Monday, March 12, 2012

Take Your Picks

Our local NPR affiliate is doing something that's new to me. Here's what they are offering, coming up on their regular fund-raising drive: Pay early, they say. If we get enough people signed up early, we'll do something for you. No, no coffee cups or collected smart-aleck wisdom from some well-known author. No recordings of deceased musicians or logo-driven neckties or pajamas. IF we get enough early takers, we promise to go BACK to regular programming a day earlier than usual. "Stop us!' we implore, "before we beg AGAIN!" Sounds like a deal to me.

For the next several weeks, we get the chance to pretend to be experts in college basketball, or at least we may get an excuse (in the form of small wagers) to care about teams from schools that are loved by their alumni, but otherwise pretty obscure. Xavier? VCU? Southern Mississippi? Detroit? Belmont?
Add in Saint Bonaventure, Gonzaga, Creighton, Temple and 59 other teams, then use a semi-scientific form of voodoo to seed them all into four different sections and you have the bookies' paradise, the annual NCAA Basketball tournament, though all bets, you understand, are strictly off the books.
Every year there are upsets, and yet the top seeds seem to dominate as the tournament progresses, and someone is sure to call a sixth-seeded team "Cinderella" if they should make it all the way to the Final Four. Teams are described in ways that don't even seem English. A team with lots of big players, for instance, is called "long". Old fashioned terms: center, forward, guard become numbers, 1 to 5. Even the stripe-shirted officials get commentary: are their calls "tight" or are they "letting them play"?
The commentators have to sometimes dig for things that might hold significance. The coaches from Purdue, for instance, may not know much about St. Mary's, but perhaps there's a connection through an assistant coach, or a common opponent of the two teams, or a similarity of some kind to the style of play of another team in one school's league.
And then, in spite of all the efforts to exploit another team's weakness, it might come down to one or two shots that keep you going to the next round, rather than home. Even so, 68 of the 69 teams involved will have their season end in a loss. Pretty poignant, huh? That's the drama that adds fans at just the right time, to CBS's delight. The tiny crowd out there who know only basketball have their chance with the NBA (that is, professional) finals, which end sometime in June.
But, of course, the self-appointed true fans have a strong tendency to stick to the college game, where the money flows a hundred ways, though NOT to the players. Now, in the meantime, if I could just get hold of some vital tip on the Memphis/St. Louis game...Two schools located in cities on the same (Mississippi) river, but playing Thursday in...Phoenix? Hmmm.


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