March 12: Let the Madness Begin!
One of the highlights of any American sports fan's year is the NCAA (registered trademark) basketball tournament, popularly known as "March Madness" (among other trademarked nicknames), even though it climaxes in April with the "Final Four" (another registered trademark). "Madness" applies well to the March part as two 64-team fields (men's and women's) are pared to a pair of "Final Fours" over the course of three extended weekends. (Please note registered trademark status of NCAA logos, both above and below. Please continue reading to understand appearance of Tinactin logo).
Baton Rouge's interest in the 2006 tournaments approached football level (though nothing can equal a sport where "National Signing Day" (unsure of trademark status), the day when high school recruits make their college choice public, attracts thousands to a ballroom to watch a fax machine), as all four local teams, the LSU Tigers and Lady Tigers, and the Southern University Jaguars and Lady Jags, qualified, with both Tiger squads highly ranked and expected to win a few games--in the case of the ladies, even compete for the national championship. Another great story was that almost all of the LSU men's team hailed from Baton Rouge or from within 50 miles. The teams didn't disappoint, as the Southern men played powerhouse Duke to a close game before succumbing, and both the LSU men and women won four games to reach their respective Final Fours. (I think that Southern's gals were more or less wiped out in their first game.)
This year's tournament starts with considerably less hoopla (not sure of origin, but a made-to-order basketball marketing word) in Baton Rouge. The Southern teams fell from their relatively high perches to last place in their leagues. The LSU men struggled through a trying 17-15 season that started well, but finished "stuck in the mud" of a south Louisiana swamp rather than on "The Road to Atlanta" (CBS trademark, I think--Atlanta's Georgia Dome is where the Final Four will be held this year). Only the Lady Tigers, lacking four-time All-American and WNBA Rookie of the Year Seimone Augustus, but still led by formidable Sylvia Fowles, played near their potential, and still lost as many games (7) as they had in the previous two years combined. Even their regular season ended in an uproar as young, successful coach Pokey Chatman resigned under a cloud of suspicion about "inappropriate contact" with a former player.
Still the tournament is a feast for basketball fans, particularly on the first weekend as sixteen games on each of Thursday and Friday are followed by eight games matching the winners on each of Saturday and Sunday (for the arithmetically-challenged, that's 48 games in four days--actually about 76 hours--for just one of the tourneys). Many are mismatches as the nation's best teams are matched with the marginal qualifiers, but many are close and a few upsets surprise the fans and oddsmakers every year. CBS works hard to cover all the action, and there are often magic moments when they switch from close game to close game, catching the game-deciding shots of each.
There's also a hackneyed search for which lowly-ranked team will be the "Cinderella" (perhaps trademarked by Disney?) of this year's "Big Dance" (another trademarked nickname, or at least often used) and wear "the glass slipper" (likely beyond trademark status). Last year it was the George Mason University Patriots of Alexandria, VA (many sports fans, even basketball fans, outside metro-DC didn't know such a university existed until about mid-March 2006) and the mid-major Colonial Conference. "Cinderella" has to reach the "Sweet Sixteen" (the teams that survive the first weekend--and definitely trademarked--Louisiana had to change the "Sweet Sixteen" name of its high school championship after protests from the NCAA--this didn't seem like such a big deal since the Louisiana tournament had since grown to 28 teams), and her status is enhanced by any wins thereafter--one of which will elevate them to "Elite Eight" (most likely trademarked). FOX Sports, who have tagged the event "Hoops Hysteria" (pending trademark, I imagine) are touting Creighton (from Omaha, NB), New Mexico State, Nevada, Old Dominion (Norfolk, VA), and Southern Illinois (the wonderfully-nicknamed Salukis of Carbondale, IL) as 2007's most promising Cinderellas (though this begs the question as to whether a Cinderella can be so after being identified before the dance.) (I'm back with my bracket--look for Winthrop (of South Carolina) to beat Notre Dame in Round 1 and Long Beach State to beat Tennessee. My "I didn't even know there was a college by that name" is Albany--I'm not sure if they're from NY or Georgia, but I expect them to lose to Virginia right away. I'll be back with later round predictions)
As yet, a true "Cinderella" hasn't won the "whole enchilada" (currently not a trademarked nickname--future status uncertain). Mason got the closest by reaching the Final Four before being crushed by eventual champ Florida. Other upset winners have been big-name basketball schools that have won the tournament with apparently less than their best team (Villanova in 1985; NC State in 1983; Kansas in 1988). For the most part, winning six games in three weekends against quality opponents is a task that only the cruel stepsisters, I mean elite programs and teams, can handle.
