Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bracket Heartbreak: No Winthrop vs. Duke

It was probably too much to ask, anyway, after last year's BRAD./PITT. matchup.

The first weekend of NCAA Tournament action is in the books -- and most of America was already sleepytime when the final seconds ticked off (only moments ago) of the final game of the "intoxicating," 4-day, 3-Ball Free-For-All.
What we're referring to here -- three clicks shy of the Sunday-midnight-Monday neutral zone -- is the final play of the NCAA women's playoff game on The Deuce which ended when that chick from Nebraska looked as though she was tossing a grenade ... her at-the-buzzer heave glancing off the top of the backboard, thus preserving a 64-61 victory for Dawn Staley's Temple Owls squad.

This is not a typo: There must've been anywhere from 52-73 fans inside N.C. State's arena when that grenade-toss hit the top of the backboard -- which, when you look at it, wasn't all that bad, considering that if that grenade had detonated, the body-count (i.e. "collateral damage") would have been minimal.

While we could make a quick get-away by stating that the only difference between chicks b-ball and a bucket of (shit) is -- you guessed it -- "the bucket," it is not our place to insult the innocent bucket in such a manner.

"Bucket" ... it's an interesting metaphor for basketball, is it not?
Tennessee's chicks had many buckets during a 34-0 run in its victory tonight.
34 unanswered points.
Thirty-four ...

Well, ours is not to question the shitty-osity of chicks hoops -- not when UT-Knoxville's men are carving out so many special memories ... mostly with a roster full of players who wear their headbands in such a uniquely-peculiar-but-delightful manner (i.e., askew ... mid-crown vs. mid-forehead ... but never two headbands criss-crossing in a head-wound-survivor motif).

Vol headbands aside, some of us definitely had our hearts set on a title-game showdown between Winthrop and Duke (since these teams were placed on opposite sides of the bracket, the title game was the only place where the Thorpies and the Dukies were going to settle their hardwood differences).

Sadly, Winthrop and Duke both bowed out during this opening weekend -- and out the window went our opportunity to re-connect with Winthorpe choking Billy Ray as we sang along to the gagging, semi-muffled cries of, "It was the Dukes! It was the Dukes!"

'Tis justice: The memory of Louis WINTHORPE teaming with Billy Ray Valentine and Ophelia to take down Randolph and Mortimer DUKE, highlighted by Randolph falling to the ground while clutching his chest and Mortimer calming the alarmed onlookers by offering an enraged outburst of "Fuck him!"

One can't help but think that Louis' pep talk to Billy Ray was the catalyst in this final outcome.
"Think big, think positive. Never show any signs of weakness. Always go for the throat. Buy low, sell high. Fear ... that's the other guy's problem.
"Nothing you have ever experienced can prepare you for the unbridled carnage you're about to witness. The Super Bowl ... the World Series ... they don't know what pressure is. In this building, it's either kill or be killed. You make no friends in the pits and you take no prisoners ..."

It was an impassioned speech, but the memory of it creates some inner-conflict since Dan Aykroyd said it to Eddie Murphy as the two walked along the sidewalk outside the World Trade Center.
Winthrop and Duke could've avenged those deaths, alas ... one day Madison Square Garden (home of the NIT and the Preseason NIT) will become yet another NYC flattened landmark for movie lore after Atta Jr. takes care of it.

The politics of a global bracket aside (who is the international No. 1 seed nowadays? North Korea? MS-13? ESPN?), there was a vast array of incredibly-medicore b-ball being played under the CBS big-top.
A lot of people watched it.
And, a lot of us occupied our time in other ways (mostly by lamenting that there was no World Baseball Classic to take our mind off of marginally-talented, college students with a jump-shot limit which does not exceed 15-17 feet spotting up from 19-feet, 9-inches and chucking the pumpkin at the peach basket).
Or by aiming that grenade for the top of the backboard.

The televised practice of this "art" is akin to us pitching to TV execs our brainstorm of a round-robin tournament which features some of the world's top furniture-polish huffers and aerosol inhalerists.
Notice how we said "world's top," thereby allowing our competition to appeal to an international audience -- just so the world has a huffer to embrace the way that it does Kobayashi in those competitive eating exhibitions.

