Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NCAA Tournament Eve With Reggie Miller

Today is a holiday in more than one respects. Yes, it is St. Patrick's Day, which is totally awesome except for the fact that it falls on a Wednesday (I will drink regardless tonight — I really am (half) Irish). But just as important, it is NCAA Tournament Eve.

Thus, I am on my yearly campaign to make the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA Tournament national holidays. This is something that must be done. Let's face the fact, corporate America. Little to no work is going to get done tomorrow and Friday. It's just not happening, just like every year. Millions upon millions of Americans, myself included, will be spending their work day following the tournament games, watching them online or following the live updates, not worrying about TPS reports.

Wake up! Time to make the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament National Holidays. Get with the times. And grow up.

I'm incredibly excited about this year's tournament as always. What I'm not is confident in my bracket. In full disclosure, I've never won an NCAA Tournament pool in my life. The closest I ever got was in 2005, when North Carolina won the championship with the likes of Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams and Reyshawn Terry defeating the three-headed monster of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head of Illinois in the title game. Well, if UNC would have defeated Arizona instead of Illinois in that title game, I'd have taken home the pot of gold. But no, Salim Stoudamire and the Wildcats choked up a big second-half lead in the Final Four to lose to Illinois. Thanks a lot, jerks.

But I digress. This year, I hope my bracket is wrong. Why? Because I'd like nothing more than to see Temple and Villanova matched up against one another in the Final Four. It could conceivably happen, though the odds aren't likely. If Temple can get by Cornell and then the winner of the Wisconsin-Wofford game (Wisconsin), which I think they will, they'll have to take on Kentucky in the Sweet 16 unless some miracle of miracles happens. Not good.

And Nova, as we all know, is limping into the tournament. Though they were awarded a very generous No. 2 seed in unquestionably the "easiest" bracket. That doesn't mean Nova has an easy path to Indianapolis, because Richmond, Baylor and Duke are all extremely tough foes, not mention Notre Dame.

I have Temple losing to Kentucky and Nova dropping to either Richmond, Baylor or Duke, depending on which of my numerous brackets you look at. BUT, having said that, we all Nova is a very talented team that is capable of beating anyone in country when on their game. They're battle-tested playing in the toughest conference in the land, and have beaten the likes of Maryland, Marquette (twice), Louisville, Georgetwon, Notre Dame and West Virginia. On any given night, they can beat anyone, and if they can somehow get hot and build momentum in the tournament, watch out.

And Temple, despite not having quite the depth or overall talent of Nova, plays the type of style that wins this time of year. They don't turn the ball over, they play tremendous defense, and they are excellent on the boards. With the way they take care of the ball and defend, they are the type of team that could give a green Kentucky squad problems — that is if Temple can force the Wildcats to play at their pace. The Owls are great at slowing opponents down, and that could be trouble for Kentucky if the game goes that way. LaVoy Allen is a terrific post defender who has already own the head-to-head matchup against Greg Monroe in an early-season 46-45 loss, going for 12 and 14 including 8 offensive boards while limiting Monroe to 11 and 9 on 4-10 shooting. So it's not inconceivable that Allen could make DeMarcus Cousins work harder than he has all season, though Cousins is admittedly a much more physical player than Monroe. And if Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks can slow down John Wall and Eric Bledsoe just a little bit and force some freshmen mistakes, you never know. Though I don't see it happening.

All I know is a Final Four matchup between Temple and Nova, while far-fetched, would be awesome. Silver fox and I probably wouldn't be able to speak to each other all week, and the winner would never stop abusing the loser. That would be fun. Plus, in the end, we'd both ultimately win, because a Philly team would get to the title game either way. And I root for the Wildcats when they aren't playing Temple or UNC, and he roots for Temple when they aren't playing Nova.

However, we've already seen this game before, so we already know who'd win …

I couldn't resist.

Finally, in celebration of basketball, I'd like to comment briefly on Reggie Miller.

Over at Ed The Sports Fan, Phillip Barnett, aka I'm So Hideous, did a wonderful job breaking down the 30 for 30 on Reggie Miller. I watched "Winning Time" on Sunday and loved every second of it. And I as I commented over at ETSF, that's because I loved Reggie Miller the player. Yes, I, Reverend Paul Revere, loved Reggie Miller. The same Reggie Miller who absolutely destroyed the young Sixers as they were learning how to win in the playoffs with Allen Iverson and Larry Brown.

Don't get this twisted as rooting for Reggie those games. I did not. Not one bit. And I was as thrilled as anyone when Matt Geiger went after Reggie in 2000, with the Pacers up 3-0 in the series.

But watching Reggie play basketball was one of the great privileges in my life. He is probably the single greatest shooter I've ever laid eyes on, with the exception of maybe Ray Allen. Beyond that, he was supremely entertaining, talking tons and tons and tons of smack … and then backing it all up. He clutch beyond clutch, even without ever having won it all.

And he put that all on full display against Philadelphia. The Pacers bounced the Sixers in the second round of the 1999 playoffs in a clean sweep after the Sixers made it past the Magic in the first round.

I remember this season like no other. I was at the game in Philadelphia against the Raptors where the Sixers clinched their first playoff berth since 1991, the first with Larry Brown and Allen Iverson. Two reasons beyond clinching the playoffs that that game stands out. For starters, I was incredibly excited to watch Vince Carter play in person. Then I was completely let down, because Vince got hurt in the first few minutes and did not return. Talk about a letdown. Second, I was sitting in the luxury boxes thanks to my dad's company at the time having one, and after the Sixers won and clinched a playoff spot for the first time in eight years, I walked out on the suite level and there was Pat Croce going nuts, running the down hall, jumping up and down and screaming. He was slapping everyone five he saw, myself included. It was awesome. I really miss Pat Croce. He would have never let the Sixers come to this.

Anyway, the Pacers bounced the Sixers that year. Then they did the same thing the next season, defeating Philadelphia again in the conference semifinals, this time in six games.

To take the next step, every Sixers fan knew they'd have to get by the Pacers first. Finally, in 2001, they did, exacting revenge against Larry Brown's old team by beating the Pacers in the first round 3 games to 1 on their way to the Finals. But even then, Reggie put on spectacular performances, hitting the game-winner in game one and going off for 41 in game 2.

Luckily for the Sixers, Iverson did one better, scoring 45 and going on to win the last three games to finally tame the Indiana beast. But Reggie was still incredible, and I always marveled at his game.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. We'll embark on the quest to make them national holidays together. This year, I plan on doing absolutely nothing, outside of watching games all day long. My computer will be on Sportsline, and my TV will be on CBS. A joyful time indeed.