- George Eliot
PHILADELPHIA - Don't get me wrong, we all love the NCAA tournament, but one of the drawbacks about the format is the extreme condensed version of it all. With 64 teams beginning play on Thursday, 48 of them would be gone by Sunday evening, making it impossible to do justice to all the stories of the fallen, many of whom have tales that deserve to be told.
The final of those 48 teams would be Creighton, a team I had never seen live, and featuring one of the most exciting players in the country in Doug McDermott. And yet I spent the majority of the first half of the Duke-Creighton contest wandering the halls of the Wells Fargo Center, snapping pictures of Florida Gulf Coast's celebration
and generally basking in the glow in one of my favorite moments of live sports I'd ever seen.
But, sadly, Creighton probably deserved and didn't get my full attention. The Missouri Valley champions dug themselves an early hole with cold shooting (at least as far as I could ascertain on the televisions around me), trailing 14-7 as the first half approached its midway point. I finally started to make my way back toward my seat when I heard a roar around the corner. As I went to check it out, a couple hundred people were crowded around a few television sets watching the finish of the La Salle-Mississippi game, the upstart Explorers hailing from Philadelphia certainly swelling the numbers a bit.
Back and forth they went until finally, with just 2.5 seconds to go, Philly's own Tyrone Garland hit a floater for the win
, getting a big enough roar that reporters in the arena took notice. As the final buzzer sounded, people scurried left and right, with one man - in true Mid-majority fashion - sprinting away, yelling, "One more! Let's go get Duke now!" I would have signed him up if I could have caught him.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McDermott was trying to take things into his own hands, briefly giving Creighton the lead before some free throws put the Blue Devils back in front. Just as I had arrived back at my seat, the clock was running down on the first half, and Tyler Thornton hit a 35-foot runner as time expired. Well, that wasn't much of an omen as Duke headed to the locker room with a 29-23 lead.
I could see why Duke would be disliked in an environment such as this, although I didn't see much difference between their supporters and many others I've encountered above the Red Line. They showed up late for the first game, generally didn't know much about their opponents, and expected to get every call. But - like I said - that's not all that unusual from my experience.
Of course, as much as I wanted to see the Duke fans sweat and plead for their very tournament lives, it wasn't to be on this night. You could see why McDermott is such a great player - movement, athleticism, and touch - but he was never truly in sync with his supporting cast, and the Duke defense was (begrudgingly) fantastic, doubling and switching onto McDermott and forcing him into places he didn't want to go.
Creighton gamely battled and never truly let the hated Blue Devils pull away, but also never got within eight points. The sleepy crowd, with the television geniuses having this game tip off at about 10 p.m. local time on a Sunday night, was headed for the exits, and so was Creighton - like most of the 47 teams before them - without much in the way of fanfare.
Which, I will reiterate, is kind of sad, the Bluejays (not two words, and for whom I dug up a Toronto MLB hat for the occasion) won 28 games and had one of the best players in the country (McDermott did capture the fantasy title for TMM9 as well, edging out the Picket Fences' own Nate Wolters), and yet their death was little noted as the focus shifted to the 16 survivors. But, as I've said repeatedly this season, if you're doing it for the attention of others here, you're probably in the wrong place.
Alas, Creighton's nine-year run in the Mid-majority is also likely at an end, as they will join the Big East next season along with Xavier and Butler. This season typifies their contribution to our community, a solid MVC soldier, giving us some joyous Red Line upsets and filling their arena in Omaha with rabid fans, but never quite able to make a huge mark in the NCAA tournament (although they did get one of the last RLUs in history by topping Cincinnati in their tourney opener).
My convoluted (and third of the season for TMM) journey to Philadelphia was also at an end. I will forever kick myself for missing the Friday first-round (and it is the first round) action, but there comes a point - even for the craziest of us - that you have to throw up the white flag. I had missed valuable days of school, spent money I didn't have, and eschewed other important family obligations to follow around college basketball for a few months.
But just when I thought I was out, they dragged me back in. Florida Gulf Coast's win meant there would be two Mid-majority eligible games on Sunday, and my cousin - not a huge college basketball fan, but a TMMer at heart as a graduate of Vermont - was headed back. With Georgetown's timely demise, some tickets became available at a reasonable price and I wouldn't have to miss any work, so off I was.
Unfortunately, literally about five minutes after buying the ticket, CBS announced the times of Sunday's action, mysteriously placing the two most easternmost contest at the latest time slots, but at that point, I was committed.
And so, at 4 a.m. on Monday, after safely navigating the New Jersey Turnpike and avoiding a snowstorm that was supposedly headed our way (it never came), I arrived home, with two hours until the alarm would ring for school.
Life goes on. Even for the vanquished.