Yesterday Didn’t Go Great for Me

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Traditionally, one of the first two days of the NCAA Tournament is crazy and the other is dull. Yesterday was the dull day. Only two lower seeded teams won, one of which was actually favored and the other was playing perennial choking dog Maryland, so does either even count? There were only like two exciting finishes all day. Overall, it wasn’t the best March Madness day I’ve ever seen. Mostly because absolutely nothing went my way.

Obviously Minnesota lost. I declared them my team before the brackets came out, and they laid down against Middle Tennessee State. They got screwed by their seeding. They weren’t a five seed. They should have been a 7 seed and got a nice matchup with a 10 seed. That’s when you can take teams by surprise and build some momentum. Tough to win when you’re the team everyone is mad at for being seeded too high. It put a huge bullseye on their backs to go with the bullseye that was already there when I picked them. The signs were clearly there for an early exit. If I had less fortitude and commitment, I probably would have changed my pick after the bracket came out. But I didn’t, so now I need to pick up the pieces and move on. I don’t even know who to root for now. My other team UVM lost (I really thought they were gonna do it, but they just died in the second half). My other other team Oregon doesn’t have much of a chance to go deep without Chris Boucher. My other other other team Dunk City is out, too. I guess Gonzaga because they’re playing Northwestern next? Seton Hall since I think they’re the last team with a pirate mascot left? I think I have to wait until someone captures my attention before I commit. I don’t want to be hurt like this again.

The second, and you could argue worse, bad thing that happened was Northwestern winning. Not only winning, but snatching victory from the clenched jaws of defeat because of a brain fart from Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis (who everyone will forget had a good game before inexplicably fouling while up one with 10 seconds left). The following show of excess can only be described as predictable. Hey did you know this was Northwestern’s first tournament appearance and first win? I didn’t! You knew the myriad of media members who just now decided to go over-the-top with their devotion to their alma mater would act like they just won the championship, but the actual players did, too! It was the craziest scene I’ve ever witnessed. You’d think the Wildcats just beat the Cavs in a 7-game series for the NBA title. I mean, look at this:

At some level, I get it. I’m not a total curmudgeon. This is their first tournament after almost 80 years of never making it. And Doug Collins’ son is the coach. But, come on, man. It was a FIRST ROUND GAME. AGAINST VANDERBILT! Not Kentucky, not North Carolina, but famed basketball power Vanderbilt. And he’s bawling. And it’s not like he’s the only one, either. He at least has the excuse that his son is the coach. What about the Mike Wilbons, Mike Greenbergs, and Darren Rovells of the world that already act like attending Northwestern makes them vastly superior to us normals, but now have the trump card of one (1) tournament win (as a higher seed) they can throw out now? It’s sickening. I can only pray that Gonzaga wins tomorrow, but I’m not feeling good about it. Literally all the pressure is on Gonzaga: they’re the number one seed with a history of choking vs an upstart with nothing to lose (it’s Northwestern’s first tournament appearance, if you hadn’t heard). Northwestern making the second weekend and subjecting America to another week of their alumni jerking off to themselves in everyone’s face was already a worst-case scenario. If they beat a number one seed to do it? Now we’re talking about Armageddon. Imagine a group of people with a combination of the arrogance of Patriots fans and the look-at-me-my-team-finally-won-let-me-make-it-all-about-myself euphoria of Cubs fans. Then add in the academic smugness that naturally comes from attending one of America’s most prestigious universities. Then put every single one of those people on TV every day for the next month. Doesn’t that sound great? Doesn’t that sound like a team you can rally behind? Gonzaga has to win. They just have to. And that’s why I’m worried. Obviously the committee rigged it for Northwestern since they all have so many friends in the media and gave them the only one seed they could beat. Gonzaga is so obviously going to lose I might not even watch it. I might not watch the rest of the tournament since I’m sure Northwestern will somehow make the Final Four. Call me a hypocrite if you want since I’m a noted Patriots hype man and have recently written about my own alma mater, but at least my team’s have won something in the last 100 years. All those people have is a diploma from probably the best journalism school in the country and cushy TV jobs. So, the way I look at it, I come out of this the winner, anyway.

