Readers of this column are no doubt immune to the ignorant blathering of the Eastern commentariat, so your brackets are probably in a shambles after Stanford and Gonzaga, a top seed and a 2, got whacked in the second round this weekend.
Could be there's something to this East Coast bias after all.
Who was it who was saying that astonishing upsets are an endangered species after the first day of the NCAA Tournament? Who was it who a few years ago called the second round of the Tournament "the beat-down round," where order is restored as all those first-round Cinderellas get smoked by high seeds?
The fool stands before you.
After a sedate first round, higher seeds had gone 28-4. No. 12 Pacific surprised 5-seed Providence in the St. Louis region, but other than that, the only upsets were mild ones that a lot of people saw coming, 10-seed Nevada over No. 7 Michigan State in the same region and 12-seed Manhattan over No. 5 Florida in the East Rutherford. Plus No. 9 Alabama-Birmingham beat 8-seed Washington in the St. Louis, but 9 over 8 isn't really an upset. This year the upsets would come in the second round. Seven lower seeds won in 16 games, though two of those were of the 5-over-4 variety, which also doesn't count as an upset.
But Stanford and overall top seed Kentucky went down. Second seeds Gonzaga and Mississippi State got bounced. No. 3 North Carolina State imploded. Your office pool got turned on its head.
And the upsets weren't just upsets. They were thrillers, except for the tire-iron whipping of the Zags by Nevada. (Nevada! Who were underestimated by that damn East Coast media all year!)
Alabama, down by 13, went on a 16-0 run late in the second half to stun the Cardinal. Alabama-Birmingham coughed up a 10-point lead to Kentucky and looked for all the world like a plucky underdog that would be remembered for putting a scare into a powerhouse -- see Pacific's valiant effort against Kansas Sunday. Except the Blazers kept coming, Mo Finley hitting a long 2-pointer with 12.2 seconds left for the game-winner. That damn Northern media: They underestimated the Alabama teams all year!
Vanderbilt overcame a 10-point deficit in the last 2:54 to knock off the No. 3 Wolfpack, State's Engin Atsur missing a desperate 3-pointer at the buzzer after a confused offensive possession that was the perfect end to an epic collapse.
So I don't know about you but I found myself in a strange new situation entering the second round: I actually had a chance to win a pool. After I picked 13 winners in the first round and had my entire Sweet 16 still alive, my bracket was looking pretty good in the Salon Pool o' Experts, which features a bunch of national typists and chatterers who don't know they're in it, plus the NCAA Selection Committee and my kid, the coin-flippinest 1-year-old in America.
Usually by the end of the first day, never mind the end of the first round, I'm hopelessly out of it, which allows me to happily root for underdogs regardless of what their winning might do to my entry. I revel in every upset. My perfect Final Four would be four 16 seeds. But here I was on Sunday, the end of Round 2, still very much alive, having lost only Stanford from my Final Four and with both of my Championship Game teams still alive. And I was unable to fully enjoy UAB's wildly entertaining effort against Kentucky because I had Kentucky going all the way, so their losing would have sunk me.
It was awful. I wanted to root for the Blazers. In fact, I did root for the Blazers. But there was still one little part of me hoping Kentucky would pull it out, make me look good. Sure, it's a big part of my schtick that I couldn't predict where the sun will set tomorrow, but I was thinking it sure would look cool to beat all those Sports Illustrated guys in my pool. I couldn't enjoy one of the best moments of the Tournament -- for non-Kentucky fans, that is. (I had no such problem watching Stanford lose Saturday. My bracket be damned when Stanford plays.)
Now that Kentucky is gone, I'm free, liberated. I'm once again the hopeless, can't-win schlub I've always been. I can enjoy every upset to the fullest. I guess you have to be an underdog to really appreciate an underdog. Vandy, Xavier, Alabama, UAB and Nevada: I'm all yours.
And I hope the East Coast media's learned its lesson. Birmingham, Ala., after all, is west of Lexington, Ky.
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Yo, CBS: It's called video -- look into it [PERMALINK]
CBS is the fuddiest and duddiest of the networks that broadcast major sports events, and that's a wonderful thing. The Eye spends less time than any of the others indulging in arty camera shots, gimmicky graphics and cross-promotional puffery, which all distract from the game and annoy fans who tune in more than once or twice a year. CBS pretty much points a camera at the action and has its announcers talk about it. It's an approach so musty it's revolutionary.
But the network needs to at least enter the 1990s and do a better job of keeping viewers updated on the games they're not watching. With three or four contests going on at once for all but a few minutes of the first four days of the Tournament, the network periodically takes viewers on a tour of the other games with live "look-ins."
Whatever happens to be going on at the time of the look-in, that's what we see. If the officials are bending over a video monitor yet again or somebody's trying to walk off a cramp, by golly, that's what we watch as studio talkers Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis speak in extremely general terms about what's been going on. It's not a very effective way to keep up with the action.
If, say, Pacific has come from way behind to catch Kansas while we've been watching Pitt-Wisconsin, it doesn't help us to "look in" to the Kansas game and see someone get fouled and wander over toward the free-throw line while Kellogg and Davis chatter about how the Tigers are playing well in the half-court set and getting good looks. We want to see the comeback. CBS needs to show us some highlights.
This failure reached ridiculous heights Saturday night as the Alabama-Stanford and Syracuse-Maryland game came down to the wire at the same time. Both games involved furious late rallies and as CBS flipped frantically back and forth between timeouts and foul shots in the final seconds of both games, we heard announcers at both sites talking about the amazing comebacks.
Of course there was no time to do anything but try to catch the action at that point, and CBS handled the switching pretty deftly. But when it was all over, the network went back to the studio and merely showed the final play of each game again before cutting to commercial. When that ended, we were whipped to the only game going, DePaul-Connecticut, which was in its fifth minute. There was never a wrapup of the two fabulous games that had just ended, never an explanation of exactly what had happened in those comebacks.
Hire some tape editors, CBS. Put a highlight package together, and quick. Give viewers a little context. Cover the story. I think America would have been happy to wait another two minutes to get to the DePaul-UConn game in exchange for a little enlightenment, don't you?
Fox and ESPN excel at this sort of thing, though ESPN is curiously taking the CBS look-in approach in its coverage of the women's Tournament. I suspect budgets are at play in that decision. CBS paid $6 billion for the men's Tournament. It should spend a few thousand more and get in the game.
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