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InsideHoops [NCAA HOME] Mar. 18, 2004

Throwin' Bows' - NCAA Tournament edition





For the next few weeks, CBS can pretty much do anything they want with me. I'm a hooker, the rent is due, and CBS just paid me upfront in cash. I am in their control. What they want me to watch, I watch. When they want me to sleep, I sleep. Whatever player they want me to get behind (so to speak), I get behind.

Tight basketball games lend themselves to constant commercial breaks down the stretch. I can deal with that. It's the nature of the beast. Because I'll be watching the same channel for the next month of my life, however, they will all be the same commercials. Cingular. Papa John's. Whatever terrible new sitcom that CBS is pimping at the time. All we can hope for is that no talking babies are involved. The bottom line is that CBS has complete control over how entertained or annoyed I am at any given point in time. They own me.

And they completely abuse their authority. They've already decided to inflict a 10-second delay upon us because no one at MTV, CBS, or the NFL was responsible enough to keep Janet Jackson's hoots covered for more than 10 minutes at a time. But the worst thing CBS does to us (and maybe they can't help it, but still, it's infuriating) is the constant repitition of irksome commercials. I remember last year wanting to beat with a railroad spike everyone that appeared in the Cingular "I call it my 'make the home viewers get so tired of seeing my stupid face that they're contemplating jabbing their eyes out with a screwdriver' plan" commercials.

Between the conference tournaments and the CBS selection show, I've already seen one of these commercials 108 times. It's the one with the guy from the Papa John's, featuring Billy Packer, cheap pizza, and a hideous multicolored basketball that most children would be embarrassed to show up at a playground with. It's clear that the Papa John's guy really doesn't feel too bad about annoying the bejeesus out of the general public. He's not going to let up. It's really great that you started a company, Pizza Guy, and I'm thrilled that you have fresh ingredients, but the fact that you own the company does not make it a good idea to put your own face on television over and over and over again. And if you do, try to put it next to someone a little more entertaining than Billy Packer. At least it isn't Vitale.

These annoyances are significant, but it's a small price to pay for the fun of the tournament. The number one rule of watching the NCAA tournament is that you root for the underdogs. No exceptions. If any seed, 11 or higher (or is it lower? I dunno... seeds 11-16) is close, you cheer for them. I don't care what it says on your bracket. Do not be the guy that gets mad when Kansas loses to UIL in the first round. I really can't stress that enough. Do. Not. Be. That. Guy.

No one cares that you lost a Final Four team on the first day. You weren't going to win your pool anyway. Upsets are what it's all about. Upsets bring people together. There are few better feelings in life than being in a crowded sports bar where everyone is pulling for the same scrappy underdog team. You're high-fiving people you don't know, you're celebrating, you're dedicating the next pitcher of beer to a team that you didn't know existed two weeks ago. Would you sacrifice that to keep one of the final four teams alive in the bracket it took you 5 minutes to fill out?

Your pool is going to be won by someone who does not know a Catamount from a Commodore and thinks that Delonte West is a hot new drama on the WB. It's best if you understand that up front, and there's really nothing you can do about it. Case in point: I won our pool last year (for entertainment purposes only, of course), and believe me, I had no business winning the thing. It's a fact that I could spend the next ten years of my life studying college basketball and would not be able to fill out a bracket any more accurately than Jessica Simpson can right now.

Obviously, if you attend a school that's a Top 6 seed in the tourney, that's different. You can root for your alma mater. Or, if it gets down to the Final Four, and you're still alive in your pool, then sure, feel free. But generally speaking, don't be a bracket fan. These are the same people who want to see Clinton Portis run for 200 yards and 3 TDs against their favorite team, because Portis is on their fantasy team. They betray the team they pretend to love. These people put their individual interests above those of the team. These people are the Lamond Murrays of sports fans.

The NCAA tournament goes a long way to revealing what kind of a sports fan someone is. By now, most people have accepted it, but that doesn't mean they have to like the fact that most of the good basketball players in America are black. No one will say it, but there's some underlying resentment there. When the opportunity comes along to get behind an underdog white guy, the American sports fan will jump at it. For more information, See Rocky, Rocky II, or Rocky III. Or the NCAA tournament.

So who's the clean-cut, Hickory High underdog that everyone can rally around this year? I've identified three prime candidates to capture the hearts of the nation. To figure it out, I've created a formula called the WUQ. The Whitey Underdog Quotient. Here's how it breaks down.

1) Must play for an underdog team, and should advance past the first round. We won't bother with 16 seeds.

2) Must look wholesome. Curly hair helps. Can't have a lot of tatoos. Ricky Davis is the opposite of what we're looking for here.

3) The smaller the conference, or the goofier the nickname of his team, the better.

4) Wildcard: Something like unusual height or abilities, i.e., very short or very tall, or is a three-point bomber.

The candidates:

Taylor Coppenrath, C, Vermont

1) Underdog Status: 5.5. 15 seeds do have a small chance to win in the 1st round, but it's far more likely that Emeka Okafor spends his Thursday evening reminding us all of the difference between Vermont and UConn. More than one game is usually necessary to become America's sweetheart.

2) Wholesomeness: 9.3. Handsome devil with unkempt blonde hair. Also has a great story, coming back from an injury to drop 40 in the championship game. He's as beloved in Vermont as... I dunno, maple syrup.

3) School: 10.0. No one knows what a Catamount is (it's a Mountain Lion, by the way.. and yes, I just looked it up), which means that everyone watching the tournament will be able to make themselves chuckle by screaming, "GO CATAMOUNTS!"

4) Wilcard: 7.5. He's a 6'9" center, and he can score. And he has the opportunity to do it against the best player in the country.

Total WUQ: 8.075

Ben Jacobson, G, Northern Iowa

1) Underdog Status: 5.8. They're a 14, taking on Georgia Tech. The possibily of advancement is slim, but it's there. People also tend to love directional schools (Western Michigan, Eastern Guam, etc.), and it doesn't get much more obscure than Northern Iowa. But they're most likely going home after day one.

2) Wholesomeness: 10.0. Here, he dominates. Tons of boyish charm. He's like an older Haley Joel Osment. He also lists hunting and fishing as hobbies, and that's something every Joe Six Pack in America can get behind. He's more beloved in Northern Iowa than... I dunno, those little things you stick in the ends of an ear of corn to make it easier to eat.

3) School: 9.5. What a shock that 80% of the Northern Iowa starting line-up is white. They also wear purple. Goofy colors help.

4) Wildcard: 6.0. A 6'3" shooting guard who buries the three. The three point shot is college basketball's great equalizer. Not enough talent? Load up on guys who run a 40-yard dash in about 7.3 seconds, but can bury open threes.

Total WUQ: 7.825

Dan Oppland, F, Valparaiso

1) Underdog Status: 7.2. Again, they're a 15 seed. But Valpo is a perrenial tournament cinderalla with an experienced coach, going against a team that a lot of people think is primed to be upset. It doesn't make it likely, but the stage is set.

2) Wholesomeness: 9.5. Valpo is a team full of international players (Angola, Mali, Puerto Pico, and Senegal are all represented), so the fact that their star is a clean-cut fella from Missouri will make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy about him. He's the most beloved thing in... hey, where the hell is Valparaiso?

3) School: 8.5. Everyone loves to get behind Valpo. Just because they like saying Valpo. As I clearly do as well. Valpo.

4) Wildcard: 8.7. 6'8" forward that has been described as "awkward and unconventional." Awkward and unconventional is something that I can personally relate to, as can most people.

Total WUQ: 8.475.

Enjoy the Madness.

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M.J. Darnell runs

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