Backdoor Cuts: The tourney before the tourney

March 17, 2010

When I discovered that Georgetown’s spring break—a vacation I’d be spending at home with my parents as my main social contacts—would coincide with this year’s NCAA conference tournament week, I knew it was inevitable: I would be spending serious time in front of the TV.  Instead of watching scantily clad young women on sandy beaches, I was watching Houston’s Aubrey Coleman, wondering what that thing was on his neck, and Arinze Onuaku potentially end Syracuse’s season.

I felt as much emotion that a human being possibly can while sitting firmly in one location for an extended period of time—the absurdity of listening to the outrageously overdramatic CBS announcer Gus Johnson nearly wet himself as he commentated the final seconds of an already decided Conference USA title game in front of a mostly empty crowd in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the humiliation of my home state Connecticut Huskies throwing in the towel on the first day of the Big East Tournament to an overmatched and untalented team from Jamaica, Queens; the joy of the Hoyas knocking off ‘Cuse and the crushing pain of the team falling in the final to the second-most obnoxious team in our conference.

There’s nothing better to combat ennui than reading that ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has somehow updated his bracket predictions for the fourth time in 24 hours. I might not be working hard, but I know that America’s most compulsive bracketelogist is fanatically making calculations by the minute in front of multiple TV screens—and that’s a really entertaining thought.

There’s something incredibly appealing about the barrage of college basketball that comes with conference tournament week—perhaps even more so than the first couple rounds of March Madness. Despite the fact that the overwhelming number of games makes it impossible for any functioning member of society to follow what’s happening in all conferences, the massive scramble to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament is almost as important for smaller mid-major teams as actually winning in the tournament itself. Getting your school a spot in a nationally-televised tournament is an accomplishment itself. Just ask the Wofford Terriers, the Robert Morris Colonials, or the Sam Houston State Bearkats.

March Madness is cemented in our popular sports lore for all the improbable upsets and the stunning frequency of dramatic finishes. Some people say that this beautiful competition is American to its core, showcasing can-do spirit and the possibility for anybody to win the whole thing. I love March Madness and I love patriotic metaphors even more, but I disagree. What’s infinitely more American to me is sitting on my couch, eating food, and flipping the channel repeatedly until it satisfies me. Like any true American, I participated in some serious overconsumption last week.

It’s not that I can’t do that again for the real tournament, but conference tournament week has a magic of its own. It’s where the real hardcore fans get their jollies. But all good things have to come to an end.  When talking about all that basketball I watched begins to degenerate into something resembling one of Dick Vitale’s rants, I know I’ve gone too far. Luckily, I have classes during the first two days of the NCAA tournament.


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