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The Only Guide You’ll Need for March Madness

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I feel like I may have said this a couple times before, but this really is my favorite time of the year. The four day stretch from Thursday at 12:15 pm to Sunday at like midnight has to be the primary reason why this planet was created. To become one with the couch, to lose track of where you end and the pizza begins, to watch so much basketball it actually deep-fries your brain (Quick Optimum update: I still don’t have CBS. And people wonder why the Knicks fail). It’s what humans were put on Earth to do, and it’s my natural element. I thrive on March Madness. I’m energized by it. The endless loop of the same five commercials becomes my lifeblood. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I’m my true self during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Now, March Madness presents a number of new social obligations, as well. Regardless if you’re at school, in the office, or just with your family, it’s required that you discuss the tournament ad nauseam. Mostly, that means listening to everyone you know’s bracket picks. Hey, did you know a 12 seed always beats a 5 seed? No, Scott from Accounts Payable, I didn’t. Thanks for enlightening me! An important part of these discussions is establishing dominance. That can happen one of two ways. The first is by spewing out as many tired facts and arguments (how many brackets are you allowed to have? etc.) as possible and wearing down the casual fans around you. The second is by spitting out cold, hard facts that silence the poseurs and show the world who the real expert is. Any reader of mine surely fits in to the second category, but perhaps you need a little help getting to true savant status. You can go anywhere and find all the numbers and in-depth analysis you want, but I’m going to save you a little time. Here’s every single tournament team in one sentence. You can thank me after you win your bracket pool. I only ask for 10% of the winnings (Venom me @Brian-Curran-4)

East Region

  1. Villanova– Quietest defending champ in a long time, but I’m done picking against them.
  2. Duke– Don’t worry, they’ll lose second or third round.
  3. Baylor– This team sucks and it makes me mad they were so highly ranked all year.
  4. Florida– If Lee Humphrey finds a way to suit up, they’ll go all the way.
  5. Virginia– Most unwatchable team in America.
  6. SMU– They pretty much have five of the exact same guy on the court at all times.
  7. South Carolina– Sindarius Thornwell is the most over-the-top fancy name ever.
  8. Wisconsin– They’re seeded too low, but that’s because they aren’t that good.
  9. Virginia Tech– Randomly beat Duke by double digits.
  10. Marquette– Great shooting but horrible D.
  11. Providence/USC– Pepperidge Farm remembers a better time when there was only one play-in game.
  12. UNC Wilmington– This one group of Seahawks that isn’t addicted to adderall.
  13. East Tennessee State– Why is a team from a land-locked state called the Buccaneers?
  14. New Mexico State– Do they still have Sim Bhullar?
  15. Troy– Went to high school with a kid named Troy and I wasn’t a fan.
  16. Mt. St. Mary’s/New Orleans– Calling it now- New Orleans wins the championship.

Midwest Region (It bothers me to no end that it’s the Midwest Region not the North Region)

  1. Kansas– You’ll never believe this, but Kansas was really good this year.
  2. Louisville– Their ideal offense scores in 15 seconds or less.
  3. Oregon– No team with wacky jerseys has ever really won anything.
  4. Purdue– Just as likely to lose first round as to make the Final Four
  5. Iowa State– Half their players seem like they’ve been in school for 20 years.
  6. Creighton– Won’t really do much of anything without their star point guard.
  7. Michigan– I wish yellow text was easier to read.
  8. Miami– I don’t know why but I was so glad when that good Miami team from a few years ago lost early.
  9. Michigan State– You know what they say, never count out Tom Izzo in March (except when they lose first round).
  10. Oklahoma State– One of my favorite teams to watch.
  11. Rhode Island– If they can get Lamar Odom courtside they may win some games.
  12. Nevada– They’re really ahead of Vermont?
  13. Vermont– If you think maple syrup from anywhere but Vermont is acceptable we need to fight.
  14. Iona– I always randomly like Iona.
  15. Jacksonville State– I’m pretty sure this is in Alabama not Florida and it messes me up big time.
  16. North Carolina Central/UC Davis– It’s not good when I have to Google what your team colors are.

