Last week, the Men's Basketball Tournament visited Omaha. Of course, because I'm just that awesome, I was able to buy tickets a year ago. Mind you, the tickets were never made available to the general public -- you had to be a Creighton season ticket holder to get them. But of course, as a Jaybacker and ticket holder for years, that wasn't a problem for me.
Anyway, I had the chance to buy eight tickets, and I should have done so. Not so I could have scalped them -- although I could have made, by some media accounts, $1500 for a pair -- but because I had a lot of friends ask me for tickets, and I would have loved to help them out. I think scalpers are scum, especially ones who made $1500 for tickets with a face value of $53.
For the four games on Thursday, my college roommate drove up from Des Moines. For the two games on Saturday, Gilby Clarke joined me. A journey through a cornucopia of hoops and other stuff follows. Since the games were all blowouts, the stories below mostly revolve around everything BUT the games. You bet.
Gilby works for a design shop downtown, and through a confluence of events, wasn't going to be using his parking spot. He asked if I wanted to use it, which of course I did. It was going to be 60 degrees and sunny, and parking around the Qwest Center would be tough to come by, so why not?
Besides, a six-block walk on a beautiful day allowed us to take in the sights and sounds of the fans and teams at the NCAA Tournament as they partied in the Old Market. We walked down 10th Street, and every bar was the "official" bar for one team or another. You had the Kansas State bar, the UNLV bar, and so forth. There was no Wisconsin bar, because as far as I could tell, there were drunk Sconnies in every bar. Keep in mind it was 10:30 am. If there's one thing I learned from living with two Sconnies in college, its that they can drink like no one's business. Its like they have a hollow leg or something.
GAME ONE: (1) Kansas vs (16) Portland State
A 16 seed has never won. NEVER. Its never, ever, ever happened. Oh, sure, there have been close calls. Murray State took Michigan State to overtime in 1990 before losing, Western Carolina missed a shot at the buzzer that would have beaten Purdue in 1996, and Fairfield almost beat North Carolina in 1997. I'd be remiss in forgetting Gilby's own Albany Great Danes, who two years ago led UCONN by 12 points (!) in the second half before losing.
But usually, a 1 v 16 game is a blowout. This was no different, although I wanted badly to send the throngs of Kansas fans home with a loss. By mid-way through the first half, the game was over.
This led to discussions of things other than the game, of course. Namely, why is the University of Kansas known as "KU"? This is something that has long perplexed me. Its an old Big Eight Conference thing, I think. The University of Nebraska is "NU", not "UN" as it should be. The University of Missouri is "MU" not "UM". Colorado is "CU", not "UC". Oklahoma is "OU". And so on and so forth. Every other school in the country does it the right way -- and I say "right" because the majority rules here -- except for the old Big Eight schools.
I've always suspected it has to do with Kansas and Kentucky's rivalry in basketball. Kentucky has more national titles, but Kansas' first coach literally invented the game. Kentucky goes by "UK", so Kansas probably went with "KU". The rest of their conference followed suit. Seems plausible. Either that or they're all dyslexic.
As if I needed another reason to cheer for Portland State, their mascot is the Vikings. But in yet another issue of great semantic importance, their abbreviation for Vikings is spelled "Viks". Really, their cheerleaders had signs that read "Go Viks!". Now, I suppose that's technically correct, but the Minnesota Vikings use the friendlier looking "Vikes" abbreviation, and that's what I'm used to seeing. Viks actually looks more Nordic, though, now that I think about it. Just looks weird.
In a related story, Mark Mangino was at the game. Insert your own joke about huge guys in tiny arena seats here.
At the end of the game, Portland State had the ball down 24 points. The crowd yelled out "SHOOT!", knowing full well the spread was 22.5 points. A three would screw over all the gamblers. Alas, they didn't shoot.
Kansas 85, Portland State 61
GAME TWO: (8) UNLV vs (9) Kent State
During the break between games, we went out to get lunch. By "lunch", I mean "nachos". Qwest Center Nachos are the epitome of bland, generic badness: flavorless tortilla chips and mild cheese sauce in a big plastic compartment tray. I know this from all the Creighton games I go to at the Qwest Center. Between games and concerts, I've been to over 85 events at the arena. So if anyone knows the concessions, its me. I've had everything at least once.
And despite their apparent blandness, there's something about nachos that you just can't screw up. Nachos Equals Delicious, all of the time, no arguments.
To eat those delicious nachos, we went into the Club Lounge, better known as the fancy suite that you have to donate $5000 to the Jaybackers to get into at at Jays game. My donor level puts me, oh, about $4750 short of that, so clearly I'm not seeing the inside of that room anytime soon. But for the NCAA Tournament, it was open to the public, so I wanted to take advantage of it.
Our adventure with Teh Rich Folkz was wholly uneventful, except for the grumblings of a bitter old man who was doubly pissed. One, the NCAA had covered up all the beer taps because you can't sell beer at championship events. Two, and I quote, "Who are all these damn people in my lounge? Peasants!" Nice, dude.
Also inside the club lounge, we saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "Don't Hassle The Hoff", with a nice line-art mug shot of Hasselhoff. I must find of these shirts and buy it immediately.
The 8 v 9 battle between the UNLV Runnin' Rebels and the Kent State Golden Flashes tipped 30 minutes after the first game ended, or at around 1:45 pm. By 2 pm, the game was over. In the first half, Kent State averaged nearly a turnover a minute, made just 5 of 24 shots, and didn't score a single point from the 11:31 mark until the 3:54 mark. It was 31-10 at the half.
Here's the worst thing: Kent State is a good team. You don't make it to the tournament if you suck. This wasn't like Creighton blowing out a bad Evansville team in January. The crowd almost felt sorry for them. Almost. But then they remembered that we were being forced to watch perhaps the worst half of basketball in the history of the NCAA Tournament, and then we felt sorry for ourselves.
