just as many free throws as Wisconsin. These are not the traits of your stereotypical three-point happy Cinderella. And that doesn't mean that Cornell hasn't been shooting the lights so far. They have. But they've also been doing things that midmajors are usually unable to do against big-time competition. With a skilled seven-footer, an elite swingman and a savvy point guard peaking at the right time, the Big Red have as good a chance against Kentucky as most teams (read: not a very good chance).

And as far as NIU, I'll let this shot do the talking: