I didn’t plan this.
It was early on a Saturday evening and many of the regular TV options were not available, so on went the second half of West Virginia vs. Notre Dame in the NCAA basketball tournament, which I could see via ESPN GB …
And nearly eight hours later I had watched much or nearly all of seven games involving 14 teams — 13 of whom I had not seen this season — and it was 3:30 a.m. in France.
Let’s do a list on my impressions, more or less in chronological order.
1. Wow, were Notre Dame’s uniforms ugly. Some sort of half-hearted puke green and gauzy gold. I know Saint Patrick’s Day was on Friday, but jiminy Christmas. I at least hope those were not the Irish’s regular unis. At any rate, Notre Dame went down to the Mountaineers and we run no risk of seeing those outfits again.
2. If defending champion Villanova was the best team in the nation this season (and the Wildcats were treated that way by the NCAA bracket), then those stories I read suggesting the NCAA didn’t really have a great team this year were true. First few minutes, I said to myself, “That team is small and unimpressive.” This was while Wisconsin was building a healthy lead, which likely would have remained that way throughout had not the Badgers’ two best players (big man Ethan Happ, point guard Bronson Koenig) been in foul trouble. I tend to root against all schools that inhabited what was the no-holds-barred original Big East Conference, so I was happy to see Villanova lose. Playing with a seven-man rotation, it now seems silly that 538.com had Nova with the greatest chance of any team to win the title, at 15 percent.
3. I like the NCAA tourney for this: It often rewards teams that have players who do college basketball for four years. Wisconsin, for instance, starts four seniors who had been to the previous three tournaments. (Does Kentucky even have a senior on its team?) The Badgers seemed like a team not at all surprised to beat Villanova (65-62). Neither was I, after seeing that shrimpy, short-benched team play.
4. Wisconsin has one of the top-10 fight songs in the NCAA. On Wisconsin probably doesn’t rate in the top five, but it’s not far out of it. And yes, I often pull for good-fight-song teams to advance. Unless they are Notre Dame wearing eyesore unis.
5. Anyone else underwhelmed by the CBS broadcast crew for the Villanova game? Verne Lundquist and Jim Spanarkle brought all the aural enthusiasm you might expect from also-rans meeting in December. That was the defending champions who went down. Don’t go all Joe Buck ho-hum on us.
6. Adding fuel to the “no great teams” notion was the first 15 minutes or so of West region top seed Gonzaga looking awful — but tourney first-timers Northwestern looking dead — as the Zags surged to a 30-12 lead. By the time my feed got back to them, midway through the second half, the game was tight but neither team looked particularly competent. This is the second time I have seen Gonzaga, and they looked barely above ordinary both times — having lost in the first game I saw.
7. Northwestern has a great journalism department, and I worked with scads of their people. For a long time, it seemed as if the penalty Northwestern students paid for a great education at a very good school … was that their sports teams tended to suck. Then the football team actually played in the Rose Bowl (1996) and now the hoops team took part in March Madness for the first time and won a game. (That weird, 69-66 thing with Vanderbilt in which the Vandy kid lost track of the score and gave a foul with his team leading by a point in the final minute. It led to Northwestern winning.)
8. Gonzaga-Northwestern turned on a missed call by the officials that Northwestern alumni will be talking (and writing) about for a long time. Trailing by five points late, a Northwestern shot at the rim was blocked by Gonzaga’s Zach Collins — who made sure the ball was not going down by thrusting his arm through the rim, before blocking it. None of the referees saw this and there apparently is no recourse for review. Meantime, Northwestern coach Chris Collins (no relation to the Gonzaga player) lost his mind and ran onto the court, which is not allowed. The outcome being no basket, a technical foul against Chris Collins (two made FTs for the Zags) and a seven-point Gonzaga lead instead of a three-point lead and the clear and present danger of an almighty choke job. The NCAA said, yeah, our guys screwed up … but a coach has to control himself better than crossing into the playing surface. It was the “T” that made it such a huge play.
9. TV needs to be more careful when choosing children as the focus of an “crowd emotion” shot. CBS kept going back to a blond boy of maybe 10 who was losing it. His mouth was wide open as he seemed to scream, and he was crying heavily. The director should have moved on and not returned to that kid. An adult? OK.
10. Speaking of tears, I continue to be impressed by how many college basketball players break into tears after defeat. Like, lots of them do. Final horn, the waterworks begin. Many of the blubbering players seem to fear it’s not quite proper behavior — because they often attempt to hide/disguise it. The way to go here is to get off the court and through the “nice game” line — and if you want to bewail your fate, do it in the locker room to your heart’s content.
11. Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Seinfeld” and “Veep” fame, has a son on the Northwestern team. Which is hard to believe, given that she is, like, 5-foot-3. But it’s true, and she and her tall husband, Brad Hall, were among the thousands of Northwestern alumni in the arena in Salt Lake City, and the parents were rewarded by seeing their son Charlie Hall, a walk-on, get into the game for the final seconds.
12. One more thing on Gonzaga … the Zags have arrived in the Sweet Sixteen with a center who may be eating himself out of relevance. Przemek Karnowski, their 7-foot-1 center from Poland, is listed at a nice round 300 pounds but he looked markedly heavier than he did even three weeks ago when I saw Gonzaga lose to BYU. He now is the definition of “lumbering” (verging on “rooted”) and played only 19 minutes. Gonzaga has a fine backup in freshman Zach Collins, but he is supposed to be a sixth man, not The Man. Hard to imagine Gonzaga winning this — or even getting to the Final Four — when their big-and-getting-bigger-man is nigh on useless.
13. Apparently, Virginia was supposed to be good, maybe even Final Four good, but the regional No. 5 seed may have secured the 2017 tournament’s “failed to show up” award in a 65-39 humiliation versus Florida.
14. A disturbing trend in college basketball? What appears to be soccer-inspired flopping. As noted in previous posts, I didn’t see much college hoops for about seven years, Now I have returned to it, and it’s like Barcelona is playing, with guys throwing themselves to the floor after slight contact. It’s embarrassing, as well as a form of cheating.
15. Most interesting game of the day/night: Arizona versus Saint Mary’s, undergrad enrollment 2,800. Saint Mary’s is the pride of Moraga, California — as well as Australia. Six Aussies suited up and four of them played at least 17 minutes and accounted for 38 of their points in a 69-60 loss. St. Mary’s led early and looked as if it had a chance against the region’s No. 2 seed, thanks in large part to Oz-born 7-footer Jock Landale, but Arizona’s athleticism, particularly in the form of Allonzo Trier, won out. But this was another highly seeded team that looked more than a little ragged. Someone, however, has to win this thing. This one ended at 3:30 a.m. in France, at which point I decided I had seen enough hoops and passed on the last game of the night, Purdue versus Iowa State. It would have been March madness to stay up another two hours, though I will have to do that tomorrow night if I want to see UCLA play.