Late in the first half, we made an unsettling discovery: the timeout videos were the same as they were in the first half. Just as she had in the first game, Nebraska volleyball player Sarah Pavan was awarded the Top VIII Award. And then at halftime, just as she had in the first game, she was featured in a lengthy profile. Early in the second half, just as he had in the first game, John Glenn was given the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award. Did you know John Glenn was the first man to orbit the Earth? If you didn't, you would know it after going to Thursday's games, because you would have heard it four times.
Simply put, the ridiculously long glorification of Sarah Pavan was Monty Python-esque. I went out to use the bathroom during the game, and overheard a guy ask how she manages a 4.0 GPA while playing v-ball. During the Wisconsin game that night, I went out to use the bathroom and overheard almost the exact same conversation. Seriously, it was like I was a decidedly un-funny version of Groundhog Day, only instead of "I Got You Babe" it was a Sarah Pavan video.
Back on topic: even if Kent State hadn't been sucking so badly, I would have been compelled to root for UNLV. The reasons were two-fold.
One, sitting behind the UNLV bench was Larry Johnson, or as a generation of TV viewers remembers him, Grandmama.
Larry signed autographs for the kids, posed for photos, and generally was the best PR guy UNLV could possibly have. Those were some damn good UNLV teams, weren't they? I miss those days. Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony. You bet.
Two, The Rebel Girls. 'Nuff said. I overheard the kid in front of me tell his dad that he felt like he owed them each a dollar. Indeed.
Kent State's continued ineptness stretched into the second half, and when the John Glenn video came on a second time, I got slap happy. My buddy John was incredulous. "Settle down, you're getting slappy!" But I was already off and running. During a five minute delay to settle what ultimately called a foul, the guy in front of me asked me what the call was. I told him "CBS has to show another Applebee's commercial." This became code for every timeout: Time for another Applebee's commercial!
UNLV 71, Kent State 58
GAME THREE: (6) USC vs (11) Kansas State
After a two-hour break for beers and pizza at Old Chicago, we returned to the Qwest Center for perhaps the most anticipated first-round game of the entire tournament. 32 games across 8 sites, and this game was the most looked-forward-to. NBA Legend Pat Riley was in attendance to scout the players. The two best freshmen in the country, USC's O.J. Mayo and Kansas State's Michael Beasley, were on the court. And we were in attendance.
I thought I would be overcome with the irony of another superstar O.J. playing for USC, but then I looked at the Song Girls and pretty much forgot everything else I was going to say. Funny how that happens.
Beasley and Mayo put on a quite a show, but were almost upstaged by fellow freshman Bill Walker, who dominated the first half. Well, he and Sarah Pavan, who once again won the Top VIII Award.
When the couple sitting next to us came back to their seats before the game, I said to him, "Say, I got an inside tip that Sarah Pavan is going to win an award tonight, so be on the lookout for that." He replied, "You know, I hear John Glenn is going to win an award too!"
This game was actually good basketball with lots of great plays and players, so I don't have a lot of great stories to tell you. I spent my time seriously, enjoying a great game. Here's a summary: USC Song Girls are dominant, Kansas State Classy Cats Dancers not as much. Kansas State's freshmen are dominant, USC's freshmen not as much. Kansas State is dominant, USC not so much.
Kansas State 80, USC Much much less
GAME FOUR: (3) Wisconsin vs (14) Cal-State Fullerton
The fourth game of the day featured the Sconnies against Cal-State Fullerton, a College World Series staple. Fullerton made the game close for a while, but then like everybody else during the day, they pretended to be a chair and folded.
During the second TV timeout -- a chance for CBS to show another Applebee's commercial, no doubt -- the glorification of Sarah Pavan continued. I couldn't take it anymore and stood up to cheer loudly and obnoxiously, and with that, I was off. John could not stop it: hours of caffeine, sugar, beer and Sarah Pavan videos had pushed me over the edge.
I wondered aloud if Mark Mangino, Pat Riley, Grandmama, John Glenn and Sarah Pavan were partying in a suite, and if they were, if they had been smart enough not to let Mangino go through the buffet line first.
I turned the Fullerton fight song into the John Glenn Anthem. "Da da da da, da da da JOHN! GLENN!"
I wondered how many times Moose had rented a car to go to his 10-Year High School Reunion. The Enterprise commercial has been a staple of CBS NCAA telecasts for about three years, and it never disappoints. Who can forget the immortal Moose licking his eyebrows into place in a mirror and saying, "Class of '95, Here I come! Uh huh!"
How those girls he graduated with are fooled by his rented Cadillac, I'll never know. What they really say: "Looking good, Moose!" What they should say: "Say Moose, what's that giant-ass 'e' sticker on the bumper stand for?" And his answer? "Oh, that silly thing? It's the 'e' in Moose!"
I nearly broke the armrest off my chair while re-enacting the Moose commercial for the guy in front of me who didn't know what I was talking about.
I wondered why the Fullerton band leader was wearing a QB towel on his belt. He looked like John Elway in the 1987 AFC Championship Game. Seriously, a band leader working himself into such a lather that he needs a towel at his immediate disposal to dry off? What's the worst that could happen, his conductor stick slips out of his sweaty hands and flies away?
I mentioned out loud that two of the Fullerton players looked like they had beer guts. The guy in front of me turned around and said, "To be fair, so do a couple of their cheerleaders." Ouch. I did not say that, I just reprinted it. Horrible.
Wisconsin 71, Cal-State Fullerton 56
Coming tomorrow: More from the NCAA Tournament's second day in Omaha, including stories from Saturday's games.