Someday, March Madness is going to stop toppin’ itself, and I don’t mean Jacob. One of these years, no shot will beat a buzzer, Fairleigh Dickinson and its descendants will not wreck a bracket, an Ivy League team will not show how non-scholarship players can leave a more talented team NIL and void.
Players will not cry, coaches will leave their shirts on. The whole three-week circus will be as appealing as an Ohio State football game in early September.
But not this year.
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To the Martian freshly arrived from his all-expenses paid vacation around the solar system:
This is why we love the games.
From Thursday at noon to Sunday night at midnight, we had sports, we had theatre, we bore witness to what it’s like to be on top of the world and underneath it, often within the space of a few righteous and trembling minutes. For every Eric Musselman ripping his shirt off while standing atop the press table (ewww), there was a Tobin Anderson, taking the time to be human and alive. After his team, Fairleigh Dickinson, lost to Florida Atlantic is an OK Corral masterpiece Sunday, a tearful Anderson spoke of his family in attendance and paused to be a human being.
“At some point,’’ Anderson said, “I’m going fishing.’’
If you didn’t like that masterful summation of grace and perspective, maybe you preferred Drew Timme’s most fervent wish, uttered at pumpkin-hour on Sunday night. After his ‘Zags survived TCU, the Gonzaga star said this on national TV:
“We cannot be the team that f—— this one up.’’
(Drew “don’t F- it up’’ Timme)
Is there a better expression of existential dread, as we head to the Sweet 16? Especially for frequent visitors to the Big Stage. Don’t (mess) this one up, fellas. It’s your legacy.
If that was too, well, direct for ya, you might have preferred FAU’s Johnell Davis’ satisfaction after the Owls crashed the Sweetness:
“I’ve been trying to prove this sh.. oh!” Davis said after letting loose the S-word. To which sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl deftly replied, “That’s all right. We’re on Tru TV.”
As true as it gets, Ms. Erdahl.
Never in a million seasons could football produce a weekend like the one just passed. Basketball’s roster size and its quick tournament turnarounds — do you really want to face Princeton on one day of prep? — makes the Madness the king of real drama, not the melo kind.
No other sports throws everything it has — meaning, significance, perceptions — into one cauldron month of a season. If you don’t make The Dance, you can never be Michael Jackson. If you make the dance and you’re expected to dance until dawn, but you trip on the sidewalk and fall into a flower pot, your season still is suspect, no matter what you achieved the previous five months.
This is it for these folks. Right now.
"My concern are these kids, and I tried to keep [those expectations] off of them," UK coach John Calipari said. "Obviously, with a couple, maybe I didn't do as good a job as I thought I did. I wanted them to just play, have fun, enjoy the experience."
Cal can be a gasbag. And really, what other coach would even attempt to explain away a loss by saying his players were loved too much? But Calipari does have a point. Pressure is a fact of Madness life. That’s why it’s the Madness. It amazes me year after year how impossibly cool these 20-year-olds are in mega-situations, game after game. Let’s see you make both ends of a 1-and-1, when anything less gets your team booted from the stage.
A few ideas, from a weekend at the casino and on the couch:
Madness has a face, and it is Tom Izzo. Izzo looks like he just came out of the dryer. He might be a rich guy, but he’s never been permanent-press. All the glitz notwithstanding, it’s a workingman’s tournament, won by teams that excel at Naismith’s basics: Protecting the ball, blocking out, making free throws. No coach appears to be more workingman than Izzo. Maybe it’s because he’s been working at the tournament longer than the CBS jingle. Twenty-five consecutive appearances. Every year, the Big 10 flames out, every year Michigan State holds up its end of the deal. Sunday was the 16th time in his coaching career that Izzo has won an NCAA tournament game with a lower-seeded team.
March and April are for guards. Unless you’re Timme, who had 28 points and 7 boards Sunday, and is unguard-able around the basket. . . or Oscar Tshiebwe, who looks what Travis Kelce would look like, if the Chiefs tight end played hoop. . . or Adama Sanogo, who has averaged 25 and 10 in UConn’s two Ws.
Kansas State missed its first 13 threes, and still beat Kentucky. Michigan State went 2-for-16 from 3, and still beat Marquette. Make no mistake: Three-shooting officially dictates offense in college ball now. OGs such as I could be heard carping at the TV every time a guy passed up an open short jumper for a pass to a 3-shooter. But big men can still dominate a game.
