March Madness Blog: The Final Four

Adam Underhill


Friday March 21st, 8:45 pm

I’m lying prostrate on the sofa, having just woken from a grilled cheese sandwich-induced nap. I’ve been snoring with the Duke game on in the background, expecting to wake up to a 65-35 score somewhere in the second half. Not so fast—a school named Belmont just took a 58-56 lead over the Blue Devils. Which means, at some point, I may have to sit up and Google “Belmont” because I have no idea where it is located. So far, all I know is that Vince Gill must have gone there, because they keep cutting to him in the audience.

I often think of what lame headlines might pop up based on the name of a team or player. In this case, if Belmont wins, papers like the New York Post are going to go nuts with “Belmont Stakes A Big Win” and lame jokes like that. It’s fun, you should try it. Marquette won earlier today, so you could write, “Super Marquette!” (If Marquette has a bowling team, how often does the school paper use “Marquette Zero!”? Probably not often, since not everyone makes constant Big Lebowski references like I do.)


I’ve been bracing myself for a commercial for the upcoming How I Met Your Mother featuring Britney Spears so I can complain about it, but I haven’t seen one yet. I’ll complain anyway: Does America really have to go through the inevitable Britney Spears comeback? I guess I just answered my own question. You know there’s more coming. After Britney gets predictable kudos from an eager-to-make-up entertainment press, there will be a new “funny” Pepsi ad, followed by a Weekend Update guest editorial, and then a Today Show outdoor summer concert. By August, she’ll be stumping for John McCain at the Republican National Convention. Shoot me now.

While I typed that, Belmont went back up by one, 70-69. Maybe I should pay attention, and stop writing about Britney. I hope Fanzine doesn’t boldface celebrity names in its columns, or I’m really going to look like a tool.

Duke just missed, so it’s Belmont’s (the Bruins, whose school is in Nashville) possession with 47 seconds left. It’s that heart-twisting time when the sorry bastards who root for the 15 seed actually they think they have a shot at beating Duke. [Post-blog note: I totally forgot that Duke was upset by an 11 seed, Virginia Commonwealth, last year.]

Gerald Henderson drives coast-to-coast for the winning points. Duke 71, Belmont 70. “Duke Drives Stake Through Belmont’s Heart.” I told you it was easy.

9:21 PM

The NHL is the latest entity to use Carmina Burana in a commercial. Attention advertising agencies: Using Carmina Burana in a commercial is the classical equivalent of using James Brown’s “I Feel Good” in a movie trailer.

9:25 PM

On to two teams about which I’ve never been able to muster an opinion: Texas A&M and Brigham Young University. However!—there are only two minutes left. This is why the NCAA Tournament is the single greatest sporting event in America. Because of the staggered tipoff times, there always seems to be a close game ending in the early rounds. And even if you don’t have the premium package (as I do not), you’re presented with one exciting finish after another. It’s one of the rare moments in sportscasting when a network (CBS) actually delivers what the viewers (you, me, and everyone we know) want to see. So, I’m interested in this game. I’ll go with the Aggies, since agriculture and manufacturing have probably done more for my life than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (though it did help me track down my great-grandfather’s Italian birth certificate).

“BY-BY BYU.” Okay, that was lame.

9:47 PM

CBS just showed footage of George Mason head coach Jim Larranaga giving a pre-game speech that would make a team of eight year olds uncomfortable. He told his players that the fans think they are magicians (because of their athletic abilities), then held up a picture of the Notre Dame leprechaun, crumpled it up, threw it out, and said, “Make him disappear!” Unfortunately, CBS cut away before we got to see the team either a) break down into howling laughter, or b) back away slowly and quietly, Simpsons-style. I might add that Larranaga forgot to account for the fact that leprechauns ALSO have magical powers, so it’s going to be a real Tolkeinesque struggle out there today. Getcha dice ready.

9:50 PM

Why is Notre Dame’s student section so damned obnoxious? All I can hear on the broadcast is them yelling, “Oohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” like Thundercats every time George Mason has the ball. At least the Tomahawk Chop had a melody. Maybe they are howls of pain, leftover from the football season!

