I got the following NCAA tourney preview via e-mail from a friend of mine, and thought it was too good not to post. So, with his blessing and Diesel's, I present you:
The Official Jim 2008 NCAA Tournament Preview/Suicide Note
My fondest tournament memory from the last few years came in the first round game in 2006 between Michigan St. and Utah St. About five minutes in, Utah St. point guard David Pak got fouled and went to the line. As Pak shot his first free throws, the venerable Dick Enberg was obliged to share some personal information about the "young" man.
"Pak is actually a 29 year old freshman," began Enberg, cheerfully, with his customary grace and warmth, as he read whatever notes had been put in front of him.
Pause. Obviously Enberg hadn’t read the notes beforehand.
"It seems Pak actually spent seven years in prison..."
"...for the...heinous crime...of rape," stuttered poor Enberg, a broken man, his belief in humanity crushed.
The best part is that I realized David Pak was actually from my hometown and that we had once played on the same NJB all-star team in 4th grade. Yeah, that’s right, I was an all-star! Suck it!
Some thoughts on the season that was:
Duke: I don’t know how they do it, but each year Duke somehow becomes whiter and more insufferable. I thought they hit the highwater mark two years ago with J.J. Redick, who I actually liked as a player, until some of his poems were published in Sports Illustrated. Here’s a stanza:
No bandage can cover my scars
It's hard living a life behind invisible bars
Searching for the face of God
I'm only inspired by the poems of Nas
I believe this has the same scansion as Rilke’s Duino Elegies. In any case, it makes me proud as an American to know that Duke, for so long an insidious bastion of corporate virtue, inspires so much hate in so many people. Not even the delicate lyricism of J.J. Redick can redeem them. It is a moral imperative that you pick them to lose to West Virginia in the second round.
Pac-10: Out here on the West Coast, when I’m not playing beach volleyball or enjoying fresh avocados on an eerily beautiful afternoon, I like to watch games from the best conference in the country. It was brutal this year. The middle of the pack teams out here all would have competed for titles in the Big Ten, Big 12, Small 7, and SEC. There’s still a purity to the Pac-10; unlike the ACC and the Big East no new teams have been added or dropped based on the whims of television revenue and football scheduling. It’s the same teams every year in the Pac-10, playing the same home and away. God bless.
Freshman: Michael Beasley at Kansas State had a great year and will likely be the No. 1 pick. But to me, he’s the second coming of Derrick Coleman – which isn’t a good thing. Injuries bothered Eric Gordon all year, but I think he’ll turn it on in the tournament and make a bid for going No. 1 in the draft. Though I faintly despise Kevin Love – mostly because he’s related to Mike Love, the least talented of all the Beach Boys and the man responsible for "Kokomo" –there’s no denying that he’s a beast. Over at Memphis, I can’t help but note a supercilious air about freshman point Derrick Rose. Maybe it’s his elegant last name, or his high cheek bones, but he plays too much like a dauphin and I’m not convinced he can lead Memphis to the final four. In Johnny Flynn and Donta Green, Syracuse has the best freshman duo in the country, and their my early pick to win the tournament next year.
Tyler Hansborough: Torture. That’s the only way to describe watching him. He’s a walking dry heave, and yet will be national player of the year. North Carolina is a magnet for chiseled, robotic atheletes; there’s not an ounce of flavor on their entire team, which is maybe why they are No. 1 in the country.
Players I like: Deron Washington of Virginia Tech, who apparently hates Duke as much as I do. Last year he delivered the play of the year:
Greg Paulus being forced to lick Deron Washington’s balls as he soars over him – it’s an image that should be inscribed on a Grecian Urn. In both games this year, Washington went nuts, hacking every Duke player in sight, drawing technicals, and generally comporting himself like a true gentleman. I think he’s borderline Artest on the mental stability scale and I actually think he’ll make it in the NBA. Too bad Virginia Tech missed out on the tournament. It’s probably the worst tragedy ever to befall that university.
Derek Low and Kyle Weaver of Washington State, both fun to watch in really subtle ways. Low’s what they call in the business "deceptively quick" in that no one can figure out how a pudgy guy with a pony tail can get around people. Weaver is kind of a poor man’s Josh Howard, but an ambitious poor man who perhaps is getting job training at a local community center.
Mike Green of Butler – A.J. Graves, who, as his surname implies, is small, pale, and wizened, like a mortician’s assistant, was supposed to be the star for Butler, but it was Green who carried them all year. Very Andre Miller in the way gets to the basket.
