There has yet to be an official study done to determine whether CBS stock comes out of Jim Nantz’s veins when he is cut, but there is no better front man for the three-week commercial disguised as the NC2A tournament than the ultimate Corporate Champion. Yes, there will be a winner crowned on April 6, but before the treacly “One Shining Moment” montage oozes forth, CBS, Turner and the folks in Indianapolis will subject us to enough promotional content to make even Ron Popeil blush. You better have an airsickness bag ready while watching the NC2A’s propaganda about how much it cares for the very athletes it abuses.
The bloated, 68-team tourney began Tuesday with the scintillating “first-round” games, which must have been designed in some masochist’s mind to create excitement among four teams that will never really participate in the tournament. Congratulations, Manhattan!! You’re in the NC2A Tournament. Well, sort of. By the time the real action kicks off, the “First Four” losers will be back on campus, trying to convince friends that they were indeed part of the Madness. Talk about a cruel joke.
Maybe next year, the NC2A can prank call bubble teams to tell them they’re in the tournament when they really aren’t, tape the responses and then show them on a hilarious blooper show hosted by Barles Charkley.
Random Punk’d AD: You mean we’re not in the tournament?
Charkley: Ha! Ha! No, you’re not.
RPAD: Coach, you’re fired.
The ratings would be huge.
While CBS contemplates future programming options, this year’s tournament will roll on, with copious commercial interruption. Those two Capital One ads were pretty funny on the Selection Sunday show, but the credit card company better have made about 50 of them, because the originals could be pretty stale come early April. Meanwhile, the basketball world will wonder if anybody can beat Coach Cal and his selfless Kentucky team, which has stormed through the rotten SEC without any semblance of an offense.
The excitement is building. The commercials are set. Nantz is ready to shill. Let the Madness begin.
Undefeated, Underwhelming: We are always told to consider teams and athletes according to the eras in which they competed. According to that metric, UK is amazing. But these Wildcats would be 10-point dogs to the ’76 Indiana perfectos and would get six points from the back-to-back Duke champions in ’91 and ’92. And don’t even get El Hombre started on what the Walton Gang would have done to this group. The underlying story here is that college basketball isn’t very good right now. Control-freak coaches preach defensive strategies designed to make the game appear as if it is being played in the La Brea Tar Pits. The AAU culture creates prospects concerned only with themselves, and constant transferring by high school students prohibits them from learning needed skills, because coaches are petrified of exercising discipline, for fear that their players will blow town overnight. Going 40-0 is a worthy accomplishment, but it comes at a time when the sport is sagging.
Happenstance. Yeah, Right: As usual, the tournament offers some compelling pairings that just happen to be there by a stroke of tremendous good fortune. Kansas coach Bill Self absolutely won’t play Wichita State, even if the Shockers promised to visit Allen Fieldhouse 40 straight times. But somehow, through a remarkable serendipitous turn, WSU and the Jayhawks will collide in the third round (El Hombre still isn’t used to that), should each take care of business in their first game. Shocking! And how about the idea of pitting SMU and Larry Brown against UCLA – the school he took to the national title game in 1980 – in a second-round matchup. How did that happen?! If Butler and Notre Dame prevail in their openers, we’ll have a Hoosier state throwdown in round three. Coincidence, all of it. CBS would never try to influence the field, even though it has 10.8 billion reasons to do so. Next up, writers for The Big Bang Theory introduce a new character, Joe the Creationist, and none of the suits in New York cares.
Grab the Pepto: El Hombre has always said that the first weekend of the tournament is for the Madness, and everything after that is about choosing a champion. Since whichever team wins it all is universally regarded as the champ, it doesn’t matter who gets dumped early on. So, bring on the upsets. Of course, the increased parity throughout the sport lessens the shock value, but triumphs by double-digit seeds over their perceived superiors is always a lot of fun. We’re still waiting for the biggie – a 16 over a 1 – and fret not, because it is coming in the next five years. This time, here are a few shockers (as opposed to Shockers) that will spawn some serious indigestion: Davidson over Iowa; Texas over Butler; Wofford over Arkansas; Stephen F. Austin over Utah and – if you want to get really nuts – UC-Irvine over Louisville.
The Verdict: It has been a long while since the tournament had such a prohibitive favorite, and if Kentucky loses before the Final Four, it will be an upset on par with any in tournament history. So, put the Wildcats into the final weekend. They will be joined by Arizona, a real threat to UK primacy, Gonzaga (finally!) and Oklahoma, which could lose in the third round or prevail in an imperfect region. (If you want a real Final Four sleeper, choose Michigan State, simply because nobody handles March better than Tom Izzo.) Kentucky dumps ‘Zona in a whale of a semifinal, while the Zags take care of OU in the other. Kentucky fulfills its perfect destiny with an 80-69 triumph over Gonzaga.