This year's men's field features defending champ Florida with a top ranking and a likelihood not to repeat as champ (Duke was the last to repeat 15 years ago); perennial powers North Carolina and Kansas, and "upstart" Ohio State (as much of an upstart as an athletic powerhouse of 40,000-plus students can be--but OSU has been much more successful in football than basketball since John Havlicek graduated in about 1962). Other highly regarded teams are UCLA (over whom the visage of 10-time champion coach John Wooden still looms, though they have won once since the now 95-year old Wooden retired 30 years ago); Wisconsin (better known for cheese and swing state politics than either basketball or football); Georgetown (now coached by the son of their championship-winning coach John Thompson); and Memphis (who win a lot of games every year but toil in relative obscurity in Conference USA, a mid-major stepsister (ooh, another Cinderella allusion) to the more glamorous Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Big East, Southeastern, and Pac-10 (the so-called "power conferences"--schools like Louisville fled C-USA to get into the Big East). (My Round 2 upsets include Arizona over defending champ Florida; Butler doing it vs. Maryland; Indiana (my summer 2007 home) knocking off UCLA; Louisville over Texas A&M and Nevada over Memphis)
Another treat of so much basketball in so little time is the opportunity to see the best players from across the country. National player of the year Kevin Durant, a freshman of eye-popping ability at the University of Texas, will get a lot of attention as long as Texas keeps winning. When they stop, Durant will move on to the NBA, where he would have played this year if not for a new NBA rule requiring high schoolers to play at least one year at the NCAA level before becoming eligible for the NBA draft. Ohio State has a similar freshman phenom (or "diaper dandy" in the hideous phraseology of ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale--fortunately we are spared his histrionics during CBS's tournament coverage--unless we stray to ESPN to watch highlights) named Greg Oden--I haven't seen him play yet. Florida has a team full of talent, but no new names as they all played for last year's champions. More exciting will be seeing the players I don't even know--last year it was Mike G-something (Gansey!) from West Virginia and Tyrus Thomas of LSU (unknown outside Baton Rouge and NBA scouts--Thomas was picked about 4th in the ensuing NBA draft).
Much of the nation prepares for the March Madness by engaging in Bracketology (ESPN trademark), the science of predicting the winners of each game and the entire tournament by filling in a printed (or electronic) "bracket" showing all the first round games and the progressions to the later rounds. The completed brackets are then entered in various office pools and online contests, though the stakes are usually small $5 or $10 per bracket. March Madness can also lead to a "gambling problem" for the hardcore as Las Vegas offers betting lines on the overall tournament winner, winner of every game, and a variety of sub-events within the games (most rebounds, first basket, over/under totals--you name it). I heard a writer being interviewed about March Madness on NPR refer to the tournament as the "high holy days" of sports gambling. In fact, I should be filling out my bracket (deadline is before the first game begins at noon Eastern on Thursday) rather than writing this article. (I'm filling it out now, Round 3 features Oregon over Wisconsin, leaving them to play Pac-10 rival Arizona in the "Midwest Regional Final" (probably trademarked, note that neither team is from the Midwest); Kansas and Indiana in the West Regional Final (some geographical dyslexia working here); Texas and Georgetown battling for the East Regional (as Georgetown holds up its region); and newly-Dixified Ohio State vs verifiable Cinderella Nevada in the South Regional final)
My favorite memories of past madness include the 1979 tourney when Ivy League champ Penn beat North Carolina to earn a spot vs. Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the Final Four (Penn got wiped out; MSU won it all over Larry Bird and Indiana State); the 1983 tourney when NC State upset "Phi Slamma Jamma" Houston with a last-second air ball by Derreck Whittenberg and put back by Lorenzo Charles (I had to watch this one on the highlight shows as we were busy winning my one and only recreation league softball championship in Orangeburg, SC); Syracuse (my birthplace) winning it all with freshman Carmelo Anthony (in 2003, I think); and the best of all--Philly team Villanova (I almost went to college there) beating Georgetown in 1985 in the "perfect game" (Villanova made 22 of 28 shots from the field. I missed this one too, but that's another story). Villanova also made it to the final game (just called the "NCAA Final"--once you've declared a Final Four, what's left, the "Really Final Two"?--maybe the "Titanic Two", but images of the Titanic may not be that welcome--perhaps Tinactin could sponsor the final game as the "Tinactin Two") in 1971, my second year living in the Philadelphia area, losing to UCLA and then forfeiting their second place trophy when the NCAA learned that their star player had an agent. (An interesting sidelight is that Villanova was the third best team in Philadelphia that year as city schools Penn and St. Joseph's had great teams that didn't advance as far in the NCAA tournament. ) I'm not sure if that one was a highlight or lowlight. It felt like a highlight at the time. Rooting for my alma mater, the University of Delaware, hasn't been much fun--in their last appearance about 15 years ago they got stomped by Cincinnati--so I have to adopt other favorites. (The Final Four will be Oregon vs Kansas and Georgetown vs. Ohio State--all Cinderellas change back into scullery maid wear)
The ladies' tournament has become more and more interesting the last few years--a direct result of Baton Rouge native Seimone Augustus play at LSU (she declined the blandishments of perennial women's powerhouse Tennessee to suit up for four years at her hometown school--she'll be long-remembered and admired in BR for that), and a secondary result of the ever-improving level of play in women's college basketball. During her career the team made three straight Final Four appearances, though the "brass ring" (not trademarked) eluded them; once when Baylor overcame a large first half deficit to win, and another time due to a crucial and uncharacteristic error by their star point guard Temika Johnson, whose otherwise sterling play and tiny stature (about 5'2") made her easy to forgive. This year the women's favorite are North Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut and Duke. Tennessee and Connecticut have won the most championships over the years, though Baylor and Maryland broke through the last two years.
