Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Follow all the bouncing balls (it's madness)

       It is March Madness, has been for a week or two now, and frankly, I'm not that excited. Sorry, basketball fans.
      There was a time in my life when I was a basketball savant of sorts, when I would watch whatever game was on TV. Basketball was, other than baseball, my favorite sport for years and years. But that time has passed.
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs won't be in the NCAA
Tournament (and I'm disappointed). (Tom Morris photo)
       Honestly, the NCAA Tournament is a helluva lot more fun if you have a team to root for. I don't.
       No, Louisiana Tech missed out -- just as it has for 20-plus years now. The Bulldogs had an exciting, well-coached, competitive team that wound up as the No. 1 seed in their conference, but they didn't have it in the one last game they needed to win.
       LSU missed out, never really had much of a chance, in my opinion, with an underachieving team.
       When you have a team in the tournament, it is so much more exciting. The greatest moments in Louisiana Tech men's basketball history -- we'll get to the women's game in a bit -- were in 1985 when the Bulldogs (including Karl Malone) beat Pittsburgh and then Ohio State and reached the Sweet Sixteen, only to lose to Oklahoma on a last-second shot by Waymon Tisdale that is still bouncing on the rim at Reunion Arena in Dallas.
        (Reality is that Tisdale and Reunion Arena are both gone. Sad.)
        The prospect of Louisiana Tech one step from the Final Four was a dream ride. That was fun.
        LSU's men have given us some fun -- three Final Four trips (1981, 1986, 2006) since the NCAA Tournament became a national pastime (the first Final Four team, in 1953, was when the NCAA Tournament was still pretty much a secret).
        The Tigers two other times (1980, 1987) got to the Elite Eight and two other times to the Sweet Sixteen (1979 and 2002 -- Stromile Swift's team). Say what you want about LSU basketball, and say that it plays second string to LSU football, but there have been some good times.
        Selection Sunday usually brings some surprises, and some silliness, and some sadness. Used to be that the NCAA Tournament field was announced just by being posted on the wire service and/or schools receiving phone calls. Now, of course, CBS makes a production of the selection show.
         There is always going to be some controversy about the selections and the seedings, and all the speculation/analysis is a bit much for me. So is the silliness of the players at the "watch parties" who dance and chest-bump and scream when their team's selection is announced. For most of them, they knew they were in the tournament ... why all the commotion?
          Reminds me of when we were watching the selection show one Sunday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department, and we were making fun of the players' reactions.
          And then a first-time NCAA Tournament participant was announced and Mark Finley cracked, "Hey, act like you've been there before ... Oh, that's right, you haven't been."
           Had to feel sorry Sunday for the "watch party" group at SMU, which CBS showed several times. At the end of the selections, there were a disappointed group -- left out of the Big Dance (don't like that term, incidentally; it's so overused).
           I am of the opinion that the college basketball season, like most seasons across sports these days, lasts too long. I think they should do away with the week of the conference tournaments and let every team, all 341 NCAA Division I teams, play in the NCAAs, beginning with, say, 16 regionals. Seed the top 64 teams, award first- and second-round byes, and start playing. It's still one loss-and-done.
           (Of course, because the tournaments in the major conferences are huge money-makers, this idea will never happen).
         Anyway, this season the NCAA didn't happen for LSU or for a Louisiana Tech team I followed more closely than I have in some years (yes, I jumped on the bandwagon). Can tell you that the loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA tournament title game was a real letdown.
         So "my" teams are in the NIT, which frankly is a runner-up tournament. I care -- and I'm glad that LSU and Tech are in opposite bracket and wouldn't have to play until the final two rounds reach New York City -- but it's not like I'll stop my world to watch.
          Nor will I watch that much of the NCAAs. And I have received several invitations to fill out brackets and spend my valuable money for my entry. No thanks. I haven't done that in years, and back when I did, I was a miserable failure at it. Couldn't make myself take chances and try to pick upsets.
         But those upsets are what makes the NCAA Tournament, especially the first week, such an attraction. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the men's tournament, but that day is coming. When a No. 15 seed beats a No. 2, or a 14 beats a 3, etc., that's worth watching.
          When, as happened last year, a No. 15 seed you've never heard of -- Florida Gulf Coast University -- reaches the Sweet Sixteen, or when schools such as George Mason or Virginia Commonwealth reach the Final Four, you know there is hope for the Louisiana Techs. It's a beautiful prospect.
           So I will watch some games, as time permits (and someone at our house is not watching her Dallas Mavericks). I do have some teams I like, such as Tennessee (because son-in-law cares) and Florida, Oklahoma and Texas because I like their coaches and their style of play.
          And I won't root for Louisville, Duke, North Carolina or Kentucky because I think their coaches have had enough of their share.
          Might tune in some -- or tape -- some women's games because LSU is entered, and so is Northwestern State, which draws the unenviable first-round visit to Tennessee. Having lived in Knoxville for six NCAA women's tournaments, with the Lady Vols winning the first three (1996-98), I know all about the power of the Lady Vols.
           I can root for Holly Warlick, the Lady Vols' head coach who in following Pat Summitt knows what it's like to follow a legend, plus Holly is a graduate of Bearden High School (as was my daughter, about 20 years after the coach-to-be).
           I also can root for Baylor because coach Kim Mulkey -- a two-time national champion with Baylor and three times as a player/assistant coach at Louisiana Tech -- is a friend. And I can hope that some team upsets Connecticut and prevents it from winning its ninth  national title. But it probably will.
             Still, though, I only care so much. I'm many years from the kid who each year drew up the NCAA bracket -- this was from 1959 through 1965 -- at a time when the field was 24 teams at the most, games were never on TV, and newspaper coverage was minimal. I sometimes had to dig to find the teams in the bracket and the game results.
            I remember the NCAA championship game, I think it was Ohio State-Cincinnati in 1962, being a three-paragraph story on Page 2 of the Sunday Shreveport Times sports section. I'm not making that up.
           But, gosh, I loved basketball then. I would listen to games on radio, and watched any NBA game that was on (if I had time and rights to the TV), and I was like some of the writers I would come to know -- Joe Rhodes, Steve "Tiger" Richardson, Wendell Barnhouse and the late Don Bowman -- who knew and cared as much about college basketball as they could.
            This time of year was Bowman's time. Here was a guy who -- as soon as the Maryland men's team's season ended -- would begin the countdown to "Midnight Madness," the start of the next season's practice. Bowman was never happier than when the Maryland men and then the women won national championships.
            He'd be pleased to know that the Maryland women again had a fine season and are in the NCAA Tournament. But he'd be very unhappy that the men not only missed out on the NCAAs, they missed out on the NIT.
             At least, I have the teams to root for in the NIT. But I'd rather care a lot more about the real March Madness.

1 comment:

  1. From Jim McLain: Enjoyed your basketball blog. I, too, am not very interested in the men's NCAA tournament but still follow the women closely since I know many of the coaches. We watch Baylor every time the game is on TV. Kim has done a remarkable job this year with so many young players and very little talent in the post. Odyssey Sims might be the greatest guard ever. She's had tremendous pressure on her to score this season and has sometimes taken ill-advised shots. But, heck, 29 points a game can't be argued with. Kim's daughter has developed into a very good and smart (takes after mom) player.
    I'm curious about Stephen F. Austin's men's team and might watch its game just to see what the Lumberjacks look like. That winning streak is impressive.