I do not have any money riding on it — because I don’t have any money — but I sure wish I did. Fifteen of my Sweet 16 are alive, and if it were not for the Anteaters of Cal-Irvine beating Kansas State in the first round I might have had a shot at having all 16 correct (not a perfect bracket, just all 16 still alive).
At the last minute last Wednesday I decided to fill out an NCAA men’s basketball tourney bracket just for fun, and to see how poorly I could do against those who use colors, letters, tossed darts, how their dog reacts to a name, etc. when it comes to picking the winners.
I am the first to admit that I follow basketball almost not at all, a radical departure that began around five years ago. Until then I could name 10 players suiting up for the Fighting Illini and at least five playing for DePaul and Alabama.
Then ESPN would not shut up about the NBA. I loathe the NBA and the style of basketball now prevalent the the professional level, and I (like many of you, I bet) are sick and tired of hearing about LeBron and Steph and Kyrie and Kevin and on and on and on, on and on and on all year.
In my opinion, the one-and-done situation has ruined college basketball. Time was when you knew players on a team, and if they were a good one and playing on a team you didn’t like, you could have fun hating on them and eagerly awaiting the end of their playing days.
Remember Scott Skiles at Michigan State? Brian Cardinal at Purdue? Anthony Peeler at Mizzou? Steve Alford at Indiana? They and so many others served a great purpose, both positive and negative — it kept interest alive, and you knew they were going to be there, seemingly for six or seven years in the above cases.
The king of the just-go-away players, in my book, was Iowa’s Jess Settles. The Winfield-Mt. Union grad had one fluke year, then milked it for several additional seasons, during which he never again reached the level of his fine freshman season.
Settles was exactly the kind of player I should have rooted against, but instead I loved him. Loved him sitting there eating up a scholarship. Come back, Jess! I begged every year.
Illini-haters will no doubt, think back to the six-year Doug Altenberger run, the unending Kendal Gill days and more. I get that it works both ways, but, again, it kept it interesting.
Now you often don’t know who or what or how, and I think it has diluted fan interest overall, if only a little bit. It certainly has for me.
Of course I will still watch — I have receded that far back into the cave. It just isn’t as fun anymore, although it is still exciting when teams I don’t root for lose (heh heh heh).
We can all look forward to more head-scratching calls and non-calls, boneheaded coaching decisions, outstanding individual efforts, a few tantalizing battles and fabulous cheerleaders.
Hopefully your bracket is still intact. Hopefully some exciting games will help reignite my passion for college hoops. Hopefully all the games are thrillers that end without having the officials part of the discussion. And hopefully the announcers will say “Road to the Final Four” less than 70,000 times.