- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

This was nirvana Thursday. This was all basketball, all the time, a hoops junkie’s delight.

Even President Barack Obama could not resist the appeal of filling out a bracket. His Final Four picks: AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bailout U.

To which Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “As much as I respect what he’s doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets.”

So much for a bipartisan tournament.

The first day featured Gene Hackman‘s team going against LSU in Greensboro, N.C.

Butler plays in the famous barn known as Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where Hackman led the tiny “Hoosiers” to the state title. It was there that Hackman measured the height of the rims to show his players that, despite the facility’s grandeur, the baskets were a regulation 10 feet above the floor, just as the ones in their high school gymnasium.

You imagine many of the coaches in the NCAA tournament borrow this teaching moment to allay the inevitable nerves of their players.

CBS guru Clark Kellogg announced early on that the Bulldogs would need to make eight to 12 3-pointers to win the game. How he came to this figure is unknown. Gurus do not have to justify their observations. They just have to make them.

The Bulldogs met Kellogg’s requirement with eight 3-pointers but fell to an SEC opponent in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive March.

Marcus Thornton and Matt Howard were the two best players on the floor. Thornton, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who was the SEC player of the year, has increased his NBA stock with a strong senior season. He finished with 30 points to help LSU outlast Butler 75-71.

Howard, Butler’s 6-8 sophomore forward who was the Horizon League player of the year, had 22 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 35.7 seconds left.

CBS cut away to Memphis completing its 81-70 victory over Cal State Northridge. It was at this moment that CBS analyst Mike Gminski felt compelled to “congratulate” Cal State Northridge on its effort.

It was revealed that Terps coach Gary Williams has endured an arduous season, notably a 41-point loss at Duke in January and questions about his ability to sweet-talk blue-chip recruits.

Term of the day: nylon song. It was coined by Tim Brando to note a sharpshooter who is at one with the nylon cords.

The Terps wear cement shoes and move at two speeds - slow and slower. The Terps are smart enough to induce the same from opponents.

Timeout: Do not take Lipitor if you have liver problems. Available by prescription only.

Timeout No. 2: There was Owen Wilson waving to David Letterman. And here I thought Wilson was dead.

A 9-0 run by the Terps midway through the second half prompted Gminski to say, “Mike Montgomery needs a timeout.”

Or a 9-0 response from his team.

Greivis Vasquez can frustrate and excite all in a matter of seconds, and that does not include when he is taking on Terps fans. He shot an air ball just before making a steal and converting a layup.

Vasquez was able to ignore his early shooting problems and inspire the second-half surge of the Terps. He finished with a game-high 27 points, five rebounds and four assists, plus one finger to his lips to quiet the crowd.

It was a pugnacious kind of victory, a Williams kind of victory, not always pretty but effective.

Memphis is next. That is the downside for the Terps.

The afternoon session amounted to eight games, and there was not a genuine upset in the mix. There were no crazy finishes, no tournament-defining outcomes.

The higher seeds prevailed in six of the games. Ninth-seeded Texas A&M beating eighth-seeded Brigham Young and 10th-seeded Maryland defeating seventh-seeded California hardly came as a surprise.

The one-in-a-zillion game is expected to come later.

We will be monitoring it, of course.

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