Blooms + Baskets | Tournament Preview by Jim Gavin16/03/2011
2011 NCAA Tournament Preview
By Jim Gavin
In 1984, Georgetown beat Houston in the final. I don’t remember much about the game, because I was eight years old, and still recovering from my unwitting participation in the MK-ULTRA program, but somehow, through the fog of unending nightmares, I remember the post-game interview with Reggie Williams. Only a freshman, he had just played a great game, leading the Hoyas with nineteen points. With a microphone in his face, Williams froze, as if he suddenly realized, only now, that he was on TV, in front of millions of people. He just stood there for a long time, too nervous to speak. I still remember how uncomfortable that moment felt, but now it strikes me as a remnant of some lost and beautiful age when your average eighteen year old was shy and awkward and in possesion of a private interior life. But now, because of reality TV, and Facebook and Twitter, and clandestine government experiments in mind control, every high school and college student is a media savvy prick broadcasting their lives over an increasing number of digital platforms, all of which are controlled by the Office of Strategic Services.
Am I paranoid? That’s not a question for me. That’s a question for the guy from “Comcast” who came by my house a few weeks ago to install “cable.” Yes, I finally got to watch some college basketball – San Diego State is in the top ten? – but it also meant that I woke up a few nights ago in a Washington DC hotel room, with no memory of how I got there. It’s all happening again. March Madness. A few days from now I’ll turn on ESPN to watch tournament highlights, and then Digger Phelps will start talking. To the average viewer, his words will seem like the ramblings of a madman, a series of drooling, half-stuttered non-sequitors with no connection to reality. These innocent civilians will simply turn the channel. If only I were so lucky. Instead, I will sit there, hypnotized, until I suddenly find myself on a rooftop somewhere, calibrating my rifle scope.
Now let’s talk hoops! Basketball is my favorite sport. I love it when they dribble up and down the court. Or, as Kurtis Blow once put it:
Basketball is my favorite sport
I love it when they dribble up and down the court.
A few thoughts on the past season:
Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette
Thanks to a lacklustre freshman class, the two biggest “stars” this year in college basketball are upperclassmen who’ve dramatically improved over the last couple years and now stand poised to be mid to late first round draft picks and future quality bench players in the NBA. That shouldn’t take away how much fun they are to watch. Kemba Walker has hit big shots all year, including his iconic step-back against Pitt, and has generally held together a young Connecticut team coached by Jim Calhoun, a man who looks, talks, and runs his program like an Irish mobster. I think he’s friends with Eddie Coyle. Fredette, meanwhile, exists somewhere on the tweener spectrum between Ben Gordon and J.J. Redick – he’s a great scorer and a great shooter, but in the NBA his cheeky crossover will get ripped every time, so he’ll have to rely on his shooting. I hope both these guy go far in the tournament.
The Fab Five documentary aired a couple days ago, sending me into fits of nostalgia. They were gods when I was playing high school basketball, and I can still remember guys at practice trying to throw lob passes like Jalen Rose, wrong-footed on the break, eyes straight ahead, hooking the ball over his head with his left hand. And I remember playing a pick up game at a park by my house and seeing a guy wearing the same Nikes the Fab Five wore. I asked him about it and he told me that he had bought them cheap at an outlet mall out in Lake Elsinore (the one in the Inland Empire, not Denmark). He gave me some inside info: “They don’t keep them on the shelves. Ask the guy working there if you can see the selection in the back.” I wanted these shoes and all the stars seemed aligned: I was working at K-Mart, so I had money. Plus I had just gotten my license and inherited a shitty Ford Tempo from my dead grandmother, bless her heart. She was a smoker and the windows were so yellow I could barely see out of them. Anyway, I explained the situation to a couple friends, and on the strength of information given to me by a stranger at a park, we prepared for a journey that would change our young lives forever. It took us about an hour to get there on the freeway. The temp guage quivered on “Hot” the whole time, but we made it to the Nike outlet. I found someone on staff and asked, “Can I see the selection in back?”
He looked at me cock-eyed. “What are you talking about?”
“This guy told me that the good shoes are in the back.”
“I don’t know his name.”
“There’s no selection in back,” he said, and pointed to the display shelves. “What’s out there is out there.”
And there you have it. Life is pretty much one “Araby” after another.
The High-Top Fade
I’m all for this early nineties nostalgia. Around the country a few guys are rocking, as it were, the high top fade. Ryan Evans of Wisconsin is probably the best example. Now it’s incumbent on white kids to go back to the early nineties Lucky Luciano look, exemplified by Steve Nash and Christian Laettner. Of course, if anyone was truly brave, they’d break out the jheri curl. And short shorts. But I think those are as far gone as the periwig and Elizabethean ruff.
Here’s a list of players from different eras who have fancy blueblood names:
Preston Shumpert (Syracuse)
Chase Budinger (Arizona)
Wellington Smith (West Virginia)
King Rice (North Carolina)
Pace Mannion (Utah)
Granville Waiters (Ohio State)
Pearce Landry (North Carolina)
Mason and Miles Plumlee (Duke)
Darren Montague Hite III (Princeton)
What if I told you that after WWII the O.S.S. brought Nazi scientists to the United States to conduct experiments in everything from rocket telemetry to mind control? And what if I told you that these scientists went about creating a race of ubermenschen, with blonde hair and cold dead eyes? And what if I told you that eventually these scientists would work in collusion with Duke University, forging an unholy alliance of insufferable douchebags bent on world domination? Pretty far-fetched, right? Well, look into the eyes of Kyle Singler and tell me, dear reader, if you detect a soul.
