March Madness Time Again

I really wanted to talk healthcare.  Or maybe Chris Dodd’s plan to overhaul the financial system.  I really did.  But I’ve made all the points I can.  I need a breather. 

So, today, I’ll talk hoops. 

I find basketball boring.  I used to play a little, and I was pretty good, I guess for a white guy.  Now it’s like watching snails fornicate.  I appreciate the athleticism of basketball players, but come on.  It’s advertised as a non-contact sport.  What fun is that?  It’s like watching a guy fish. 

It hasn’t always been this way.  When I was in high school, the Memphis State University Tigers were on a comeback.  Coach Dana Kirk led Andre Turner, Keith Lee, William Bedford, and, my favorite player name of all time, Baskerville Holmes to a final four appearance.  The Tigers lost to UCLA that year, and didn’t make it back to the final four for a long time.  I was proud of their achievement, and for once, I was proud to be a Memphian. 

Memphis is a town that has courted big league football, only to be snubbed by the NFL repeatedly.  “The Oilers can play in Memphis until a stadium is built in Nashville.”  What? 

Memphis has an NBA team now, a perennial bottom feeder.  I feel for these guys, I really do.  They can’t seem to get players, coaches, or front office staff, and keep them long enough to put together a winning program. 

So, all I’ve got as a former student at Memphis State, now the University of Memphis (my mom still calls them Memphis State), is Tiger sports.  The football team was pretty good for a while, but they suck again.  The basketball team was three free throws away from a national title a couple of seasons ago.  Coach John Calipari left for the University of Kentucky, leaving the Tigers in a rebuilding mode.  I don’t even know their new coach’s name, but he looks about twelve years old.  Apparently, he knows what he’s doing, because the Tigers posted a respectable 23-8 record this year.  Pretty good, but not good enough to be invited to the big show, the NCAA tournament.  Instead, the Tigers were invited to the NIT, which I affectionately call the Not Invited Tournament.  Other teams of note had off years this season and are playing in the NIT.  I saw part of a game last night where the University of North Carolina was playing William and Mary.  UNC was close to a title last year, if they didn’t win it.  I honestly don’t remember. 

Why do I bring this up now?  The Tiger basketball team has been to the final four four times since 1974.  They made it to the title game twice, being beaten by John Wooden and UCLA in ’74, and by their crappy free throw shooting two seasons ago.  This year, they were close to getting into the NCAA tournament.  Close.  That’s the way it’s always been.  The Tigers successfully navigate a minefield all season and lose at the last minute.  It’s frustrating. 

This season more than seasons past.  It used to be that a twenty win season guaranteed you a spot in the NCAA tournament.  Not any more.  I was having a couple of beers with a friend last week and made a comment that twenty wins used to be pretty good.  He said it still is.  I responded with “But it’s not good enough.”  Now you have RPI’s, quality wins and losses, and all kinds of formulas that the NCAA folks look at to determine if you deserve to be in their “March Madness” tournament.  Of course, if you win your conference tourney, you are in automatically, even if you didn’t win your conference title for the regular season.  So, you could have a 16-11 team in while a 23-8 team gets to go home and figure out what went wrong.  A local team reaped this a couple of years ago.  The University of Georgia won the SEC tournament a two seasons ago, and, predictably, lost in the first round.  The same year the Tigers almost went all the way. 

To be fair, Memphis would not be the national champs if they had won against Kansas that night because the NCAA took away all their wins due to Derrick Rose’s SAT fraud.  39 wins stripped.  Soon after that, Calipari departs under a cloud of suspicion. 

Due to my ignorance of who is good and who isn’t, I can’t comment intelligently on who will win all the marbles this year.  I know Syracuse is pretty good because my aforementioned beer-drinking buddy is from Syracuse and bleeds Orange.  Kansas is pretty good, and a lot of talking heads think they have a good shot at winning another title.  Maybe they’ll play another team that can’t shoot free throws.  Who knows? 

I may watch some of these games.  But that’s only if the weather keeps the snails in my yard under cover. 

I hope the Tigers can win the Not Invited Tournament.  Young coach, young team.  Miracles can happen.  It will guarantee that Memphis is the best second tier town around.  My friends in Memphis, I’m sorry if you are offended.  I can offer some consolation.  You guys don’t have the red clay all over your carpets all the time. 

Go Tigers.  And thank God NASCAR is thirty six weeks long.  Now there’s a sport.  A contact sport.  If you don’t believe me, watch the race on Sunday.  If a single car leaves Bristol without damage, it will surprise me. 

That reminds me.  I need to change my fantasy picks. 

Got off track there.  You guys go ahead and have your basketball parties.  I’ll drink a beer with you.  Or two.  Or twelve.  Or more. 

I’ll be watching a contact sport, though.


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