9:57 PM

Seriously, Notre Dame fans, STFU. Don’t make me switch to Celebrity Apprentice.


I don’t think I can listen to this anymore.


Mercy was granted as the Tiffany Network switched to the Wisconsin-Cal State-Fullerton game. (That looks like three schools, but it’s two.) I never thought I’d be so happy to watch a game between Wisconsin and Cal State-Fullerton.

This might be a good time to point out that even though I grew up in Madison, I am not what you would call a Wisconsin Badger fan. I’ve got nothing against its basketball coach, Bo Ryan, or its players. I’ve just always had a hard time rooting for what I consider one of the most boring programs in college hoops. Since the program’s revival, Wisconsin has had exactly one electrifying player (Michael Finley). The rest of the last 15 years has been filled with the kind of grind-it-out, defense-oriented, ball-control basketball that could only win titles in the pedestrian Big Ten. The apex, or nadir, depending on how you look at it, was when the Badgers gave a national audience the single most boring Final Four game in modern history, a 53-41 loss to Michigan State in 2000 that was 19-17 at halftime.

That’s peach basket shit. The 13-2 run the Spartans went on to close out the game must have seemed like a torrential downpour to Dick Bennett, then the Badgers coach. Bennett’s crimes against basketball as entertainment are deplorable enough, but he also had the indignity of quitting on his team just three games into the 2000-01 season because of “burnout.” Add to that the incessant complaining by fans every time the Badgers don’t get a number one seed in the tourney, and it’s hard not to have contempt for this program. (The football program, another perennial also-ran, is just as annoying, but I’ll save that for another day.) I’m not saying I’m rooting for Cal State-Fullerton, but I’ve got no problem with seeing a 14 seed upset a 3 seed in this case.


That was a long anti-Badger rant that probably took up a good amount of viewing time. In fairness, I’ve been playing Scrabulous on Facebook as well. I’m addicted.


I saw the Britney Spears How I Met Your Mother promo! She asked Doogie, “Can we have sex, THEN go shopping?” Get it? Sex? Doogie? Having sex is inherently funny. Now I can die in peace.

(I had a Kevin Federline/Law & Order joke in place here, until I remembered that K-Fed has already been on CSI, and Law & Order has already ripped the Britney/K-Fed story from the proverbial headlines. You have to be pretty quick to do satire, these days. Maybe I should write OJ jokes for Leno in my old age.)


Mike Krzyzewski, in a press conference, said of Belmont, “We were just playing cat-and-mouse. We wanted to see if we could let them back in it and still beat them in the last minute. Really, we’ve been looking past this round and all rounds till the Final Four.”



Cal State-Fullerton’s coach looks more like a high school band teacher. Also, if people can say Cal State-Fullerton without a problem, they should be able to handle Wisconsin-Eau Claire. If they ever need to say it.

Speaking of my alma mater, I realized that if UW-Eau Claire ever turned Division I and made the tournament, its celebrity fan that CBS would have to cut to would be Kato Kaelin. That’s pretty bottom shelf, although I’m not sure if it’s any worse than Vince Gill.


“Wellington Smith” does not sound like the name of a player for West Virginia. It sounds like the name of an Ivy League WASP in a bad frat boy comedy.


Arizona-West Virginia. Blah. What was I saying about this being the greatest sporting event known to man?


Not only does West Virginia have a Wellington Smith, but Arizona has a Chase Budinger. Is this March Madness or America’s Cup?


West Virginia will go on to face Duke. That’s day one of the Big Dance. It wasn’t as “mad” as in years’ past, but tomorrow is a new day. In the meantime, I have a Scrabulous game to wrap up.

Part II
: Sunday, March 23, 2008

It’s Sunday night, and the Sweet Sixteen is all set. Here’s what I can tell you:

1. I totally missed the last second game-winner by Western Kentucky over Drake on Friday. In fact, I haven’t even seen an adequate replay, either on TV or online. Somehow, the play of the tournament has eluded me. So, in the interest of not bullshitting you, I will not wax poetic about it.

