A GRIP ON SPORTS
It's finally here. The first (real) day of the NCAA basketball tournament. The basketball junkie's Christmas. It all starts at a little after 9 in the morning here on the West Coast and continues until your eyes close – or they explode – sometime late this evening. Read on.
• As you probably already know if you read this feature regularly, I pick two brackets each year. One includes all the games, from first-round to finals. My upset special of the year in that one? South Florida, who I have pulling a VCU and going from the pay-in game to the Final Four. The Bulls got off to a good start last night, though the enthusiasm is tempered a bit, considering their opponent was from a low-major conference. And, yes, that's a not-so-subtle dig at the power conference of my youth – if my youth lasted until 2008. The other bracket is a round-by-round affair. So far I am 3-1 in that one (damn you Pat Knight), with today's games yet to be picked (hey, I've got a couple hours).
• But the bracket isn't the only reason today is special – though I know it is the main one for most non-basketball nuts like myself. No, today is about the rapture of winning and the misery of defeat. Those emotions are not the same for everyone, and today is about that as well. See, when an underdog wins a close game, their exultation is only matched by the grief on the faces of the losing teams. It's a celebration of a job well done, of reaching a goal not many thought you could reach. Or it's a realization that failure is actually possible, no matter what the causes or circumstances. Those are the type of games a basketball fan remembers as they look back on the tournament as CBS' shining moment theme song plays early in April. But there is another type of game, one that interests me just as much. It's the chalk victory, and we're not talking “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk,” though Kansas is involved in them often. It's when a third-seed handles a 14 easily, methodically pulling away in the second half for a 16-point victory. I love to see how the winning team handles the outcome. Is it business-as-usual? Is there a palatable sense of relief? Confidence? A jaded optimism? Oftentimes, the postgame attitude gives a glimpse into how the next couple weeks will be for the better teams. More often than not, the teams that keep winning and advancing enjoy the moment if only for a moment. They finish up the win with smiles that harken back to their youth, not rock-hard expressions of manliness. They understand the joy of winning is worth expressing before turning their sights on the next opponent. In other words, they are living in the moment. And it's those moments, piled one on top of the other, that gives this tournament its life. All in all, it's really cool.
• OK, now the games I'm really looking forward to seeing today, and why: Murray State vs. Colorado State – the kickoff this morning; Wisconsin vs. Montana – I've always liked the Badgers and Montana's Shawn Stockton; Vanderbilt vs. Harvard – will high SAT scores translate into high basketball IQs?; New Mexico vs. Long Beach State – Monson; Wichita State vs. VCU – defense; and Gonzaga vs. West Virginia – no reason needed.
• Gonzaga: With it being game day, and with Jim Meehan and John Blanchette in Morgan … er, Pittsburgh … there is a lot to pass along. Jim had his advance of the game (the theme today: rebounding), an interesting story on pro golfer (and Zag fan) Kyle Stanley, and a feature on former Idaho coach Larry Eustachy, whose Southern Mississippi team is also in Pittsburgh. And John adds a column on West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who hopes to see the end of his team's NCAA game with GU in person for the first time. … Of course, there is more, lots more. We found Gonzaga/West Virginia stories from the Seattle Times, the Kitsap Sun, from the two papers that cover West Virginia (including a story on the Bulldogs) and more. The more includes the Sporting News and the Pittsburgh paper. … One of the WCC's other teams in the tournament, BYU, gets back on the floor today, still basking in the afterglow of Tuesday's huge comeback win over Iona. And St. Mary's has another day to prepare for Purdue. … If Gonzaga women's basketball gets you going, we found this feature about a Rutgers freshman you'll see this weekend and one about a Zag. … And the BYU women are in a new experience. … By the way, you folks were split almost 50/50 on whether Gonzaga would win today in our poll. Interesting (well, to me at least).
• Washington State: The Cougars, of course, are not in the NCAA tournament. They are competing in the CBI, which finished up its first round last night. With Wyoming winning over North Dakota State, 78-75, the Cowboys will travel to Pullman for their second-round game on Monday night. Christian Caple, as usual, has you covered in his blog post from yesterday, his short story in today's paper and his morning post. … Though Christian does his usual thorough job of passing along Pac-12 links, we just had to pile on a bit after Cal's atrocious play last night (it was so bad, got up from my chair, suppressed the desire to retch, and went to the computer to play a game, leaving the second-half on the TV so I could listen to the massacre in the background). … Somehow I missed this Mike Leach video yesterday but wanted to make sure I passed it along. … Bud Withers remembers former Oregon coach Dick Harter. He's not alone.
• Idaho: UC Santa Barbara had a little trouble adjusting to the mountain air (that's a joke, of course), falling way behind the Idaho Vandals early. But the Gauchos rallied in the second half to almost pull of a miracle comeback. (FYI, we're writing this from the UCSB point of view because in the last decade, my checkbook helped keep the school afloat through my son's tuition, fees and bar bills.) Josh Wright has all the particulars in his blog post and story from today's paper. The Vandals reward for winning their first-round CIT game? Another trip to beautiful Logan, Utah and a second-round matchup with league rival Utah State. Really? Nice scheduling.
• Eastern Washington: The Big Sky is still alive in the CIT as Weber State will travel to Loyola Marymount for a second-round game.
• Preps: It's Thursday, which means it is prep day in the S-R. Greg Lee closes the books on the winter seasons while correspondent Mike Vlahovich looks forward to baseball, with a feature and a preview of the local large-school leagues.
• Chiefs: It must be nice to be back home, as Spokane relaxed and skated past Kamloops in the Arena. Jess Brown was high above the ice and has this story.
• Seahawks: As free agency gets underway, the Hawks make a decision to cut an offensive lineman (Robert Gallery), sign another one and talk with a guard from their past. … There is also some news on the quarterback front. At least Matt Flynn will talk with them.
• Sounders: Seattle went into the second game of its two-game CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup with Santos Laguna in Mexico carrying its scarf high. And it left with its tail between its legs. The Sounders were smoked, 6-1, in what must have been the most disappointing loss to Sounders' fans ever. Was it? Sure was in my house. The words that were coming from the basement are not repeatable even in this blog.
• That's our early morning report today. Time to get ready for a long day of watching hoops and cleaning (don't ask, but commercial breaks are not a time to be sitting at our house when a certain someone has the day off work; there are times when I really miss Pullman). I don't know if anyone will care, but I will be tweeting my smarmy thoughts throughout the day @vinceg55. Until later …