LONGSHOTS: The madness of March kicks off on Thursday
by Dave Long
The best pure sports weekend of the year is upon us. To which I say goodee goodee, as I love the opening weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. And it doesn’t matter than I don’t follow it as I did in the days when I could have brought the Schwabb to his knees with inside stuff on the early days of Dean Smith at North Carolina, how Howard Porter and Villanova almost undid the UCLA dynasty in 1971 and anything anyone wanted to know about my main man Austin Carr. And then there’s Danny Ainge’s mad dash to put Notre Dame out of its misery sometime in the early 1980s.
It gets started when the tournament kicks off around noon on Thursday bringing along the hoops and dreams of more people who don’t know a whit about the subject than any other device in the U.S. That device is the office pool, where the only thing with a similar chance of capturing the attention of so many might be a pool picking winners at the Academy Awards. But that’s decided all in one day, so the fun doesn’t last nearly as long.
An extra good thing for me this time around is that for the first time in quite a while I’ve got some personal rooting interests besides just pulling for teams in my bracket. First there are the locals involved like Tyler Roche. He’ll have the delicious task of facing none other than legendary Bobby Knight when Boston College faces Texas Tech in Winston Salem, N.C., on Thursday. And there’s Chris Lutz, who’s faced Roche more than a time or two, most notably a few years back when Trinity had the upper hand in clashes with Central. Lutz will be a three-point threat for Purdue when they face Arizona in New Orleans a day later.
And then for the dwindling folks still interested in the Celtics, there’s the sweepstakes for the lottery pick. So we’ll be keeping a close eye on Texas’ Kevin Durant and Greg Oden of the Ohio State University, as they move along while we PRAY the ping pong balls fall the right way. That’s what I did in the prelim Sunday keeping tabs on both, when my clicker got a better workout than Steve Vaillancourt’s video camera gets these days. Durant had 37 to go along with 10 rebounds and six blocks in an OT loss to Kansas, while Oden and OSU won big when the big fella took no shots in the first half and then scored 12 in a dominating second half vs. Wisconsin.
And of course there is the usual assortment of things that give me my jollies, most of which come from the “nice to know but you don’t need to know” file and here’s a sampling:
Nice to Know But You Don’t Need to Know: Lutz is my new favorite Purdue Boilermaker. He takes over for Rick Mount, who may be the greatest pure shooter ever. He played in what I call the golden age of college basketball with diminutive Calvin Murphy, the amazing Pete Maravich and three other slugs named Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and UCLA’s Lew Alcindor.
College Basketball 101: Maravich is the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer with an astonishing 3667 points. The previous record-holder had 2,973. Who was it?
The Biggest Local UCLA Fan: Not sure you care, but that would be Colby-Sawyer mentor Bill Foti who, oh by the way, played in the Class L Finals for Central in 1981. Hey, I know a lot about the Wooden years, but there are things he could tell you about the Pooh Richardson years that would make your hair curl.
The Last Time Celtics Fans Cared about the Lottery Sweepstakes: It came in 1997 when they had two picks. Chanucey Billups went out the second weekend, while Ron Mercer and Kentucky lost in the finals to Arizona. Rick Pitino soon traded both, getting little to speak of in return.
From the “In Case You Missed It” File: Only real hoop aficionados watching ESPN’s championship week knew the Dave Bike coaching Sacred Heart in a heartbreaking loss to Central Connecticut was Keith Bike’s dad. The latter did a nice job with the Memorial basketball team this winter and the former is the same Dave Bike who used to bring his great Sacred Heart teams in every year to play NHC when Division II was DIVISION II.
The 2nd-to-Last Time Celtics Fans Cared about the Lottery Sweepstakes: This is the tragic Len Bias story. It came after the Cs did to Gerald Henderson what the Sox did to Bronson Arroyo last winter and sent him packing for a future number one just after signing for the hometown discount. And to show I don’t just live in the past, the Gerald Henderson whose elbow broke Tyler Hansbrough’s nose two weeks ago at UNC is his son.
The Biggest Local Vanderbilt Fan: A toss-up between Monarch prexy Jeff Eisenberg and F-Cat play-by-play guy Bob Lipman. Both are alums, but since Eisenberg secretly roots for his beloved hometown, 30-3 Memphis State, Lipman gets it if he can tell us what NH high school Vandy all-timer Thorpe Weber attended.
Sports 101: The great Oscar Robertson held the record before the Pistol. His 2,963 points came when he went to the final game (winning once) in his three seasons at Cincinnati.
The 3rd-to-Last Time Celtics Fans Cared about the Lottery Sweepstakes: This was like this year. As in 1980 we followed it feverishly, as I will with Oden, to see if Purdue’s Joe Barry Carroll was the big man the Celtics needed. Even though Purdue made it to the Final Four and he made the All-Tournament team I came away saying “yuck.” The pick incidentally came courtesy of one Dick Vitale, who traded it along with M.L. Carr for Bob McAdoo.
For the Record: Oden is the first big guy since menacing Patrick Ewing who can impact a game without having to score. That also makes him Russell-like. Hmmmm. And seeing Durant “struggle” to get 37 Sunday brought to mind players like Jordan and Bird finding a way to score big even when the A game wasn’t in tow. Hmmm.
For the Record II: I’m going way out on a limb to say I like my new favorite team Ohio State to win it all.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).