Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March Madness primer (part one)

It's that wonderful time of year again, when a young man's fancy turns to basketball. With March Madness about to get underway, it's time to get some help for your office pool.

"But Mark, I'm not in an office pool."

Yes you are. Don't even try that crap. Everyone is in an office pool. It doesn't matter if you don't know anything about college basketball -- March Madness sucks you in like the Borg. Given that entry into the average pool only costs between $5-10 and the payout could be easily 50 to 100 times that, what have you got to lose? Some 20-year-old, white, backup power forward at a school you've never heard of could be the key to an immediate financial gain.

So what if you don't actually know college basketball? Here's a hint: few people actually do. Lord knows the only NCAA action I watch each year is the tournament. Everyone knows the bigger teams, but only the true hoopophile (it's like a pedophile, except they molest basketballs) knows something about all 65 teams. Fortunately, that's the beauty of the NCAA tournament. All knowledge is thrown out the window. It's very easy to win your pool without foreknowledge. Remember that old episode of Cheers when Diane won the bar football pool because she picked the cities that had better philharmonic orchestras? It's like that.

So to aid you in your bracket-filling splendor, here are 65 of the stupid reasons to pick a particular team as your upset special or Cinderella story --- or, I guess, dominant powerhouse picking up another championship. C'est la vie.

They are one of two schools in the 'play-in' game, one of the more useless recent innovations in sports history. A few years ago, the brainchildren at the NCAA decided to change the field of 64 into a field of 65, with two teams playing for the right to get the last spot in the tournament. These two teams are always jobbers, and thus the play-in game is about as suspenseful as Speed II: Cruise Control. Anyway, the winner of the play-in game gets the right to lose to #1 seed Kansas in the first round. Florida A&M's team nickname is the Rattlers, and so they can win only if they steal the "boom-boom-hisssss" taunt from Ben Stiller's team in Dodgeball.

The other play-in game team. Obviously I'm rooting for them because they're sort of Niagara Falls, so there's sort of a Canadian tie-in. That's all I've got. Seriously, this play-in game is worthless. Most brackets don't even bother to list it as a choice -- they just have 'play-in game winner' against Kansas in the first round. I doubt that people are like "Oh man, Niagara will get routed by Kansas, but Florida A&M matches up well. If only I could pick!"

Now, onto the real teams. Kansas are traditional powerhouses in the tournament, and many figure them to win the whole thing. If you have an affinity for the Wizard of Oz or a hated of evolution, they're your club.

In 1985, the eighth-seeded Wildcats became the lowest-seeded team to ever win the tournament. This year, they're #9 seeded. Clearly, this means they'll make it to the final game but come up short. Villanova has an abstract art sculpture called 'The Oreo' on campus, which is sort of a poor man's black-and-white yin-yang sign. Should Nova win the tournament, the school will generate more revenue, which might lead to more wastes of student money like the Oreo. So it's a tough nut to crack if you're a Nova student who likes good use of their student dues.

Kentucky is an eight seed? What the hell? Aren't they usually pretty good? My logic is that they're all go distraught over Barbaro that the team just didn't perform up to par this season. This could be leading to Kentucky deciding to 'win one for the Gipper,' and going on a Cinderella run to the tourney final, whereupon Barbaro will rise from the grave and foretell the coming of the end of days. Or, one of the players will have his jersey number start to come loose from his jersey, and the team uniform manager will grab his Barbarostick and affix it back on.

This team has already had their share of drama this season. The university board voted to abolish their longtime team mascot (Chief Illiniwek) due to a number of protests that the Chief was offensive to native Americans. Does this mean that Big Chief Crazy Cone can no longer serve ice cream at Illini games? I was looking forward to the sidelines showdown between Chief Illiniwek and the Virginia Tech mascot, K.K. Kenny the Hokie Honky.

Just kidding, Tech's mascot isn't a seething racist. Their mascot is actually NFL quarterback Mike Vick, better known as 'Ron Mexico,' or the alias he used at VD clinics to get treated for herpes. I would pay up to 20 dollars to know the origin of this alias. Did the nurse ask him for a name, and Vick quickly looked around the room to find a name, like in a cartoon? "Uh, um, er, *he sees a photo of Ronald Reagan*, Ron, yeah that's it! Ron....um....*he sees a map of Mexico on the wall* Mexico! Ron Mexico! That's me! Cure my herpes!" Why would a VD clinic even have a portrait of Ronald Reagan on the wall anyway? Did he have herpes? He was an actor, after all. And a Republican, and everyone knows they're into the kinkiest stuff.

The Holy Cross Crusaders. Gimme a break. If I played for Southern Illinois, I'd punctuate every vicious dunk with a taunt of "Where's your Messiah now, Flanders?" at the bench.

Team nickname: the Salukis. You're free to pick them based on how cute you think the dog is. I'm personally not sold. Why would you want to own a dog that looks like actress Wendie Malick?

