Monday, April 8, 2013

Wrappin' it up in Atlanta

Madness is ending in about five hours and thus begins the most bittersweet sports night of the year.  Let's wrap it up here in Atlanta, a wonderful host for this 75th Final Four.

- Worst attire:  Michigan fans need to figure out that this is college hoops--football jerseys are not appropriate attire.

- Best fans:  The fan count, at least downtown, was as close as the betting line for tonight's game.

- Best exhibit:  Bracket Town, the NCAA's fan festival, was open for the last day today and continued to draw great crowds.  The LG presence, in particular, was well done with a fan interactive tour through an LG "house," complete with phone, television, washer-dryer and kitchen appliances.

- Worst TV:  Speaking of LG, the television section of their exhibit included old models.  The 1957 triple overtime thriller, where North Carolina beat Kansas, was showing on one of the old boxes.

- Best song:  Michigan's "Hail to the Victors."

- Creepiest mascot:  The Wichita State Shocker.  Dude...the facial expression.

- Best scheduling:  For the first time ever, the championship games of the NCAA Division II and Division III tournaments were held in the same city as the Final Four.

- What's up with the licensing:  It's a battle of two Adidas schools here in the final--Michigan and Louisville.  But, don't look for the actual sideline wear of either team in your local sporting goods store--they only sell the replica model.

- Worst cheer:  "Go Blue."  Sure, it's a fine cheer but have you all noticed that your team is wearing neon yellow all the time?  (The last time I checked, maize is defined as the color of corn, which is a far more muted yellow.)

- Best coach:  Rick Pitino.  If Pitino wins this evening, he'll have guided two schools to a national title.  And, irony of ironies, those two schools reside in the same state and are bitter rivals.

- Who'll be the X factor tonight:  If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Nik Stauskas of Michigan who will open up the offense by hitting from outside.

- Most obvious quote:  Mike Slive, Commissioner of the SEC, in the elevator, "I wish we had a team here."  Every coach, every athletics director, and every commissioner who's not involved with these four schools is thinking the same thing.

- And, the winner is:  Michigan.  Why?  Just because...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The view from the Georgia Dome

The dust has settled from Semi-Final Saturday and methinks we couldn't have asked for a more entertaining match-up than what we'll get on Monday night between Michigan and Louisville in the national championship game.  Here's a breakdown of Saturday from my view inside, and outside, the Georgia Dome.

- Pre-game:  Ludacris entertained fans in Centennial Park, close by the dome, at a concert preceding the first game between Louisville and Wichita State.  I determined, though, that my place at Stats at the CBS pre-party  was just fine--a cold beverage, food and a seat overlooking Marietta Street, on a 65 degree day, seemed the better play.

- How were your seats:  The announced attendance was 75,350--keep in mind that about 10% of those in attendance sat in decent seats with reasonable sight lines.

- Air Thompson:  Before there was Air Jordan there was David Thompson, the sky walker from North Carolina State, who unfortunately played in the college age where dunking was not allowed.  Thompson sat in the row ahead of us and sported a Wolfpack polo shirt and cap.

- Best jersey:  The best jersey of the night belonged to a 60+ year old gentleman who sported a top that had "Hickory" on the front and "Chitwood" on the back.  (Fans of Hoosiers will get it...)

- Random sightings in the crowd:  Will Ferrell (isn't he a USC guy?) and Denard Robinson, Michigan's star quarterback.

- Former bench player who now may be a lottery pick:  Mitch McGary of Michigan.  McGary's motor doesn't stop--he had 10 points, 12 boards, 6 assists and 2 blocks last night.

- Second half cool down:  C.J. Fair of Syracuse had 18 points at half but was held in check in the second half, finishing with 22.

- What happened, MCW?  Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse wilted under Final Four pressure, going one for six from the field, accounting for five turnovers and fouling out, all the while bitching at the officiating crew.

- The mid-major effect:  It will be very interesting to track what Wichita State's Final Four appearance does to school enrollment, and to coach Gregg Marshall's recruiting efforts.  The Shockers return stud Cleanthony Early next year, along with Fred VanFleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Chadrack Lufile and Jake White.

- Most vocal fans:  Michigan gets the nod as the most vocal fans, as they were into it from the time the first game ended.  But, seriously, can you all please spend $20 and buy a basketball-related t-shirt versus wearing Michigan football jerseys?  I get the whole Big House tradition and such, but this is hoops, people!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The view from Atlanta

The best day in sports has arrived.

Yes, semi-final Saturday at the Final Four is the best day in sports.  There is no event that provides the drama and excitement that is felt by the teams and fan bases of these four schools as all think that they are two wins away from a national championship.

In this Final Four town, excitement rose dramatically yesterday as Friday is typically the big fan arrival day.  Unlike New Orleans and San Antonio, or Indianapolis, a host city like Atlanta does not offer the convenient, compressed areas where fans gather so it's hard to judge who's winning the fan attendance battle, but my money's on Louisville.

Here are some odds-and-ends observations from the Peach State thus far:

- Atlanta's downtown hotels are feeling very dated.  The Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Hilton and Westin were all built in the mid-1970's to mid-1980's and feature that architectural design of the time--the large, expansive atrium.  All of these hotels are dark, concrete and brick.

- Curious how to find a coach in Atlanta?  Look for the guys in sweat suits.  As is the custom, the coaches mingle in their hotel lobbies, all adorned in their respective team sweats.  Thankfully, Kurtis Townsend of Kansas broke the mold this morning, looking very dapper at breakfast in suit and tie.

- Final Four alumni are always present, it seems, at this event.  Spottings thus far include Christian Laettner (Duke), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Jim Harrick (UCLA), Eddie Fogler (South Carolina) and many other former coaches and administrators.  Maybe that's one reason fan tickets are so hard to come by.

- The Georgia World Congress Center, close by the Georgia Dome, is the site of this year's Bracket Town, a fan festival sponsored by the NCAA's Corporate Partners.  The event has grown huge since its inception as Fan Jam and Hoop City in the 1990's.

- If you're wondering whatever happened to Bonnie Bernstein, the CBS journalist who famously had Roy Williams respond "I don't give a *!#t about North Carolina" in response to her question in 2003, she's a host on IMG's Campus Insider television show, which broadcast live last night from IMG Learfield's Final Four Party.

- Basketball Times, not exactly a mainstream publication, is being distributed to primary hotels in Atlanta this week.  This issue (April) of the publication included their ranking of the Top 60 College Coaches and the Top 50 Assistant Coaches.  Not surprisingly, they chose Mike Krzyzewski of Duke as number one.  The remainder of the top ten were Rick Pitino (Louisville), Larry Brown (SMU), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Bill Self (Kansas), John Calipari (Kentucky), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Billy Donovan (Florida) and Mark Few (Gonzaga.)  (No specific criteria was offered on how the selections were made.)  Other coaches and their rankings:  Bob Huggins (West Virginia) - 12, Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) - 24, Scott Drew (Baylor) - 25, Bruce Weber (Kansas State) - 27, Shaka Smart (VCU) - 30, Rick Barnes (Texas) - 38, Mark Turgeon (Maryland) - 39, Frank Haith (Missouri) - 40, and Mike Anderson (Arkansas) - 41.  Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) was number two in the "Next 55" and Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State) was number three on the list of "Up-and-Coming Coaches."  (Dave Rice of UNLV topped the up-and-comers list.)  As for Assistant Coaches, Kansas was well represented with Joe Dooley (one), Norm Roberts (six) and Kurtis Townsend (eight.)