We've done enough loving on March Madness this week. March Madness is a wonderful time of the year, but it is also to be hated on: The fluffy mascots dancing around like they own the place, the pepped-out pep squads cheering like they actually believe in something, the crabby coaches, the clueless announcers, and the fact that every goddamn player is somehow, yes, younger than you. It's horrible. With that in mind, we present to you the most annoying men of the 2013 tournament.
Once, I wrote a really bad column in which I stated an affection for Jim Boeheim. My bad. As if the cowardly zone wasn’t bad enough, or the occasional tirades at the expense of a student reporter’s dignity, last year Boeheim found my last nerve with his potshots about the ACC. Like he doesn’t live in Syracuse.
Miss me with that “it’s better up north” noise. I’ve been to the Target up there, OK? We know some of that conference isn’t East, and that most of it isn’t that Big. Syracuse is, literally, stuck where the sun don’t shine. A wise man once told me Storrs was “just Alabama with no [black people].” Boeheim banged Greensboro—bigger than Syracuse—where he fears he’ll be “eating at Denny’s” during the next ACC Tournament. He said the same thing about Clemson because he doesn’t seem to know that there are IHOPs down here, too. It's a shame he’s too perpetually grumpy to see the bright side. He’ll still get to visit scenic Big East towns like Pittsburgh and Louisville, which will make him forget shitholes like Atlanta and Miami.
The most infuriating thing in all of this? Thanks to Boeheim, I’ve gotta side with the jackasses still fighting that damn war. Here I am, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against disrespectful carpetbaggers. They’re the ones who have my back. And they’re better with me right now than Jim Boeheim.
By Rob Dauster (NBC's College Basketball Talk)
I'll never, for the life of me, understand why anyone would actively make the decision to pursue being a referee—in any sport—as a profession. By the time the game is over, there won't be a single person in the building that likes you. No matter the outcome, you'll get blamed for the loss. You get screamed at by fans. You get cursed at by coaches. You get ridiculed by announcers that are making the calls with the benefit of high-def, super slo-mo replays. It's a miserable existence.
Unless, of course, your name is Ted Valentine, the greatest showman in the history of officiating.
There's nothing that TV Teddy, as he's called by bitter fanbases around the country, enjoys more than wriggling his way into the center of attention. "I'm like Cheers," he once told an interviewer. "Everybody knows my name no matter where I go." Because that's what you want at the end of the day, right? A ref more concerned with having his name mentioned on ESPN than making sure he gets a call right? A ref that can demonstrate the proper technique for boxing out during a stoppage in play? A ref that's unafraid to work himself into a lather just to make sure that everyone in the building saw that he called a block, not a charge?
I would say more, but he'd probably just be excited to see his name on Deadspin again.
By Brian Hickey
“Hearts on Fire” in the Rocky IV training montage. “Change” when Louden Swain’s pegboard performance convinces everyone he’s totally gonna take Shute down. “Dream On” to close out Miracle. “The 1812 Overture” when Spackler’s gopher-killing fetish leads Danny Noonan to victory.
Those are songs of victory—impending, unrequited, or reached. Those are songs of inspiration.
Those songs are everything “One Shining Moment” wants to be, but will never be. The fact that this nation has collectively bought into it as the “Anthem of College Basketball” is patently offensive. Where did this monster come from?
March 1986. Some folk-mope named David Barrett was watching a Celtics game in East Lansing, Mich. A hot waitress sat next to him. His “game” involved a discussion of Larry Bird. She walked away without so much as a nibble. From a 2007 New York Times story: “Barrett was determined to overcome the snub by making the woman understand how it felt to play basketball ‘in the zone.’”
The ball is tipped, and there you are, you're running for your life, you're a shooting star.
Listen, I believe in both the power of music and the sanctity of poetic justice. I'm sure Barrett thought back on that night in East Lansing when Michigan State won the 2000 tourney and hoped tears of joy were streaming down that hot waitress’s face. (Victory, his!) But in my perfect version of history, their eyes meet across a crowded bar, and then she walks over to tell him she was willing to try loving basketball after their initial encounter but “that goddamn cheesy jingle which killed Luther Vandross” turned her away for good. A shining moment, indeed.
