Well, that was a pretty miserable ending to the first four days of the NCAA Tournament for your humble blogger. A Tournament that had very little drama for the first two days had a ton of it over the weekend.
Villanova, who everyone thought would get to the Final 4, lost in a shocker to Wisconsin. Florida State, who certainly looked good in the first round, got smacked out of March by Xavier.
And of course my beloved Duke team, who I know everyone else hates, played an absolutely miserable game Sunday night, on the road against South Carolina, and got beat soundly.
I have to vent about Duke for a minute; I don’t expect any sympathy. That was a terrible performance at a terrible time for the Blue Devils. They turned the ball over an unfathomable 13 times in the first half, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum, the two best players, were invisible for long stretches of the game, and South Carolina played out of its mind. How does a team score 23 points in the first half, than sixty-five in the second half? Beats me. But between playing in front of a home crowd (and this is NOT the reason Duke lost, but it is a little strange that a No. 7 seed gets to play 90 miles from its campus against a No. 2 seed), getting major defensive pressure on its opponent, and then just hanging on with great FT shooting down the stretch, the Gamecocks were fantastic Sunday.
So Duke is out, and America is happy. It’s been a strange first few days of March Madness, first time in a long, long time no 13, 14 or 15 seed won. Cinderella just decided not to show up this year, I guess. Still, some great storylines developing as we head into the Sweet 16 (Kentucky-UCLA, anyone?)
A few thoughts from a mostly manic-free weekend of games:
— Shhh, don’t tell the CBS cameramen, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a son who plays for Northwestern!
My goodness, in the tone of Chandler Bing, COULD they have shown her in the crowds any more? I mean I understand she’s a celebrity and all but do we need a reaction shot from her every time anything happens?
— Ask my friend Tony, I hardly ever complain about basketball refereeing. One call here or there doesn’t lose games, and people who constantly bitch about officiating are sore losers.
That said, these first four days of the Tournament have seen some awful, awful calls. I mean, really terrible ones, like the one that screwed Northwestern, one that hurt Seton Hall, a few against Duke last night, and more that I can’t remember right now. I mean, just awful officiating.
— I got seven of the Sweet 16 correct in my bracket. Is that bad?
— Villanova’s loss is obviously shocking, never thought Wisconsin would be able to score enough to beat them, but it did. As many people said, the Badgers were grossly underseeded, they should’ve been at least a 4 or a 5.
— So I go to a sports bar Friday afternoon to watch the early games before I had a game to cover Friday night. This bar, Brother Jimmy’s, was two blocks from Madison Square Garden, and had college pennants and jerseys hanging all over the walls. And yet, I had to basically nag the bartender to put the first NCAA Tournament game on, then harass her a few times to put on the second game. Seemed she and the manager had absolutely no idea it was March Madness. You run a sports bar two blocks from MSG, this tournament happens every year, and you don’t have TV’s set up for March Madness? The mind, it boggles.
— Finally, Taco Bell can run that ad promoting its awesome breakfast menu 1,000 times a day (and it seems like they are). I would still rather starve than have to eat Taco Bell at 8 a.m. No restaurant I’d rather eat at less at that hour.
And now, the most polite and friendly hockey “fight” you will ever see. May we present Brenden Dillon of the San Jose Sharks, and Austin Watson of the Nashville Predators, who hugged and threw a few punches during a game last week, then had a delightful chat from the penalty box about improving their cardio in the offseason.
I loved this so much. Hockey players are the best.
**Finally today, I must say a few words about the passing of newspaper journalism legend Jimmy Breslin, who died Sunday at 88. He may not have been as famous outside of New York as others, but this man was an absolute giant in my field. Breslin was a hard-scrabble, take-no-BS writer who didn’t suffer fools, or lying politicians, or anybody trying to screw over the little guy, at all.
His prose was beautiful without being flowery, direct and to the point and always written with heart.
But Breslin’s lasting legacy, what he will be remembered for more than anything else, will be his column when he interviewed the man who dug John F. Kennedy’s grave. That article is taught in journalism schools across the country, reminding writers to not always just look at the obvious story. Don’t do what everyone else is doing; find someone who’s off to the side, who’s maybe overlooked, because those are the people with the best stories to tell.
Here’s the lede to that column, I urge you to read the rest here.
Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. “Polly, could you please be here by eleven o’clock this morning?” Kawalchik asked. “I guess you know what it’s for.” Pollard did.
He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.