Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Confectioner's Dream Concoction

One of my little joys is overseeing an annual March Madness Pool in connection with the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (one year perhaps we will do the Women's Championship as well but I did not have the patience to wade through countless sheets completed exactly the same way: "U. Conn."). Some years more than others form holds. While the entertainment value that I derive from watching my colleagues, friends and relatives engage in impromptu conversations and some good-natured woofing at and with one another over each other's selections and the inherent absence of wisdom in them never wavers irrespective of who wins, in a year where the favorites do what favorites are supposed to do with metronomic precision, there is little surprise associated with the pool. Therefore, it is a year such as this one has been thus far that serves as the Bracket Manager's dream.

How much fun is an organized athletic competition in which there are exactly twice as many teams left standing as the field has been pared down from 65 to 16 from the nation's #1 Basketball Power Conference (Big East) as there are from the nation's #1 Brain Power Conference (Ivy League)? If I disclosed one additional fact to you, which is that when the festivities started the day after St. Paddy's Day there were 8 Big East teams among the combatants and there was but one Ivy Leaguer in the mix, would you be inclined to believe in the Naismithian superiority of the Big East?

Washington's Huskies - the sole remaining representative from the Pac-10 should be thankful that at the Regional in Syracuse this week they are matched against their Region's #2 seed West Virginia and not the Ivy League Champion Big Red from Cornell. For Cornell has raised decimation to a fine art. The Alma mater of Ken Dryden, Ed Marinaro and Christian Navas has worked its way from West to East annihilating first the Atlantic 10's Temple Owls and then the Big 10's Wisconsin Badgers.

And whilst the Big Red's rampage is indeed one hell of a story thus far, they are not even the party crashers whose continuing presence at "the Big Dance" is the maddest and baddest thus far. I watched Northern Iowa on Saturday slingshot a rock that felled the Jayhawks and then use chalk to outline the corpse of Kansas University's #1 ranked hoops team. As of Tuesday morning I still cannot name (a) their coach; (b) any of their players; (c) their nickname; or (d) where their university is located. I must confess that when I first saw a graphic that read, "NO IOWA" I thought perhaps maybe the good people of New Hampshire had organized a protest against those damn first in the nation Iowa Caucuses although when there was not a companion graphic saluting the virtues of Dixville Notch I suspected that my initial thought might be erroneous.

Joining Cornell and Northern Iowa in the rarefied air of national exposure for their basketball exploits are the Gaels of St. Mary's. That is St. Mary's College of California for those of you keeping score at home. A school that - prior to doing so on Thursday afternoon against Richmond - had last won an NCAA Tournament game in 1959. Intoxicated by the nectar of first-round victory, the Gaels decided that Pete Townsend be damned a little would not be enough and sent Villanova home significantly earlier than the #2 seeded Cats figured they would be heading back to Philly. And on the Gaels have marched to the Round of Sixteen.

The Round of Sixteen has almost a quarter of its available parking spaces occupied by teams that - as a trifecta - you likely could not have gotten odds on at any of the sports books in Vegas one week ago. How long can they each continue to conjure up a little March magic? Who knows. One thing for certain, all will move onward and upward with an eye open and watching the clock. For when you are Cinderella, midnight's clock strike is the ultimate buzz-kill. And if you can keep the clock's hands from reaching the witching hour, then you might very well still be standing at the final moment....

The one when eternity beckons.


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