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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

NCAA tournament, the First Four.

Yesterday we went to the First Four in Dayton. We just went to the first two today, which is really the first four divided by two. Two teams leave Dayton happy, two leave sad. Today we will go see the final First Four, or the second First Two, depending on how you want to say it. And the same mathematics of emotion will be in effect, happiness and misery.

The first game featured Mount Saint Mary’s, the Mountaineers, vs The University of New Orleans (the Privateers). It was, at first, hard to pick who I wanted to win. Until my wife picked the Mountaineers, based on school size. With only 2012 students they have a smaller enrollment than the high school where she works. And that was good enough for me. Turns out both of my sons were rooting for good old MSMU as well. Their views were based on the coach of the New Orleans looking eerily similar to the principal (the flail of North) of the high school they attended.
It was an exciting game between two different basketball philosophies. New Orleans wanted to run, and MSMU was much happier taking their time and shooting after passing the ball around for a while. The Mountaineers won by one point, in a nail biting finale.

What was really amazing was the amount of paperwork involved in a college basketball game. Before the game coaches (assistant coaches, not the head coach, he was much too busy for that) would go to the scorer’s table and fill out forms. It seemed as if they were buying a house, without the benefit of chairs, they had to kneel on the floor to fill out the forms. Clearly assistant coaching is a young man’s game.
During the time outs all of the coaches from New Orleans would meet on the court, exchanging sheets of paper, hand written bits of information, scribbled hurriedly during the game, who was playing well, who was not? Or who was in foul trouble, and who could hack merrily away? Maybe recipes, who knows. It was only the assistant coaches, though. Not the head coach, he was too busy waiting for the data to be combed, combined, compiled, and easily digested. As soon as he had consumed the information he would go over and yell at the players.
If you want the real show it was in the seats. People would just sit anywhere. Find an empty seat, crawl over people, and plop yourself down. Until the people with the tickets showed up and said “those are our seats.” The people sitting would take out their tickets, and look aghast at their innocent error.
“Oh, I see, we are way up there, how silly of us. We thought this was the top row of the arena.”
It must have happened a dozen times that I could see. And I was only in one small part of the arena.
On the court the action continued unabated as the mascots had a dance-off. An amazing feat, two people dressed in bulging, bulbous costumes at center court busting a move to pounding hip hop music. It had to be cooking inside those huge costumes. Well, not the Kansas State mascot who only has a head piece, which really put him on the outside looking in, when it came to the dance off results.
One of the most interesting parts of the evening happened with just a few minutes left in the MSMU vs. New Orleans game. One of the smaller players we will call him #5 passed the ball to one of the bigger players, let’s call him #25. Number 25 stepped out of bounds or something that caused the whistle to blow, and stop play. And he was furious, since it was a television timeout they had time to meet each other on the way to the huddle. Where #25 said something very menacing and angry to #5, he was close, right next to him. Number 5 pushed him away, saying something angry in return. Number 25 had had enough. First, the errant pass, then the angry rebuff from this player who was at least 6 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter. He took matters into his own hands. He did this by wrapping both hands around the neck of #5. Coaches rushed in and broke it up, and number 25 sat for the rest of the game. And they lost by one point, and I felt bad for them. And, in many ways I felt sorry for number 25 whose anger cost him the last few minutes of a single elimination game.
And I definitely felt sorry for the young man from that team who came up and talked to family members just feet away from where we were sitting. He looked happy to see his family, but the weight of the narrow loss was apparent on his face.
In a way that is the wonder and tragedy of the tournament. Almost everybody loses, David and Goliath, Cinderella and the wicked step sisters (?). But, the work, the pain, the effort, the hours, and hours of practice, the money, huge piles of cash, all pointing to forty minutes of winner take all ecstasy or agony.
And if you are interested I thought the Wake Forest band was the best one of the night. They nailed a version of the theme from the Addams’s Family television show that was inspiring.
I will have another report tomorrow.