By Ben Cohen (The Wall Street Journal)
I was at the Big Ten tournament last weekend and came away with two very separate conclusions. The first is that Victor Oladipo is a wizard. The second is something I'm not as willing to admit, but here goes anyway: I think I finally fell for Aaron Craft. Please send help?
It happened in Saturday's game between Ohio State and Michigan State, when Craft went off for 20 points and nine assists in such an unassuming way that it was almost (almost!) as spectacular as Oladipo's 360-degree dunk had been the day before. I know I'm late to the party and even the after-party, but what sold me at long last on Craft was a five-second sequence in which he interrupted a lovely little conversation he was having with an official to hover, hover, hover, hover, hover and then pounce at a 60-foot pass in the backcourt, stealing the ball away and going in for another one of those layups that he hasn't missed since he was in diapers. Craft was the Big Ten tournament's Most Outstanding Player, the only person who wore his mouthpiece like a hearing aid during warmups, and on the basis of just that stretch, even more amazing than I thought at being annoying. Turns out I love him.
By Will Leitch
I understand the theories—nicely summed up by ESPN’s Wayne Drehs here—that fans only hate Aaron Craft because he’s white. (Or, as Drehs quotes some professor type, “You don't want to be accused of racism you didn't intend, or maybe you want to hide your own racism that you don't want exposed. It all makes white players safer to attack. You don't have to self-censor as much.”) But this is not giving Aaron Craft enough credit. Aaron Craft is loathsome regardless of demographics; you would spit at him if he were a Labrador puppy. There is so much. His relentless fouling that commentators keeping calling “hounding defense.” (If I were allowed to scratch and slap my opponent for two hours, I’d be a defensive stopper, too.) The look-at-me fake hustle that makes coaches pine for the days when they were the least talented player on their teams. His obnoxious overachieving smugness, best exemplified in the yeah-I’m-great look he gives the camera after his famous Rubik’s cube trick.
Unfortunately, he still has one year left after this, and knowing him, he’ll work the refs to get him four more. The only thing that makes me feel better about Aaron Craft is knowing that this is his life’s peak, that he’s going to be stuck talking about his college days for the rest of his life, while everyone else at the real estate office nods along, bored, having heard the same stories so, so many times before.
Randy Bennett has quietly been stockpiling Australians on his Saint Mary’s squads, and Matthew Dellavedova is the latest import. Predictably, the analysts love Dellavedova. He’s got it all: he's foreign, on the short side, sometimes runs around like a crazy person, and plays point guard—which means he is, by default, unselfish. I also think they just like to say his name. I’m certain I once heard Jim Nantz say, “it sounds like velvet feels.” Throw all those traits together and it’s a love potion for people who are paid to talk about sports. And it's cyanide to the rest of us.
Dellavedova also hustles, which really gets the juices flowing. And did you know he’s Australian? Australia! Australian basketball—in America! Australian Steve Nash. Put another assist on the barbie!
The pièce de résistance: he's a psych major, and he gets good grades. At this point, Steve Kerr is trying to knock someone up so he can have a baby girl that, one day, Dellavedova may consider worthy of bein his bride. Meanwhile, I've had enough.
We know plenty about Jim Nantz—shill, narcissist, schoolmarm—but for today's purposes, let’s look at something that he said on the morning of the Super Bowl that has not gotten nearly enough attention. Bob Schieffer had a little roundtable on Face The Nation—which included Roger Goodell, who was sitting a few feet to Nantz’s right—and asked his guests whether parents should let their kids play football with all those concussion studies going around. Here’s Nantz’s response:
You have daughters. I have a daughter... Research shows at the college level, a woman’s soccer player is two and a half times more likely to suffer a concussion than a college football player. I don’t hear anybody saying right now, should we put our daughters in these soccer programs? The point this issue spreads well beyond the NFL. They’re at the top of the ladder so everybody looks up to the NFL.
I mean, concussions are happening in all these various sports. It's not isolated to the NFL.
That's true, why isn't anyone saying that? Because no one can find the study. I asked CBS PR four times in the following week if they could point me to the appropriate research that Nantz was citing. I got a bunch of responses—traveling yesterday, someone will call you, what’s your number, etc—but I never got an answer, most likely because Nantz mangled this one badly. There is a study based on 15-year-old research that women's college soccer players are two-and-a-half times more likely to get a concussion than men's soccer players—not college football players. The Big Lead found a bunch of studies, none of which supported his claim either. But there goes Nantz, citing "research" to 3.78 million people, petting the hand that feeds him along the way. This isn't surprising because Nantz ceased being a broadcaster long ago. He's a crony.
