It's always nice to be reminded of why you do what you do. For me, this has been a really nice opportunity to see up close the emotion and spirit involved in college sports, and there is no better place to see pure, raw emotion than the NCAA Tournament. It's incredible, and it always reminds me why sports are so great and so needed in our society.
Enough philosophizing. Let's get to the action.
It is at this point that I would like to remind you that I predicted the EXACT OUTCOME of the Arkansas/Bucknell game. Score and everything. Why didn't I put some money on that? Can you even bet on the exact score of a game? Anyway, my girlfriend is an Arkansas fan, and she has blamed me for the loss today. Apparently I have a lot more power than I realize. So, to all the Arkansas fans out there (and to one in particular), I'm sorry if somehow my exact pick caused some sort of cosmic, space-time shift that meant the score I predicted would come to pass. My bad.
As far as the game is concerned, Arkansas has only themselves to blame for this one -- bad free throw shooting and poor decisions with the ball hurt them badly. Ronnie Brewer went through several stretches where he simply did not touch the ball at all. He's your absolute best -- your number one player -- he simply has to touch it far more than he did. Bucknell's disciplined, they're smart, and they limit the possessions of their opposition. It was a combination that Stan Heath and the Razorbacks had little answer for.
I do not understand why Arkansas didn't press Bucknell more. In fact, they didn't even push the tempo at all, for some reason. When Arkansas pressed them late in the game, Bucknell wilted. But it was too late.
A lot of credit goes to Razorback Nation, who showed up in force in Dallas. Tons of Hog fans, tons of folks callin' those Hogs all the time -- the atmosphere was great, and would have been even louder on Sunday had Arkansas won (many more fans had planned to make the trip this weekend). Conversely, Bucknell didn't have a huge following, but what was there was loud. And different. Allow me to illustrate: one Bucknell fan, angry over a perceived bad call, screamed the following phrase: "What a farce!"
What a farce?
Yeah, Bucknell's fans are different. But they were much happier at the end. Memphis has some work to do to prepare for Bucknell, because they are certainly a much different team than Oral Roberts. Or just about anyone the Tigers played this season.
I'll get to Memphis/ORU thoughts in a moment. First, a few things:
--The NCAA is very anal. You may have known this already judging by the way they enforce their rules with the players/coaches/schools. However, it's hammered into your skull when you cover one of their events. First of all, they are "student-athletes", not "players". Secondly, when you are in the media section, you have to drink from a specific NCAA/Dasani labeled cup. Every time. They give the ushers huge stacks of these cups to make sure that all the media in their section have the proper cups. It's ridiculous.
--TV timeouts suck. TV timeouts suck worse in person. NCAA Tournament TV timeouts are interminably boring. You want to jam an ice pick into your skull because there's so much downtime. It's just asinine. If you're looking for an upside, here's the only one: you do get plenty of chances to check out various cheerleaders, which isn't bad at all.
--American Airlines Center is beautiful. The exterior is really nice -- much better, in my opinion, than FedExForum -- and the interior playing area is cool. There are no hustle boards or big scoreboards in the arena, which is something I've gotten used to having spent so much time in FedExForum. The media area of FedExForum is much better, not only because it is dedicated to the memory of the great Don Poier, but also because it's just easier to maneuver in the Forum.
--Saw Tim Cowlishaw and J.A. Adande from ESPN's Around the Horn fulfilling their newspapery obligations. Adande seems cool, but I have to be honest and tell you that Cowlishaw came across as a bit of a jackass. I didn't talk to either, so I may well be totally off-base here. Just my thoughts.
--Nice touch by the NCAA and whoever sponsored it to throw in a media relaxation center complete with XBox 360. I played a little Fight Night Round 3 with a couple of colleagues and I don't mind telling you I absolutely pounded them. I dare say no one can touch my Fight Night skills. Bring it!
Now, to Memphis' win over Oral Roberts. The Memphis fan contingent wasn't particularly huge -- in fact, Oral Roberts probably had more fans in AAC -- but it was hopping. The Tiger fans were fired up right from the get go. Local, um, "celebrity" Mark Goodfellow was in the house (remarkably conservatively dressed), as was actual celebrity Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.
Oral Roberts was on fire throughout this game. They were hitting shot after shot, and they gave Memphis a nice run for the first 15 minutes or so. Memphis got a tad sloppy with the ball and committed a few too many fouls, but apart from that, they didn't make too many huge mistakes. ORU simply played really, really well for a big part of this game. A lot of credit should go to their coach Scott Sutton and to Caleb Green, their really skilled big man.
However, the Tigers shot the ball well, ran their offense nicely, and managed to avoid too many lulls that would have caused them trouble. I was impressed with the composure of Shawne Williams, Antonio Anderson, and the rest of the young Tigers who had never played an NCAA Tournament game. Shawne Williams told me after the game he considered this a "walk in the park". I asked him to clarify, and he said that he had been playing basketball his whole life, and this was no different for him and the other young Tigers. If they can keep this attitude going, it will serve them well.
Joey Dorsey did not play particularly well. That has to change eventually if the Tigers are going to go deep in the tournament. He looked frustrated with the tight officiating and with the physicality and trash talk of Caleb Green. Green is a smacktalker -- big time. He was jawing and smirking and getting under Dorsey's skin. Kareem Cooper did a nice job in more minutes than he's used to seeing, but Dorsey is really important to this team.
It was a very business-like locker room for the Tigers. One down, more to go. We'll see if they can get it done Sunday.
--My man from Northwestern State had some serious cojones to take and hit that shot, huh? Iowa, feel free to talk to 1997 Ole Miss to find out what it will be like to see that shot repeated over and over for the next decade-plus.
--Albany? Albany was up 50-38 on UConn? What kind of crazy world are we living in? Of course, Connecticut went ahead and finished with a 34-9 run, but still. Remarkable effort by the Great Danes.
--Nice 2nd half, Michigan State. Terrible.
--How can people argue that this isn't the best 4 days in sports? I love the tournament.