If you're a basketball fan, I don't have to convince you to tune in (CBS for the guys; ESPN for the gals). If not, try it anyway--root for the team with the higher number in front of them, they'll be the underdog, a possible "Cinderella" at the "Big Dance", seeking the "glass slipper", and a spot in the ""Sweet Sixteen", the "Elite Eight", the "Final Four" or even the "Tinactin Two" (OK, that's enough Dave) before "the clock strikes midnight" (not trademarked, but that's what happens when a Cinderella team loses--oh yeah, their "coach (the four-wheeled kind) turns into a pumpkin" too--though if rotund former coach Rick Majerus donned the orange blazer of the University of Tennessee he'd bear a striking resemblance to a pumpkin) on "The Road to the Final Four" (one final trademark, whew!) (Enjoy the "TT" matchup of Georgetown and Kansas (featuring two of college basketballs best and most inscrutable cheers "Rock Chalk Jayhawk!" and "Hoya Saxa!"), and join the celebratory car door slamming in beautiful Lawrence, Kansas as Coach Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks claim their first NCAA basketball crown since 1988. As for me, I'll be looking forward to enjoying March Madness 2008 on the 60" HDTV I'm going to win by entering my bracket at foxsports.net contest.
Thanks for reading this epic (at least in length) post. Let the games begin! (if they can fight through all the marketing and trademark protection)
March 16 Update: Indiana guard Roderick Wilmont and VCU guard Eric Maynor were the stars of Day One's play. Wilmont sank six three-pointers to lead Indiana to an easy (and predicted) win over Gonzaga. Maynor scored his team's last six points and 22 overall to lead No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth to an upset win over No. 6 Duke. The Blue Devils couldn't play defense or make free throws at the end, and it cost them a game that they led most of the way--the Rams two-point winning margin matched their largest lead of the game.
VCU takes the early lead in the Cinderella sweepstakes, fitting given that reached the NCAA tournament by beating last year's Cinderella George Mason in the Colonial Conference tournament. Their next game is against Pittsburgh, which usually underplays their ranking in the tournament, and could be butted out by the Rams. Otherwise, higher ranked teams won on Day One, except for a very mild upset of No. 8 BYU by No. 9 Xavier.
More from March 16: Winthrop beat Notre Dame (again as predicted) to join the Cinderella-hopeful ranks in Round 2. All the top 5 seeds won, including my upset target Tennessee, who nipped Long Beach State by 121-85. The Volunteers scored 57 in the first half and then got hot. Arizona will not be knocking off Florida in Round 2, as they lost by nine to Purdue. Virginia Tech saved one of my picks by coming back against No. 12 Illinois. Early on the announcers alluded to Illinois's offensive problems, even as they were scoring well and building a lead. The problem showed up late, as the Illini didn't score for the last five minutes, allowing the Hokies to climb out of a hole and get the win. Kevin Durant was great in Texas's win over New Mexico State--he scored 27 points, including 17 free throws.
March 17: Despite being a No. 5 seed, Butler University of Indianapolis seems pretty Cinderellaish after beating No. 4 Maryland 62-59 this afternoon. Brandon Crone was the star, sinking four three pointers, including a key basket late in the game after he missed a layup. Butler will probably face Florida next, although a win by Purdue over the Gators would set up an all-Indiana matchup in the Midwest semifinal.
More March 17: VCU's party got a five-minute extension this afternoon, but still came to a bad end with a 84-79 overtime loss to Pitt. The Rams did themselves proud, however, erasing a 19-point deficit to send the game into the extra session. Their last three point attempt to tie the game just missed, and then ensuing back tap went to a Pitt player, who was fouled and made both free throws. First round hero Eric Maynor had an another strong game, including a beautiful left-handed bank shot to help get VCU into overtime. As an No. 11 seed, Winthrop now leads the Cinderella sweepstakes comfortably. Their next challenge is my Final Four pick Oregon.
My upset pick of Louisville over Texas A&M fizzled when freshman phenom Edgar Sosa, who to that point had made 7 of 8 field goal attempts and all 15 free throws, missed two free throws and then a potentially game-winning three-point shot. A&M, led by senior guard Acie Law, looks like a good candidate to advance deeper into the tourney.
My wife's doing great with her pool--too bad it's entered with tens of thousands of others at Fox.net rather than in a small pool at work where she'd have a chance. Her only miss in Round 2 was Maryland's 3-point loss to Butler. Her best pick was Vandy's upset of Washington State, which was accomplished in double overtime.
March 18: Virginia and Tennessee play the first game. Tennessee's hot shooting in game one wasn't a fluke as they again shoot well to win 77-74. They'll play Ohio State next in the South Regional semifinal.