Too early to say for sure, but maybe NIL and the portal will make college basketball less of a blue-blooded enterprise. Eleven conferences have a Sweetness about them this year. Duke, Kansas and UK are done. North Carolina never got started. Again, something we could never say about football.
Whew. The tournament played like a Marvel Comics movie for four days, and we still have two weeks to go. I don’t know how you’re dealing with the circus, but I like how Tom Izzo plans on handling it. His team plays in the East Region later this week, at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
“I want a cab ride and one of them big slices of pizza,’’ Izzo said Sunday.
Now, then. . .
XAVIER’S BOUM GOES BUST for a half, and the Musketeers still handled Pitt fairly easily. We’ve talked all season in This Space how versatile X’s offense has been. We’ve also said Souley Boum is the key to the whole deal. Both are still true.
Xavier played as handsomely as it could play for about the first eight minutes of the game. Boum did not — he missed all seven of his first-half shots — but Adam Kunkel more than assumed the slack. Kunkel has come to play in this event. Against Kennesaw Friday, he was the only Musketeer with a discernible pulse for 40 minutes. Sunday v. Pitt, Kunkel and Jack Nunge kept Xavier’s wheels on until Boum found his second-half groove. And Colby Jones was all-around studly.
One play in the 1st half typified what X has been about on offense this year: With about six minutes left in the half, Desmond Claude holstered a wide-open three to feed Nunge for a layup. We just don’t see that much now. Usually, we see the opposite.
That put XU up 39-26. At that point, the Musketeers had 14 assists on 16 buckets.
Second-seeded Texas is next. Time for Boum to make some noise.
AND FINALLY. . . Driving around Saturday, happened to catch John Sadak doing radio for Westwood One’s coverage of the tournament. My ears will never be the same. Dear John: Not all great plays are created equal. It is not necessary for you to yell like a Beatles fan in 1965 after every made basket. You’re like the announcer who yelled Wolf. When something magical actually does happen, how will we know it by listening to you?
Mix in some moderation, big guy.
(Northern Row Brewing)
TML SEZ CKOUT the American Legacy tour of Cincinnati’s beer-making history. The Kid Down the Hall got Kerry and me tickets for Christmas. Absolutely fascinating. We started at Northern Row Brewing, itself a wonderful place a few blocks up the street from Rhinegeist. Lovingly restored, impeccably furnished with period detail. I’d never heard of the place. I intend to return as often as possible.
The tour takes you through the streets of Over the Rhine, then down into the tunnels where they lagered the beer starting in the middle of the 19th century. The tour ends back at Northern Row, with a free pint. I had the stout. Perfection.
I can’t recommend the tour, the bar and the beer enough.
TUNE O’ THE DAY. . . When Peter Frampton played a free concert at American University’s spring party in 1975, I was sitting in a tree maybe 200 yards from the stage. That was when Frampton Comes Alive was exploding up the charts. I recall how much I loved hearing Baby I Love Your Way for the first time. Still love it.
11 different conferences will be represented in the regional semifinals
27 points, nine assists and three seals, and was easily the biggest reason why Kansas State is headed to its first Sweet 16 since 2018.
Through two NCAA tournament games, Nowell has scored or assisted on 93 of Kansas State’s 152 points. 68-23
Antonio Reeves (1-of-15 shooting) and Jacob Toppin (2 points on 1-of-7
Kansas State was 0-for-12 from 3 in the first half and still led at the break.
Adam Kunkel started drilling 3-pointers. The Xavier guard hit all five of his attempts from beyond the arc in the first half as the Musketeers built an insurmountable lead on the way to an 84-73 win over the Panthers. During one stretch in the first half, Xavier made seven straight shots
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I have an Bengal buddy engineer friend who is addicted to "the 5o6 board' discussion forum where they natter on about % of NFL market game coverages % composites of all time USA demo records and trends and make predictions ... and also kibbitz political topics, like which sportz media talking heads shine or suck out loud the most. He's always guessing who's an industry insider from some only backstage info scoop they would cite or reveal. Not everyone can be a Charlie Jones or Marv or Kenny Albert. He can't stand this or that guy so we try to sync up with Keels & Lapham watching. He will reminisce over some grudge comment color man Trent Green in broadcast said about the Bengals in 2o18 😆
Reading TML for years, I am amused with Doc's criticism of certain announcers. I tune almost all of them out. They clearly get on his nerves, I wonder why?