7:55 p.m. EDT: I have decided that Barack Obama filling out a Tournament bracket and Hillary Clinton not doing so guarantees that Obama will win the Democratic presidential nomination. We sportswriters get to decide these things, you know.
Also, clearly, if Obama's ballot beats John McCain's in the Panel o' Experts contest, Obama will win the general election. McCain would assure himself the White House by beating Obama's bracket.
They both have North Carolina winning it all after beating Kansas in the semis. Obama has the Tar Heels beating UCLA for the title, McCain thinks it'll be Connecticut. The other Final Four team is Memphis for McCain, Pittsburgh for Obama.
There's going to be a whole lot of chatter about the election in political circles over the next seven and a half months, but around here, we'll know how it's coming out in 18 days, if not sooner.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Belmont's hanging with Duke in a 2-15 game. Duke's up by foour with about three minutes left in the first half. No. 13 Winthrop, a chic upset pick, leads No. 4 Washington State 19-18 with about four minutes to go. Texas A&M has jumped out to an 11-0 lead in an 8- vs.-9 game. Kansas State's lead over USC is 27-17 with about five remaining.
I'm going to shut down the Thursday column here. We'll talk about the late games in the Friday column, which will publish later tonight. And then we'll do this whole thing again Friday as the other 32 teams get going.
7:45 p.m. EDT: The thing to fear whenever you're looking forward to a matchup of great individual college players is foul trouble. You can look forward all you want, but if one of the guys you paid your money to see gets two quick fouls, he's going to spend much of the game on the bench.
In the marquee matchup between freshman starts Michael Beasley of Kansas State and O.J. Mayo of USC, it's Beasley who's in foul trouble. He was whistled for his second with 15:45 to go in the first half, and sure enough, out he came. He returned with 12:48 left and just left again at the midway point of the first half. Whenever he returns, he'll be in danger of picking up a third foul that will surely have him on the bench till the half.
But it might not matter. Kansas State is leading 23-16 on the back of Bill Walker, a less heralded freshman, and one who grew up with Mayo. They were high school teammates. Walker has 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting. Beasley and Mayo have two points each.
7:15 p.m. EDT: Ugh. Our long personal nightmare is over. Stanford pounded my plucky Cornell Big Red 77-53. The Cardinal have a tough matchup with Marquette in the second round Saturday.
Onward to the second half of the first day of the first round of the Tournament. Most of us will be watching, without having to resort to our computer screens, the USC-Kansas State game in this third set. That one features a matchup of freshman phenoms O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley. Well, sort of a matchup. They won't be guarding each other. The game's just underway.
Also underway or coming up: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Belmont in the West, No. 4 Washington State vs. No. 13 Siena -- a popular upset pick -- in the East and No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Texas A&M in the West.
We're still waiting for our first upset and our first fantastic finish, the two signature events of the early part of the Tournament. Last year's Tournament started much the same way. The lesson for me then -- not for you, because you're not a bunch of idiots so you already knew this -- was that a first round that goes according to form isn't very exciting, but it makes for great later rounds as the top teams in the nation advance. Early upsets create mismatches in the later rounds.
Ain't that just like life? You can't have it all.
I spent the Stanford-Cornell game watching it with one eye, using the other two to collect brackets for the Panel o' Experts. Yes, I have three.
It looks like it's going to be a smaller field this year, as I haven't been able to find brackets for Clark Kellogg of CBS Sports, Tony Mejia of CBS Sportsline, Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post or Yoni Cohen of YoCoHoops.com. If you're a smarter surfer than I and you can find them, send me a link. I've e-mailed Cohen, a former winner. The rest of those guys are on their own.
Rick Majerus, who filled out a bracket for his hometown Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, is otherwise employed nowadays as the coach at St. Louis, so no bracket from him.
New entries this year are from Jonah Keri of ESPN and the New York Sun, better known as a baseball writer but also a college basketball head, and Barack Obama, who joins John McCain this year in filling out a presidential candidate bracket. Hillary Clinton declined to fill one out.
She wouldn't even say who she thought was going to win. Is that the kind of person you want as your president?
5:55 p.m. EDT: So long, East Coast work slackers. Safe trip home. Enjoy the double-header on your TV.
Marquette held off Kentucky in the only decent game from the second set. Pitt, UNLV and Purdue all won by rout.
Which brings us to the annual East Coast-dinnertime single game, which always involves Stanford for some reason, this year being no exception. The Cardinal, No. 3 in the South, are having little trouble with Cornell, the 14 seed, in a near-home game in Anaheim. They lead by 15 with about two minutes to go in the half.
The Big Red at least got a cross-country trip out of it. They're the first team other than Penn or Princeton to win the Ivy League title since 1988. Yale won a three-way share of the championship -- with guess who -- in 2002.