I had Florida losing in Round 2, but they won't, not to Arizona, or to their vanquisher Purdue, whom the Gators just beat 74-67. Kay's second round upset pick is a good one as UNLV beat Wisconsin, 74-68.
Winthrop's 75-61 loss to Oregon clears out the double digit seeds from the bracket. Revived power UNLV and their in-state rival Nevada remain as the lowest ranking survivors, although Nevada is in jeopardy (they lost by 16) against Memphis. Despite their No. 3 seed, Texas A&M is a good underdog story. Just three years ago they lost every game on their Big 12 conference schedule. They get Memphis next.
Round 2 is over; the Sweet Sixteen are set--Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Memphis give the Volunteer State the largest representation; UCLA and USC go in from California. Other states get one each: Florida, Oregon, UNLV, Kansas, Southern Illinois, Pitt, North Carolina, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Texas A&M.
My wife had a great second round--14 and 2; by woeful comparison, I was 8-8, with two sure losers (Nevada and Arizona) in the next round. UNLV over Oregon is her most adventurous pick in Round 3. My picks don't really matter. The best thing I've got going in Kansas to win it all; they've looked great so far in wins over Niagara and Kentucky. Right now, my view is that the winner of a Florida vs. Kansas Final Four matchup will win it all.
Texas A&M and Memphis should be a good matchup--both have strong, athletic teams with good leadership. Vandy and Georgetown is an offense vs. defense matchup. Vandy will have to make a lot of outside shots to overcome Georgetown's strength inside. USC has looked terrific so far; they embarrassed Texas and sent Kevin Durant on "to the next level" as the sports talk show hosts say.
After the LSU women devastated UNC-Asheville in their first game, 77-39, the Baton Rouge Advocate's sports columnist wrote a column titled "Dear Pokey", telling the missing former coach about the game. The early matchups in women's tournament are even more lopsided than the men's games, as there aren't really 64 championship caliber programs in the country.
March 30: HDTV Dreams Shattered as Picks are Toppled
Unless we buy our own 60" HDTV, I'll be watching the 2008 Final Four on our old reliable 27" non-HD. My NCAA picks soured in Round 2; my wife's collapsed with the emergence of the actual Final Four, which did not include her Tinactin Two choices of UNC and Kansas, or Memphis. I'm still alive with Georgetown and Ohio State, though my national champ Kansas fell to UCLA. Hoya Saxa!
I heard on ESPN that they had over 161,000 correct Final Four entries in their online bracket game. Last year with George Mason getting in, they had less than 100.
Since I'm so far behind on this blog, I'll work my way through the regions and see what I can remember. First, it's no news that Cinderella is long-gone from the dance. Vanderbilt came the closest to fitting the slipper as this 6th seed lost their Sweet 16 game to Georgetown in the last few seconds on a fabulous move and shot by Georgetown forward Jeffrey Green that many folks thought might have included an extra step. In a show of class, the Vandy coach and players never complained. Georgetown went on to "upset" top seed North Carolina in the Eastern final in overtime. The Hoyas hot shooting kept them within range of the Tarheels almost-as-hot shooting and surprisingly superior rebounding. When North Carolina slumped near the end, the Hoyas tied the game on three-pointer by guard Jonathan Wallace (a walk-on transfer from Princeton) and held on as the Heels last shot hit the rim. Overtime was, as Dick Vitale might ejaculate, "No contest, baby!" as the the Heels bricked their way to a combined 1-24 shooting perfomance (even that a meaningless shot after the game was decided) in the last few minutes of regulation and overtime, while the Hoyas cruised to a 96-84 win.
The Hoyas will face the upstart (but No. 1 seeded) Ohio State Buckeyes, who just seemed to have a little too much for Memphis. They held the lead most of the game and won by 12 to take the Southeast Regional. Texas A&M came within a whisker of beating Memphis; they probably would have given Ohio State a better game.
On the other side of the bracket, perennial powers UCLA and Kansas matched up in the Midwest final. This game was close, but UCLA's superior defense and guard play by Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison put the Bruins into the Final Four. There, they'll have to pick up their game even further to get past their 2006 conqueror, defending champ Florida. The Gators survived a gritty effort by second-best Cinderella, Butler, but finally prevailed behind the substantial backside and deft touch of forward Al Horford. Against the run-and-gun Oregon Ducks, the Gators' focus shifted to guard play, and sharpshooters Taureen Green and Lee Humphreys came through with 20+ apiece. The do-it-all Gators appear to be pretty tough to beat at this point.
A possible distraction is the University of Kentucky's high interest in hiring current Florida head coach Billy Donavan as their new top man. Veteran Wildcat mentor Tubby Smith read the tea leaves and accepted a new position at the University of Minnesota before Kentucky could fire him after the schools ninth straight non-NCAA championship-winning season. Double figure losses and a galling SEC Tournament semifinal loss to Mississippi State, in which a Smith miscoaching move (asking his player to step back from the free throw line after the ball was handed to the shooter--the shooter made the shot, giving Kentucky a 4-point lead with about 2 seconds left--but the shot was disqualified. Mississippi State next sunk a 3-pointer to tie the game and went on to win in overtime) cost his team very hard-fought game.