A Final Word About Cal: There is no way of knowing for sure how Kentucky coach John Calipari gets his players, and his numerous tournament stumbles bring his game management skills into question. But there is no one in the game today, or perhaps ever, capable of taking nine potential NBA first-round draft choices and convincing them to sublimate their personal agendas for the good of a run at history. That’s a remarkable achievement, and El Hombre doesn’t use the word remarkable lightly. Calipari may not be an Xs and Os wizard, but he has a Ph.D. in basketball psychology.
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EL HOMBRE SEZ: Can you imagine the meetings that are being held on Park Avenue about the possibility of an Atlanta-Golden State NBA Finals pairing? The panic level is pretty low right now, but commissioner Adam Silver no doubt has the Sardinian Swordsmen on speed dial and is consulting Winston Wolf about ways to handle any unsavory playoff scenarios…Speaking of the NBA, posse members throughout the league’s universe are making plans for a possible 2017 work stoppage. They’re banking large portions of their allowances, cutting back on frivolous purchases and eschewing bottle service at the club. Yeah, right. If the Players Union has a weak spot in its future negotiations with league owners, it’s the Posse Factor, which could threaten the rank-and-file to cave if a new iPhone comes out during a strike…The NFL’s frenzy of personnel moves has slowed considerably after a wild first week of teams’ trading one set of problems for another, an avalanche of guaranteed money and fans’ lifting their hopes unreasonably in a sport for which free agency often brings more headaches than it solves. It’s hard to find a definitive winner in the melee, but the clear losers are Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall, who have to play next year for the J-E-T-S, Jets-Jets-Jets. Ugh…Hats off to Chris Borland, the talented Niners linebacker who retired after just one year in the NFL in order to prevent further head trauma that could lead to long-term health concerns and – perhaps – early-onset dementia. Future research will undoubtedly buttress and advance previous assertions that repeated concussions are triggers for trouble down the road. Some fans may be angry at Borland for leaving San Francisco, but they should applaud his courage and good sense. And the NFL had better get ready for several more like him in coming years…The NHL regular season is rocketing toward a thrilling conclusion, as all four division winners are within two points of each other andZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…Baseball’s spring training is underway, and that’s good news for orthopedic surgeons, who already have plenty of work ahead of them, thanks to elbow injuries to the likes of Yu Darvish, Zach Wheeler and Josh Edgin. (Expect Cliff Lee to join the parade at some point.) It makes one wonder just how many pitchers in the ’50s, ‘60s and ‘70s were gutting it out with serious injuries that went undiagnosed and unrepaired.
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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? How about that swashbuckling, devil-may-care, push-it-all-to-the-middle Chip Kelly? What a daring fellow. While it’s too early to pass complete judgment on his off-season binge, a couple things are completely clear about the Eagles’ Maximum Leader. First, he is absolutely in charge. He tried to tell us that it was Jeffrey Lurie’s idea to depose his good pal Howie Roseman and place him in charge of jockstraps and the team’s Accounts Payable Department, but anybody who believes that should call El Hombre and ask about the attractive financing rates he is offering on the sale of Independence Hall. This is Kelly’s show, and Lurie hasn’t taken a chance this big of a chance since he helped bankroll V.I. Warshawski, which starred Brian Bosworth. Wait. That was Kathleen Turner? Oh, my. Second, Kelly is taking some big chances with his personnel acquisitions. QB Sam Bradford, linebacker Kiko Alonso, running back Ryan Mathews and cornerback Walter Thurmond are all coming off of serious injuries. If the Sixers added this collection of hobbled performers, they would be accused of putting the Tank into hyperdrive. In just over two years, Kelly has completely recast the culture, roster and systems of the Eagles. If he doesn’t succeed, it will take years for this franchise to rebound.
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AND ANOTHER THING: Now that Bud Sellout has ridden out of town on a pile of cash and good wishes from the owners for helping save baseball by embracing steroid-addled, long-ball bashing carnival freaks, Pete Rose thinks it’s time to make his move. Sensing weakness atop the MLB hierarchy – as if Sellout was Antaeus – Rose has reached out to new commissioner Rob Manfred in an attempt to Get Back In. Manfred has said he will listen, but he had better not cave in. Rose has yet to make a sincere apology for his betting on baseball, something that has been clearly outlined as a serious violation for decades. As bad as the steroid abusers were for the game, there was no policy in place that forbade the use of performance enhancing drugs until just a few years ago. Rose knew what he was doing was wrong, and he continued to do it. Further, he has remained combative in the years after his banishment and has demonstrated little true remorse. It’s sad that such a great ballplayer and competitor has become a tragic story, but Rose’s inability to understand that damage he did to baseball through his actions makes it impossible for the game to welcome him back. He’s running out of time, and unless he makes a substantial change in his approach to his previous actions, any possible reinstatement could well come posthumously.