Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SPORTS >> Big Dance gives fans most bang for bucks

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Well, itís late March, and you know what that means.

Thatís right, up in Cabot, where I live, itís time to take down the Christmas decorations.

Oh, and itís also time for the NCAA Tournament.

The brackets are out and no one is getting any work done, unless discussing your picks by the water cooler or trying to come up with an errand that can place you in front of a television during a first-round game is considered work.

I try to make it a point, especially as a sports editor, to encourage interest in all sports and keep an open mind, though I must admit I have struggled to find a reason to enjoy the cacophonous and defensively challenged Arena Football, a game I like to call ďheadache in a can.Ē

I also, admittedly, have never filled out a tournament bracket. Or if I have, the experience was so unproductive I have blocked it from my mind. I try to not even say the words ďMarch Madness,Ē because clichťs like that are lemon juice in the eyes of a sports editor.

Yet I think the NCAA Tournament is one of the best run, best broadcast, most efficient and exciting sporting events in these here United States. If baseball is too slow for you, if you realize, and are dismayed by, the fact there are only 11-13 minutes of actual action in a standard NFL game, then menís college basketball should be for you.

Ever since someone got the idea to knock the bottoms out of the peach baskets, basketball has been evolving from the plodding product James Naismith introduced in 1891 to something a grateful America obsesses over for the better part of one month each spring.

With the shot clock and game clock, the three-pointer and other innovations, college basketball has shown a willingness to innovate and now almost guarantees excitement, especially in the NCAAs, when everyone is giving his best.

The regular season can grind on, true, and the conference tournaments make me wonder what all that regular-season hooh-hah is about.

But the tournament format and the game are a perfect marriage, and March would be a lot less special to sports fans without that union. Is there any other sport in the nation where you can whittle 64 teams to four in 3 Ĺ weeks?

I even like the way CBS airs the tournament. If the game youíre watching is a dog, the network will jump to one in which a thrilling finish is building, or put up a little smart window with a game in progress so you can watch more than one contest at a time.

Donít you see? CBS does the channel surfing for you!

I hope the network and the tournament never break up; I couldnít handle the separation. Iím still trying to get used to the NFC on Fox or the AFC on CBS. And exactly who is airing Monday Night Football nowadays?

And yes, Arkansas does have a pair of tournament teams this year. Though weíre talking about the men, letís take a moment to congratulate the UALR Trojans, who qualified for the womenís NCAA field with an at-large bid and will play Georgia Tech on Sunday.

The menís qualifier?

No itís not the lowly Razorbacks, who may want to de-emphasize basketball next year, or the up-and-coming Arkansas State Red Wolves or the UCA Bears, who just hired Razorbacksí great Corliss Williamson as coach, by the way.

No, itís Arkansas-Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions of UAPB beat Texas Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament final Saturday, shaking off a 0-11 start to the season to become the only one of five NCAA Division I teams in the state to reach the national tournament.

But conventional wisdom says not to pick UAPB, the No. 16 seed, to beat No. 1 Duke in the South Regional on Friday. Those kinds of upsets happen a lot less (read ďneverĒ) than a No. 12 over a No. 5.

Other good advice, according to the experts, is check the Las Vegas odds, make sure you have one No. 1 seed in the Final Four, pick a past champion, like Duke, to win it all but never pick last yearís champion, like North Carolina, which didnít make the field this year.

Oh, and never make a pick based on whose mascot could kill the other.

And hey, look at this, Iíve blabbered so long I have no space left to do a bracket of my own, which means I donít have to put my shaky credibility on the line.

To paraphrase the great sportswriter Dan Jenkins, Iíll just say Iím pretty sure a basketball team will win it.