Whereas this year we "coulda" had Winthorpe vs. "It was the Dukes! It was the Dukes!" -- much like last year's Brad./Pitt. matchup -- it seems as though the action every season has us rewinding to dialogue from a movie which we enjoy as much as the wife enjoys Winthorpe vs. Duke.

JOSEY WALES: "You a bounty hunter?"
Bounty Hunter: "A man's got to make a livin'."
JOSEY WALES (snarling): "Dyin' ain't much of a livin', boy!"

Dyin' AIN'T much of as livin' (it doesn't pay jack, by the way) -- but, by the same token, dyin' is what happens to 48 teams every year during the first weekend of this not-as-prestigious-as-it-used-to-be tourney.
We needn't explore the complete and total meltdowns of teams which uglied themselves right outta the field (and into a 5- to 10-year ban from further tourney participation, if there was any justice) -- b-ball waste cases such as Stanford and Long Beach State, along with new members such as Indiana and O'Reilly Auto Parts and Michigan State.

Don't misinterpret the signs -- after all, this is not a referendum on the merit of the program which Jim BOREheim is running at Sillycuse or the myth that John Beilein can actually coach his Wuss Virginia players into doing anything other than attempting 3's which they have no business taking.
Boreheim and Beilein ... pass the biscuits, please.

What we do know after this first full weekend is that March Mildness STILL cannot touch the college football bowl season, so the Majerusists and Kelloggites can shelve that romantic angle or the scientific, chalktalk.
College football rules the landscape -- a notion which was cemented by that Fiesta Bowl finish which STILL has America buzzing.

There isn't a coach in the college b-ball world who would have the guts to call a hook-n'-ladder play on 4th down, to design a WR-turned-HB-option pass on 4th down or to dial into a Statue of Liberty play on a to pull a game out of the fire.
Boise State's Chris Petersen is going to be our Coach of the Year long after 2007 has passed.
Roy Williams? He'll take the safe way out every time.

At least, that's what's Pat Forde strongly implied last week re: the UNC bench boss -- although Forde did so in a poorly-disguised manner ... using the ol' "UNC has quality coaching" tag before spilling the beans about how "in disarray" the team often looks.
It's like informing America that Tyler Hansbrough is a tough kid ... tough in a talented-version-of-Joe-Wolf sense, but maybe not as tough as ol' #00, Eric Montross.

Still, ya gotta love the way that gods such as Williams and Pitino coach up the wardrobe, be it choosing between the Armani suit or the Bill Blass.
Pitino ... he's always the cat's meow when he wearing his $500 cuff links.
Because cuff links and b-ball go together like beef n' chocolate.

That much was evident at the end of the Lousyville-Texas A&M game when freshman superstar Edgar Sosa -- who'd been 15 of 15 from the foul line -- gakked both FTs with less than a minute to play and Lousyville trailing, 70-69.
That was a tough break for the youngster -- but then when Texas A&M missed two FTs which woulda made for either a 71-69 or 72-69 lead with 29 seconds to play, Sosa had what they call "new life."

Pitino, master strategist and cuff link-wearer that he is, devised the perfect play -- Sosa walking the ball upcourt w/ a dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble ... timeout w/ :16 to play ... inbounds to Sosa for the dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, half-assed move to his right and the straight-away, fall-away, 22-footer w/ :10 to play.

After Acie Law sank those two FTs, Sosa had another 3-ball chance to tie, but missed at the final horn.
Before the final minute, Sosa had been 7 of 7 from the floor, 15 of 15 from the line.

If only he'd had a backcourt mate named "Dr. Dunkenstein" (Darrell Griffith) ... But, let's give credit where credit is due -- Pitino's cuff links coached one of the best games of their cuff-linked life.

Sosa? Well, as they say, "he's only going to get better" ... which is NOT the empty, vapid Dickie V expression it might seem to be. Either way, your heart truly aches for a kid like that -- almost as much as it does for Notre Shame's Colin Falls.

The kid was out there, bustin' his hump for the Farting Irish as his teammates were flagellatin' against Winthorpe, falling behind, 54-34, before taking a late lead (63-62) and then losing, 70-64.

Falls was 2 of 10 on 3-balls -- and his running mate, Russell Carter, was 0 of 6 -- a continuation of the Big Least semifinal vs. Georgeclown when the Irish went 0 of 10 on 3-balls during that game's final 15 minutes.