He’s the top analyst for CBS, a smug little toady rich kid with a smug little toady rich kid laugh. Every time he opens his mouth I want to beat his face in with a shovel. He’s a Duke grad, of course. Makes Jay Bilas look like Charles Barkley.
Basically, the best college basketball announcer in history. Dick Vitale is just the loudest. Anyone who really loves college basketball got sick of Vitale a long time ago. But Raftery is one of those guys you miss before they’re even gone, because you know they don’t make them like that anymore. He calls the game to make you aware of the kids, not himself. But he’s also a boozy raconteur and there’s nothing better than when he let’s loose with some anecdote about trying to recruit a kid at a CYO game in Providence in 1976. He’s the type of guy you want at your wake.
Players to watch:
Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame): it pains me to admit that a member of the Hansbrough family is a watchable basketball player, but the couple times I caught Notre Dame, he was really fun to watch. He’s like a modern day Jimmer Fredette. I actually think he might make a better pro. Moves beautifully without the ball, and puts all his passes right on the money.
Jeffrey Taylor (Vanderbilt): my favorite Swedish player since Hanno Mottola! He’s one of those guys who will look like a lottery pick one second, but then totally disappear the next. With his skill and athleticism he should dominate. If he turns it up in the tournament Vandy will have a crack at the regional final.
Kyle Kuric (Louisville): do everything guard had one of the best dunks of the year, for which he got scolded by Bobby Knight (see clip). He’s improved all year, along with the rest of Louisville, who are surprisingly likable for a Rick Pitino team.
I have this bracket pretty much going by seeding. Great sweet sixteen match-ups: Kansas v. Louisville, Purdue v. Notre Dame.
Kansas will get past Purdue. Once again, there is something strangely anonymous about them this year, but I guess that goes for a lot of schools this year, where there isn’t a dominant player. They have steady senior guards, the nation’s two most polished forwards in the Morris twins, and an x-factor in Tyshawn Taylor, who I can see taking over games, the same way my mind was taken over so many years ago by lysergic demons, who still visit me sometimes, mocking my monochromatic world, and daring me to break free, once more, from the grotesque illusion of reality.
Players to watch:
Reeves Nelson (UCLA): if Kevin Love had an evil twin who was forced to grow up in a basement, eating rodents and committing horrific acts of self-mutilation, he would basically look and play like Nelson. I think UCLA coach, Ben Howland, got tired of recruiting one and done guys, and is now recruiting low flying kids like Nelson, who won’t win him a title now, but just might when he’s a senior.
Kenny Boynton and Irving Walker (Florida): ultra-quick guard duo playing as well as they ever have. Hard to contain if they’re hitting shots.
Brandon Davies (BYU): sinner
Old Dominion over Pitt in the second round. Pitt beats up teams all year, but once they get to the tournament they never have a guy who can consistently get them points.
Florida – not happy about this pick. Billy Donovan is pretty obnoxious but I’m usually impressed by the way his teams play. They seem to have the right mix of speed on the perimeter and capable guys down low.
Players to watch:
Surfy Magoo (San Diego St): the free spirited guard emodies everything that’s gnarly about the city of San Diego. He plays with an ultra mellow vibe, while hanging ten (assists) on his opponents. Dude pretty much has no worries! Kawhi Leonard, of Riverside, is pretty good too.
Kyrie Irving (Duke): will be the number one pick in the draft, even though he’s been injured all year. What a year for college basketball! He might play a little in the tournament.
Arizona is about due for a pathetic first round exit. And they’re playing Memphis, coached by former Arizona assistant, Josh Pastner. Easy money. I like UConn to the Final Eight, but I don’t think they can beat Duke, goddamnit.
Duke. Usually, I don’t pick them on principal, and they end up getting to the final four. I’m hoping the opposite will happen this time.
Players to watch:
Harrison Barnes (North Carolina): top recruit in the nation looked like the second coming of Marvin Williams for most of the year – not a good thing – but had a good ACC tournament. Still, there’s something robotic about him, and the rest of UNC. They’re like a bunch of Corvettes, powerful and fast, but they can’t turn so well.
Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche (Syracuse): I’m counting on them to play well, otherwise my bracket is fucked. Go Orange!
Larry Bird Jr. (Indiana State): Bird the Younger, a five foot tall blind hemophiliac, has struggled to get playing time this year.
Princeton over Kentucky. You probably think that’s a crazy pick. But is it any more crazy than being on the Further Bus with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and losing your virginity to Neal Cassady, and entering into a common law marriage with orange girl (see clip), and then getting taken into custody by a nameless government sub-agency that proceeds to teach you how to murder a head of state with nothing more than a shoelace and a rocket launcher? I didn’t think so.
I also think Syracuse will beat Ohio State in the regional final. I just find it hard to believe that Ohio State will be led to the Final Four by a freshman, Jared Sullinger, who is basically a slightly better version of Lawrence Funderburke (he just missed the cut for the blue-blood team).
Syracuse v. Duke/Kansas v. Florida
Duke v. Kansas
Kansas. Shine on you crazy Jayhawks. And rest in piece, Owsley.
Jim Gavin is a writer. Read his previous reports on Blooms & Baskets here >>