Getting back to Florida, their main enemy in their match with UCLA might be overconfidence, as essentially these same two rosters played in the 2006 final, which Florida won with ease, 73-57. I imagine that Donovan will talk to his team about UCLA's 11 NCAA championships (all but one of which were won at least 10 years before any of his players were born).
I like Florida by a narrower margin, as UCLA gives a pride-driven, but still inadequate effort. Georgetown and Ohio State goes to the Hoyas--no change from my original view. Both teams survived a scare, but Georgetown's was more impressive--overcome a deep and talented North Carolina team; the Buckeyes nearly fell to Cinderellaesque Xavier (which as Dave Barry says, would be a good name for a rock band).
On the womens' side, Tennessee and North Carolina predictably rolled to Final Four spots. Not so expected were successes by Rutgers and LSU.
Rutgers lost 2005-6 national player of the year candidate Cappie Poindexter to graduation and started the current season 2-4. Their Elite Eight upset of Duke amazed all who saw it as Duke All-American Lindsay Harding missed two free throws with 0.1 seconds on the clock and her team trailing by one. This came after an earlier Duke turnover that allowed Rutgers to score the go-ahead basket. Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer saluted the amazing progress, particularly defensively, that her young team made during the year. She also noted their "naivety", saying that her girls really didn't know how big the Duke game was when they went out to play it.
LSU's late season saga is well-known and recounted in here, but they pushed on to the Final Four berth with a quintessential defensive squeeze on Florida State in a 55-43 win (this game started at 10:30 CDT/11:30 EDT), and then wiped out five-time national champ Connecticut 73-50 behind a dominating 23-point, 15-rebound performance by junior center Sylvia Fowles. An interesting pre-note to the Connecticut win was their coach's glib admission that while he might be a better coach, a better dresser, and funnier than LSU interim coach Bob Starkey, "he's (Starkey) got Sylvia Fowles," an advantage that no combination of coachly advantages (including 5 national titles for Auriemma vs 3 career wins for Starkey) could overcome.
LSU and Rutgers, being seeded 3 and 4 respectively, aren't quite Cinderellas, but the winner of their defense-oriented game will definitely be an underdog to the Carolina/Tennessee survivor. Carrying the honor of the entire ACC along with the basketball-crazy state of North Carolina, the Lady Tarheels will be led by senior All-American guard Ivory Latta. I haven't seen much of their play, but UNC's women seem like the short, quick and solid types who depend on shooting, teamwork and passing. Legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who won her record-setting 900th game this year, stresses all of the above, but has her triple-threat version of Sylvia Fowles in sophomore All-American Candace Parker. The 6'4" Parker is listed as a G/F/C on the Tennessee roster. She jumps center, brings the ball up on offense and scores both from the post and from one-on-one moves. Carolina will be dissecting tape of LSU's SEC Tourney win over Tennessee, in which they held Parker to about 6 points.
I'm afraid that the Lady Tigers are due for a cold-shooting game, and with one they'll fall to Rutgers. I'll pick Tennessee to analyze what LSU did vs. Parker, straighten the problems out, and beat North Carolina to get to the Women's T______ Two. (I've never seen a women's athlete's foot medicine commercial--I'll have to come up with another alliterative title sponsor for the ladies' championship game. Suggestions are appreciated.
March 30: This has become quite a challenge--so far I've found Tilex, Tide, Toilet Duck and Ty-D-Bol--these from an NIH site to help one identify the toxic properties of many household products. I'm pretty sure that none of these would be acceptable from an image enhancement standpoint--can you see the Ty-D-Bowl man sailing in a toilet tank with the bottom painted as a basketball court (which you could barely see through the blue water)?
The first hit is terrificpets.com, a website for pet owners. They probably don't have deep enough pockets for the NCAA. Also online is travelterrific.com--same problem, maybe worse. Computerrific Technology, a network and web consulting company for small businesses--again, small business, small pockets. Terrific Scientific sounds good, but is based in Australia. Terrific Toys might be a little too cerebral. Mister Terrific (wrong gender, sorry) is a superhero in the DC Comics line. Terrific New Theatre is a small troup in Birmingham, AL. I don't like the "TNT" enough to fight Ted Turner for it.
This search led me back to Tom Terrific, a cartoon TV series that ran on the Captain Kangaroo show from 1957-9, and that I remember watching as a little kid. Tom's sidekick was Manfred the Wonder Dog and his nemesis was Crabby Appleton. Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Tom Seaver was known as Tom Terrific, no doubt tagged by a sportswriter whose kids watched the same show. Fun, but no help.
Next on the list is a shampoo from the '70s and '80s, Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific. This could be the one, assuming that Jergens wants to revive the brand (they discontinued it in the late '80s). www.everything2.com says that it can only be found in The Philippines, and that the product was discontinued for "mysterious reasons", which may include the presence of formaldehyde in the formula (the site also also "humorously" mentions newt eyes and some part of a bat--yuck! I need a break after reading that.)