Names: There is a worrying shortage of great names in college basketball this year. There’s Demontez Stitt at Clemson and Wink Adams at UNLV, but neither are worthy of the pantheon. To fill the void, here’s my all-time top 5:
5b. Majestic Mapp (Virginia)
5a. Scientific Mapp (Florida Central)
4. God Shammgod (Providence)
3. Jihad Muhammad (Cincinnati)
2. Baskerville Holmes (Memphis St.)
1. Zenon M (Cal Poly Pomona)
As a kid, I actually watched Zenon M play against Chapman "University". He was not as good as his name. The only current players who could possibly make the list are Dunky Magoo and Ipsissimus Q. Le Fist, the backcourt at South Alabama.
Now to the Brackets
Players to watch:
Tyler Smith (Tennessee): the main reason Tennessee has elevated themselves this year from underachievers with an obnoxious coach to achievers with an obnoxious coach.
David Padgett (Louisville): tough, hard working, white: these are the qualities that a dying generation of TV announcers drool over in a borderline creepy fashion.
St. Joe’s over Oklahoma in the first round; Indiana over North Carolina in the second round – D.J. White neutralizes Hansborough, Eric Gordon goes fucking sick house on their asses .
Tennessee. They are bright orange and fun to watch.
Luke Harongody of Notre Dame: he sort of looks like a ham.
Players to watch
Joe Shipp (UCLA): Love and Collison get most of the attention, but Shipp is a beast in his own right. A classic Socal baller – smooth, sleepy, and efficient, does everything well.
Joe Alexander (West Virginia): His game is catching up with his athleticism. A better, more aggressive version of Chase Budinger, whom he’ll match up with in the first round.
Nuno Gonsalves y Morbo (South Alamaba): born into poverty on the outskirts of Lisbon, this exciting sophomore has overcome the tragic and unexplained loss of his left hand to become one of the top 200 players South Alabama has ever produced.
Tame bracket. West Virginia over Duke in round 2.
UCLA. They have the easiest road to the final four.
My second favorite player on UCLA is Lorenzo Mata-Real, who looks like a cross between Dracula and a 60s mod.
Players to Watch
Ronald Ramon and LaVance Fields (Pitt): a classic NYC combo, tough, low to the ground, tricky around the basket, seeking contact. Unlike most NYC guards, Ramon can actually shoot.
Paddy Mills (St. Mary’s): insanely quick freshman from Australia, which, fun fact, is the only country that is also a continent. Great match up in the first round between he and D.J. Augustine of Texas.
Cherry "Bomb" Rogers (South Alabama): I’m looking forward to watching Rogers, the only player in Division I basketball who plays with a court-ordered tracking device around his ankle. In 2003, he was arrested in Huntsville for providing haven to wanted members of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Pitt over Memphis in the Sweet 16.
Pitt. I know I’ll regret this, but I can’t stand to see John Calipari go to the final four. Even if Memphis wins it all, I can take solace in the knowing that three years from now, Memphis will be on probation, their title will be stripped, and Calipari will be an assistant coach in the NBA. Go Pitt.
Oregon has the worst uniforms in the history of college basketball. the only possible exception were the satin unotards that N.C. State wore for one game under Jim Valvano. That’s when they had their fire and ice backcourt of Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe. Remember them? No? Then fuck you.
Players to watch
Stephen Curry (Davidson): it’s always fun when a really good player plays in a conference a notch or two below his ability and he’s given the green light to heave it whenever he wants.
Cliff Hammonds (Clemson): a player I’ve always liked in the ACC, gritty and with that little touch of idiosyncrasy in his game that belongs to all left-handed players.
Mario Chalmers (Kansas): Don’t care for him either way but he has the same last name as Superintendant Chalmers on the Simpsons: "Well, Seymour, you are an odd man, but you steam a good ham."
Barabas Van de Shock (South Alabama): his untimely suicide prevents us from seeing the Sun Belt conference’s leader in field goal percentage.
Nothing major here. Davidson over Gonzaga, but that hardly qualifies. USC to the sweet 16.
Georgetown. I love their team, love their coach. If they shoot decently at all, they’ll be fine. I just can’t get on board with Kansas – a very good but somehow anonymous team with a suspect coach.
Georgetown over Tenn
UCLA over Pitt
My fondest basketball memories – besides playing alongside future sexual predator, David Pak – involve the Big East in the mid-80s. It was all going on in NY, with the Golden Age of Hip Hop providing the soundtrack for epic battles between the likes of Pearl Washington and Walter Berry. Seduced by nostalgia, and confident in Jesuit machination, I feel like I have no choice but to make an unforgivably reckless pick in the final and take Georgetown. But I won’t. UCLA has got the goods.
UCLA over Georgetown.
(my N.I.T. picks coming soon!)
About the author: Jim Gavin is a former toilet salesman, PA for Jeopardy!, and Long Beach middle-school hoops legend. He is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction writing at Stanford University. You can read one of his published stories here.