South Region

  1. North Carolina– This team’s ceiling is higher than any one else’s roof.
  2. Kentucky– Weird that they aren’t under-seeded to give them a favorable matchup this year.
  3. UCLA– Honestly wouldn’t mind if they lost first round and sent Lavar Ball into shock.
  4. Butler– Are they still considered a scrappy underdog even though this is their millionth straight tournament.
  5. Minnesota– I’ve made my feelings on this team clear.
  6. Cincinnati– It’s only a matter of time before Mick Kronin’s head literally explodes on the sideline.
  7. Dayton– Feel like they’re perpetually a thorn in bigger team’s sides.
  8. Arkansas– Didn’t hear about them once all year, but all of a sudden they’re a huge lock to make the tournament?
  9. Seton Hall– I’m always on board with Pirate mascots.
  10. Wichita State– This team is really good how are they a 10 seed?
  11. Wake Forest/Kansas State– How long until everything is just a play-in game?
  12. Middle Tennessee State– Honestly nervous for my Gophers in this matchup.
  13. Winthrop– One of those new-fangled 3-point obsessed teams that’s sure to get some hot takes from the older generation.
  14. Kent State– Please beat UCLA, please beat UCLA, please beat UCLA.
  15. Northern Kentucky– Willing to bet at least 70% of the Northern Kentucky alumni are still rooting for Kentucky in this game.
  16. Texas Southern– I know it’ll be tough in the moment, but it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault you were offered up as a sacrifice to UNC.

West Region

  1. Gonzaga– Kinda-sorta-almost lost to the 16 seed the last time they were a 1 seed, just saying.
  2. Arizona– Listen, one of these teams has to make the Final Four at some point.
  3. Florida State– Pretty much just Baylor if they were in Florida.
  4. West Virginia– I was all in on them until they blew a 50-point lead in five minutes to Kansas, now I’m way, way out.
  5. Notre Dame– Somehow a Notre Dame sports team has gone under the radar.
  6. Maryland– Overhyped and overrated.
  7. Saint Mary’s– The whole team better be rocking the Delly Ones.
  8. Northwestern– Northwestern grads are a lot like vegans.
  9. Vanderbilt– If they were playing in their wacky home gym I’d feel good about them.
  10. VCU– They’re still good, huh?
  11. Xavier– Got a friend named Xavier.
  12. Princeton– Man, gotta feel good for this rag-tag group of underdogs from that destitute Ivy League Conference.
  13. Bucknell– Always grateful for Bucknell for being UConn’s first round opponent in 2011.
  14. Florida Gulf Coast– Is Dunk City back for another run?
  15. North Dakota– Not enough green in this bracket.
  16. South Dakota State– Rigged seeding built for an all Dakota Elite Eight.

The Dream is Dead. So now who do I root for?

It was always a longshot, but UConn is officially dead and buried. They were so bad in the regular season that they won’t even make the NIT. It’s over. But I can’t wallow in self-pity. I need to pick myself up off the mat and find a team to root for in the tournament. With 68 options, how can I pick the right one? I guess I just have to go through some of the stronger contenders and find the true recipient of the Brian’s Den Blessing.

vermont_basketballVermont– Since I was born in and spent the first 23 years of my life living in Vermont, this is always the sentimental pick. UVM in the tournament is always a special treat. Especially when they’re good, which they are this year. Undefeated in conference, as a matter of fact. Won a million straight games. And, as is pivotal for any good random mid major in the tournament, I couldn’t name one player on the team. I assume it’s mostly white guys with one black role player, but maybe they’ve switched up the formula this year. Either way, it’s working this season. But the thing is, I always root for UVM when they make the tournament. I would have rooted for them even if UConn had made it (unless they played each other, of course). So it would feel cheap to pick the Catamounts as my new team, since they always were my team in the first place. So sorry, Burlington, but my search continues.

