At our core, we are arguably a culture of excess. We worship those that have the most money, the largest rims, the highest crypto value, the biggest wieners. (Of course, I mean Oscar Meyer’s version).
And as sports fans, for as much as the pursuit of the Super Bowl captivates us, it is the conference semifinal weekend, the middle weekend of the chase to the Big Game, that is seen as the best by fans. Multiple games on multiple days. Games in late afternoon and prime time, with later games often extending till past midnight. Either the best teams being tested or Cinderellas who snuck in with earlier round wins playing meaningful games within real striking distance of history.
In college basketball, that weekend is this one. The Sweet 16 round that began last night and continues tonight. Four doubleheaders in two nights on two channels. Staggered starts so there are no dead moments–halftimes and between-game gaps are covered. At most, two games to toggle between or alternate views between connected screen and device. Six hours of pure fanatic bliss. And with results like last night’s, this year’s version bodes to be one of the best ever.
The earlier games, starting at 4 PM pacific, were both close early on, with 11 seed Michigan playing Villanova close on TBS before fading in the end (sorry, my many friends who hail to the conquering heroes) while on CBS top seed Gonzaga was in trouble with tenacious Arkansas. The Zags are a particularly star-crossed school. For the last two years, they have been favored to win it all, blessed with both a cakewalk conference that assures that they will have an imposing regular season record and, this go-round, a tremendously talented freshman big man, 7-foot NBA prospect Chet Holmgren. Last year, they made it through to the championship game, surviving a thrilling overtime semifinal against a UCLA team that was seeking to be the first First Four team to advance to a seventh post-season contest before running into a physical Baylor team that ended their dreams. This year their come-uppance came at the hands of the even more scrappy Hogs, coached by NBA veteran (and second-generation head coach) Eric Musselman.A team that was averaging over 52 per cent field goal percentage and nearly 88 points per game shot under 40 per cent and scored 20 points below that average. For the second consecutive year, Musselman and the Razorbacks will advance to the Elite Eight.
The nightcaps saw the ongoing storyline of outgoing Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski continuing his final Dance, seeking his 100th post-season win. With Texas Tech, a very good group of veterans but a hardly stellar Big 12 foe punching over its weight, this one was a nail-biter that ultimately saw Jeremy Roach score two late baskets and steer a defensive switch that finally swung this one in favor of the Dookies, 78-73. Coach K’s career will continue for one more game.
And over on TBS again another top regional seed, Arizona, was stymied by yet another Texas upstart, the University of Houston Cougars. got 21 points from Jamal Shead, as well as five 3-pointers from Kyle Edwards, to upend the Wildcats’ title dreams. The 72-60 win means that the Cougs will enjoy a decided fan advantage with Saturday night’s regional final being played in nearby San Antonio. As a UCLA fan, I couldn’t help but smile at this one.
The best thing about this best weekend is that after all of this, it’s just beginning. Tonight, the Bruins face another storied school, North Carolina, a matchup that was supposed to happen in December but was cancelled due to COVID. And the uber-Cinderella, Saint Peter’s, will attempt to be the first #15 seed to advance to a fourth round as they take on Purdue.
I may not have the same excesses as others, but at least this weekend I’ve got the riches of great storylines in abundance. Hope we can all enjoy.