Thursday, March 30, 2017

Just how we drew it up. Again.

Your bracket is not good. Don't for a second try to convince me that your bracket was even close to the reality this March. Yes, I know, this is not an unfamiliar refrain for this time of year, and sure, there are probably a few dozen people among the millions who filled out brackets on ESPN, Yahoo or CBS Sports that somehow predicted the Final Four of UNC, Oregon, which hadn't reached the Final Four since winning the national title in 1939, Gonzaga, which had never reached the Final Four, and South Carolina, a team that hadn't won a tournament game in 44 years. But a) those people must have predicted this Final Four by accident given how bizarre it is, and b) the odds of that person actually reading this blog right now are pretty virtually nil.

So yeah, your bracket is a late victim of the perils of March just like mine is every year. This month can be brutal, as it was for me in 2006 when my entire Final Four reached the Elite Eight and lost, or as recently as this past weekend when I was eliminated from my survivor pool because Arizona somehow blew a seven-point lead in the final two and a half minutes gainst 11th-seeded Xavier. Or perhaps the lucky folks of Kentucky can speak to their pain following a totally wild last-minute loss to UNC that bizarrely mirrored last year's national championship game.

I also managed to see the carnage first hand this past Friday when I was fortunate enough to be in the stands at Madison Square Garden for the Sweet Sixteen matchup between Florida and Wisconsin. Those who know me know I have a soft spot for the Badgers as it is the alma mater of my sister, grandmother and numerous friends. And so it was with a heavy heart that I watched as the Badgers rallied with a three-pointer in the final 10 seconds to tie the game, battled through a rough night at the charity stripe for Nigel Hayes only for Hayes to hit two free throws with seconds remaining in overtime to give Wisconsin a two-point lead and then painstakingly avoided fouling Chris Chiozza, who then hit an off-balance three at the buzzer to send the Gators to the Elite Eight.

Of course, at this point in the tournament, I had emotionally moved past Northwestern's all-too-brief stay in its first ever dance (and aren't you impressed it took me this long to mention it? I know, I'm impressed with me, too.) The Wildcats' first trip to the March bonanza taught me just how cruel a mistress this tournament can be. Before I complain here, I will offer the disclaimer that I am not claiming, nor do I actually think Northwestern had a better team than 33-1 Gonzaga this season. That would be objectively silly and Gonzaga's 22-point first-half lead would seem to bear that out. But holy smokes the Cats put on a show in the second half, scoring 51 points, more than I've ever seen them put up in 20 minutes, and closing the gap to three points with 4:54 to go before finally losing.

Wait, did I say three? That must be because it should have been three had the refs not missed a glaringly obvious goaltend that not only denied NU a basket, but also set in motion a series of events resulting in Gonzaga being up seven with the ball. The Cats never got close again, the NCAA quickly admitted the error and weeks later the moment is still fresh in our minds. But hey, maybe goaltending will be reviewable next season just in time for it to bite Northwestern in the ass. Anything's possible.

My point is this. You don't know who's going to win. Even down to four teams, you don't. Really! I mean, if you think you do, go nuts. currently has UNC and Gonzaga as favorites Saturday night, albeit by single digits, so feel free to test your luck. If you're right, I guess it means you know more about college basketball than I do.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Gift horses, mouths and the NCAA Tournament

Today is a day many said would never happen. It is a day science said couldn't be done. But, despite all this, today is a day that is happening.

On March 16, 2017, Northwestern University, stewards of a basketball tradition that includes hosting the first ever national title game and then promptly knocking the building down, will play in the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament for the very first time. I have already covered what brought us here, and in the interim the Wildcats flirted with something truly special, dominating Rutgers in the Big Ten Tournament with a 31-0 run and upsetting the favored Maryland Terrepins before bowing out ....not so gracefully to Wisconsin in the semifinals, all but assuring NU's first ever berth in the Big Dance.

And then it happened.

Now, surely you saw the title of this post and thought, "Dave, you've waited your entire post-high school life waiting to see Northwestern finally reach the NCAA Tournament. You made a point to instagram the moment and spent most of the past three days watching various reaction videos of Welsh-Ryan Arena during the exact moment this was announced. You've watched coverage ad nauseum. Why would you somehow be unsatisfied?"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's buy some goddamn dancing shoes.

The most important forums for civil discussion and the advancement of society -- the internet and Twitter specifically -- were turned upside down this past Sunday night when the Oscars ended in the quizibuck to end all quizibucks, an announcement of the wrong film as Best Picture of the year. This televised conflagration of all we hold dear came to pass when "La La Land" producer and Northwestern alum Jordan Horowitz, whom I have on good authority once went on a date with my friend Amy, accepted the Oscar for Best Picture after a bizarre and confused envelope opening by non-matriculated Northwestern alum Warren Beatty, whom I have on good authority once hit on my sister's best friend Lily in an elevator, only to be informed moments later while making his acceptance speech that "Moonlight" had in fact won the award and Beatty's envelope mistakenly contained a card declaring "La La Land's" Emma Stone as Best Actress.

Naturally, the shared bond between these two Wildcats, albeit some five decades apart, has been examined ad nauseum by the purple community with one of the more peculiar perspectives being that the Northwestern connections to Sunday night's Oscar flub portends the end result of the eternal struggle that is NU's hunt for its first ever elusive NCAA Tournament bid.

This seems on the surface to be a crazy notion. How on Earth could these two disparate events be linked or at the very least correlative? The most logical response is that they aren't, and if you want to get all Occam's Razor on me, well, sure. But if we take a broader view we may be on to something. After all, La La Land was a heavy favorite to win Best Picture as it tied the record for most overall nominations with 14. Things, largely appeared to go smoothly including that Best Picture win, until the confusion and chaos ensued. Ultimately, though, the rightful victor was awarded and Horowitz's grace under fire left him smelling like roses despite having his dream snatched away from him. You might say, in a strange way, the course corrected and everybody won.