March 31: Sorry for the interruption to this segment. Research will resume and a decision announced by Tuesday, April 3, when the final NCAA womens' matchup is set. Lots to do between now and then--checklist: choose name, contact potential sponsor, contact NCAA, negotiate naming rights fee, develop and disseminate appropriate logos and other content, contract high-profile spokesperson for rollout, arrange transportation and lodging for self and family for appearance at T____ Two game on Tuesday evening. Yikes, no nap for Dadlak today.
Brainstorming--the "Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific Two" isn't quite getting the job done. David Cassidy would be OK as a spokesperson, but he hasn't had a hit record in about 30 years. The manufacturer discontinued the product almost 20 years ago. Filipinos may not even like basketball (note: check this out--possible tie-in for Filipino women's basketball (or other sport) championship).
Think! Do the last two teams have to be "two"? Why not duo, pair or brace (too obscure--and it makes me think of a brace of dead quails in the mouth of the hunter's Golden Retriever (ooh, he's so cute)). The Dynamic Duo--already taken by Batman and Robin. The Precious Pair; the Perfect Pair (basketball shoe tie-in???; Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as celebrity spokespair--could work). After the game, one of the two won't be perfect (the teams, not Torvill and Dean, who will always be perfect--I can hear "Bolero" in my mind), but The Final Four isn't really final, now is it--it should be the Semifinal Four, but I realize that's not very alliterative. The Penultimate Pair (more accurate, but too pedantic--and in fact, this is the ultimate game--Penultimate Four would be more accurate, but it's not alliterative either and it sounds like a second-rate set of superheroes (brain tells fingers "it's not what were trying to name, dummy!").
How about Del Monte's Perfect Pair-- a pun! The logo could look like a pear with basketball laces. Torvill and Dean could still be the "spokespear"--I see their costumes as pear-meat colored, but obviously not pear shaped--although pear-shaped could appeal to the ever-widening baby-boomer population that makes up the biggest part of the March Madness audience. It might also encourage younger fans to eat more fruit to avoid becoming pear-shaped in the future (although I've read that female middle-aged pear-shapedness may be unavoidable--genetic; let's just hope that's "bad science"). Oh my god, looking at this picture, I just noticed another tie-in. Pears are packaged in "halves", just like college basketball games. This is getting spooky--I may have tapped into the marketing order of the universe.
Back to the checklist:
Name: "Del Monte's Perfect Pair" (followup note--are there any brand name fruit companies that begin with P?--Dole, Chiquita, the United Farm Workers...heading for pantry; back from pantry with no luck; actually I didn't go; wife is instructing me to rest). We could work in another alliterative "P" by going with "Del Monte Presents the Perfect Pair", or "The Perfect Pair, Presented by Del Monte"--that comma is kind of stark, though--but, is it any worse than the apostrophe?). Ooh, I just thought of Pepsodent Perfect Pair, but I think time is too short to start again--maybe for the second 10-year term...get a little competition going between Del Monte and Church & Dwight, who market Pepsodent...one Google hit indicates that Pepsodent is big in Nepal...I've notice that people from the area have really white teeth, at least the ones they still have...maybe Pepsodent is their secret. But that's a project for 2015 or so. And I finally thought of a good "T", the Taster's Choice (coffee) Two--get it, choice of two? But again, that's another "next decade" angle to explore.
Spokespair: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. I'm still a little shaky thinking about how great they will be, even 23 years after their ice dancing triumph in Sarajevo.
Naming Rights Fee: Should be worth $10 million to Del Monte for a 10-year deal. My 10% upfront and off the top comes to a cool million. My daughter gets a small share for logo development. Sweet!
Logo: Here's an inside look at the development process for the soon-to-be-famous "pear-shaped basketball" logo. My daughter her photo editing skills to help with Version 2.0. "Basketball-shaped pear" yielded only 186 hits on Google, and none that I could find with a picture of some proud pear farmer's giant basketball-shaped pear.
The real version will use the Del Monte brand font. We didn't have this one on our photo editing program. We might even use a different color (Del Monte yellow?), but we couldn't figure out how to change from black.
The Perfect Skating Pair and the Perfect Pears bring you The Perfect Pair. I'm giddy!
To the phones!
March 31: Gators and Buckeyes Put Best Foot (Feet?) Forward to Step Into Tinactin Two
The Tinactin Two are set. Florida and Ohio State, the two most dominant teams in the country for most of the season, will meet for the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship on Monday night.
The two games featured eerily similar and ugly first halves. OSU held a 27-23 lead despite sending their heralded freshman center Greg Odom to the bench with two fouls after only two minutes of play. "I Can't Believe He's a Freshman" guard Mike Conley held things together for the Buckeyes. Roy Hibbert (4 baskets) and Jonathan Wallace (two 3-pointers) provided the little offense that Georgetown mustered. Star forward Jeff Green chipped in five points near the end, but was MIA too long for a Big East player of the year.