I'm root-root-rooting for Cornell, of course, because I'm an Ivy League kind of guy, but also because I hate Stanford with the heat of a thousand supernovas, assuming supernovas have heat, which maybe some Cornell grad can straighten me out on, because I went to Cal.
And this is why I'm disowning my coin-flipping son. Don't worry, child-welfare people. I'm not putting him out on the street or anything. I'm just never going to speak to him again and I'm kicking him out of the house the minute he turns 18.
He's got Stanford winning it all.
Though Buster actually picked NFL games this season, he returned to his coin for the Tournament, where he first made his name. I offered 2-year-old Daisy, who took over Buster's coin during the football year, the chance to also fill out a bracket, but she just narrowed her eyes, nodded toward Buster and said, "He goes, I go."
She's cute and all but I'm thinking it over. I mean, come on. Sixty-four teams to choose from, and Stanford? I'm in the right here, aren't I, people?
4:30 p.m. EDT: Over in this column's letters thread, they're talking about asparagus. Asparagus recipes, how asparagus makes your pee smell, how it made Babe Ruth's pee smell. All things asparagus.
If you're searching this column for clues about why, quit searching. There was a little placeholder blurb in this space before the games started, and it included a link to asparagus recipes.
What do you mean, "Why?"
Set o' games 2 has turned into something resembling the Iditarad. A lot of dogs. Try to stay with me. Pittsburgh, Purdue and UNLV are all in the 50s, Oral Roberts, Baylor and Kent State are all in the 30s, and unfortunately no two teams from either of those groups are playing each other.
Kentucky and Marquette are in a dogfight, though, to stay with the theme. Play-by-play guy Carter Blackburn, who looks and sounds about 16, which is not a bad thing or anything, really likes that business about how those teams have met each other more than any other pair in Tournament history. He keeps mentioning it.
I'm sure the Marquette players are really excited about playing Kentucky for the 10th time. I'll bet they're anxious to make up for the 107 the Wildcats hung on them in the '68 Mideast regional semi.
Remember the Mideast? That was a good idea, losing that name.
Marquette is stretching its defense way out to the perimeter, and Kentucky's only in the game because of Joe Crawford, who has 30 points. Everybody else, combined, has 25. Marquette leads 63-55 with a little over two minutes remaining. The game's not put away, but the lead looks solid.
3:45 p.m. EDT: Whoa, who said UNLV-Kent State was intriguing? The Golden Flashes came out shooting bricks and turning the ball over. They fell behind 11-2, and I'm not sure what's happened since then because I turned my attention elsewhere, but it hasn't been good for Kent State. UNLV leads 31-10 at the half.
Kent State's making the typists and chatterers scramble for their media guides to look up the lowest-scoring halves in the Tournament during the shot-clock era.
Lazar Hayward hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Marquette a 33-29 halftime lead over Kentucky in an entertaining game. Pittsburgh, the 4-seed in the South, is trying to avoid an upset against No. 13 Oral Roberts. The Panthers have opened up a 31-15 lead heading to the late stages of the first half of a game I've seen very little of, if I may hang a preposition.
Favored Purdue is slowly pulling way from Baylor about midway through the first half of that 6-11 game in the West. Purdue leads 34-18.
Every 30 minutes, March Madness on Demand throws up a slide that says it hopes I'm enjoying the games, and click OK if I'm still watching. I understand the need to flush users who aren't really there so that everyone who really is watching is able to do so. But I'm going to be really angry if that slide comes up at a crucial late moment of a game.
2:45 p.m. EDT: Xavier hung on to beat Georgia 73-61. Corey Butler missed the front end of a one-and-one with about a minute to go and Xavier up by five, and that was about it. Xavier built up the big lead in garbage time but it was a better game than the score will tell you. The end of a great run for Georgia.
Michigan State held off Temple's mini-charge and won 72-61.
Kentucky's off to an early lead over Marquette in Anaheim and the West bracket. A Kentucky win over Marquette wouldn't be an upset most years, but it would be today. Historical oddity from CBS announcer Carter Blackburn: These two teams have met more times in the NCAA Tournament than any other pair. I wouldn't have guessed that, would you?
The rest of the second set of games is Purdue-Baylor, Pitt-Oral Roberts and, in a rare intriguing 8-vs.-9 game, UNLV-Kent State.
2:25 p.m. EDT: Order has been restored for the moment. Great defense and hot shooting have brought Xavier all the way back against Georgia. The Musketeers lead this physical game 63-57 with just under three minutes to go. Xavier had all kinds of momentum and a bigger lead, but Georgia has battled back.
Michigan State leads Temple by 10, a lead that's shrinking slowly, but with only three minutes to go, maybe not fast enough. Kansas beat Portland State 85-61.
