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Pools, Upsets Make NCAA...s Great

By Wang S. Lei

Stop what you’re doing. This is important.

That’s right, the sporting event that is costing companies nationwide a little less than $4 billion in lost productivity is here. March Madness, baby! As of last Sunday, millions of workers, students, and illegal immigrants all suddenly became college basketball experts.

Let’s be honest here, maybe 10 percent of the people who filled out brackets in the country knew what they’re doing, and 90 percent of those work for either ESPN or Sports Illustrated. But that hasn’t stopped anyone from throwing down those five dollars (fake money, of course), picking the bad teams with awesome-sounding names like Xavier, Iona, or Texas to make improbable runs to the Sweet 16.

Of course, I don’t claim to be a college basketball expert. I don’t know every team’s Ratings Percentage Index and Strength of Schedule. I don’t even know where most of these teams are located. And that’s one of the things that make March Madness great: any schmuck can sit down with a blank bracket, make the most ridiculous picks, and look like a genius at the end of the day.

Oh, and did I mention the basketball games? I may not have the perfect bracket (yeah, I picked Iona over LSU and had Utah State going to the Sweet 16, wanna fight about it?), but as a basketball fan, you just can’t beat having the 64 best college teams playing in 32 games over a 36-hour span. As the Cookie Monster says, “Too much of a good thing could be a better thing.”

The game I skipped my first class Thursday to watch, #4 Boston College vs #13 Pacific, was a thrilling double OT win by Boston College (I know where this school is, kind of), saving 10 million brackets. You have to give credit to BC for not losing their composure, even after Pacific fought back into the game at the end of regulation and took a 6 point lead in the first OT with a barrage of threes.

Next came #2 Tennessee squeaking by #15 Winthrop. There have been grumblings that Tennessee should not have gotten a #2 seed over the likes of Gonzaga and Boston College. Those suspicions were confirmed on Thursday, when the Volunteers needed a fade-away 19-footer by Chris Lofton with 3 seconds left to defeat lowly Winthrop. It’s a mystery to me why CBS didn’t show this potentially huge bracket-buster over Marquette vs. Alabama, instead of only switching to it when there were only 2 left to play. Sure, the Marquette game was pretty good in its own right (it even came down to a goofy-looking white guy missing a 3-pointer that would have tied the game), but not when compared to the Tennessee game. Just gives you a reason to get that DirecTV package.

In addition to the barn burners, by the end of the first night we had:

1) The same Applebee’s commercial 25 times (More reason to get that DirecTV package: there are no commercials).

2) Gerry “Not-Gonna-Get-Drafted-Anymore” McNamara having the worst game of his life: 2 points on 0-6 shooting en route to his Orangemen being upset by Texas A&M. (Note to self: never, EVER pick an overrated team that got lukewarm before the tourney to make it to the Sweet 16.)

3) George Washington’s ho-hum 18-point comeback over UNC-Wilmington to win in OT, a game where all but about 4 minutes were seen as a score box in the upper left corner of the TV. An 18-point comeback just doesn’t look all that impressive when you only see the score change.

4) The #7 Shockers of Wichita State beating the #10 Seton Hall Pirates. Cue sexual innuendo.

5) Third seed Gonzaga needing all of Adam “Stop-Making-Fun-Of-My-Baby-Mustache-Already” Morrison’s 35 points to overcome a very composed Xavier. Morrison’s good, as advertised, but you probably weren’t hoping his Bulldogs would have to work this hard to get past a #14 seed when you were picking them to go to the Final Four.

All the big shots and crazy finishes coming one after another on day one, and that’s only half of the first round games. Day 2 had arguably the best game of the tourney so far: #3 Iowa falling to #14 Northwestern State. They had Northwestern State down 17 with 8 and a half minutes to go, and all but watched as the Demons stormed back and then took the game with a fade away 3-pointer with half a second to go.

You just had to have seen it coming if you were watching the game though. The Iowa coach, Steve Alford, had his team playing flat-footed, don’t-lose basketball after getting the big lead in the second half, and State just never stopped coming.

Finally there was the #16 seed that did the almost-impossible: beat a #1 in the first round. I swear, one of these years, the Albanies in the world are going to keep hitting those 3’s and play defense like they’re tripping on speed down the stretch and prevail over the lackadaisical UConns in the world. Nobody, not even the ones who had UConn winning it all, was rooting for them when they were down by 12 with 10 minutes to go; the allure of the upset was too much.

The best part of the first 2 days of the tourney? It’s just the tip. There is so much more to come: When is Bradley’s run going to run out of steam? When will UConn finally realize they’re in a single-elimination tournament and start killing the Albanies and the Kentuckies of the world (seriously you guys, step it up. For me. Please!)? These are just some of the stories brewing below the tip of this proverbial iceberg. So skip class, miss work, and tune in to the greatest-until-I-decide-to-write-about-something-else tournament in the world!