Saturday, March 31, 2012

So There Are Some Really Annoying Basketball Games Tonight

I don't want to seem too cranky because, really, I love the NCAA Tournament. But one of the great things about the NCAA Tournament is that even though the champion is almost always a typical powerhouse program, the little people of the top division in college basketball often make a run that gets your natural love of the underdog up and running. I say this knowing that perhaps in recent years we've been spoiled by this phenomenon. Butler's run to the last two NCAA Championship games was a thrilling and undeniable pleasure. George Mason's Final Four appearance in 2006 was a shocking and memorable moment. Georgia Tech's surprise appearance in the 2004 title game was another historic game while Marquette's unexpected Final Four entrance in 2003 also spoke of surprise.

Of course last season's masterpiece of a Final Four in which both Butler and 11th-seeded VCU made the grade is unlikely to be forgotten.

But this year's Tournament, despite a rash of early upsets, has none of that. In fact, not only is the Final Four field of Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas not at all interesting, none of the four programs, at least for me, are in any way likable. Kentucky's overwhelming blue-bloodedness, to say nothing of John Calipari's, uh, questionable record, is almost as overwhelming as the sheer unlikableness of Louisville's Rick Pitino and Kansas' Bill Self. The only coach who is actually somewhat likable is Ohio State's Thad Matta, and he has the considerable hindrances of a) not being a particularly good coach even if he's a tremendous recruiter and b) coaching Ohio State, which is pretty much the most unlikable NCAA program this side of the Michigan Wolverines.

So, seeing as this is the Final Four, of course I will watch. But I ask, quite genuinely, what on Earth do I root for? Realistically, I can't help but assume that a Kentucky championship is inevitable, which probably means that a vacated championship is also inevitable, but given my options and the possibilities I've lived through with this set of teams, I've come to the realization that the only thing that matters to me at this point is that I don't have to see the Buckeyes cut down the nets Monday night. If I do, well, that may finally be the thing that actually gets me excited for baseball season.

Speaking of baseball season, I will try my best to have some sort of preview with lots of adorably wrong predictions in it up next week before I make my trip to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates and Penguins, but in the meantime I at least have the start of another sport's season to distract me, even if I didn't get the result I was looking for. Of course, as upsetting as Geelong's loss in its season opener at Fremantle might be, it's clearly to early to get worried about a team that has won three of the last five Grand Finals, isn't it?

In other non-American sports league news, today is a milestone of milestones if there ever was one in my sports viewing world as for the first time in 11 years dedicated fandom -- and considering the two relegations, financial insolvency and promotion near-misses it required some serious dedication -- I am finally able to watch a full league match of my Southampton FC as they visit Blackpool. This came about because with Fox Soccer Plus' recent acquisition of television rights for the AFL. When I realized I would have to get the channel to get my Footy fix, and that they would be broadcasting most of Southampton's games as it makes a final push for promotion to the Premier League, the decision to pony up was easy.

Southampton is a strong bet to gain promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since it was relegated back in 2005 considering the Saints sit at the top of the table in England's second division, but the start today is mildly unsettling as the game is at halftime and Blackpool currently holds a 2-nil edge. The Saints lead the Championship in goals this season so I'm sure there's a chance at a comeback, but at this point I'm just excited to watch.

After all, unlike tonight's games, there's a chance in the Southampton match that I might actually be happy with the outcome.

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