In that game, Carter hit a 3-ball in the first two minutes of the second half (making him 5 of 7 "from distance" at that point). However, Carter missed his final five 3-balls in that game and then really seemed to find his rhythm vs. Winthorpe.

All told, it was an 0-of-11 period of heartbreak for a kid who probably shouldn't be messin' with the 3-ball to begin with.

Colin Falls? Well, aside from the fact that once NC State was denied an NCAA berth and had to settle for the NIT (thus flat-out robbing America of a priceless Colin Falls-vs.-Courtney Fells showcase), Colin Falls had an incredible season.

Falls was 25 of 44 for 61 points in a 112-82 Mideast Regional win over Ohio; went 22 of 35 for 52 points in a 109-99, Mideast semifinal loss to Kentucky (which got 44 from Dan Issel); and then scored 45 (on 21 of 39 shooting) in a 121-106 loss to Iowa in##))(*HALT!

Seems as though a mischievous leprechaun substituted our "Colin Falls Is A Sack of S---" notes for "Austin Carr Was A Frickin' B-Ball God" notes from the 1970 tourney.

Look ... no one's sayin' that Austin Carr was a better Golden Domer than Colin Falls. No ... we're saying that Austin Carr was 15, maybe 20 times better than that current stiff who shows America little more than a propensity for camping along the 3-point stripe, for rarely passing (to anyone else in scoring position), for avoiding dribble-drives to the rack (though he's an 80 percent foul shooter), for getting nowhere near a rebound, for refusing to acknowledge the set-a-pick function and for playing mediocre defense.

Other than that, Colin Falls and Austin Carr are practically identical twins.

However, Carr > Carter.


Reminder: If there'd've been a 3-point line back in '70, Austin Carr would've treated it differently than Colin Falls does nowadays (who acts as though he's a puppy wearing an Invisible Fence collar). If only this nation could one day pass legislation which would retroactively adjust Austin Carr's numbers to account for all of the 3-pointers which he was unconstitutionally denied ...

The next time most of us see Colin Falls with a basketball-like sphere in his hands, it'll be when he's clutching one of those mini-b-balls during his 23rd-place finish in a local-pub Pop-A-Shot tournament.

That's the magic of the 3-ball -- it resurrected interest in the game, just like Mark McGwire made us believe in baseball heroes once again.

Sadly, the Maryland Terrapins could not bottle this magic. When "Garyland" had a shot to hurt Butler at the buzzer, Coach Williams diagrammed the wrong play completely.

Coach shoulda called on the 13th man on the bench ... Jason McAlpin, the kid who won our hearts when he nailed two 3's in the final minute of the 101-50 win over UMKC and who missed the 3 in the final seconds of the 31-point rout of winless Iona.

McAlpin is definitely the guy you'd want strokin' it with the game on the line because, hey ... if it wasn't for the Jason McAlpin version of Jason McElwain, Garyland would've beaten UMKC by merely a 95-50 score, instead of 101-50.

Think about that over yer Scotch n' soda, Gare.

If he's good enough to bomb away during the final minute against UKMC and Iona, then why isn't he good enough to take the shot against Butthole?

Does Jason McAlpin's college coach has as little faith (read: "none") have as little faith (read: "none") as Jason McElwain's high school coach had in him?

However, when it comes to vintage matchups and "old school" blockbusters, UCLA vs. Indiana provided THE showcase of The First Weekend.

Maybe it wasn't quite like UCLA-Indiana in the '76 Final Four when Tom Abernethy shut down Richard Washington (holding him without a shot for 25 minutes) while sinking 7 of his 8 shots in IU's 65-51 win over the defending national champs ... and maybe it wasn't like the '85 NIT championship game when Reggie Miller smoked IU ... and maybe it wasn't like the '92 regional final game when UCLA's superior talent of Ed O'Bannon and Don MacLean got worked by Calbert Cheaney and and Damon Bailey and Eric Anderson and Alan Henderson and Matt Nover ...

But, this one was one for the ages -- particularly when Indiana went the final 13:13 of the first half by scoring only two baskets (down, 20-13 at intermission) and and then scoring no points in the first 3:17 of the second half (that's TWO baskets in a span of 16:30).

Well, once the pregame Wheaties kicked it, all hell broke loose.

