Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Cure for March Madness

Apparently it's losing.

Left for Buffalo last Wednesday. Did my Wednesday night radio show from the car, because I'm just that dedicated. And out of my mind, as I mentioned previously. Ain't technology great? Rolled on up through the wilds of central Pennsylvania in ever-thickening fog until I called it quits around midnight at DuBois, PA.

The next morning was one of those classic "good news, bad news" mornings.

Good news: I was out the door on time. Bad news: it was raining.

Good news: it stopped raining. Bad news: it started sleeting.

Good news: it stopped sleeting. Bad news: it started snowing.

In spite of all this, I eventually made my way into downtown Buffalo and reached the HSBC Center (sidebar: on the ride over, the media shuttle driver told us that HSBC really stands for "holy shit, Buffalo's cold!") moments before tip-off of the opening game, between Maryland and Davidson. Highlight of that game: hearing Davidson fans chanting, "Sweat, Gary, sweat!" Maryland head coach Gary Williams can sweat through a suit like no man I have ever seen. It's impressive.

Second game was ODU-Butler. There was a scramble to get seats, but thanks to the NCAA media coordinator on-site I was able to get set up. The Maryland student radio crew made room, and the VCU student radio crew helped out with the broadcast. We didn't have a great vantage point, unfortunately, and the show suffered for it, but hey: I was there. Highlight: I said in pregame that it would be a defensive struggle between two teams that were usually happy being first to 60 - and that today it might be a race to 50. I was right - unfortunately, it was Butler that won the race and the game, 57-46. Going on a 17-0 run and hitting four straight 3-pointers late in the second half will do that.

Third game was an instant classic between Duke and VCU. I'd seen VCU play four times this year and I'd picked them to beat Duke. VCU doesn't have much of an inside game, but their guards are much better; I predicted Duke would try to pound the ball inside and hope their guards didn't lose the game for them. That's pretty much what happened; Josh McRoberts scored 22 points and had 12 rebounds, while Greg Paulus scored 25 but also committed six turnovers, and VCU's Eric Maynor had eight assists to go with his 22 points, including the game-winning jumper with 1.8 seconds left. It was a tremendous ballgame, and I was had the best seat in the house: first row, center court. Media overflow seating. Life is good with a press pass.

Fourth game was a Pitt blowout of Wright State. I didn't mind; it was a relaxing end to a very long day. Went back to the hotel for one last round of "good news, bad news."

Good news: I was staying at the Hyatt-Regency. Bad news: I was sleeping on the floor.

Hey, some days you take what you can get.

Out west, the Lady Monarchs lost in the first round to Florida State, so ODU basketball is done for the year. I have a little more work to do, but our baseball coverage starts this weekend. For me, March Madness is over, but another season is beginning.

I love this job.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mid-Major Madness

I'm out of my mind.

Since last I blogged, the uncertainty of February has passed. The seeds have been drawn, the brackets laid out. Now everybody knows where they're going. Now everybody knows what they have to do if they are to "survive and advance," as Jimmy V used to say.

The Old Dominion Monarchs won out, finishing their regular season on an 11-game winning streak that gave them a mark of 16-2 and a No.2 seed in the CAA tournament. I was there for two days of madness at the Richmond Coliseum - and there was no place I would have rather been. The atmosphere was unbelievable. At halftime of the ODU-Towson game two Saturdays ago, I looked around at the banners, the fans, the whole place - and I knew: this is where I belong. This is what I'm going to do.

It's March Madness. I've got it.

Got it bad.

ODU won that game, a 58-55 nail-biter, on the strength of Brian Henderson's 24 points (he shot 6 for 9 from 3-point range.) The next day they lost to George Mason, 79-63, in a game they never led. Would the 24-8 overall mark, the 12-game winning streak, the toughest schedule in the CAA, the road win at Georgetown, would it all be enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament?

No way to know. Got to wait it out. Seven days to Selection Sunday.

The madness isn't only in the men's game. It's in the women's game too. And the Lady Monarchs have had it for years - to the tune of three national championships. And 15 straight CAA championships.

It is at this juncture that I feel I should point out that ODU only joined the CAA 15 years ago.

This year's edition of the CAA tournament was held at the University of Delaware, and while I missed the first couple rounds, I was there for the championship game against James Madison. The top two teams in the league, they'd split their regular-season series, and to top it off, this was a rematch of last year's title game. It was also the last crack at the Lady Monarchs for a very talented group of JMU seniors, led by one of the best players in the country, 6-foot 3-inch center Meredith Alexis. She'd only averaged a double-double (18.7 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game) for the season. No big deal, right?

Did I mention she went for 20 points and 20 rebounds against No.3 seed Delaware in their semifinal game last Saturday?

If anything, the atmosphere was more electric than in Richmond. The two best teams (and they are very good teams) slugging it out - one team to retain its throne, the other to usurp it.

Score one more for the ancien régime. ODU 78, JMU 70. They'll play Florida State next Saturday in the NCAA Tournament.

So after that it was a five-hour drive home down the Delmarva peninsula. But this Sunday was not only championship Sunday for the women, but Selection Sunday for the men.

And the Monarchs got in. They drew a 12-seed in the Midwest region; they'll face 5-seed Butler (the Horizon League runner-up and a super mid-major, if you will) on Thursday in Buffalo.

I'll be there.

I'll be there in part because I spent today working the phones to make it happen, but mostly I'll be there because I'm out of my mind. I'm going to drive from Norfolk to Buffalo. By myself. It's only 600 miles each way.

But if you're a mid-major, you don't get these chances very often. When you do get them, you've got to take advantage of them. You'd be a fool not to give it your best shot. It's March Madness, baby!

Out of my mind. Back in a month.