Quick thoughts on the Big East Tournament:
Man. There’s lousy refing and then there is lousy refing. Every single game I’ve attended this year has been marred by atrocious calls. But aside from that, I only have one complaint: The MVP of the tourney was Stefani Dolson. Maya got the hardware. But Stefani earned a place in the hearts and minds of every person, whether a spectator or journalist, who watched those three games. She is going to be something special. In fact, she already is.
Now, on to the task at hand. It’s MARCH. Oh, March.
It’s my favorite time of year. It’s the best time for anyone who’s a fan of spring, but when you like basketball as much as I do, March is the golden age. Thank God I look good in green.
I wish every month were as jampacked with awesome as March is. However, if there is one thing to be sacrificed in the name of March, it’s sleep. The time of March Madness is always a little bit…well..mad in the Auriemma house. Lots of traveling, hotels, raised blood pressures, and excuses to eat concessions soft pretzels for dinner.
And Chinese food. Lots and lots of Chinese food. We’ve basically kept Manchester China running over the past several years. It isn’t March Madness until Dad’s had his mushu pork at least three times in a single week. My personal poison is General Tso’s, but different strokes for different folks.
I have not done my bracket yet because to be quite honest, I don’t know how to do it with the additions made in the men’s tournament. There are a bunch of new games to squeeze into the bracket and the absence of several quality teams from the field this year has many people rankled across the board, both on the layman level and on the professional level. I thought Jay Bilas’ head was going to explode when the bracket was announced. Rage. RAGE.
My general analysis is as follows for the men’s bracket.
1. Thank God Villanova got in. The bracket got a lot more handsome with their inclusion. Joking aside, Dick Vitale was right: Look out for Villanova. They always find a way to shock (although not in the best way last year, I nearly had a heart attack during the Franklin Pierce game last year). When they’re good, they are very, very good. I can see them stunning a few teams on their way to Houston.
2. UCONN as a 3 is justified after both the not-so-great two months they’ve had and the nothing short of miraculous run they had last week. 5 wins in 5 nights? Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant was right when he tweeted a few nights into the tournament that Kemba Walker may have been locked in a hyperbaric chamber overnight in order to retain his energy levels. What an incredible accomplishment.
3. The JIMMER. I’m a sucker for baby-faced sharpshooters. Jimmer Fredette’s career is nothing short of extraordinary. He has the range of JJ Redick and the muscularity of Tyler Hansborough. My father and I were watching the BYU/Arizona game and Dad pointed out Jimmer’s ability to square up as he elevated towards the basket. I’m structuring my bracket to make it BYU’s year to run the table. If they don’t, it will be a consequence of the suspension of Brandon Davies for ‘relations’ with his girlfriend. Either that, or someone overdoses on tea and ruins everything for the Cougars. Go Mormons!
As for the women’s bracket, I was pretty positive that we would get Hartford as our 16 seed (although had Delaware won their conference, it would have been pretty interesting to see if they had landed in the Philly region). I was thrilled, however, to see Depaul as our 3. It would be a bit uncomfortable, sure, to play them in the final game before Indianapolis. But what a great way to close out the season. DePaul is no small pickings, might I add. With their glut of seniors-some of them in their 5th year-they have a lot of experience and will prove heavy competition for any team that stands in their way. The Big East is very well-represented, as it should be.
How about Baylor and Texas A&M in the same bracket? In Dallas, no less? That will be a showdown for the ages. Reminds me of when we got Rutgers as a 2 seed back in the ’08 Greensboro Regional.
There are a few glitches. I’m incredibly surprised at the low seeding of Temple, and it’s surprising Syracuse didn’t get in since they defeated a few high-profile teams. But you can’t win every battle, and thank goodness for other tournaments like the NIT/WNIT. Lots of games no matter how you slice it. There are a lot of changes this year and we all must ride the wave.
Speaking of change…
There have been a lot of resignations and firings this week. One of them struck me to the core.
There are certain people that you cannot imagine living your life without their influence.
Debbie Ryan is one of those people.
Debbie announced her resignation as head coach at Virginia this week. I was stunned, as was most of my family. At first, I thought it was because of failing health (Coach Ryan, as most of you know, dealt with pancreatic cancer about a decade ago and is in remission), but that was quickly put to rest with her statement to the press about the nature of her decision: she didn’t feel the program (or her coaching) lived up to her expectations, and she chose to walk away rather than keep at it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for this decision. Some people don’t know when to walk away and the joy of your profession turns into repeated flogging of a dead horse.
While Ryan stated this is not a retirement from the game, it did cause me to think about what might happen if my father were to retire any time soon. Not like that’s happening. He’s got far too much on his plate to even consider it. But it does give one pause. It’s not like he can coach until he’s 97. Although the visual is pretty hilarious if you think about it hard enough. Instead of throwing clipboards, he throws a walker?
I cannot overstate the importance of Debbie Ryan to the game of basketball. Her team came four points shy of ending our 1995 championship season two games early if you remember. The players that have come out of her program are household names to women’s basketball fans. Dawn Staley is the only player from a losing team to ever be named MOP of a Final Four (1991, UVA lost to Tennessee in the championship game…after defeating us in the semifinal). And of course, Tonya Cardoza came out of that program.
The fact that she suggested my Dad when UCONN came calling for the head coaching job back in 1985 is important, obviously, but not the entire story. Debbie Ryan part of the old guard which includes my father as well as Pat Summitt, Jim Foster, and Leon Barmore. She will be sorely missed if this is the last season we see her on the sideline. I hope that’s not the case and that another school recognizes her talents and snaps her up.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, but especially over this week, it is this:
Nothing is permanent.
And that’s a horrendous segue into what I implore of you now, but that’s the way I’m swinging today and this needed to be commented on.
The catastrophe in Japan last week are an all too real reminder of the temporality of life. These buildings we live in, the laptop I’m typing on, the very skins we inhabit – all, ultimately, have an ending date on them. My heart breaks for the people affected by the Japan quake and tsunami, and I hope all of you can open your hearts and lend your support.
Please give as much as you can to the Red Cross effort to help those devastated by the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Text ‘JAPAN‘ to 90999 and donate $10 from your phone, or go to redcross.org and donate there.
Pray for Japan. Pray for Libya. Pray for all.