A comedy of hoops

Depending on your point of view, the NCAA basketball tournament is either the pinnacle of American sportsmanship or a three-week comedy of errors and sloptastic play writ large.

Sure, we'd like to think that these "student athletes" represent a throwback to the days when the ideals of sportsmanship and humility reigned supreme. But let's be realistic here. Those days never existed. Never will.

Sport is about two things: money and the utter domination of another human being, preferably before large crowds. And even more preferably, before large crowds full of women who want to have sex with you.

I can speak with authority in this matter, as I have spent roughly 36 hours of the past week watching college basketball.

It's rough business staying in one spot focusing on one thing for that long. At one point last Sunday I began to see tracers in the corners of my vision that resembled flashing white jerseys. That night I fell asleep to the thump-bump-thump of a basketball smacking the hardwood ringing in my ears.

I have no regrets. The NCAA tournament makes for absolutely riveting TV. But not for the reasons you might expect.

First of all, if you want to see a beautiful game played correctly, then you might want to wait a few weeks and check out the NBA playoffs. Hate to bust the bubble of all the college purists out there, but the pro game is where it's at in terms of caliber of play and talent. If you don't believe me, take a moment and check out a YouTube mash-up of Tim Duncan or Paul Pierce. That is what Mr. Naismith had in mind when he scribbled the 13 rules of basketball on a blackboard.

(Note that I recommend NBA playoff basketball. The regular season is just a warm-up that doesn't include playing defense or, well, even trying that much most nights.)

The NCAA tournament's power lies in the unexpected and unexplainable decisions by those considered to be the best players and coaches.

In other words, the first 38 minutes of play are just a buildup for what is usually a mind-boggling final 120 seconds that might very well include at least one of the following events: players mysteriously stepping out of bounds for no apparent reason other than to give possession to the other team for a chance to tie or take the lead; players throwing the ball 6 feet above the heads of their 6-feet, 8-inch teammates for no other reason than to give the other team a chance at the tie or win; coaches calling inexplicable timeouts with the lead, only to call simple plays that their teams will surely flub because they are given too much time to think and would have been better off relying on instinct; players committing insane fouls when all they have to do is run away from the ball and let time expire, for no apparent reason other than to ... well, you know.

Tournament basketball reminds me of the epic comedies from the late '70s and early '80s, such as "Blazing Saddles" and "The Blues Brothers." They start somewhat conventionally, a sight gag here, a hilarious turn of phrase there, before descending into complete and total madness by the end, where we see the cast engage in a monumental fight that destroys half the city of Chicago and its police force in the name of saving an orphanage and putting a band back together.

By the end of last week's Pittsburgh vs. Butler game, I was on my knees before the TV, mouth agape, my hands plastered to my temples, screaming at the screen in the belief that people 1,800 miles away might hear me berate their idiocy.

Butler had the game won when a player suddenly became confused and believed he was playing football. He rushed a Pitt player and knocked him outta bounds with seconds left, giving the opposition the chance to win it at the line. The moron was then bailed out by the uber-moronic Pitt player who bear-hugged a Butler player as a meaningless free throw clanked off the rim. All the Pitt guy had to do was let the other dude catch it and attempt to win the game by making an 85-foot shot.

The problem, of course, is that today's NCAA is populated by players who have one eye on the pros before they step onto the college hardwood. They are obligated to attend college for a season before they are cut loose to achieve their true dream of making millions. Needless to say, their minds are elsewhere.

So what we have is a college game dominated by second- and third-tier talent at best. Which, to my mind, makes for compelling TV.

You never know what's about to happen in these games. Just when you think Texas can ice a victory by being up 12 with two minutes left, uh oh, a pass thrown three rows into the stands here and two players running headlong into each other's faces there, and we suddenly have a ballgame folks!

Hell, I'm tied for second place in my league but am considering not even filling out a bracket next year, even though I stand to win $275 should I win. Who needs money and bragging rights when you've got this comedy of the absurd for three weeks?

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email him at cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Share This Story