Beyond Recognition 

The NCAA's "real" winners

The NCAA's "real" winners

By Randy Horick

This is your brain: North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, Duke, or Kentucky. This is your brain on drugs: Rhode Island, Valparaiso, Washington, and West Virginia.

Valparaiso? If you picked the...the...(what’s the name of Valpo’s mascot again?) to win their first two games, the good news is that you can probably start counting the office pool kitty. The bad news is that some serious-looking people would like you to step down the hall and pee in a cup.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Final Four. Well, maybe not so funny, if you happened to be Arizona, Kansas, or any of a handful of other anointed squads that were unceremoniously bounced by teams classified as bracket trash.

Like Valpo. Which, of course, rhymes with Alpo, which is supposed to be fed to the Big Dogs. Which suggests that this year’s NCAA Tournament upsets weren’t just your same old man-bites-dog story; this was dog food bites dog.

Every year, the Tournament plays out like a Shakespearean comedy—nights full of delirious confusion, men mistaken for women, bozos mistook for barons, and a cheery if somewhat disorderly resolution as the sun comes up again.

Happily, our revels are not yet ended. In this spirit of intoxication, we’d like to offer a few mixed-up reflections on the past two wacked-out weekends, with nods to the Academy Awards and our panel of way insiders from the Scene Sports Desk at McCabe’s Pub.

Best Performer, Male: The nominees are North Carolina’s Antawn Jamison, Utah’s Andre Miller, Kentucky’s Wayne Turner, and Stanford’s Arthur Lee. And the winner is... Miller, the Ute with the hops, who provided his gork-laden team with the speed and quickness it lacked in previous tournaments.

Mathematicians and scientists are still working to calculate the number of new orifices that Miller ripped for heavily favored Zona.

Best Performer, Female: Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee.

By acclamation. Sure, you could vote for someone else. You could also choose some other NBA player over Michael Jordan. But in a subpar shooting night in the regional finals, Holdsclaw still whapped North Carolina for 29 points. Next envelope, please.

Best Director: Rick Majerus, Utah.

Two rookie head coaches, Kentucky’s Tubby Smith and Carolina’s Bill Guthridge, masterfully guided their teams to the Final Four. But the statuette goes to Majerus, the sideline brain with the Michelin Man body, whose strategems utterly confounded more talented opponents.

Best Performance by a Dog: The Big 10.

Usually, all six or seven entries from this overrated league would be slinking back toward the Snow Belt by the second round. This year, perhaps seasoned by their own conference tournament, each of them won at least once. Now we’ll have to find some other chump to kick around. Anybody seen the Big East lately?

Best Tattoo: Tracy Reid, North Carolina.

Who says the women don’t get as much ink as the men? You know gender equity is making serious strides when even bicep tattoos become a unisex proposition. You’ve come a long way, baby.

Best Dying Scenes: Rhode Island. But it was close.

In blowing a 17-point, second-half lead against Kentucky, normally disciplined Duke suddenly began playing more like the Fun Police—with shakin’, bakin’, one-on-one displays, misplays, and ill-advised shots. The Rhodies, though, were even more sublimely ridiculous—literally throwing away a six-point cushion with less than a minute to play, while coach Jim Harrick stomped and fumed.

Best Line: Billy Tubbs.

Asked what he says to a team that his own high-scoring Texas Christian squad has just beaten by 50 points, Coach Tubbs pondered for a moment, then said, “Can you come back next year?”

Best Performance by a Hairdo: Tubbs again.

For comb-overs, it’s always hard to top Purdue’s coach, Gene Keady, but this year he had to compete with Billy T., whose crown is so slathered with oil that it might pose a hazard to any marine birds passing through Fort Worth.

Best Score: Bryce Drew. With less than three seconds to play and Valparaiso trailing Mississippi by 2, Coach Homer (Bryce’s dad), called for a familiar play, nicknamed “Pacer,” that never seemed to work in practice.

This time, it did. Valpo’s Bill Jenkins leaped to catch a long baseball pass, then flicked a pass to Drew, who drained a long, buzzer-beating jumper. You’ve seen it on replays a dozen times. It’s still magical.

Best Low-Budget Production: Harvard’s women, offered up as a light snack for mighty Stanford, instead whacked the Cardinals—on their home floor.

Never had a 16th seed beaten a No. 1. Ever. Here’s one more thing to lay on El Niño.

Best Special Effects: That frothing white glom of spittle that kept creeping from the side of Bobby Knight’s mouth as he watched his Hoosiers blow a 19-point lead against Oklahoma.

Best Remake of Titanic: Kansas.

Twice during the ’90s, the Jayhawks have sunk in the second round after entering the tournament as a No. 1 seed. Every March, coach Roy Williams looks more befuddled as he goes down with the ship. His only consolation in misery might be that, for a second straight year, he’s been joined in Davy Jones’ locker room by Eddie Fogler, whose South Carolina teams haven’t even made it out of port.

Best Rewrite of Titanic: Tennessee Lady Vols.

In this version, the ship crushes the icebergs into little cubes. Though their invincible dreadnought took on water Monday night before bailing out, the Lady Vols are the closest thing to an unsinkable entry since UCLA had Bill Walton. (Of course, had Titanic been constructed with even one bulkhead like Pat Summitt, it would still be floating.)

Best Picture: ACC fans.

If there’s still any debate over which conference is best in basketball, consider the performance of ACC fans at the conference’s tournament in Greensboro.

Near the end of a losing effort, Georgia Tech’s Matt Harpring—a senior who had made himself into one of the league’s best players through determination and spirit—fouled out. As he left the floor for the last time, the crowd, which contained few Tech fans, rose and saluted Harpring with a long ovation. It was one of the most moving displays of collective sportsmanship I’ve ever seen, and, frankly, I can’t imagine it happening in any other league.

How it looks from the La-Z-Boy

Like I was saying...

Anybody who honestly believes that all four No. 1 seeds will reach the Final Four is a lunatic waiting to be straitjacketed. Anybody whose Final Four doesn’t include Kentucky is a few bubbles off plumb. Any guano-for-brains can see that Temple will lose by 30 points in the first round.

And didn’t I say, “Look out for Rhode Island?” I’m sure I said that, in spite of what you may think. Now that we’ve cleared all that up, it’s time to dig out from under the rubble and move on:

Men’s Semifinals: Kentucky over Stanford. North Carolina over Utah.

Championship: North Carolina over Kentucky.

Women’s Semifinals: Louisiana Tech over North Carolina State. Tennessee over Arkansas.

Championship: Tennessee over Louisiana Tech.

Championship: Tennessee over Louisiana Tech.


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