College Basketball

April is the Cruelest Month

By Ryan McGowan

If, as T.S. Eliot once wrote in The Waste Land, “April is the cruelest month,” then March is the second cruelest, but only if you happen to hate basketball.

(Which, since basketball was invented in Springfield, Mass., makes you un-American and probably a Communist.)

It is somewhat cruel that college basketball’s signature event, the Final Four, generally occurs in April these days, when the more universally watched and followed part of the Tournament, the first two weekends, occur in March (hence the “madness.”)  It’s too bad that casual fans with their amateurish brackets usually check out of tournament viewing after the first weekend when their brackets are already busted (like my friend Katie who picked Binghamton to beat Duke simply because she’s from upstate New York).   Then there’s always the person in your pool like my friend Jodi who has stopped paying attention to the games after Day 2 and thus has no idea that she still has a chance to win some money if certain scenarios play out.  It’s too bad that they miss out, because the true human drama and beauty of the Tournament always comes during Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight weekend.

The Boston Globe ran a feature last weekend (since Boston was hosting the East Regionals) spotlighting the five best regional final games in history.  The number one, of course, was Duke’s legendary 104-103 defeat of Kentucky in the now- recently-retired Spectrum in the 1992 East Regional final, which spawned a generation of both Laettner impersonators and Duke-haters around the country.

Saturday night gave us a game to rival that Devils-Wildcats masterpiece, and if Villanova’s 78-76 win over Pittsburgh officially busted my bracket (as I had the Panthers winning it all), it certainly reminded us of why we all love college basketball.

The Final Four this weekend should be quite entertaining, even though Pitt’s loss to Nova ensured that, for the 31st consecutive year, I will not have picked the eventual tournament champion, so I’ll have to make an updated pick now.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to listen to Poor Man’s PTI Thursday night (8 PM EDT) to find out.

What’s interesting about this tournament is that three out of the four teams have some serious baggage or pressure on them this weekend.  Michigan State, despite having knocked off defending champion Kansas and top overall seed Louisville within two days, has the pressure of playing on its home turf in Detroit.  At least the Spartans have the advantage of being slightly more familiar with the mean streets of the 3-1-3 than, say, the Tyler Hansbrough’s of the world.

Speaking of Hansbrough, this will be a bittersweet Final Four for me, as this will most likely be the last time we will see his hot mom get valuable air time, at least until ESPN8 (the Ocho) comes out with a “Pros vs. Joes” style “Hot Moms and their Sons” competition show featuring the Hansbroughs, Jayson Werth and his mom, Bridget Moynahan and JET Brady, and Joakim Noah and his Miss Sweden 1978 mom engaging in chicken fights, three-legged races, and an obstacle course with a tricycle like at the company outing in Mr. Mom.

North Carolina has their own pressures this weekend, as they were the preseason favorites, a team with more weapons than Neo in The Matrix and the collective desire to get Hansborough a championship before he takes his goofy haircut to the NBA and five years of obscurity and eventual induction into the Ron Powlus/J.J. Redick/Anderson Hunt Hall of Fame.  And let’s not forget that until Roy Williams inherited Matt Doherty’s stud recruits like Sean May, Rashad McCants, and Raymond Felton and cut down the nets in 2005, he was labeled as the guy who couldn’t win the big one when it mattered.

UConn has been surprisingly resilient so far, seeing as how their school is under investigation for a scandal that could eventually topple the Mighty Masshole Jim Calhoun, the Duke of Braintree.  And now that Louisville and Pitt have been dismantled, the Huskies hold the added pressure of being the highest-rated team carrying the banner for the mighty Big East, a league which garnered seven tournament berths and three top seeds with anything short of a championship being seen as a letdown for the league.

The only team that is playing with “house money” so to speak is Villanova, who played the games of their lives in destroying Duke and outlasting Pitt in Boston and will have to duplicate that two more times to repeat Rollie Massimino’s 1985 miracle.  Although the Cats are not an 8-seed this time, a Nova title would be just as sweet, since they were no better than the fourth or fifth-rated Big East team coming into the tourney.  Plus, it would mean that Vin Diec would owe more money to his bookie, since it’s obvious that he’s going to try to buy a Villanova championship the same way he bought a Phillies World Series title last October.  This one, though, won’t be against the Devil Rays, and hence will cost him a little bit more.

I watched, in person and on TV, roughly 40-50 basketball games this past month.  I watched high school tournaments, college conference tournaments, Celtics-Hawks, Cavs-Mavs, American’s bum-rushing of Holy Cross and subsequent double-digit league choke job to eventual regional champ Nova, hell I even watched part of a UConn women’s game.  (I sat part.  It was a slow TV day.)  I just put on the end of the NIT semifinal between Butler and San Diego State.   To me, there is no better sports time of year than March and April.  I can’t get enough basketball and I’m sorry that it’s almost all over, with only the grind of the NBA playoffs remaining to give us our hoop fix until next winter.

It’s been a great run.  Savor this weekend and all the greatness of the college game, despite the annual rantings and ravings from the Jay Mariottis and Woody Paiges of the world pointing out of the flaws and warts in the sport.  I will personally be watching every second remembering that this is not Madness… but is just the way life should be.

By BostonMac

Ryan is a teacher, writer, journalist, basketball coach, sports aficionado, occasional real estate agent, and political junkie. He graduated from both the College of the Holy Cross (bachelor's) and Boston College (Master's), and knows anyone who has never heard of Holy Cross probably would never have gotten in there anyway. He is an unabashed Boston sports fan and homer who, according to lore, once picked the Patriots to win for 25 straight weeks on the "NFL Picks Show," which he co-hosts with Vin Diec, R.J. Warner, and Burton DeWitt. He is also an original co-host of SportsColumn's "Poor Man's PTI." He is married, lame, and a lifelong Massachusetts resident (except for a brief sojourn into the wilds of Raleigh, NC) who grew up in North Attleboro and currently lives and works in Everett.

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