Many years ago, a father out of town on business called home. His son, 4 at the time, had a simple question.
“When are you coming home?”
Dad explained he had to work one more day, then he’d be home tomorrow.
“Are you working or watching basketball?”
Dude. That is the work!
The dad, who you’ve probably guessed by now is me, was covering the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Whether doing it live or watching on TV, it can’t be said enough: This is the best sporting event going.
This is the best weekend of the best event. It started Thursday and goes through Sunday. There’s basketball on all day and all night. This is a working weekend and my office number for the next three days is 1-800-LEAVEMEALONE. I’ll be working. By working, I mean watching basketball. Lots and lots of basketball.
My son is now pushing 30 and he’s asked me to house sit for the weekend. My reason for jumping at the chance is not a little quality time with my granddogs. It’s because he has two huge hi-def televisions right next to each other. Three dogs (including my own), two televisions, lots of basketball, a remote and me. If this isn’t heaven, it is awfully close.
Things get more serious next weekend and really serious the weekend after that. There’s a national championship at stake. While still fun, it’s nothing like the first weekend of the tournament. That’s the weekend for the dreamers, when the tournament really is a big, almost-all-inclusive party. You see teams and players you’ve never seen before doing tremendous things.
A total of 64 teams went into Thursday’s games. By Saturday, only 32 will be left. By Monday, only 16 will be left. Dreams will be crushed, tears will be shed. But Thursday and Friday? Most teams know their chance of winning the whole thing is very, very small. But as long as they’re in it, that chance exists and part of every player on those teams is thinking, “Why not us?”
The dreamers make it fun. George Mason made it to the Final Four in 2006, VCU (the alma mater, in case I haven’t mentioned that before) in 2011. Butler made back-to-back finals in 2010-11. Every year, the tournament produces a story or two like that. They usually fizzle out before the nets get cut. Trying to guess which schools will become “the story” every year is part of the fun.
VCU is the “hip” Final Four pick this year for many prognosticators. Two years ago, you’d have been thought nuts for thinking that way. No longer.
Gonzaga, for goodness sakes, is a No. 1 seed. Many moons ago, the Zags were the VCU/Mason type of team.
My first experience covering the tournament came in 1984. The Richmond Spiders were making their first appearance. They beat Rider in a play-in/first round game and then were matched up with Auburn. The Tigers were led by some guy you may have heard of, Charles Barkley. This was expected to be a blowout of epic proportions and a quick trip home for the Spiders.
Final score? Richmond 72, Auburn 71.
Richmond, for a time, became known as the king of the upset. It beat Indiana and Georgia Tech in 1988 to reach the Sweet 16. In 1991, in College Park, Richmond became the first No. 15 seed to win a game when it knocked off second-seeded Syracuse.
The Spiders to the Sweet 16. VCU and George Mason to the Final Four. Gonzaga and Butler become household names. Princeton, seeded 16th, with a last-possession chance to beat No. 1 Georgetown in 1989 (I was courtside).
Those stories are why I love this tournament, why I love this weekend and the next two.
I don’t want to say I’m obsessed, but I filled out six brackets and joined one “draft your teams” pool (where my own son drafted my alma mater ahead of me; no excuse for that).
One bracket is the “serious” bracket, made with some thought behind it. In that one, I have Louisville winning the title over Kansas. Ohio State and Miami are the other Final Four teams. One site I visited let you fill out a bracket by pressing a button that said “random.” You hit it and it fills it out for you, with no rhyme or reason.
In that one, Cincinnati beats Temple in the championship game.
Not likely, but it is not unlikely that the random bracket beats out the thoughtful bracket.
No matter, I’m still going to have fun the next three weeks. Now leave me alone. The games are on.