2. I complained about Wisconsin playing boring, defense-only basketball, and they went ahead and dropped 71 points in a victory over Kansas State. Not only that, but they held the Wildcats to 55 points. I’ll never be allowed in Madison again.

3. I lauded CBS for its coverage of multiple games, many with simultaneous, exciting finishes. I must admit, the Eye made me nervous today, as it jumped back and forth between Georgetown-Davidson and Tennessee-Butler. Both games were undecided going into the final minute, both featured multiple timeouts and nailbiting conclusions. Tennessee-Butler went into overtime, and with 26 seconds left and the Vols leading by four, CBS cut to the other game, leaving me confused and concerned and with my eye on the little scoreboard on the top of my screen. I had nothing to worry about. Whoever is sitting in the control room for the national feed kept a deft eye on each game’s timeout and clock-stoppage situation, and swung back and forth seamlessly between as the action dictated. The producers, understanding the home viewers’ mentality in ways rarely seen in sportscasting, even eliminated the need for any Greg Gumbel cues (“We take you back to Birmingham…”). It was almost as if there were two great games on competing networks, and someone was doing the channel-flipping for me. It was a thing of beauty.

4. A recurring commercial during the tournament, for Axa Equitable Insurance, features an animated gorilla proclaiming itself to be “the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” This ad campaign has been around for some time, and its continued existence pisses me off. The men and women responsible for copywriting the catchphrase for this gorilla are guilty of mixing metaphors. The term “800-pound gorilla” is used when describing a large or dominant version of something, e.g. “Coca-Cola is the 800-lb. Gorilla of soft drinks,” or, “California is the 800-lb. gorilla of the electoral college.” People referring to the proverbial “elephant in the room,” however, are referring to something omnipresent that no one wants to discuss, like retirement planning. It’s an elephant! It’s not a gorilla! What really upsets me about this isn’t so much the mistake; we all mix metaphors and screw up proverbs sometimes. It’s that this campaign obviously went through a lot of stages of planning and presentation, and somewhere along the way, there must have been at least one lone person in the meeting room who knew this was an egregious error, and he or she never spoke up, probably for fear that he would insult whomever wrote the damned thing. Well, somebody has to have the courage to stand athwart this gorilla and say, “Enough!”

5. I ridiculed Belmont and its fans for thinking it had a shot to beat Duke on Thursday when it lost by one point. I figured that this early test would propel the Blue Devils into the Final Four, but I forgot one thing: Duke barely beat BELMONT by one point. So it stood to reason that they were going to have their hands full with West Virginia. Every team brings its A-game against Duke (though it hasn’t even won a title since 2001). Belmont took its best shot and nearly got past them. When a Big East team brings it’s A-game and you shoot .380 from the field, well, like Al Pacino said in Heat, “brother, you are goin’ down.” In retrospect, probably shouldn’t have called Belmont’s fans “sorry bastards.” “Hopeful and proud students and alumni” might have been more appropriate.

What we have now is a terrific set up for next weekend. All the number one seeds (North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, Memphis) remain. A ten seed (Davidson) and two twelves (Villanova, Western Kentucky) have somehow survived. In between are the usual middling teams, the Michigan States, the Xaviers, the Washington States). If I were a betting man, and I usually am not, I would count on three of the four number one seeds making it to the Final Four. One of those three heavy underdogs should make it past the Sweet Sixteen. And, quite honestly, after what I’ve seen from Wisconsin, I will disavow my earlier trashing of them. The Badgers are on a 25-2 run, including 12 in a row, the Big Ten regular season title, and the Big Ten tournament. They’re headed on a collision course with tiny Davidson on Friday, the team that upset the Georgetown Hoyas. But, perhaps if any team is prepared to handle a surging Cinderella, it’s these quiet Badgers. I’m not great with predictions (see: Adam’s 2007 NFL Preview, Cincinnati Bengals), so I’ll just say I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Badgers get to the Final Four. I just hope it’s more exciting this time around.

