Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

The coolest thing happened to me yesterday. A coworker of mine, AS for short, came up to my desk and asked quietly "what time do you get off?" I was immediately suspicious.

"I have two tickets to the afternoon session of the NCAA tournament."

That's right, AS gave me free tickets to round one of the Big Dance. It was sweet. I got off work and met a friend, and we went down to the Rose Garden. There were thousands of people milling around when we got there, around 4:15. It turns out, in between the morning and afternoon sessions, they boot everybody in the building out, then make those with all-day tickets come back in.

The first game was Gonzaga vs. Akron. The Zags were obviously the crowd favorite, as they're a northwest team. They were really impressive, despite a lackluster first half. They actually trailed at halftime, but made adjustments in the second half and overwhelmed the Zips. Gonzaga is full of really long, tall guys who can shoot, and when they started to press, it was over. At the half, my friend Mike and I ran into 3 of the Hoelter brothers, with whom I'm going to the Saturday session as well. They were all wearing Kansas t-shirts, even though Kansas is playing elsewhere. That's diehard.

The second game was the biggest upset of the tourney (so far). Western Kentucky, the 12th seed, knocked off 5th seed Illinois. The Hilltoppers are very athletic, and the Illini are a fundamentally sound team, and each lacked the other's strength. In the end, athleticism won out. But it was interesting, because once Illinois began pressing, it became clear that WKU doesn't have many good ballhandlers. Illinois cut a 17-point lead to 2 with about 10 seconds left, but came up short. If the game had been a minute longer, Illinois would have won.

My only two gripes with the experience would be the lack of alcohol at the venue, and the fact that they weren't showing highlights on the bigscreen. First, I guess it's sort of NCAA rule that fans not drink beer in the stands, which is a ludicrous rule. The NCAA wants to pretend it's a pure institution, but without getting too into it, that's a ridiculous conceit. Students can't afford tickets to the game, so who are they trying to protect, really?

Second, why on earth wouldn't they show highlights from other tournament games? We could see on the one scoreboard showing other scores that UCLA was barely holding on, but they wouldn't show us what was happening. Instead, we got "greatest moments" clips, which repeated over and over again. We were there for the second session only, and saw some clips at least twice. Ridiculous.

I give my first taste of March Madness action (in person anyway) an 8. I can't wait until Saturday!

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