2010 NCAA Tournament Preview
By Jim Gavin
Items: Bracketologists, Clark Kellogg, Bobby Knight, Lake Havasu, Coke-crazed satin wonderlands, Calipari, Pitino, Pearl Washington, Richmond.
If you want to win your tournament pool, follow the example set by Bob Foley, proprietor of the Chevron station where I worked for many years. Bob was the most boring alcoholic I’ve ever met. He’d get to the station every morning at 5am, pound three 20oz cans of Foster’s, count the cash in the safe, make a trip to the bank, and then he’d sit for a few hours on a stool in the mini-mart, staring desolately at the pumps. He was a Korean War vet. Figuring every man has a story to tell, I once asked him what he did in the army, and he said, “I was a barber.” Apparently, he spent his tour cutting hair on an airbase. Every weekend, for fun, he drove to Lake Havasu, where he owned a small house. I once asked what he did out there – Havasu is a Mecca for gambling and boating and all manner of lurid recreation – and he said, “I blast the air.” Apparently, he drove five hours each way, through the desert, to sit in air conditioning and watch TV. He drove a Chrysler 5th Avenue and washed it once a week.
Every year his crew put together a tournament pool. We happened to have a bunch of basketball junkies on the payroll and it was always fun setting up the TV in the mini-mart. Sometimes regulars would come by to the watch games, and now and then a stranger getting gas or cigarettes would get hooked into a game and stand around watching it alongside the juco flame-outs who were ringing them up. Bob had no interest in sports, but one year he asked for a bracket. He filled it out in less than a minute, picking the higher ranked seed in every game. He won and claimed his winnings by deducting $5 from all of our paychecks.
If you want to win your pool, use the cold logic of Bob Foley. But if you want a more sensual tournament experience, if you ache for a gorgeously doomed romance, a kind of Byronic death trip, where the idea of “winning” is rendered meaningless by the pleasures of risk and stupidity…then please, follow my picks.
It’s 2010 and still no human, that I know of, is capable of a flip dunk. Until then, we are left with the same old boring game of passing and setting screens and watching Bob Huggins sweat. Some thoughts on the season:
If you don’t know, Joe Lunardi is ESPN’s tenured “Bracketologist” – his sole function in life is to predict the tournament field, which he apparently has down to a science, using RPI rankings, strength of schedule indexes, and NASA solar flare reports. His apotheosis represents many things, all of them dark and troubling. First, that there is even a place in our culture for a man to make a living as a bracketologist suggests that America, as an empire, has reached a terminal state of frivolity. One thinks of Czar Nicholas, spellbound by Rasputin, while all around him the knives were coming out. But worse than that, Lunardi’s quantative know-how, his smug sexless pedantry, completes the transformation of sports fandom into Dungeon & Dragons. Fantasy leagues have ruined sports, elevating pure data streams over that sublime little hesitation move Paul Pierce uses whenever he goes right. O how I weep! Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?
What a shitfest. I can’t remember a major conference being so uniformly bad. The Pac-10 got two teams into the tournament and both will be out by the second round. Over the past four years there has been a mass exodus to the NBA, with players like Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Jerryd Bayless leaving early, but during the last two seasons the Pac-10 has failed to replace that kind of talent. UCLA’s last two recruiting classes have been hugely disappointing, but maybe this is strategic. There’s a strong possibility that, because none of these guys will split immediately for the NBA, Ben Howland will have a strong senior-laden team in a few years, a bit like a mid-major, and then they’ll get their asses kicked by a Kentucky team full of one and done millionaires. I thought Sean Miller was a good hire at Arizona, but I think it will take a long time for the Wildcats to rebuild. Oregon’s problems, meanwhile, stem entirely from their uniforms.
Has replaced Billy Packer at CBS for all the big games. A vast improvement, but it means we’ll get a lot of this…here’s Kellogg describing Illinois point guard Demetri McCamey: “He has what I like to call a ‘rush hour’ handle. There are guys who have a good handle when the road’s empty, and guys who have a good handle when there’s a few cars around, but McCamey has a ‘rush hour’ handle, because he can handle the ball in heavy traffic.’ Kellogg begins every other sentence with “what I like to call” and then provides a tortuous explanation for his lexicon.
When he was a coach, I hated Knight, his ego and tantrums, but I really like him as analyst. Last year he was the only guy at ESPN to notice that Stephen Curry was not only the best shooter in the country, but the best passer as well. He thought Curry could be the next Steve Nash, and he was dead on. This year he criticized Kentucky for hiring John Calipari (see below), even though the man had already burned two major programs to the ground.
Rick Pitino and John Calipari
Congrats to the State of Kentucky – your two highest paid employees are scumbags. There’s a good chance Kentucky will win the tournament this year, and there’s an even better chance that two years from now the school will be under investigation. The media loves Calipari – he’s a great interview – and for almost two decades he’s gotten a free pass for running dirty programs. His mentor, Pitino, has never come under scrutiny for NCAA violations and for many years he has made a ton of money on the corporate speaking circuit, extolling the virtues of family and teamwork etc. But last year, during a dinner with some friends and coaches, he took leave from the table to go in a back room and bang a crazed Louisville groupie, who got pregnant. Pitino paid for the abortion and later had to admit to the affair when the woman tried to extort money from him. Like Calipari, Pitino is a master of cultivating the media and he has basically been given a free pass on this sordid little episode.