Florida had no offense (7 points in the first ten minutes), but UCLA had no Arron Afflolo (0 points and 3 fouls in the first half). Corey Brewer found the range late and led the Gators to a 29-23 halftime lead. Josh Shipp gave it his all (oxygen at halftime) to fill in for Afflolo, but the hill to victory still looked steeper and scarier than those burning Hollywood Hills as the Bruins started the second half.
Georgetown started the second half with more fire, and actually took a lead at 34-33, and tied the game at 44-44. But Conley continued his steady play and Oden revived his game to pour in 13 points and grab 9 rebounds. The most exciting play of the game was Oden's attempt to tomahawk jam over Green. Green appeared to be still, but in the opinion of the announcers (and apparently the refs), established that position while Oden was airborne (understandable given that Oden appeared to takeoff somewhere south of Macon), a defensive no-no. OSU played steady defense throughout and made enough free throws to win semi-handily, 67-60.
The Bruins must have felt like they were battling a brush fire or worse, as Florida raged out of the locker room to quickly expand their six point lead to 20. Afflolo drew a fourth foul before scoring. The rest of the game was an exercise in determining the final score (76-66, closer than last year's 73-57), although the Bruins continued to hustle on defense, and Afflolo found the range to eventually score 17.
Picking against the Gators was a fool's play. With their team chemistry established, Florida is as solid an NCAA basketball team as has played in many years--maybe going back to the Duke teams of Christian Laetner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. At least four starters will be drafted by the NBA; the fifth, sharpshooter Lee Humphrey, now owns the NCAA record for 3-pointers in the tournament. He even showed a little versatility by faking a 3-pointer, getting the defender to commit and driving and scoring for an old-fashion 3-point play. Corey Brewer, a ridiculously talented player who can drain 3-pointers, dribble through traffic and score, block shots by 7-footers, and make cross-court passes, somehow effectively subsumes his game into the team concept, but is ready to step up to give the team a lift when they need him too (see 10-minute mark of first half in UCLA game). With all his screaming, Joa-Kim Noah can get on your nerves, but he's a relentness player with a wide wingspan who contributes even when his funky-looking shot isn't falling. (When he enters the NBA, Ben Wallace will have competition for "worst free throw shooting form"). Point guard Taureen Green is a little inconsistent, but he's a good outside shooter and very fast and creative in the open court. Forward Al Horford has an old-fashioned game, reminiscent of the Malone boys--Moses and Karl. Top reserves Walter Hodge and Chris Richard are more than capable, they would start on most other NCAA teams.
April 1: April Asylum Arrives!
Scarlet Knights Peachy as Half of Perfect Pair
Orange Ya Glad: Volunteers Turnover Heels to Complete Finals Fruit Cocktail
The first Del Monte Perfect Pair half in the NCAA women's final is Rutgers University, who smothered the LSU Lady Tigers in a heavy syrup-like defense while slicing them into sections with a first half sharpshooting display. The final score was 59-35. LSU had no answers to Rutgers' coach Stringers preannounced intention to surround Sylvia Fowles and challenge the remaining players to beat them from outside. Along the way, LSU trailed 6-0; 12-2; 27-14; and 37-19 at halftime. Clanging away at a 26% accuracy rates, the Tigers never pressed the Knights in the second half as their season came to a bittersweet end.
Tennessee and North Carolina slogged through their own heavy syrup in Game 2. A turnover and missed shot-filled first half ended with Tennessee up 22-21. Midway through the second half, the Tar Heels appeared ready to enjoy the fruits of victory, as they led 48-36. But a sticky Volunteer defense that extracted 29 turnovers and a revived inside game pulled Tennessee even and eventually to a sweet 56-50 victory.
The Del Monte Perfect Pair match halves on Tuesday night.
April 2: The "Fungus is Among Us", but not for long, as the country anxiously awaits tonite's NCAA Men's Basketball Final between the Tinactin Two - the University of Florida Gators and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Questions fester like sores between untreated toes. Can the Gator guards provide fast-acting relief from rapidly-spreading Mike Conley? How many doses of the Gator "bigs" will be needed to neutralize Greg Oden? Will Oden be infected with foul trouble? Will Buckeyes introduce harmful side effects when mixed with the Gators' championship chemistry? Will the Gators complete a fast-acting, long-lasting "one-two knockout punch" to Buckeye athletic championship dreams?
But the big question for me is whether I'll be able to describe the game in here through the prism of athlete's foot fungus and the relief thereof. (A Google search on this phrase found a "Black Prizm" magnetic necklace that addresses a number of maladies, including lumbar pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, but not athlete's foot; the same site (http://www.herbalremedies.com/) offers a "new larger 2 oz. size" of their anti-fungal Alphacura, but let's just keep that to ourselves--and anyway, it's a herbal remedy, not real medicine like Tinactin). In any event, this magnetic necklace is a lot nicer to look at than an fungus-covered foot. (My mother has dissuaded me from providing even a link to an athlete's foot picture. If you'd like to see one, please e-mail me privately, or conduct your own Google search on "picture of athlete's foot".)
