For the first time in my sportswriting career, I had the chance to cover the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament last weekend in Austin. I’ve reported on plenty of conference tournaments and other like events, so I was familiar enough with the drill not to feel, look or act like a rookie. I also had a lot of work to do — back-to-back-to-back-to-back gamers on Friday for instance — so I didn’t have much time to be giddy.
I allowed myself to take a picture of my press credential with the arena in the background as soon as I arrived and texted it to some close friends who knew how big a deal it was to me. But after that moment, I was all business.
It was a different way to experience the best four sports days of the year. The beginning of the NCAA Tournament usually means a multiple-sandwiches-on-the-couch and/or hours-at-the-sports-bar affair for me. I usually sports-dork out. Not this year, though. On Thursday, I took in eight press conferences while watching games on the media-room televisions in the down time. Friday was a basketball-overdosing, head-spinning, self-pep-talking adventure that led to the laziest Saturday I’ve had in a while. Finally, I enjoyed just about the perfect Sunday — church with friends, two more exciting basketball games and a mini celebration with a good friend in Austin to cap the weekend.
I know everyone with a keyboard and an interest in sports in the whole blogiverse is doing this same thing this week, but I’m going to roll out my 16 observations about the first weekend of March Madness anyway (but mine has a heavy emphasis on the six games in Austin, so it’s better than anyone else’s).
1) If you suggest to sportswriters that they should go food truck for dinner, they will look at you funny and ignore you for the rest of the weekend.
And while I’m on the subject, I have two messages right at the top of this list for my fellow sportswriters:
2) Wearing cross-trainers with khaki pants, an untucked golf shirt and a sports coat is about the lamest combination of clothing I can imagine. You’re making us look bad.
3) And, speaking of making us look bad, “Coach, talk about … “ is not a question and antithetical to journalism. Ask questions. Stop prompting the coach or player to give you the quote you want.
However, in the interest of solidarity with my fellow sportswriters, I do have some nice things to say:
4) We know how to get in and out of a press conference, getting what we want without beating a dead horse.
5) You have to love a group of people who dig barbecue and basketball and don’t ask much more out of life.
6) Amelia Rayno from the Minneapolis Star Tribune won my “Let’s cut the bullshit” award by straight up asking Minnesota coach Tubby Smith if he was worried about losing his job. (I also thought she was cute, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to write or even think a lady sportswriter was/is cute, so I’m just going to put it in parenthesis.)
7) Smith and UCLA coach Ben Howland were both rumored to be coaching for their jobs. It just so happened they played each other. Smith’s answer to Rayno’s question was an unflinching “No.” Both were fired by Monday night.
8) Florida could win the national championship.
9) But apparently Florida could also lose to Florida Gulf Coast on Friday. I didn’t get to see either of the Eagles’ two first-round upsets as they took place during Austin games. But I can’t wait to see their dunk-tastic show this Friday in Arlington.
10) The Miami Hurricanes, who lost to Florida Gulf Coast in non-conference play this season, were the least surprised people in the college basketball universe that the Eagles defeated Georgetown. Miami forward Kenny Kadji said every member of the Hurricanes team picked Florida Gulf Coast to beat the Hoyas.
11) No one should have to end up on the wrong side of a charge call/non-call like Iowa State did in losses to Kansas and Ohio State this season.
12) Close doesn’t count when picking Davidson to upset Marquette, though it should count for something.
13) Speaking of picking upsets, just always pick the Ivy League automatic-qualifier to win. Even if you miss, it seems like a smart pick.
14) I don’t know if I’m sure that Louisville’s Russ Smith looks like Sammy Davis Jr., but my friend Jeremy thought so and his son Luke (8) thought it was hilarious when his dad showed him a picture of Davis on the web.
15) The Atlantic 10 apparently has second-round power, which is like warning-track power in baseball. The A-10 went 6-0 in the first round, but only one of the conference’s representatives made it through to the Sweet 16. Womp womp.
16) Give me one guy with one open shot from the top of the key at crunch time and I’ll take Victor Oladipo.
That’s it. Can’t wait to do it again this week in Arlington.
Photo via ap/csmonitor.com.
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