In the span of 3:28, Lance Stemler hit two 3-balls and Roderick Wilmont hit one ... Stemler sank two FTs and Earl Calloway scored a bucket and the Hurryin' Hooters had tied Underachievement, 49-49, with 1:01 to play.

It was pleasing to see Lance Stemler dish out some frontier justice in a manner which Jarrad Odle could not in the '02 NCAA Tournament championship game (0 of 4 from the floor, 0 of 3 from the line).

Lance Stemler -- sort of -- avenged the death of Jarrad Odle, the operative term here is "sort of," considering that IU finished 17 of 52 from the field, 10 of 21 from the line, 15-0 at home and 6-11 on the road.

Speaking of 6-11, those were Wilmont's numbers when it came to shooting 3-balls in the first-rounder vs. the Zags.

Roddy went 0 of 3 vs. UCLA ... another sad tale of a 15-foot-limit guy attempting to hit from 19-9.

Maybe next time he spots up, he should scooch back another five or six feet.

The Hooters HAD to roll over vs. the Bruins to keep alive America's dreams for a UCLA-USC title game (which is where this tourney seems headed, whether America wants to admit it or not).

Here's yer proof: SoCal U. followed up 70-17 and 50-14 blowouts of Arkansas on the football field by "Routin' The Razorbacks" in the first round before roughing up Texas in "The Vince Young Payback Game."

Git the F outta the way, Hogs n' 'Horns -- the Boys From Troy are on a mission to give the 'SC a b-ball identity that, up until now, consisted of: A) Cheryl Miller B) Lisa Leslie C) The McGee twin who married Darryl Strawberry D) The Disappearance of Harold Miner E) National championships which went up in smoke 20 years ago when freshmen Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers and Tom Lewis transferred out because they wanted to play for Stan Morrison, not George Raveling F) Fond memories of our own childhood when Don Carfino and Biff Burrell were workin' some backcourt magic in the Southland while, in a nearby locale in the L.A. basin, Sam Gilbert's $$$ was bankrolling another nat'l title for The Grand Wizard (shhhhhhhh ... Wooden is 95 years old and he's so polite and elderly and wonderful ...).

If nuthin' else, it might be worth it if Congress could enact necessary legislation which would ban forever the comparison between Tenn. '07 and UNLV '77 just because UT's 121-86 W over CSULB tied the record of most points in a first-round NCAA game, originally established by the Hardway Eight in that 121-95 win over USF in that '77 first-rounder.

It's bad enough that anyone would make the parallel between this UT fluke and that UNLV b-ball stud show -- a team which would've scored 176 points vs. USF if the 3-point line had existed then -- but, when this Planet paid homage to the Hardway Eight the other day, we meant to include the name of Jackie Robinson, but, then ... we didn't (for whatever reasons).

Jackie Robinson was a star for the '75-'76 UNLV Rebs, a player who would've been among the top two or three best players on the '76-'77 squad, but an injury sidelined him for the entire season.

Some people might argue that "eight is enough" -- and that a ninth player would have disrupted the balance of this delicate eco-system. Others might argue that we're spending too much time talking about players from 30 years ago.

Oh, so we're 'sposed to talk about the current UNLV squad, with it's ugly-ass uniforms and it's ugly-ass father-son combo of Lon Kruger and Kevin Kruger and how they don't stand up to Tark The Shark and Baby Shark (Jerry and Danny)?

THIS Rebel team, however, DOES have Wendell White -- which takes us back to the movie theme which began this entry.

Capt. Smith: "You've been a bit of a puzzlement to me lately, Wendell. You haven't seemed like your old, cruel self."

Indeed ... this is what happens when Dudley Smith's drug ring goes bad, once Meeks and Stensland start thinking on their own instead of merely taking orders.

We defintely saw the conflict in Wendell "Bud" White once he crossed that threshhold from "bending" the rules to "breaking" them.

It all began so well-intentioned.

Ofcr. White (holding up his badge): "L.A.P.D., shitbird. Get the fuck out of here before I call your wife to come pick you up."

What's NOT to like about Wendell White? The modern-day one goes by the nickname "The Bull" -- however, most of us will always opt for Bud over The Bull.

Ofcr White: "You touch her again and I'll have 'em send ya back to Quentin on a kiddie-raper beef. Y'know what they do to kiddie rapers in Quentin?"

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