So, as we settle down for the next several weeks with Nantz, find comfort in this reminder: Next year, he most likely won’t be broadcasting the Final Four for the first time in more than two decades.
It's time once again for Gonzaga's annual flameout. Every year since that magical Elite Eight run in 1999 (under Dan Monson), the Zags have shown up in the tournament looking to break some hearts and capture some banners. And every year, they've bowed out early, often desperately early, leaving other less heralded schools to carry the mid-major torch. Who knew Cinderella was such a cocktease?
Assorted tournament previews for Mark Few's Bulldogs over the years:
- 2001: "The word is out that Gonzaga is a tough tournament team."
- 2004: "Opponents now recognize Gonzaga as a national program."
- 2005: "Gonzaga has become the gold standard for college basketball's middle class, the team smaller programs point to and say, 'Yes, it's possible.'"
- 2010: "Gonzaga is a team that is not about to be intimidated by its surroundings."
- 2012: "Gonzaga has a knack for winning tournament games."
In Few's 13 years behind the bench, Gonzaga has failed to make it past the first weekend nine times. They're Valparaiso with slightly better recruiting. And this year? The Zags have a No. 1 ranking, a Sports Illustrated cover, and are a trendy pick to make the Final Four. We look forward to them losing to Pittsburgh. Because in a right-thinking world, they are Pitt, or at least any number of upper-level programs in major conferences that can never quite get over the hump. They're only classified as mid-major because they hide in and dominate a sub-mid-major conference, and that's frustrating. Go big, Gonzaga. Get your TV money. Become a medium-sized fish in a big pond, score some huge wins, take your in-conference lumps, and stop pretending there's anything humble about a cream-puff schedule (75th in the nation this year) that leaves you woefully unprepared for the only games where anyone's paying attention to you.
Everything is aligned for Gonzaga in 2013. They've got a 1-seed, and a relatively weak regional. Kelly Olynyk is a Player Of The Year candidate. The Pope's a Jesuit. It's time to shit or get off the pot—or at least join the Pac-12 already.
Did you ever wonder what it'd be like if an Olmec head (think San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán, or Legends of the Hidden Temple) sprouted legs and a torso and learned to play basketball? Perhaps you did once. But you wonder no longer. Because Mason—it is Mason, right? Not Miles or Marshall or Michael or Mitchell or Muffuletta?—plays college hoops.
Plumlee comes from that sourest blend of things: He has a Duke jersey, an Indiana hometown, and the strength, hops, and game of a player who should be too good to play at either school. (This holds more for him than for his inferior Dookie siblings, MacArthur and Mulch.) He should be Chris Wilcox, dunking and posting and and rebounding his way into some decent fan base's hearts for two or three years before heading to the draft lottery. But that's not what he's doing! Plumlee did four years of Duke. And he really did Duke. He Instagrams photos from his Hannity viewing sessions. "Chicago trading floor with the homies," he says. You can't get the Duke stain off of him! He's so Dukey, he turned Coach K into Wooderson: “Like, I love him. He and I have an amazingly strong bond. I like that, too, because as I get older, the age difference keeps expanding. They don’t get older."
This is a tragedy. We pray Plumlee remembers—when Ryan Kelly, sweaty and sobbing after a beat-down at Creighton's hands, moves in for a supportive hug—that it all could have been so much simpler and sweeter for him.
A mildly prestigious college basketball surname attached to 27 vertical feet of gawky uselessness, towering goober Marshall will follow his free education at Virtue University with a wildly unearned, insultingly lucrative career as a pair of elbows with six personal fouls attached for the next decade. Somehow, The Last Plumlee's loathsomeness quotient grows in exact inverse proportion to his playing time, which puts him on pace to finish his college basketball career with a reputation only incrementally favorable to Bernie Madoff's.
