BIRMINGHAM -- On mornings like this, after days like that, I'm envious of people who can simply move on with their brackets and think about the next round's matchups. For those of us who cover the mid-major schools, we'll be reliving this day over and over again for the next year.
The true underdogs, teams from the lower and smaller leagues, went zero for nine on the first day of the NCAA Tournament, and March 20 will be our Bill Murray Groundhog Day
for the foreseeable future. We will discuss these games endlessly, reference these results constantly, on this site and elsewhere. We will frame 2008-09 campaigns with them. The sad scorelines will hang over entire leagues for the next 12 months, will define the perception of entire conferences among casual fans. These results will live on, and will somehow have to be defended at this time next year... if and when we talk of extra bids for the MAC, or the CAA, or the Big West.
If there's any one common thread in the losses yesterday, it's a lack of offensive consistency. Heck, that's a common thread in most of these first-round games featuring mid-majors, we've had our hearts cracked open for years like this. But we knew that Winthrop would struggle to score points, they have all year; we knew that George Mason looks bad when all its cylinders aren't firing. And we knew that Cornell basically had to hit 25 3-pointers if it wanted to slay bigger, badder Stanford.
It was humiliating and demoralizing, however, seeing teams with real scoring weapons -- squads like Kent State and Portland State and Oral Roberts -- bow out so meekly on Thursday. The Tournament is the ultimate crucible where every flaw is cruelly exposed, where heroes throw off the shackles of their statistical shortcomings and achieve the incomprehensible. But seeing one thing for five months, then the complete opposite for one day, does make one wonder which reality is real. Did everything that came before meant anything at all?
At the end of the day, of course it did. In the game with the widest disparity between basketball budgets
, Belmont provided a glimmer of hope for us all, showed us again what was probable and possibly plausible. With tools handed down directly from the biblical David -- endless fearlessness, the undersized slingshot and, yes, the B.C. backdoor play -- the Bruins fought college basketball's limping Goliath for 40 heart-stopping minutes, lifting the Atlantic Sun to the level of the ACC if just for a day. It was a dream evening, even for those of us watching hundreds of miles away.
But it was a dream that ended... with an inbounds pass under the opponent's basket, directly into the hands of an enemy player. I didn't even watch the desperation heave at the end, I had my head buried in my hands and didn't come out from my shell for five minutes.
I have a lot of little traditions during college basketballs season, I don't know why I keep repeating them. I'm not really sure why I do this, but at the end of the NCAA first-round day when the pod I'm at is in media-day mode, I always look for a Buffalo Wild Wings. If there's not a lot to celebrate from the day's events, I go ahead and get my drink on.
Last night at 11:30 p.m. Central Time, I approached a packed bar, slid onto an empty stool. Then I waited patiently for service as the bartenders did shots with a bunch of UAB students at a corner table. Someone had plugged a roll of quarters into the jukebox, wanting to make sure that Thursday night was Dave Matthews night.
To my right, three off-duty secretaries who were getting beaten like Mississippi Valley State in Quizzo -- they were arguing amongst themselves about which one should be trusted with the movie questions, which with the TV questions. To my left, a husky lady with a face like a bread-loaf, wearing an outfit straight out of the 2005 Lane Bryant catalog. She was filled with so many Mojitos that I thought she might pop.
Ten minutes later, the bartenders still abandoning the counter, "What Would You Say" transitioned into "Crash Into Me" on the tinny, hissy jukebox speakers.
"Oh my god, I love this one," she drawled, quickly turning to me and shoving her enormous breasts against my shoulder. I tried to ward her off with my wedding ring, anchoring my chin against the bar with my left arm and flat palm, but it was too late. She was already lost in something resembling song.You got shitballed, you got shortchanged,
Tight with the tied tie... me again
You got the clogs on you my friend
Hard mmph the hard times... me again
Please let these hard times end. Please let this nightmare end. Please, somebody end this long day of heartbreak and failure. Somebody, somewhere, go out there and beat a power-conference team. We need this.