For non-fans of college basketball, Duke are perhaps the most unlikable preppie team in the NCAA. They're college basketball's answer to the Yankees, or Man U, or the Hawks from Mighty Ducks, or any snotty team that carries themselves with a pedigree. Duke sucks. Boooooooooo

VCU alumni include Stefan Lessard (bass player for the Dave Matthews Band), Patch Adams, and several members of the band GWAR. Patch Adams was a terrible movie. GWAR are more fun as a concept than they are as an actual band. The DMB are a good band. This is toss-up.

The Raiders are one of those mid-major conference teams that the NCAA would love to eliminate from March Madness. Not officially eliminate, mind you. But bigger schools from bigger conferences means more money, and having these pesky small schools in just gets in the way of that. Never mind that the whole appeal of March Madness is seeing all of the upsets -- that gets in the way of the profit. Wright State is one of those teams that is happy to be here, since they upset heavily-favoured Butler to win their conference tournament and get a slot in the big dance. This is somehow the most basketball-related entry so far because....damn, it's Wright State. There's not much else to say.

This school is better known as Pitt, which I've always around to be a bit odd. The University of Minnesota, for example, isn't known as Minn. What is Pitt so ashamed of? Pittsburgh is a great city. I was impressed during my visit there two years ago. Shape up, University of Pittsburgh. Your name just leads to needless dispute. "Pitt the Elder!" "Lord Palmerston!" "Pitt the Elder!" "Lord Palmerston!"

Since Bobby Knight left, Indiana is just another team now, eh? You don't much about them, their new coach doesn't choke his players, etc. They have kept up Knight's trend of exiting in the first or second round of the tournament, which is somewhat of a tribute. If you liked Hoosiers, pick Indiana.

Gonzaga have a reputation as one of the tournament's most notorious upset-causers, though they haven't gone too deep in recent years. They have the most fun school name of any team in the tournament. Try saying it in an over-excited voice like Animal from the Muppets. It's very cathartic.

My dad goes on at length about UCLA and their great teams from the 60's and 70's, when they won something like 15632 straight games and approximately 64 national titles (statistics courtesy of Wikipedia). The current UCLA team is a power in their own right, though they lack some of the colour of those older teams. For example, legendary center Bill Walton is well-known as a giant hippie and longtime Deadhead. Former forward Kiki Vandeweghe III has perhaps the silliest name of all time. Small forward Ed O'Bannon once choked a man to death with a live rattlesnake. Point guard Baron Davis is one of the four horsemen (plague). How are today's players supposed to compete with that? "Forward James Keefe is majoring in pre-business/economics." Whoopty doo!

I may have to watch some of the UCLA-Weber St. matchup just so I can finally find out how this school's name is pronounced. Is it 'Weeber' or 'Webber'? Questions abound.

The (somewhat) infamous Tar Heels. The Duke/North Carolina rivalry is like college basketball's answer to Yankees/Red Sox. Most people prefer the Red Sox of the two, but it's really not fun to root for either. The Heels at least have those cool powder-blue jerseys. Fun fact: when Michael Jordan went to North Carolina, his roommate was Davis Love III. It was Love who got Jordan hooked on golf, and thus also indirectly drove him into Gamblor's neon claws. Smooth move, DL3.

As a reminder, no #16 seed has ever beaten a #1 seed in March Madness history, though there have been a few close calls over the years. A jabronie team like Eastern Kentucky will likely not be the first, unless they are also elevated by the Barbaro Effect. Or unless Eastern Kentucky alum Lee Majors equips the players with cybernetic parts. God, what a dated reference. I'm pathetic.

The Michigan State Spartans launch their NCAA tournament bid on the same week that 300 is #1 at the box office? Seems like karma. Going by the movie's mathematics, one Spartan player should be able to take the entire Marquette team and most of its student body by himself.

Here's a team I've always had a soft spot for, since their name is like a feminine version of my name. Perhaps if I had been born a woman and my parents had been particularly taken with French names. Actually, if I'd been born a woman, my name apparently would've been Amy. Write that down for the test at the end of the post. Anyway, Marquette is a Jesuit university, which makes it quite a showdown -- Jesuits vs. Spartans. The Pope's black ops team against the craziest motherfuckers in Greece. Who will emerge triumphant?

Damn USC. They've got it too good. Beautiful campus, successful sports teams, located in the big city, great weather year-round, loads of hot women. Just....damn.

My research indicates that Arkansas isn't a particularly conservative or Catholic school, so I can't make a cheap 'Catholics vs. Trojans' joke about the USC game. Arkansas is best known for its "40 Minutes of Hell" defense, used in the early 90's when the team won an NCAA title under then-coach Nolan Richardson. Though the team doesn't use the system anymore, that's just an awesome name. The school's nickname is the Razorbacks, and thus the women's basketball team name are the Lady Razorbacks, though the school lamely shortens the women's team name to just the Lady'Backs. I think 'Lady Razorbacks' sounds more intimidating than the regular nickname. Think how much more awesome Macbeth could've been if Shakespeare had named his villainess Lady Razorback.