In the last update, I'd written that Marquette and Kentucky were about to tip off. Now they're about to tip off. For my whole life, I would see a time like "2:30 p.m. EDT" and my brain would automatically translate it to 11:30 a.m. without my having to get involved. No math necessary. I saw 2:30 and thought 11:30 just like you see "7" and think "seven."
But I seem to have lost that ability during my six years in the Central time zone. I saw 2:30 and somehow translated that to 10:30.
I had some issues with March Madness on Demand. At one point my browser up and crashed, and when I brought it back I had no picture. Nothing. I restarted the browser, and then I downloaded the latest version of Flash, which I'm not sure I didn't already have, and the games reappeared.
Nice to be able to fix something. Always makes me feel smarter than I really am. But you know, the great thing about TV is that, with very rare exceptions, you turn it on and it works, assuming your set is in working order.
At this stage in history, that's just not the case with computers. Whatever it is you're trying to do, you have to think about the process a lot more often than you do with TV. You have to troubleshoot, or download an update, or something, often enough that it's really part of the experience. When that's no longer true, that'll be something.
1:30 p.m. EDT: I hit the "Boss Button" and the online video player was instantly replaced by a bunch of spreadsheets and charts. Just then the boss walked by and said, "What are you looking at those spreadsheets for? You're supposed to be watching basketball. Get back to work."
Settle down, boss. It's halftime.
Michigan State leads Temple 35-26, Georgia leads Xavier by the same score and Kansas is all over Portland State 49-26.
1:10 p.m. EDT: Georgia, a 14-seed, is giving No. 3 Xavier a hell of a time in the West. The Bulldogs lead by nine very late in the first half. As bad as my brackets have been over the years, I think it would be a new low to have one of my Final Four teams knocked out in the very first game of the stinkin' Tournament.
But I feel like I should point this out at least once every year: That won't stop me from rooting for Georgia to pull it off. Seeing great upsets is more fun than having a good bracket. Especially since the prize in the Panel o' Experts, this column's national pool, is dinner at my house.
Temple, the 12-seed in the South, is hanging with No. 5 Michigan State, though the Spartans have gone on a run in the last few minutes and now lead by nine with about four minutes to go in the half. That would be a pretty good upset if Temple can turn it back around, but it would be made better by the presence of my favorite announcer, Gus Johnson.
If there's a good finish brewing, Gus Johnson's the guy I want at the microphone.
March Madness on Demand put up a note acknowledging audio troubles in the Georgia-Xavier game.
12:45 p.m. EDT: And we're off. The 2008 NCAA Tournament tips off with one of my Final Four darlings, Xavier, vs. one of the great stories of the season, Georgia. The Bulldogs had to win a double-header in the SEC tournament Saturday to even have a chance, which they cashed in by winning the final Sunday.
I'm joining the 21st century this year by going online to watch the games not being force-fed to me by CBS. For the first time, March Madness on Demand" is offering up all games through the semifinals. The play- in game wasn't included, and the Championship Game won't be, but otherwise, they're all online.
Last year, blackout rules applied, cutting the number of available games in half. Now, just because a game's on the big network, it won't be excluded offline. There's also no longer a requirement to register. Nice work, CBS.
I logged in about 20 minutes before tipoff and -- uh-oh -- was told I was No. 323 in the "waiting room." That's because I'm a "VIP," since I signed up a few days ago. I was informed that if I weren't such a VIP, I'd be No. 105,000-something. Still, when I get to the post office and I'm 323 spots down in line, I'm not figuring I'll get to the counter in 20 minutes.
But in less than a minute, I was in. Xavier and Georgia are going, with the Musketeers off to the early lead. I put it up online, and the Intenet version seems to be about 20 seconds behind the TV. More interesting, though: No announcers. Craig Bollerjack and Bob Wenzel were chattering away on the big box, but it was just crowd noise online.
Being able to watch games without announcers is something this column's readers often say they want. For the moment at least, here's a chance to see, and hear, what it's like. I'm not sure I like it. When I'm trying to follow multiple games at once, I'd like to be able to check in and quickly get caught up, which the announcers can help me do.
Within a few minutes, the announcers came online. Bollerjack and Wenzel, and then Kevin Harlan and Dan Bonner in Omaha for the Kansas- Portland State game, are yacking away. They sound like they're using soup-can technology, but maybe that's the result of a quick fix.
Kansas, my pick to win it all, is up big. Xavier and Georgia are close approaching the middle of the first half. Temple has a 7-6 lead over Michigan State at the first media timeout.
Two quibbles: Switching between games takes about 15 seconds, which is too long. And, perhaps more fixable, when you click on a game's "Play" button in the scoreboard to watch it, the score disappears. If the game's score bug isn't on screen when the picture comes up, you can't see the score.
Buster, the coin-flippinest 5-year-old west of the sports books in Vegas, had completed his sixth bracket, and I'm going to be disowning him. More on that later.
- - - - - - - - - - - -