As longtime readers know, baseball is my one and only love when it comes to sports. However, as a teenager growing up in Manhattan in the mid-90s, I, like many of my peers, fell in love with the Pat Ewing/Charles Oakley/John Starks/Derek Harper/Charles Smith Knicks teams. Unfortunately, as talented as they were they just could not get it done. I’ll never forget the 1994 NBA Finals, featuring O.J.’s white Bronco irritatingly interfering with a huge Game 5 Knicks victory, and of course, quite possibly my worst sports memory of all time, John Starks missing shot after shot after shot en route to a miserable 2-18 performance and blowing the Knicks’ best shot at a title.
The Knicks pleasantly surprised us with a return trip to the NBA Finals in 1999, but we all knew they were no match for the Spurs. After 1999, the Knicks embarked on a nightmarish 10-year downward spiral that many fans hope will finally come to end this summer if the team can land Lebron.
All this is to say that I haven’t paid serious attention to pro basketball in more than 10 years; I find football boring, predictable and insulting to my intelligence; and I’d rather watch “The Marriage Ref” than hockey. Thankfully, the NCAA tournament is the one annual sporting event outside of baseball that really gets me going. Even better, the end of the tournament typically coincides with the greatest day of the year: Opening Day.
1996 was the first year I filled a bracket out. My pal and sometime Yankeeist author Skip ran the pool that year, and I managed to come in second place on the power of a ridiculously stacked Kentucky team featuring a whopping nine players who made it to the NBA, including Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson. Needless to say, I was hooked.
In the years since that first pool, I’ve actually managed to win the whole thing two other times — in my 2003 pool I had Kansas over Syracuse, and even though ‘Cuse won I still ended up taking the whole thing down; and two years ago in 2008 I had Kansas over Memphis. Had Memphis won I would have come in second, but thankfully Memphis choking away that nine-point lead with under two minutes to go made me doubly richer than I would have been.
So while I certainly don’t proclaim to be an expert, it feels good having taken down two entire March Madness pools in the last seven years. As for this year? Impossible to say after day one, although I’m currently tied for 6th place with about 13 other people. I managed to get the Murray State, Washington, St. Mary’s and ODU upsets right, but I ended up getting a little too upset happy as I also had SDSU beating Tennessee and UTEP over Butler.
UTEP crapped the bed, but to their credit SDSU at least made it close last night. While Tennessee wasn’t all that impressive itself, it was pretty clear throughout the second half that they were the superior team. Tennessee’s win coupled with Georgetown’s stunning loss has already given me a second-round game in which I have neither team playing, although I imagine a fair amount of people had Georgetown beating Tennessee, so it shouldn’t affect my bracket too harshly.