2000px-ucla_bruins_textlogo-svg_UCLA– With the absence of Washington, the Celtics fan in me sees UCLA as the obvious choice. After all, I might as well get used to rooting for Lonzo Ball, right? Plus, they’re really fun to watch, playing a Warriors style of ball-movement-and-3s based offense. They’ve got at least two future pros and a bunch of good role players, including my man Thomas Welsh, who’s pretty much the white Udonis Haslem with his automatic baseline 12-foot jumpers. But can I, in good conscience, root for Lonzo Ball when that means that, by default, I’m rooting for both Lavar and Lamello Ball? I don’t think I can do it.

beatdookUNC/Duke– I already root for the Patriots and Red Sox. I didn’t see it coming, but I’m kind of tied to Barcelona now, too. Why not just go all the way and commit to North Carolina or Duke? Well, it may not seem like it, but I do still have some semblance of a soul left. Considering some of the teams in this year’s field it may seem foolish to willingly pass on two teams that could easily make the Final Four or win the tournament, I don’t think I can become the true heel.

345px-gu_bulldogs_logo-svgGonzaga– This year’s team is different! They’ve got what it takes now! It’s true, this Gonzaga team is really, really good. But so were the last 20. While I’d love to heroically guide the Zag’s bandwagon to it’s first Final Four, I’m not in the business of rooting for futility. They’ll get knocked out in the Sweet 16 (again) and I’d wind up looking like a fool. No thanks.

 

152px-northwestern_wildcats_logo-svgNorthwestern– Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Northwestern’s never made the tournament before. They’ve also produced roughly 70% of the national media. If you didn’t know, don’t worry. Everyone will gladly tell you all about it next week. With apologies to the actual team, which I’m sure is full of good kids, I can’t support the most aloof, smug, and self-masturbatory group of alumni this side of Cambridge. I guarantee they win at least one game, and the response to it will be vomit-inducing. I can’t stand when like Harvard or someone wins a game and they’re talked about like some group of scrappy underdogs. It’s still Harvard! Those kids are still set for life! Don’t tell me they’re these big underdogs and we should all be happy for them and name our kids after their best players. Now I’m pissed off and they haven’t even technically made it yet. I’m passing on them, if you couldn’t tell.

291px-maryland_terrapins_logo-svgMaryland– Now that I’m fired up, I just wanted throw out that I hate Maryland. Melo Trimble is randomly my least favorite player in the country and I love the fact that he passed up his small chance at the NBA his freshman year and is now a nothing prospect. I can’t wait for them to lose first round. I’m obviously out on them, too.

 

 

182px-fgcu_athletics_seal-svgFlorida Gulf Coast– Dunk City is back, baby! That run they went on a few years ago was so awesome, and they best part is that the university has fully embraced their brand and now only recruits players who specialize in throwing or finishing alley-oops. In addition to making everyone my age regret the fact that  they didn’t know this fake college existed, they add to their tropical mystique by taking advantage of the little used blue-green color scheme for their jerseys. But it’s not like they’re gonna come out of nowhere again. Literally everyone’s gonna be pulling for them. It’s too mainstream for me. Time to move on.

neworleansprivateersNew Orleans– There’s a New Orleans University? And they’re Division 1 in basketball? What the hell? Odds are they’ll have to play a play-in game, but if they escape that, look out. Every year I find a 16 seed that I think can win a game, and this year look no further than the Privateers. If they get to play Gonzaga, they’re winning. I guarantee it. Think we finally have a strong contender, but let’s keep looking just in case.

512px-oregonducks-svgOregon– Another obvious candidate, at least for me. I turned to them for college football long ago, especially once I realized UConn football was singlehandedly trying to set the game back 50 years. Now I see the same qualities in their basketball team: talented athletes, appealing play style, great jerseys (side note: I’ve always loved green jerseys. They’re so underutilized and I have no idea why), and, of course, the full backing of Nike. They’re also good, but not so good that I feel cheap picking them to go all the way. Are they the winner? It sure seems like it. But maybe there’s one team better?

177px-minnesota_golden_gophers_logo-svgMinnesota– Minnesota? Really? You bet your ass, Minnesota. I’m going with the Gophers for a few reasons. They’re scorching hot. Won 9 out of 10. Tearing up the B1G. They have great guards. They lead the country in blocked shots. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they say defense wins championships. They’ve got outstanding jerseys. Maroon and yellow is the best jersey combination out there. It doesn’t matter anymore, but they have a great home gym, too. Now that I think about it, I haven’t been this sure a team was going to make a deep run since the Lopez brothers were at Stanford (didn’t really work out, but still). Minnesota is my new team, and they’re about to crash the Final Four party.

