By John Boyle Herald Columnist
MY COUCH, Wash. — Yes, there are worse ways to spend two days of “work.”
With the NCAA Tournament kicking off Thursday (and I don’t care how they try to label things, those Tuesday/Wednesday games were play-in games, not the first round), it seemed logical that the best course of action for a sportswriter would be to spend the better part of two days flipping between four channels while watching as much college basketball as possible.
And after two days of watching countless dunks (thank you, Florida Gulf Coast University), video reviews (seriously, when did officials review everything in the closing minutes of college basketball games?) and a smattering of close finishes, upsets and blowouts, I am more convinced than ever that this past Thursday and Friday kicked off the best time of year in sports.
After all, if we weren’t meant to watch copious amounts of hoops the past few days, why would it have snowed around the Puget Sound region in late March? I mean, if that’s not a sign that you should be watching basketball, not working, I don’t know what is.
It’s not that this wonderful stretch of spring, which begins with 32 basketball games in two days and rolls into the beginning of baseball season and the Masters, is hands down the best time for watching sports. You can easily make a good argument that the stretch of September when football and the baseball playoffs begin is equally full of excitement, anticipation, and drama. And it’s also tough to beat the divisional round of the NFL playoffs for a stand-alone weekend of sports viewing.
However, what makes this time of year so special, what makes sports fans wax nostalgic every year when we turn on CBS and hear “da da da da da daaaa da da” is this: This is a beginning. Especially in a corner of the country where there is no NBA (temporarily, we hope), this past Thursday and Friday represent the beginning of a much more entertaining time for sports fans after a slow winter. The Sounders are a couple of weeks into their season, the Mariners’ opening day is just around the corner and for the next couple of weeks, no matter what your college affiliation, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the madness of March.
And if playoff football is your thing, well then hopefully you caught Friday night’s World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Costa Rica that was played in a Colorado blizzard. Was it playoff football on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field or Soldier Field? Not quite, but it was World Cup qualifying futbol in the snow. Close enough, right?
So with a few breaks for other work — hey this wasn’t all fun, I had to write a bit about the Seahawks and Sounders while also watching basketball — I started my Thursday with the tipoff of Michigan State and Valparaiso. I ended it by flipping between snowy soccer and the night’s final four games.
By the time it was all over, I had not only seen some amazing games, I had even learned where truTV was on my cable TV provider. In between, I tried to figure out just how long it takes New Mexico State’s 7-foot-5, 360-pound freshman Sim Bhullar to get down the court. I relocated to a friend’s house hoping that a change of scenery would lead to more exciting games. It worked. I learned to appreciate the antics of Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson (Seriously, look him up. You’ll either think he’s hilarious or hate him). And I felt slightly better about my poor prognosticating skills when I saw that none of ESPN’s 8.15 million tournament challenge entries still had perfect brackets.
The two-day hoops binge featured ugly games (Butler-Bucknell). It had thrilling ones (Marquette-Davidson) and scares for No. 1 seeds (take a deep breath, Gonzaga and Kansas). There were just plain weird games. (La Salle and Illinois both won Friday while making only three field goals in the second half). Plus there were enough upsets to ruin everyone’s bracket yet again, none more shocking than No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast’s win over second-seeded Georgetown.
And how ‘bout those FGCU Eagles? Is there anything better in the tournament — hell, in sports — than an out-of-nowhere upstart knocking off a powerhouse program? Georgetown is college basketball royalty while the Eagles were not just in their first NCAA Tournament, they’re in just their second season being eligible for Division I postseason play.
Georgetown had played in four final fours before FGCU was founded in 1991. Yet it was the Eagles who pushed the tempo, who were fearless and who provided what will go down as the tournament’s indelible moment, barring an amazing buzzer beater in the later rounds.
FGCU’s indelible moment? With just under two minutes to play and the Eagles clinging to a shrinking lead, guard Brett Comer had the ball and a chance to run precious seconds off the clock. Instead, he inexplicably tossed an underhanded lob pass to Chase Fieler. The pass was surely too high, surely too far behind Fieler, but he kept elevating, snatching the ball out of the air one-handed and, in the same motion, throwing down a highlight-reel dunk. It was the perfect exclamation point not just on that game, but on two days of basketball.
Cinderella didn’t just crash the Big Dance, she dunked all over it. It was spectacular, it was thrilling and it was a reminder of just how fun this time of year can be for sports fans.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.