Part III: Onto the Elite 8
Friday, March 28. 8:38pm

The games are on. My steak sandwich is eaten. You may remember that last week I disparaged the 2000 Wisconsin Badgers and their former coach, Dick Bennett, for scoring about as much as a high school girls’ team. (That sounds like a bad joke, but is really just a simile.) I just spent 30 minutes watching Washington State squeeze out 21 points before halftime. Guess what? WSU is coached by Bennett’s son, Tony Bennett! Apparently plodding, excitement-free offense is the family business. These Cougars might make it into the 40s or 50s, but they sure don’t look sexy doing it.


North Carolina 55, Washington State 32. Thank you, Tar Heels.


We have a tight game between West Virginia and Xavier. Knotted up at 57. I did Xavier the courtesy of Googling it and found out that it’s in Cincinnati. Or New Orleans. Or it’s that place upstate where the X-Men studied.


On the Wikipedia page for Bill Raftery (calling this game with Verne Ludnquist), it has a list of famous quotes. The first one says, “Shoulder…shake…a little lingerie!”


The West Virginia Mountain Mamas are down by two with 21.2 seconds left and possession.


The West Virginia Mountain Mamas are STILL down by two with 21.2 seconds left and possession. Apparently there is some kind of clock malfunction.

WVU’s Joe Alexander just kissed a HUGE jumper off the backboard and a foul! He missed the free throw and Xavier missed its final shot, and we’re headed to overtime. Bill Raftery just passed a kidney stone on-air.


Back-to-back three-pointers by Xavier, and Bill Raftery has morphed completely into the Were-Raftery. Howlin’ at the moon, baby!! Meanwhile, West Virginia blew coverage on an inbound pass and left Xavier’s Lavender WIDE OPEN outside the arc.


Tennessee is on pace to score 16 points in the first half. I wonder which Bennett is coaching the Volunteers? Cornelius?

I just realized it’s a lot harder to blog about these games when there are fewer of them to jump to. Last week, this game would have been dropped from the airwaves faster than Cavemen. This week, with only two games at a time, we’re stuck with Tennessee-Louisville for the moment, which is about as painful as watching Cavemen.


Did you know Coke Zero has the same great taste as Coca-Cola, but none of the calories? Makes you wonder why they don’t just stop selling Coca-Cola and replace it with Coke Zero, doesn’t it? Also, this Tennessee-Louisville game has been the sloppiest showcase of tournament basketball I’ve ever seen.


I would have thought talking babies in commercials were passé, but eTrade has taken the idea to new heights. A baby with an adult man’s voice buys stock online and then spits up. It’s fantastic.


Seriously, did Tennessee practice this week? They don’t look like a two seed. I’ve never seen a team seeded this high play this poorly. They appear lost defensively and intimidated every time they drive to the basket.


Tennessee: 0 points in last 3:33. Adam Underhill: 0 words in last 12:44.


Finally, CBS has switched to the Western Kentucky-UCLA game, which is now a four point game after WKU was down by 21 at the half. I’m out of my stupor and excited again. March Madness, baby!


Wow. So much for that. UCLA by 12. This was a disappointing night by any standard. Hopefully we’ll see some better action tomorrow, and hopefully we won’t have to hear the “Davidson versus Goliath” pun more than six million times. If I sound cranky, it’s because I expect better. Peace.

March 31: The Final Four Column

I’ve spent the weekend painting my apartment and watching NCAA basketball, and I’ve come to two conclusions. First of all, it’s far easier to throw away used paintbrushes than to clean them, especially if they’re cheap and you don’t happen to live in a house with a basement washtub. I know that sounds wasteful, but I have no practical means to dispose of water that’s been tainted with paint and mineral spirits, so I’m probably doing the environment a favor.

Second, a Final Four with all number one seeds is the greatest thing since Batman Begins. I can’t say this with 100 percent certainty yet, since it’s never happened before, but I think it’s going to be one of the greatest Finals in NCAA history.

