It's generally accepted that the first two full days of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament provide the greatest two-day watching/gambling/drinking/eating experience annually, for obvious reasons:
1. Whether by illness, approved vacation, or planned surgery (In 2002, I scheduled my vasectomy for the first Thursday of the tournament. Fact.), it is generally accepted that you will find a way to skip work that day to watch basketball.
2. The games start at 11 in the morning and don't end until almost midnight. And there is never a lull in the action all day. EVER.
3. Every few years (like this year), one of the first two days of the event will coincide with St. Patrick's Day, which automatically moves "getting wasted" from "acceptable" to "required." Bonus!
But here's my dirty little secret...
Maybe it's because I'm getting old, maybe it's because I can't process 32 games in two days like I used to or maybe it's because I host a radio show right in the middle of the afternoon games, but I've grown to like the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight weekend better than the first weekend.
Truth be told, it's a combination of all of the above (except the "old" part). The games tip off tonight and tomorrow at 6:15 PM, which gives me time to finish my show at 3:00, type this blog, pick up crates full of barbecue, and flop onto my couch for the next six hours.
Also, the fact that there are only four games tonight, four games tomorrow, and then two each day this weekend means that I can hone my handicapping skills a little tighter, which is important considering that up until four days ago I had no idea who half the coaches were in the Southwest Regional semi-finals (Salutations, Coach Smart and Coach Mooney!).
Since I didn't know who they were, I'm guessing many of you didn't know either (you know, since it's my job to know and what not), so I thought it would be helpful for me to provide all of you with some information to help enjoy the games more, navigate your channel guide, and maybe make a couple bucks. Without further ado:
1. Television Coverage This is Week Two of the NCAA's experiment of making all of the games available on various outlets, be it CBS or one of the Turner stations (TBS, TNT, or TruTV). With the whittling down from eight venues to four venues, we say good bye to TruTV and we say "see you for this week's showing of Braveheart" to TNT. It'll be CBS and TNT taking us through the next two nights. By all scientific measurements (like ratings, which are better than ever) and unscientific measurements (the number of times one of my drunk friends said "Holy shit, this is awesome! ALL THE GAMES!! WOO HOO!!"), this new method of delivering the content is working.
2. Here are your play-by-play teams The announce teams at the various regionals for the weekend look like this:
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL (New Orleans, LA - Thursday and Saturday): Gus Johnson/Len Elmore Comment: This was everybody's first question -- "What games will Gus Johnson be doing?" Clearly, by putting Gus Johnson in a region with BYU, Butler, and Wisconsin, CBS is testing the limits of the Gus-gasm, and seeing how the borderline insane Johnson can somehow inject some life into bounce passes, backdoor cuts, and slapping the backboard on layups.
WEST REGIONAL (Anaheim, CA - Thursday and Saturday): Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
Comment: I really like the combo of Lundquist and Raftery. Raftery has been one of my favorites going back to watching him do Big East games when I was in high school. Be warned that the sideline reporter for this crew is Leslie Visser, who has her face wound so tight with what appears to be a recent cosmetic procedure that her eyes look like they could shoot from her head at any second because of the pressure building up behind her cheekbones. You may want to wait for the kids to go to bed before checking out the action on TBS tonight, lest you subject them to nightmares of the "scary clown faced lady."
SOUTHWEST REGIONAL (San Antonio, TX - Friday and Sunday): Marv Albert/Steve Kerr
Comment: Because what says "college basketball" more than the combination of the Knicks play-by-play guy, the dude who torpedoed the Phoenix Suns era of maximum watchability by trading for Shaquille O'Neal (super jumbo 2008 version), and Craig Sager running the sideline reports?
EAST REGIONAL (Newark, NJ - Friday and Sunday): Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg
Comment: I'm still hoping Billy Packer comes out at some point, hits Kellogg over the head with a folding chair, grabs the microphone and announces that he's back. That would at least make Marquette against North Carolina interesting to me.
