Friday, March 25, 2011

When Winning Is Losing. And Vice Versa.

I do not like Duke. I believe that's what makes me most like the rest of America. In fact, I'm fairly certain the only non-Duke graduate who actively roots for the school is my cousin Geoff, who told me this morning, "Never bet against the Blue Devils." Of course, that seems particularly odd to say today considering Duke was rather surprisingly bounced from the NCAA Tournament last night by Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. I won't get into the peculiarities like how it could be fair for a No. 1 seed to host a school from Tuscon in Anaheim, or how Duke could have seemingly forgotten to play basketball in the second half when the Wildcats went on a very impressive run.

But I will say this. I was not betting against the Blue Devils. In fact, I was betting on them. And after letting me down the one time I was actually rooting for Duke, it could be a while before I do it again.

As I alluded to in my last entry, I was in a survival pool for this year's Dance in which I fared far better than my actual bracket -- which I haven't even looked at in days -- did. In fact, after a wild Sunday night, I was one of just five people remaining, and I had assumed that of the games Thursday night, Duke was the one sure bet to win. And so, with the chance of winning a $700 prize on the line, I put my hopes with the Blue Devils and watched.

And then that happened.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ok, So I've Had Better First Weekends Than That

I'm guessing when I said last week that this was by far the least research I had ever done before filling out my NCAA bracket that I must not have been lying. The first four days of the Tournament this year were outlandishly exciting, but also, uh, not what I predicted. On the first day alone I lost three teams from my sweet sixteen, one from my Elite Eight and wound up a mediocre 9-7. While that didn't inspire much confidence, at least my Final Four was still intact.

You know, until the second round, when my National Champion spit the bit against Butler on an utterly bizarre series of fouls in the games final seconds. But that's cool -- it's only the second year in a row that my eventual champion was sent packing in the round of 32.

Now don't get me wrong. Butler, obviously, has some experience, so I suppose in general, it's not really that crazy for them to be making another deep run in the NCAAs, but I have to be honest. I thought I'd do a wee bit better than this At this point my bracket is so shot that I have nothing to watch for except pure love of the game, which, really, is utterly silly.

Then again I'm still alive in my survivor pool, so at least there's that.

Of course, that I'm watching basketball at all after Northwestern's utterly bizarre loss in the NIT quarterfinals last night/this morning at Washington State, might just be a testament to my own intestinal fortitude. This was a game that featured a shockingly intense student crowd for an NIT game, the Wildcats doing something they've done maybe once in my life ever by rallying from a double-digit deficit to take a lead in the second half on the road, a potential walk-off foul after a game-tying goal tend in the final ten seconds and then someone missing both of those potential walk-off free throws which prompted this statement from me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It's March Madness Time! Apparently.

March Madness, generally, is a hell of a tournament. Often I consider the first two rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship to be the four best sports days of the year, and usually I can't wait for them. In college the first two rounds always fell during my spring break, and I recall each year that my friend Duane and I would sit down on his couch at 11:50 and not move until midnight, keeping our laptops with our brackets open all the while. In short, it was exciting, amazing, thrilling and for much of March it's almost always been all I can think about.

But not this year.

Don't ask me why, exactly, because I can't quite tell, but for some reason I'm just sort of ambivalent this year. Perhaps it's because I missed the actual selection show while in the U.S. for the first time in years so I could have dinner with my cousin in Georgetown on Sunday, or perhaps it's because a busy schedule at work has kept me from seeing the bracket until this afternoon, or just maybe it's because the only basketball game that really matters this year happens to be Wednesday night and not in the NCAA Tournament at all.

It could be any of those reasons. In all honesty, I really have no idea, but for some reason, I'm just not overly excited, to the point that I filled out my bracket this afternoon as almost more of an obligation than a joy. And it also happens to be a highly unresearched bracket. Just how unresearched it is, you ask? Well, a year ago, I was in Israel, and hastily filled out a bracket on a timed computer terminal in the southern desert city of Eilat, and that bracket performed, er, terribly.