I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been inhaling paint fumes. Isn’t it more fun to have at least one heavy underdog (Davidson) in the mix, than to root for perennial powerhouses like North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis, and UCLA? Davidson nearly upset Kansas, after all. What about all of us fans who are sick and tired of those schools, and need to have a storyline about an improbably tiny school of 1,700 students competing on the grand stage with the (if you will) 800-pound gorillas of college roundball?

But as Carmine Falcone said to Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, “You haven’t thought it through.” You haven’t thought about the probability that a low seed in the Final Four is the main ingredient for a terrible ball game. In the past decade, we’ve seen two number eight seeds (North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2000) and one number eleven seed (George Mason in 2006) advance to the semifinals. The results of those games? Florida ran right past UNC, 71-59 (though it was close for a little while in the second half). Michigan State broke free from Wisconsin’s circa-1900 vintage game plan and “held” the Badgers to 41 points. And loveable George Mason got stomped by Florida in 2006, 73-58.

Granted, there’s been no shame in losing to the Gators the past couple of years, and GM DID upset #1 seed UConn in the previous round. But somehow, these dark horses become mystified upon reaching the threshold of the championship game. The first couple of weeks of March Madness are great times for upsets, because the schedule is so whirlwind, who has time to think about the next game? Good teams get exhausted being constantly challenged by up-and-comers, and underdogs keep pushing forward on the adrenaline and exhilaration that comes from upsetting anyone. But come Final Four time, the cream rises to the top. A heavy underdog in the mix isn’t an opportunity for a monumental upset, it’s a free pass to the title game for one lucky team.

(And I’m aware of Villanova, 1985, but that was 23 years ago. If it happened more often, people wouldn’t always bring up Villanova, 1985.)

So for those of you who won’t be tuning in because it’s all #1 seeds, that is, all great teams, competing for the championship, you’re probably going to miss out on some classic and competitive basketball. And for those of you who think I’m heartless, yes, I wanted the Patriots to win Super Bowl XLII, I loved watching Michael Jordan’s Bulls win six titles, and I prefer Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. OK??

Some other thoughts…

• In the first half of the Davidson-Wisconsin game, I looked up Davidson College on Wikipedia, and it read: “The men have competed in 10 NCAA tournaments (1966, 1968-70, 1986, 1998, 2002, 2006-08). Their last tournament victory was in 2008 over Georgetown University in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats moved onto the Sweet 16 where they will take on the University of Wisconsin Badgers. They lead 7-5 in the 1st half.” This is why I love the age in which I live.

• Davidson’s elimination did deprive us of a classic team with one guy who can take over a game and make any great team look bad (Stephen Curry). We’ve seen it before with guys like Allen Iverson at Georgetown or J.J. Reddick at Duke. But when Curry had a chance to beat Kansas at the end of the game, he got a little too greedy. Curry dribbled around the arc looking for a 3-point shot against a double team, until giving the ball up way too late to Jason Richards, whose shot never had a prayer. Curry missed an opportunity to pass to a wide open Thomas Sander at the top of the arc, who could have gotten off a trey with no one in his face, and possibly enough time for someone to rebound a miss for a tie. Sander isn’t a sharpshooter (.259 beyond the arc), but he had a much better chance of getting an open look at a game-winning shot. I admit, these things are easier to see from my living room, but Curry had to have seen him.

• Best Awkward Sportscasting Moment: When LeBron James was shown on the Jumbotron in Detroit, and the announcers started gushing over him, while the Detroit crowd booed him. I understand they probably didn’t want to embarrass the guy further, but your job as a sportscaster is to report what’s going on. There wasn’t even an acknowledgement of the boos, let alone why. I’m sure LeBron’s heart wasn’t broken, so you might as well just say, “Well Bob, I can tell the fans in the Motor City aren’t too thrilled with him, but this is Piston country.”