My fondest basketball memories involve the Big East in the mid-80s. It was all going on in NY, with the Golden Age of Hip Hop providing the soundtrack for epic battles between the likes of Pearl Washington and Walter Berry. It was a coke-crazed satin wonderland! The past is always superior to the present, but Big East right now is pretty amazing. There is no soundtrack for it – there is no soundtrack at all in our lives right now because listening to music has become a subordinate pleasure to its acquisition and plus all the new bands suck, every single one of them – but there have been great games all year. Even teams that didn’t make the tournament, like Providence and Seton Hall, had great players to watch and both probably could’ve won the Pac-10.
Every time I’ve been in a room with other people, and one of Luke Wilson’s AT&T commercials come on, they all gasp in horror at his bloated visage. Yes, there is something sad about the commercials, the air of resignation that hangs over Wilson as he tries to muster whatever might be left of his insouciant charm, but give the guy a break. Maybe he’s just a dude in his thirties who’s packed on a little pudge in the face. He’s not a monster. Leave him alone!
Oh yeah, the brackets….
Players to Watch:
Evan Turner (Ohio St.): Likely national player of the year. Hopefully he’ll have the NBA career that Grant Hill should’ve had. Very similar games, and Turner can actually use his left hand.
Greivas Vasquez (Maryland): unctuous slow-footed Venezuelan tweener somehow managed to make himself ACC player of the year and will lead Terps to what I like to call the “Sweet Sixteen.”
Chris Wright and Austin Freeman (Georgetown): probably the best backcourt in the country, save for those daring and inscrutable Elegante twins, Nigel and Marvin, at Weber State. The Mitch Richmond-like Freeman has only gotten better since being diagnosed with diabetes.
Northern Iowa over UNLV in the 8/9 game? That’s weak shit but I just don’t see much there. I think this one will go according to seeding. Damn you, Bob Foley! (shaking fist at sky, assuming that Bob finally drank himself to death at some point and is in now up there heaven, or more likely purgatory, but I don’t where that is. Probably somewhere between the sky and heaven, next to the moon.)
Kansas – something monotonous and creepily made-to-order about their domination this year. Your classic Big Wally in the middle, swatting shots; stud point guard finishing off games; interchangeable parts on the wings. Frosh Xavier Henry, like all lefties, is entrancingly smooth.
Players to watch:
Kris Joseph (Syracuse): has embraced his role as sixth man and has consistently made big shots at the end of games. Looked lost last year, but has made a huge leap.
Gordon Hayward (Butler): one of those kids who was a point guard in high school and then grew nine inches, and now is a strong, athletic four with great vision and ball skills. Future lottery pick.
Jimmer Fredette (BYU): shoots well and his name is Jimmer Fredette.
Kansas St. is a weak No. 2 seed and their coach, Frank Martin, is a moron. I’m picking the Mean Green of North Texas to take them down. They’ve got an experienced team and a nice guard in Josh White. I mentioned the Big East earlier, but another development this year was the re-emergence of the Atlantic 10. Xavier has been strong for years and I think they’ll eliminate Pitt in a great second round battle.
Syracuse – the key to this year’s team was the graduation, last year, of Eric Devendorf, one of the biggest knuckleheads ever to grace the Carrier Dome, and they’ve had a few. Johnny Flynn was great, but he dominated the ball too much. Right now they are perfectly balanced with solid seniors in Rautins, Jackson, and Onuaku (who might miss the first game with injury), humble hard working freshman, Jardine and Triche, and an X-factor, in Big East Player of the Year Wesley Johnson, who will be healthier than he has been all year when the tourney starts.
Players to watch:
Juan Fernandez (Temple): my depraved fetish for floppy haired Argentines knows no limit. Sophmore dropped 33 on Villanova and had a great year overall. Plays with total poise at all times…he’ll be one of the best guards in the country next year.
Da’Sean Butler (West Virginia): in the Big East tourney he made two of the ugliest game winning shots I’ve ever seen, typical of the ugliest team in college basketball. Do you like watching games in the low fifties, where at least three players foul out and no one can make a free throw? Then you’ll love Bob Huggins and his annoyingly effective Mountaineers.
Darington Hobson (New Mexico): WAC player of the year has chance to make splash on national stage. Best juco transfer in the country this year.
Temple over Kentucky. Obviously this is a moral imperative, but I think Temple has the guard play to handle Kentucky’s pressure. I’m not convinced that Kentucky phenom John Wall, as a freshman, is on the same level of Carmelo Anthony or Derrick Rose.
West Virginia – they are playing well and will grind people up. Great battle in sweet sixteen versus New Mexico. Huggins was last in the final four seventeen years ago, and three DUIs ago. Bless that Cincinnati team, with Nick Van Smack and Eric Martin, of West Covina, whose brother once got gas at my gas station. He was wearing his brother’s jersey and seemed pleased that the guy resetting the pumps was a fan.
Players to watch:
Jerome Randle (Cal): lone bright in the Pac-10 this year, will at least give Duke some fits in the second round.
Jeremy Anderson (Richmond): might be the best point guard in the country. Has that rarest of things, a killer mid-range game.
Kyle Singler (Duke): with any luck, he’ll blow out his knee, but he’ll probably end up MVP of the Region and take his rightful place in the pantheon of Caucasoid Duke forwards.
Richmond over Villanova in the second round. Jeremy Anderson vs. Scottie Reynolds: best guard match up in the tournament. They’ll also take down anonymous three seed Baylor to make it to the regional final.
Richmond – Yeah, suck it, Krzyzewski.
Kansas, Syracuse/West Virginia, Richmond
Blooms & Baskets is a twice-yearly newsletter combining reflections on James Joyce and college basketball. The author, Jim Gavin, is a bracketologist currently based in San Francisco.