Would UConn winning the American Athletic Conference tournament and going to the Big Dance be the Greatest Upset of All Time?

conn-15-huskySo the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament starts today in Hartford. My UConn Huskies are the 6th seed. They are probably not going to win.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “How can he say My UConn Huskies when he hasn’t written about them once all season?” Well, UConn hasn’t been what you would call “good” this season. Granted, it’s hard to win when two of your three best players go down for the season in the same week a few games in. But still, this season hasn’t been one to remember. But, it is March, as they say, and anything can happen.

I’m not going to sit here and say that they could get hot, win four straight games against teams they haven’t beaten all season, have to go to Dayton for a play-in game, then go on a surprise Final Four run out of nowhere. That would ruin my credibility. But, I’m not ruling it out, either. UConn basketball is like the anti-Falcons- They never die late in the season. I’ve seen it first hand: my freshman year in Storrs was the year Kemba dragged them to the title, then my senior year Shabazz Napier did the same (I know, I’m very #blessed when it comes to sports teams). Those teams weren’t that good, but the second they won two games in a row in the month of March other teams started pooping all over themselves they were so nervous. Even young Kawhi Leonard was flustered by the UConn jersey. Amazing what reputation can do.

They should beat South Florida tonight: it’s just about the only team they’ve beaten all year. After that, who knows? They’d most likely play Houston, Cincinnati, and SMU, three teams they have mental blocks against beating (I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that SMU is so much better at basketball than we are. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’d be like if my movie beat a Holocaust movie for the Oscar. It shouldn’t happen). I’d almost rather they just lose right away. I don’t want to get my hopes up for the championship game only for them to score 50 points because they haven’t really had any kind of offensive system since before Kevin Ollie took over. But maybe they’d hold the opponent to 49. The good thing about being a pessimistic fan of great teams is that I’m emotionally prepared for every outcome. By halftime of the Super Bowl, I had already mentally moved on to baseball before getting dragged back in. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they laid an egg against South Florida. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they won the AAC and went on to knockout Duke. What will actually happen? They’ll lose in OT to Cincinnati after being up 10 in the first half.

But if, if, they do somehow make the NCAA tournament? It might be one of the greatest upsets of all time. I know the AAC isn’t exactly the ACC, but they still have some good teams. Under .500 teams don’t win major conference tournaments. If anyone can do it, though, it’s UConn playing at home. It would be shocking. Stunning, even. Would it be the most monumental upset ever? Probably not. After all, Cincy and SMU are both teams likely to have mental breakdowns against inferior teams and neither one is exactly 2012 Kentucky. But if they won the AAC and went deep in the NCAA tournament? Now we’re talking. Now you’ve got one of the most unexpected team performances ever. Or maybe it’d be another sign of the reckless greed and de-purification of the game of college basketball that the conference tournaments themselves represent. Kind of a toss up, if you ask me.

I miss mid-2000s college football

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The start of a New Year always brings a lot of things with it. Resolutions, big time football games, and, of course, my birthday. I’m typically steadfast in my resolutions, usually keeping to them for at least a week and half. The football games, be it NFL playoffs or the big name bowl games, rarely disappoint, except when they do. And lately, the bowl games in particular have disappointed me more and more. As we get closer (one week!) to my *gulp* 25th birthday, I’m forced to reflect on all the bowl seasons I’ve been through and figure out why a time, and sport, that used to be sacred to me no longer is so.

The clear answer is that I don’t really care as much anymore, but why? I still love football and follow it religiously, but the college game doesn’t stoke my fire as intensely as it once did. I used to be able to name countless players on every team and be able to essentially predict the entire draft. Now, I only know the first round guys, and even then I don’t really learn about them until late. Like I know there’s a great Ohio State cornerback, but only because I assume there’s always one and couldn’t tell you his name. I assume there’s a great defensive lineman from Florida, only because for at least ten years in a row one has been taken in the top 10, and most of them are all the same. I legit had no idea who Artie Burns was this time last year, and he was the best athlete on Miami. The best athlete on Miami is someone who I should know about for years, and I had no idea who he was.