That bracket, filled out in a span of forty seconds because the time purchased by my five shekels was expiring, was more well thought out than this one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

When Buses Get In The Way

If you went to Northwestern, and I'm guessing since this is mostly read by my friends then the proportion is higher than usual, you might have noticed that the Wildcats got bounced in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament today by No. 1 Ohio State. What you might not have noticed is that Northwestern had a lead in the final minute that it let slip away before falling in overtime. Not only could this have been the single greatest moment of Northwestern's rather thin basketball history, but it also would have kept the highly faint hopes NU had of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time, hopes that it would seem rested solely on claiming the Big Ten's automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.

The Wildcats are likely to get an NIT bid, but that seems small consolation for coming so close to knocking off the No. 1 team in the country, a feat that just might have invigorated what has been a steadily improving but nonetheless fledgling program. What makes the loss all the more frustrating, however, is that this is second time this season Northwestern has taken the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes to the final minute with a chance to pull off the monumental upset. It feels like something greater than the season at large has been lost when two narrow chances to make a bold statement to the world of college basketball both slip through the Wildcats' fingers.

What was most frustrating for me, however, was that being a dedicated alum and a Northwestern fan, you'd think there was no chance I'd miss what could be the greatest moment in the lackluster history of NU basketball. And you'd be wrong. For you see at the exact moment Northwestern had shockingly taken the lead in the waning moments this afternoon, I was somewhere in northern Maryland on a bus bound for D.C. where I will be seeing the Blackhawks and Capitals Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Holy Crap Capitals Games Are Expensive

Like shockingly so. For a franchise that has all of one Stanley Cup Final appearance in four decades, no championships and really very little historic greatness to speak of, it is amazing how much they can charge for a marquee game at the Verizon Center.

Then again, I guess they do have this guy.

I found this much out this week as I painstakingly monitored eBay auctions and kept a watch on Stubhub to guarantee that I might actually get to sit somewhere in the crowd for this Sunday's Blackhawks-Capitals game, a game I had pegged since past summer as my preferred visit at long last to see the Caps play hockey. I was hoping I might be able to swindle the ducats through work, but when that avenue dried up I had to resort to the secondary market to find that the Capitals, last year's Presidents' Trophy winners, have instituted a tiered pricing system for this season to get more money out of the more desirable matchups.

I don't really have a problem with this. After all, the Mets and just about every other Major League Baseball team has the same system, but for some reason it didn't occur to me that a game against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, which could very well serve as a preview of this spring's Stanley Cup Final would be one of those pricier games.

And boy howdy is it pricey.

I had anticipated that a markup would cause me to part with somewhere between $40-50 for a spot in the upper deck, but after looking at eBay auctions aplenty, I found that this would be nearly impossible and that face value for upper deck seats for this particular game -- behind the goal -- is $95. That's almost $100 to watch from the nosebleeds for a regular season game. Egads.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Season Tickets: The Dilemma Of The Die-Hard Fan

When I was 20 years old I decided for fun to put my name on the Giants' season ticket waiting list. It was partially serious and partially a lark, but given that my number on the list generally hovered between 90,000 and 86,000, which would require an entire stadium's worth of fans to die off or give up their tickets for my turn to present itself, I assumed I wouldn't be getting the opportunity to buy season tickets for 20 years or so. This in turn prompted my father to ask if he could go to some games with me because, in his words, "I plan on still being pretty lucid."

He'll be 74, so I imagine he will, in fact, be lucid, but something funny happened on the way to my 40th birthday.

When the Giants moved into their new stadium this past season, not only was there an increased capacity, but a few bizarre quirks changed the game. For one, the Giants and Jets, not anticipating such extensive financial fallout, raised prices just a bit too high for the vast majority of their demand. As well, the scourge of NFL fans known as personal seat licenses wreaked havoc on the Big Blue fan base. By charging PSLs that were as high as $20,000 in some places, the average fan and many families that had been season ticket holders for years were priced out of being able to see their team every Sunday.

Now, while I can understand their frustration, the theory behind PSLs doesn't really bother me because it shifts the cost of a stadium to the people who will actually attend games in it rather than the average taxpayer who has no interest in going to a game. But more importantly, the PSLs and the other factors I mentioned previously opened a gaping hole in the waiting list, and by the start of the 2010 NFL season, I got a phone call from the Giants ticket office that was about 15 years earlier than I expected.

My number was up. I had the chance to buy season tickets.