11. The Amateur Bracketologist*, Or, That Guy From Your Office Who Swears He's Cracked The Code This Year
By Holly Anderson (SI.com)
When it comes to bracket science, we (the royal we) are the Texas State Board of Education. We disavow its utility, its very existence. This is not a thing you can work at and eventually get better at. There is no method but the careless flicks of grasping fingers of a vengeful college basketball god, and presuming to know His way will only upset Him. No, man was not meant to sail so close to the sun, but try telling that to the garrulous bro three cubicles over who wants to help you pick a few choice 5-12 upsets.
Are they doing this for fun, these people? No, they're doing this to have Something Special about themselves, and they're going to lose their office pools, every one of 'em, to Chrissy in Accounts Receivable who picked her winners based on team mascots in ascending order of fuzziness.
*Professional bracketologists are here exempted from our contempt, because they have figured out how to execute a task that could literally, actually be performed by a trained pigeon with no discernible difference in outcome, and they get paid for it. Sometimes they get paid to talk about it on television. This is the logical apex of the American dream, and these men are to be revered.
Marshall Henderson is, objectively speaking, annoying. The way he hogs the ball is annoying. His insistence on trolling opposing fanbases is annoying. The way he brags about his beer pong skills is annoying. His preferred method of making out with girls is annoying. He belongs on this list. And yet, despite all of these things that should make him so easy to hate, Henderson is still my favorite player in college basketball.
The difference between Henderson and other college basketball stars who have been the target of my ire is that Henderson's insufferability doesn't feel like it was learned; instead, it feels like Henderson has always been this way, and he just can't help it. As a counterpoint, take former Duke star J.J. Redick, who recently spoke to Grantland about his time as one of college basketball's preeminent villains:
“I think I created this persona on the court to deal with the antics of the other crowd, to kind of combat that,” Redick says. “It’s not who I was. It was never who I was. I look back on that, especially my first two years, and I probably deserved a lot of the animosity.”
Redick, like so many other Dukies, adopted a persona while in school that conformed easily to the institution's aristocratic, arrogant tradition. But Henderson has suffered no such indoctrination. He was an asshole at Utah and South Plains College, and he remains an asshole at Ole Miss. I mean, just look at the outfit that he is wearing in this picture. Does that look like a guy who has been polished into some kind of caricature, or a guy who hasn't changed his wardrobe or his personality since the eighth grade?
Henderson isn't just annoying; he has to be annoying in order to survive. He plays each game like every single one of his nerve endings is exposed, and I believe that every act of trolling and game of beer pong is a necessary denouement from his madness. If he didn't act this way, his mind would turn into an ever-compressing spring that is never allowed to release its scary, frenetic energy. Marshall Henderson has to annoy us, in order to save himself. And so he deserves to be on this list, but he does not deserve our scorn.
I'm plagiarizing myself here, but, really, isn't that the most appropriate way of addressing Big Red, the backwoods Grimace who serves as the mascot of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers? He was a ripoff from the beginning, cobbled blobbily together from materials donated by Hanna-Barbera, which itself was something of a cartoon chop shop. "Unclassifiable" is how his creator, Ralph Carey, puts it, which is a nice way of saying Big Red was soulless by design, a piece of branding and nothing else, like the swoosh on the shoes the mascot has worn faithfully since 1979. (Carey was a student in public relations at the time, and he'd go on to work in advertising.) Fat, goggle-eyed, slack-jawed, shambling brainlessly through our world and devouring all our children—Big Red is consumerism's mascot blob, not Western Kentucky's. He's available for rental, at $50 an hour.
Harvard is in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row (and after a 66-year hiatus), and the New York Times is not on it. Where is the headline about the Ivy League students who are capable of solving trigonometric theory but not of understanding simple Xs and Os, Bill Pennington??? Oh, that's right, you wrote it last year:
"Everybody's so excited about it; in the dining halls, everyone's talking about it," said Danielle Rabinowitz, a Harvard sophomore from Brookline, Mass. "So, even for a person like myself, who isn't at the basketball games themselves, I'm pretty in tune with the success of the basketball team.
"People always stereotypically feel that our conversations are generally about philosophy, or obscure topics that the common man can't relate to. I think that just adding this element of sports to the mix kind of grounds us in a more human way that is really great."
To borrow a phrase from our dear former colleague Luke O'Brien, a proud Crimson alumnus himself: Fuck you, Harvard.
This list is incomplete. Please add your own suggestions in the comments.
Images by Jim Cooke.