The players are still good. In fact, at least athletically, they’re undeniably better than when I was in middle and high school, the peak of my college football fandom. So why does it feel like there’s so much less name recognition? Am I ignorant or is there less star power? Does anyone else feel the same way? Does anyone else care? Well, the last question doesn’t matter because I’m going to write this anyway.

I think a major reason is the demise of the NCAA Football video game. I used to spend hours upon days upon weeks upon months playing those games, and, after downloading the roster that had all the players names, would pretty much have it all memorized after a while. Now, I don’t begrudge the people who brought the lawsuit. Lord knows I’d want some of that EA money if they used my likeness (pick up your copy of Blogging ’18 this July!) and I do think big time college athletes deserve to be paid. But, come on. I care more about my enjoyment than your bank account. Let me play as Texas A&M QB #2 again.

Another reason is that I don’t really have a team. I always liked Oregon growing up, but it’s harder to claim allegiance to teams that become good out of nowhere without being called a bandwagon jumper. I’d rather die. Plus, they stink now. And, as a UConn graduate, there’s not much to cheer for on the football field. The closest thing I have to a team I legitimately root for is Wyoming because I like their jerseys (I know you’re wondering, so here’s the top five college football jerseys: 1. Wyoming 2. USC 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon 5. Auburn). Other than that, it’s a year to year thing. I love high flying offense, but that’s not all that unique anymore (we’ll get to that). I always like the “mid-major” that goes undefeated a la Western Michigan, but if they keep winning it becomes less fun. So I wind up rooting for a bunch of good games which doesn’t always pay off.

I think, for me, though, the primary reason is that everyone, for the most part, plays the same way. I’m a diehard spread guy. More specifically, I’m a diehard run n’ shoot guy. There’s a reason I consider Colt Brennan my favorite athlete of all time. Those Hawaii teams were amazing. My man June Jones dialing up 10,000 quick slants and five yard hooks a game. I’ve jerked off to less. When Graham Harrell showed up at Texas Tech and picked up Colt’s baton, I was happy. Then, as I got older, Chip Kelly’s spread grabbed my attention. But now, everyone plays that way. Everyone goes uptempo, everyone has pieces of the Air Raid, everyone uses the spread. It’s hard to pick teams out. There used to be so many distinctive styles. Hawaii and Texas Tech were the only teams that passed every play. There were teams like Arkansas with Darren McFadden who ran the Wildcat exclusively. It seemed like a novelty to see mobile quarterbacks dominating teams running spread option, which is what made guys like Vince Young and Pat White so exciting. Now, the teams bordering on curiosities are teams that run slow, boring, pro-style offenses. Pure pocket passers are rare on the best college teams. And again, I love the spread. If you know me, then you know I love the passing game. But it loses some luster when Joe Flacco throws for 4,000 yards, just like the spread loses something when teams like Alabama, the oldest and stodgiest of the old and stodgy blue bloods is running read option 50 times a game.

And, obviously, the playoff has killed the other bowl games. Which I’m fine with. I’d rather have a playoff than not. But it’s just harder to commit 3 hours to a mid December game between two random teams than it used to be. All these talking heads haven’t really put that together yet. Players are more comfortable sitting these games out because they’re totally meaningless now. Sure it’s another game with the team, but the games are more of a marketing ploy for the two schools and the bowl sponsors and an outlet for gambling than a meaningful, legitimate football game. I guarantee all but the most try-hard, coach’s son-iest of players would say they don’t want to play. Most just don’t have the luxury of an NFL future to get them out of them.

I think that’s it. If you made it this far, congratulations. You’ve made it though an awful lot of kvetching. I hope you agree with some of what I’ve said. I hope you disagree with some. Either way, don’t get it twisted. I still love football and I still love college football. Staring my own mortality in the face has just stirred up some nostalgia. Give me a summer with no football and I’ll be ready to commit every second of fall Saturdays to college football once again.