At least Ohio State has red as one of their school colors - red, sore, itching, cracking, burning, oozing, pus-filled, soothing, healing, cooling, medicated - will I be able to incorporate these fungal and antifungal adjectives effectively into a basketball story? Could I get pictures from the floor of the locker room? Of the players' shower shoes? Of their feet?
At http://www.atdamerican.com/ you can order these anti-microbial shower shoes, 24 to the case, for only $1.85 per pair. Of course, that might not be so good for the Tinactin business, given that we need some fungal microbes to survive long enough to develop into a case of athlete's foot (one per patient) that can be treated with Tinactin. Still, the shower shoe angle could prove to be a unique sidebar of my coverage. They come in tan and orange. It is too late for to switch Tinactin Two and Del Monte Perfect Pair?
April 2: Gators Enjoy Thrill of Victory While Buckeyes Suffer "Agony of De Feet" in Tinactin Two NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Final
Tinactin Two Halftime: To say the least, I'm irritated at CBS and the NCAA's total failure to acknowledge the Tinactin Two. I'd like to give out a few hotfoots, to the execs and to Ohio State, whose guards and forwards need to provide some outside support to the fine effort being made by freshman center Greg Oden. My other idea is for the NBA to conduct an emergency draft at halftime so Cory Brewer can move on to a league more in line with his ability. We'll see how the Buckeyes react with the "nuts" in the proverbial vise. More later.
Tinactin Two Postgame: Do you remember the opening to ABC's Wide World of Sports back in the '70s (and maybe later)? An unfortunate ski jumper crashed off the side of the downslope while host Jim McKay finished the phrase "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Some time later, I heard the apocryphal story that some fans of the show thought that the ski jumper's name was Agonie DeFeet (his actual name was Vinko Bogataj).
The just-finished Tinactin Two NCAA men's basketball final put me in mind of old "Agonie" as the Florida Gators sent the Ohio State Buckeyes crashing to an 84-75 defeat.
Another team effort by the Gators overcame a game effort by Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden, who stayed free of fouls all night and amassed 25 points and 12 rebounds. The rest of Buckeyes couldn't throw a shower shoe in an Olympic-sized pool--a late three-pointer brought their long range shooting accuracy to that point at 14% (3 for 21). After Brewer and Green carried the scoring for the Gators in the first half, Horford and Humphrey picked up the second half, with Noah adding six free throws late as the Buckeyes fouled to try to catch up.
I'm still a little miffed about the sponsorship thing. John Madden's not very happy either, and he's a big guy. When I cool down, maybe I'll be able to work a few more fungus-relief references into this story. Still I fear that the unfortunate oversight will result in needless "agony of the feet" by thousands of sufferers of red, sore, itching, cracking, burning, oozing, pus-filled athlete's foot fungus, still unaware of the cooling, soothing, healing, fast-acting, long-lasting medicated relief offered by Tinactin. Here's one last look at the logo. But I have to "move on" to the Del Monte Perfect Pair game tomorrow night. A marketer's work is never done.
In a statement made less than two hours before opening tipoff, Kaldad2007 spokesman Dadlak Z. announced that the marketing agreement between Del Monte, ESPN and the NCAA had spoiled, and that "Del Monte Perfect Pair" would not be used in any capacity to describe tonight's womens' college basketball final game. "Never consummated, the agreement has been annulled," read the terse written statement distributed to the media.
"There were several contributing factors," explained an emotional Z. "Del Monte's internal research indicated a significant lack of overlap between women's college basketball fans and consumers of canned fruit, especially pears, which are primarily consumed by elementary school students, cafeteria customers and residents of senior citizen homes. Even if they were basketball fans, none of these groups have significant input into the brand selection by the institutions that feed them."
"Perfect Spokespear" Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean expressed both regret at the dissolution of the agreement, and hope that their pear-colored costumes could be used in an future campaign for Fruit of the Loom. Representatives of Del Monte and ESPN could not be reached for comment.
Volunteers Slay Knights in Perfect Pair, Er, NCAA Women's Final Basketball Joust
In a contest and an outcome that would have been unthinkable only 1,000 years ago, the Tennessee Lady Volunteers defeated the Rutgers Lady Scarlet Knights 59-46 for the NCAA women's basketball championship.
In the male-dominated medieval world of the 11th century, women's roles were determined by men. Volunteering was not an option. And Lady Knights would have been an oxymoron, as the honor of the ladies of that time was defended from hordes of Huns and Goths by an entirely male rank of knights.
But nothing begets progress like time, as Coach Pat Summitt and her orange-and-white clad warrior princesses won Tennessee's seventh NCAA women's basketball crown with an impressive display of defense and rebounding. Time and again, the Lady Knights played as though they'd been knocked off their mounts, cold-cocked with maces, and run through by the lance. National player of the year Candace Parker scored 17 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Diminutive Shannon Bobbitt sparked Tennessee's 2nd half offense with four 3-point shots. Center Nikki Anosike pulled down a game-high 16 rebounds.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to see you again for March Madness 2008! Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on this piece.