The NCAA has rolled into town, turning NRG Stadium from a huge barn into a huge basketball arena. Last-minute touches were still being applied to the stands, but Duke, Gonzaga, Utah and UCLA were in town and prepping for tonight's games. Yesterday was media day, the chance for players to practice on the raised court on the middle of the floor surrounded by temporary bleachers and huge black curtains while answering mostly innocuous questions from assembled members of the media.
The Stadium Layout
The layout's no different from what it was for the 2010 Regionals or for the 2011 Final Four. The court's raised about three feet on the middle of the stadium floor. Temporary metal stands line run up to the press area on the baselines. The depth perception on the court, or anywhere in the arena, is nonexistent, which once again means that shooting percentages should be anemic. The view from most of the seats should be of little dots running on a little board, and the fans will probably spend more time looking at the video boards than at the actual play on the court.
But seeing as how there is no Texas team playing in the regional -- thus no pack of Baylor fans swarming the stadium and buying up most of the seats -- a large section of the stadium has been curtained off. Except for some metal bleachers, there is absolutely no seating behind the end lines. Of course, maybe if the tickets weren't so damn expensive -- there were rumors floating around yesterday that only about 20,000 seats had been sold -- the NCAA wouldn't have to deploy two humongous black curtains to block off most of the seating.
There's not much real information that comes from these press conferences. In years past, players have expressed their affections for Taylor Swift and discussed the issue of trying to hit shots when playing in a building where depth perception is a huge problem. During the 2011 Final Four press conferences, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was mockingly asked about making it to his first Final Four as a head coach (at that time, the appearances by his former teams in the Final Four had been wiped from the record books by the NCAA because of recruiting sanctions), and the Butler head coach was asked what it meant to him to discover that former President George H.W. Bush was cheering for him to win.
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There was nothing earth-shattering this time around, either. UCLA head coach Steve Alford noted that while two weeks ago many didn't think his team deserved to be in the tournament, his team has now become a lovable favorite. Butler head coach Mark Few meanwhile noted that fans tend to fall in love with teams that go on short NCAA runs while forgetting about what teams do over the long run of the season. The most engaging and enjoyable presser of the day involved Utah's head coach, Larry Krystkowiak, especially when he reminisced about being on the wrong end of one of Hakeem Olajuwon's quadruple-doubles. And while Krystkowiak was the most enjoyable, the ones involving Duke players Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski were awkward and sluggish. During the Duke player session, most questions were directed to Winslow, who's from Houston, and several of the few questions directed to Cook were to ask him about Winslow and about what it's like to play with Winslow.
The most uncomfortable moment of the day came when the Chronicle's David Barron did what none of the rest of us had the guts to do, and that was to ask Krzyzewski about former Duke player Rasheed Sulaimon, who was dismissed from the team earlier this year. Since that time, allegations of Sulaimon sexually assaulting to Duke students have surfaced, along with reports that the Duke basketball staff was aware of this for nearly a year. A peevish Krzyzewski refused to address the topic, stating he wanted to talk only about his team, but even then, most of the questions to the sainted Coach K were about Winslow.
I'm not afraid to go on the record and be called an idiot, so I'll say that Gonzaga defeats UCLA in tonight's first game and that Duke handles Utah in the nightcap. But it's my belief that Gonzaga embarrasses Duke on Sunday, putting Gonzaga in the Final Four for the first time in team history, while Krzyzewski goes on a profane rant about biased officiating stealing the game from him yet again.