• Stephen Curry had a brilliant fake on Wisconsin’s Brian Butch before hitting a three-pointer. Curry caught the ball alone in the corner on a fast break, and, with Butch gathering a full head of steam, Curry barely faked (almost faking a fake), watch Butch sail past him and out of bounds, then drilled it. Everyone in the building knew the shot was going in. I think Butch kept running through the tunnel and out the door to get a seat in the emergency exit row on his plane.

• UCLA versus Xavier featured a showdown between a player named Love and a player named Lavender.

• ETrade can make a baby talk on its commercials, so why can’t CBS do the same with Shannon Sharpe?

• That stupid song from the iMac Air commercial is becoming 2008’s “This Is Our Country.” That’s not a good thing.

• In the audience at the Texas-Memphis game in Houston: Former President George H.W. Bush. It made me wonder, if you assembled all the presidents, dead and living, and had to pick a starting five, whom would you pick? Obviously Lincoln is a no-brainer, he was tall and nimble. Plus, I mean, he’s Lincoln. I wouldn’t put him at center, though. I imagine Lincoln could run the floor and shoot the three, like an uglier Dirk Nowitzki. You’d also have to include Teddy Roosevelt, arguably our most athletic president (he broke his jaw boxing in the White House). Kennedy seems like a no-brainer, since he is eternally youthful in our eyes, but the guy had a bad back and probably would have been the one to get busted with hookers and coke at a club in Miami. James Madison was only 5’4”, but could he have been like a presidential Spud Webb? And for the center position, would you go for height (George H.W. Bush), or girth (William Howard Taft)? Would the indefatigable Nixon have been an asset because of his fight, or a liability because of his propensity for dirty tricks? Well, I’ve answered your question, by assembling the Oval Office Dream Team:

G – Teddy Roosevelt. Charged up San Juan Hill. Boxed while President. Went on safari in Africa. Survived assassination attempt. Obviously, TR would not be afraid to drive the lane and get clobbered, and I’m pretty sure he’d be a 90 percent free throw shooter. Great nickname potential in “The Bull Moose.”

G – Harry S Truman. Last-second comeback over Dewey translates easily into last-second, game winning three pointers. An intimidating trash talker who never passes the buck (though seldom passes the ball).

F – George H. W. Bush. Bush was a standout athlete at Yale, a first baseman and captain on a team that lost the first two College World Series. He also was captain of the basketball and soccer teams at Phillips Academy in Andover, MD. Although Bush was intimidated into raising taxes, he gets courage points for enlisting in the Navy while underage during WWII. Probably more of a rebounder than a scorer.

F – Abraham Lincoln. Preserved the Union, so is a real team player. Great sense of humor and never takes the game too seriously. Great vision as a wartime president as well as the guy who purchased oil-rich Alaska when no one though it was a good idea. Like I said, can pound it in the paint, or take it outside.

C – Thomas Jefferson. I thought about Taft here, but the guy got stuck in his bathtub. I don’t think he’d be well-conditioned for a full-court game. Clinton seemed like a potential forward-center, but he was in only slightly better shape than Taft, and probably would get into more trouble than Kennedy off the court. Plus, his wife would meddle in his professional life more than Doug Christie’s. What you really need on a team full of all-stars is a thinking man’s center, a Bill Russell-type. Jefferson could easily take over a game if he needed too, but I bet he’d be happy playing the decoy and setting monster picks as long as it resulted in a “W.” I’m not saying the author of the Declaration of Independence would be a simple roll player, just that if anyone would could play the 5 spot and master all of its necessary skills, it’s TJ. Now, I know he was only 6’2”, but that was tall for the 18th and 19th centuries, so we’re adjusting all heights for inflation. He just wouldn’t be allowed to have slaves.

Head Coach – Franklin D. Roosevelt. Since FDR had the smarts to navigate this country through the Great Depression and World War II, the good sense to team up with the hated Soviets to win the war, and the audacity to try (and fail) to pack the Supreme Court with 15 justices, he has the right combination of brains and balls to coach this team. Plus, his team would always be rallying around him to win, you know because of the polio.

There you have it. The All-Presidents Team. Enjoy the Final Four.