Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh, Wait, College Basketball is Still Happening?

So, as you all surely know, I'm doing my best to forget that the NCAA Tournament is happening since the Wildcats decided to lay a big ol' egg when they were the closest they've been to a berth, oh, ever. Indeed Thursday night was a sobering evening for me as I came to terms with the fact that our absurd March Madness drought is now going to be at least an almost incomprehensible 74 years. That's not to say Northwestern is done achieving glory this season. After all, the Cats inevitable NIT Championship run starts tonight at Welsh-Ryan Arena when they take on Akron. I am a bit stunned that NU is actually a four-seed in the bracket after most NIT projections had them as a No. 1 or a No. 2, but since that tournament is mostly derived in a way that creates the most profitable matchups and is, you know, meaningless, I'm really not overly emotional. Besides, at least the Wildcats get a home against against the team with, quite possibly, the best nickname in all of college sports.

WATCH OUT, ZIPS!

So in other news, there's a tournament starting Thursday for college basketball that actually matters and I'm sure you're all dying to know who I think is going to win it. After all, I put a good, solid 15 minutes total of time this morning filling out a bracket that is almost certain to get every game right given both the probability of doing so and my track record. That's pretty hard to argue against.

Now, I know I said earlier that the tournament begins on Thursday when it actually begins tonight -- and that is given particular gravitas when one realizes that last season's Final Four darling VCU actually was in the much-maligned and universally-ignored play-in game -- oh, sorry, "First Four" -- last season. But if those games matter so much, I would like to posit this question. CBS, the broadcasting partner of the NCAA Tournament, one would think, has a significant vested interest in legitimizing the preposterous exercise that is the First Four of the NCAA Tournament, and yet as you can see in my soon to be perfect bracket prediction up top, the winners of those games are listed as "Round 1 #1", "Round 1 #2", "Round 1 #3" and "Round 1 #4". How can I expect those games to be taken seriously if CBS doesn't take them seriously itself?

I can't. And I don't. And I will almost certainly not be watching those games tonight, not when Northwestern has an NIT game happening anyway.

Oh but on Thursday at noon, I will be transfixed to the TV screen, my laptop and my iPad nonstop. Or rather, should I say, I will be transfixed at 11 a.m. Why is that? Well, you see, I will be in the great state of Texas, home of brilliant governors and lovable sports teams, as I make my first major trip of 2012. I have never been in Texas when I'm not in an airport, so I'm strangely looking forward to the whole experience even though the Dallas Cowboys were the first team I learned to hate, but fortunately, it is not football season, so I don't need to be worried about those things. Though I should note, I have been watching a lot it recently.
No, on this trip I will make progress toward my goal with team Nos. 45 and 46 as I head to the American Airlines Center Friday night to see the Blackhawks visit the Dallas Stars, and then 24 hours later I will return to see the defending NBA-Champion Mavericks as they host the perennially-contending San Antonio Spurs. While I like the Blackhawks, the NBA game is one I have fairly little interest in from a fandom standpoint, but it should be a phenomenal matchup of two top-tier teams and I am excited both for that and the ability to cross a team off my list.

Perhaps even more exciting is that this will get the travel season of 2012 officially underway for me. I amazingly haven't traveled for a game since seeing the Giants visit the 49ers last November four whole months ago, but I won't experience quite the same layoff this time around as I'm headed to Pittsburgh two weeks after I get back to see PNC Park at long last, in addition to a Penguins-Rangers game that is shaping up to be quite pivotal as far as the postseason is concerned.

Until then, however, my first trip to Dallas will have to do, so I'm looking forward to some warm weather, excessive southern jingoism, authentic Mexican food, apparently quite the St. Patrick's Day Parade, hockey and basketball.

Oh, right. Basketball. So yeah. In my Final Four, for various reasons that I'll elaborate on for the three of you who actually read this if you ask me to do so, I am taking Kentucky, Michigan State, UNC and my dark horse/childhood favorite Florida State. Quick explanations: Kentucky and UNC are obvious choices, Michigan State won the toughest conference in the country, had the toughest schedule in the country and has Tom Izzo, Florida State won a nearly-as-tough conference, plays lockdown defense and I think could be an under-the-radar-major-conference program that makes a surprising deep run a la Michigan State in 2009 or Jarrett Jack's Georgia Tech in 2004. Kentucky beats Florida State in the National Championship.

I will probably be wrong. Don't hate me for it. Bring on Texas. Yee-haw.

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