Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness as fun as ever

Is it just me or has this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament been really enjoyable?

I mean, of course it's usually a lot of fun, but it seems like there's something more this year.
Part of it for me is that this year a dream of mine was finally realized.

I knew having every board game in the history of mankind would pay off one day.
Seriously, that is a thing of beauty that should bring tears to your eyes. Four screens, four games, not having to miss a minute of action. Throw in the fact that I had nearly the entire day off Thursday and, well, there's still a pretty sizable dent in my couch. But my remote seemed appreciative for the break.

Day One offered a solid start to the madness. Southern was an early darling but came up short in it's upset bid against Gonzaga. Marquette also avoided an upset at the hands of Davidson with a late rally aided by a heartbreaking Wildcats turnover in the closing seconds. St. Mary's also rallied in an attempt to upset but missed a last-second 3-pointer that would have beat Memphis. An easy Syracuse win and the day's big story, Harvard's upset win over New Mexico, were the late highlights.

I spent much of the day Friday away from my four-screen heaven and at the office, so I missed most of the early action. Fortunately I was home in time to witness the upset of the year, seeing Syracuse fans' new second-favorite team Florida Gulf Coast University beat Georgetown.

GIF from SB Nation

In only its second year of eligibility for the Big Dance the Eagles soared, using an array of high-flying dunks and some clutch free throw shooting to knock off No. 2 seed Georgetown.

Seeing the Hoyas knocked out early is becoming a tradition on par with the Masters. In John Thompson III's 10 years at the helm Georgetown has been knocked out by double-digit seed five spots below it in five of them. He joined Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim as the only coaches with that dubious distinction, although it took those two 30-plus years to do it.

Not that I think Thompson's entirely to blame. Actually, it's bad timing on his part. He took over during a different era from Knight and Boeheim, a time when parity reigns. We've all heard commentators bemoaning the loss of the four-year player and how it hurts the game.

They may be right from November to February but March is a different story.

Just ask Florida Gulf Coast and its new fans in the Salt City.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Saying so long to the Big East is difficult

As I'm sure you may have heard by now, the Big East as we know it is no longer. Sure, there will still be a Big East, but it feels like the days of the conference's dominance closed with the doors of Madison Square Garden Saturday night.

Seeing those memories end is especially hard for me personally growing up a Syracuse fan. One of my earliest memories is watching Ryan Blackwell sink St. John's in the semis in 1998.

 I don't remember anything else about that team or that season but watching Ryan Blackwell's shot in the corner and seeing those guys pile up after the win will always be with me.

That would be the first of so many more memories. I remember skipping an afternoon class when a fortunate class cancellation in 2006 allowed me to watch an on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bubble Orange squad led by an "overrated" senior play Cincinnati. I remember whipping my bright orange hat at my 9-inch TV after a stupid foul in the closing seconds. And I remember yelping louder than Bill Raftery when Gerry McNamara's running 3-pointer fell and a group of guys running out into the hall and celebrating.

Of course, that was just the start. I remember him doing it again against Connecticut, feeding Eric Devendorf for the game-winner against Georgetown and I remember the Orange beating Pittsburgh and McNamara donning the "Overrated?!!" shirt after his triumph. Fittingly, ESPN's theme for the tourney was "Remember the Name," which will always be referred to as "Gerry McNamara's Music" in my neck of the woods.

That was the most memorable tournament but the Syracuse-UConn matchup three years later was my most memorable game. Eric Devendorf (why do so many of my Big East memories revolve around Devo?) appeared to cap a regulation thriller with a miraculous 3-pointer, jumped on the scorers table and ultimately had his shot waved off. Nearly one full game, several missed UConn buzzer-beaters, what felt like at least 20 Paul Harris missed layups and a memorable appearance by walk-on Justin Thomas later the Orange had a victory in the wee hours of the morning. 


I'll remember the shock I felt when I found out my parents were still awake when it ended, as well as making it in to work by 7:00 the next morning. Perhaps what I'll remember most is discussing the game with complete strangers at the gas station. I'm not the easiest person to get along with at 6:30 a.m. with a full night's sleep so it's usually pretty bad when I don't get half a night's sleep. But this morning was different and I wasn't alone.

Certainly, there were other memorable teams, games and names over the years, Kemba Walker and Kevin Pittsnogle being two of my favorites (names, of course).

The biggest constant throughout the years was at the end of every Syracuse run my dad would say "one year, I'd love to make it down for the Big East tournament." Every year he said it and every year I thought I'd be there with him. Not anymore.

Sure, there will probably be some magical moments for Syracuse in the ACC tournament but will Dad say someday I hope to get down to Greensboro for this tournament? Will I want to go with him? Will we find someplace to eat that isn't Denny's?

For now nobody knows, but I'm sure it will never have the same mystique as MSG on a mid-March Saturday night.

Monday, March 4, 2013

State bowling tournament a unique event

Yes, that's a Kobe Bryant Fathead.
In case you missed it, Camden's boys bowling team made its first trip to the state bowling tournament Saturday and did very, very well.

This was also my first trip to the state bowling tournament, and boy was it a unique experience.

First, imagine a normal sized crowd for a different event - say basketball or volleyball. Now picture all these people not in a gym, but in a very constricted space between the lanes and the back wall of the Strike N Spare in Mattydale.

"Definitely loud," said Camden bowler Andrew Bourgeois of the event.

"Hectic and loud," added teammate A.J. Welch.

Maybe the intense battle for third place between the Blue Devils and Greece-Athena had their two lanes a little louder than the rest. Supporters of each squad got louder and louder with each ball thrown. The Spartans cheering section even had chants for five consecutive strikes as well as a guy waving a Kobe Bryant Fathead throughout the match (because, well, why not?).

Fans from both sides also got to witness an impressive performance from G-A junior Bryce Hook, who bowled 11 straight strikes to start the fourth game. The raucous crowd did fall silent during his last ball, soaking in the fact that they could be witnessing history. Their voices merged into one audible groan when the dust settled and three pins were left standing, leaving Hook with a 297 game.

Perhaps the most impressive feat was put up by bowlers from around the state. During such a heated competition its easy to lose ones head and vent frustrations at teammates or opponents. It wasn't the case Saturday as bowlers cheered for each other and carried themselves with great poise.

"It was nice," said Bourgeois. "A lot of people were very friendly. I had a good time."

And I'm sure he wasn't alone.