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.

I will still watch on Saturday and Monday nights of course, but as I no longer have any active pools, survivor or otherwise, nor do I have a team I feel strongly in any way about remaining, I will purely be hoping for three 5OT epics that give me a reason to remember the end of this tournament. Otherwise, my brain will be moving on, as Monday is the official start of the New York Mets' 2017 Heartbreak Reunion tour.

Don't get me wrong, I'm optimistic about a good season, and if Geelong's season opener last week agianst Fremantle is any sort of omen (it isn't), things could get off to a quick start. The Mets open against the Braves in what is a relatively soft opening few weeks (don't worry, it gets awfully tough in June), so a fast start to the top of the standings would be a nice way to salve my wounds about goaltendgate.

That said, I'm not really interested in jinxing the whole thing. As a result, and since I'm obviously foolish enough to think the Mets might actually win the World Series this year, I will be passing on doing a full MLB preview in which I predict whom finishes where. This is both because I don't want to pull the rug out from under my Amazins and because I know I'm just going to be wrong like nearly every prognosticator is before the season starts anyway.

Instead I'll just sit in the stands or on my couch and bite my fingernails as I either watch the season go down the tubes or the Mets have a superb season and I anxiously wait for the other shoe to drop. And hey, maybe it won't. And if it doesn't, I won't care about whether or not my predictions would have been correct this season. After all, no one's going to remember them anyway.

Besides, predicting an MLB season's outcomes may be easier than the random sample sizes provided by the NCAA Tournament, but often you'll draw the same conclusion.

You don't know anything. Really, you don't.

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