3. Player You May be Sick Of By Sunday Night: JIMMER FREDETTE, BYU This is no knock on "the JImmer,", but honestly, the fact that he is called "the Jimmer" already puts his annoyance quotient somewhere just slightly below the least annoying typical Duke point guard. Granted, he still has light years to go to catch up to J.J. Redick, but he's probably two games and an hour of Dick Vitale slurpage away from cracking the Hurley Zone. The one upside is that the name "Jimmer" is very easy to turn into bawdy one liners, especially when you consider the fact that he's playing in the New Orleans regional and there are roughly a hundred things, tangible and intangible, going on in the French Quarter that you can call a "Jimmer" and get a decent chuckle.
4. Coaches You May Not Have Known Until You Read His Name Here: SHAKA SMART, VCU and CHRIS MOONEY, RICHMOND There are a few big programs looking for new coaches (Oklahoma and Tennessee, to name two) that will have their eyes on the Southwest Regional (also known as the Bill Self Invitational) with Smart and Mooney both trying to continue their improbable runs in the tournament. Coaches looking for a job with a decent mid-major should start checking with realtors in Richmond, VA. There will be at least one opening in that town come April.
5. Player That Would Change The Complexion Of All This If He Had Stayed In School: GORDON HAYWARD, BUTLER (now with the Utah Jazz) Butler was a great story last season making a deep run to the Final Four right down the street from their campus in Indianapolis. They're a great story this season making the Sweet Sixteen without their best player from last season, Gordon Hayward, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz (biggest lock on the 2010 NBA Draft board, just ahead of "Pacers taking Hayward if the Jazz inexplicably had passed on him"). Without Hayward, Butler is a nice little team who will run out of steam by the end of this weekend. With Hayward, they might have been a two seed, three at worst. He would have added some sure star power to a bracket that is still running right now on the strength of the tournament format, the drama, and the uniforms.
By the way, funny Hayward story -- when he signed his rookie deal with the Jazz, he decided to finally splurge and buy his first car. Hayward opted for the classic "first car out of college," a Honda Accord. Ridiculous enough picturing a guy nearly seven feet tall driving a Honda Accord, even more ridiculous when you consider that (1) Hayward makes a few million a year (so I actually respect the fiscal restraint) and (2) the picks before and after him in any given year likely bought six much more expensive cars.
Of course, in his hometown of Brownsburg, IN, Hayward's Honda Accord probably looks like a freaking Escalade. Other purchase and/or buying habits I would put on Gordon Hayward:
* He does not buy Dr. Pepper or even Mr. Pibb, he buys Dr. Sam's, Sam Free * He surely has a Costco membership * He still gets a newspaper every Sunday and clips coupons * He put his signing bonus into a low yield, low risk CD and/or bonds * He buys double ply toilet paper and then splits the plies apart and gets a sweet "two for one" deal * He rolls pennies into those small little paper sleeves, because the 9.7% juice on the change converter machine at the supermarket is "a bit steep" * He mows his own lawn * He eats before 6PM, and someday when he has kids he will go where kids eat free * He constantly changes long distance service, and never, EVER stays locked into a provider with a contract * He is responsible enough to not put off changing his oil, but frugal enough to take it to the lowest cost option. (Translation: The dealership saw the last of him when they sold him the car.) * He actually opens the envelope full of coupons that comes to "BOX HOLDER" or "RESIDENT" * He recycles, and I don't mean "go green" recycling. I mean, if he can re-use something -- a ziploc baggie, a cardboard box, anything -- he will re-use it.
Ok, enough about Hayward...where was I again? Oh yeah....
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6. My 8 team "Don't Stop Believin' Thursday and Friday parlay What is March Madness without a few quality degenerate plays. It's even better when you hook them all together on one parlay card. (Keep in mind that three of my Final Four teams in my bracket were gone by the end of last weekend, so you've been warned)
Thursday: Florida -2.5, Butler +175, Arizona +9, UConn +110 Friday: UNC -4.5, Ohio State -5.5, Richmond +10.5, VCU +155
10 bucks pays a cool $3083. Easy money. Don't stop believin'.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3PM weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.