My sportswriting hero Bill Simmons has written a number of columns this year about how he is rooting for his beloved Celtics to tank the rest of the season so they can get one of the top two picks in the NBA draft and thus pick either Ohio State's Greg Oden or Texas forward Kevin Durant. It's clear that Simmons is more smitten with Durant, and I mean literally smitten. Simmons would probably make out with Durant if asked. It's a first-class case of guy love. As such, Simmons has taken to becoming a de facto Texas fan, and has pointed out that their coach is completely incompetant, following in the footsteps of such Texan authority figures as President Bush. So if you're picking the Longhorns, take them at your own risk.

Longtime mascot Pistol Pete was removed of his pistol in 2005 as the university wanted to change its logo to a less violent image. His gun was replaced with a lasso. This led to all sorts of unrest, and thus in 2006, Pistol Pete got his gun back. And all was well in the land of New Mexico. How can a guy named Pistol Pete not have his pistol? Adding a lasso would've required a full name change, to, like, Lasso Larry or something. If New Mexico State really wanted to change their image, they should've done away with the whole cowboy motif and made their mascot Leisure Suit Larry.

I'm sorry, this team just can't be taken seriously. Vanderbilt is one of those school names that sounds too stereotypically upper-crust to root for. Their nickname are the Commodores, for God's sake. What a joke. Are they going to throw their stylish glass lenses at us? Heaven forefend!

Yahoo's story about the Vandy/GW game starts like this..."On Thursday afternoon, Vanderbilt will step into the NCAA Tournament to face George Washington in Sacramento." On paper, doesn't that just sound bad? Would you want to go to Sacramento to face one of the premier bad-asses in American history? I'm sure General Washington, once given appropriate background on what and where Sacramento was, would be more than game. The G-Dub are my upset pick in the first round.

Ah ha ha, Oral Roberts made it into the tournament! That's hilarious. This team makes Vanderbilt look like the Oakland Raiders. If Washington State wanted a day off, they should just say they have a gay player on their roster. Oral Roberts would walk off the floor in protest and forfeit the game. It's a shame they're a Christian school; can you imagine how much fun a regular rowdy student body would have with a school name that included the word 'Oral'? The chants during the game would be worth the price of admission alone.

School motto is "World Class. Face to Face." Seems kind of unnecessarily confrontational, doesn't it? It makes more sense when you realize that their nickname is the Cougars. A world-class cougar wants to be face to face (and other body part to other body part) with any twentysomething young lad she meets at the bar. Edward R. Murrow is a WSU grad, and the motto of any cougar going out for a night on the town is good night and good luck.

Hey, it's the current school of legendary crazy coach Bob Knight! It's been a busy year for the General, who broke Dean Smith's record for most Division I coaching wins. Tech's entry into this year's tournament also means that Knight has had more teams involved in March Madness than any other coach. What do all of these records mean? Knight has been around for a long time. And the game has passed him by. Taking Tech to go anywhere past the second round is a longshot.

My sleepers to make the Sweet Sixteen, maybe even the Elite Eight. Why? Recently deceased Boston frontman Brad Delp. I have more than a feeling that Boston will cool the engines of Texas Tech and party their way deep into the bracket in order to achieve peace of mind.

Opposing crowds taunt the Georgetown players with the chant of "What's a Hoya?" due to the fact that nobody is really sure of where the team's nickname comes from. My response would be, "That's the sound your mother made in bed last night." Then Alex Trebek would get frustrated at me for not answering the questions properly. Georgetown's alumni include Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, as well as many dickhead politicians.

They're a #15 seed, so they'll need all the help they can get. Simon Belmont from Castlevania might help out if someone tells him that the Georgetown roster is full of vampires (may or may not be true). It would've been fun to see Belmont slotted against #2 UCLA instead, for a Bruins vs. Bruins matchup. It would've been like that time Bobby Orr punched Cam Neely in the mouth.

Back tomorrow with the other half of the bracket!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thought this letter from Taco Bell to the Fed would be of interest to your readers ...

In addition, on Thursday, March 15, your readers can visit www.tacobell.com to sign a petition to create a permanent national day, "Hoops Holiday." They will forward all names to Congressional representatives in order to make their voices heard!




March 12, 2007

Mr. Bernard Bernanke
Federal Reserve Chairman
20th Street and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20551

Dear Mr. Bernanke,

It seems that the economy can’t catch a break -- whether it’s Tax day, gas prices, or the housing market. And to top it off, this week an estimated 72 million Americans will watch endless amounts of college basketball. One firm projected that America will lose $1.2 billion in lost office productivity. In fact, you could say March 15 is “NACHO DAY” for the economy.

We have an idea to put some zest into the economy. On March 19, Taco Bell will introduce Zesty Nachos for the ridiculously low price of 99¢ at participating locations. It’s our way to help spark the economy and keep some money in people’s wallets.

Since people won’t be very productive this week due to basketball tourney viewing, here’s an even zestier offer: if you help persuade Congress to make Thursday, March 15, 2007 a new national holiday, we are willing to reward America a free order of these new 99¢ Zesty Nachos. A day off for America and we will pick up the lunch tab -- sounds nice, right?


Greg Creed

Taco Bell Corp.