Thursday, March 15, 2018

No Guys In Mickey Mouse Shirts

If you work in college athletics, then you know that being involved in an NCAA tournament pool that includes money is a really, really bad idea.

Here in the Office of Athletic Communications, there is an office bracket challenge, though there is no money at all involved. You hear that compliance staff?

TigerBlog filled out a bracket. He can't remember which teams he picked where, except that he has Purdue over Michigan in the final, for a rematch of the Big 10 championship game.

He doesn't really think Purdue is going to win it all, since it seems like the Boilermakers might have peaked a little too soon. Maybe they were the best team in late January and early February.

If they can get back to where they were then for six games, they'll win it all. Either way, TB is rooting for them.

Remember, he was there back in January, when they destroyed Wisconsin at home. That was as good a college basketball atmosphere as TB has ever seen.

After the four play-in games, the NCAA tournament begins for real today, with wall-to-wall games all day and night today and tomorrow. TigerBlog has said this many times - the NCAA tournament is a unique event in that with each successive round, it gets less and less interesting.

Today and tomorrow will be the best days. The weekend will be okay, to see if the teams that won in upsets in the first round can get to the Sweet 16.

After that? All the games will just start to look alike and be overhyped, all the way to the final. So enjoy today and tomorrow.

Penn, the Ivy League champion, is a No. 16 seed, playing Kansas at 2 this afternoon in Wichita. There has never been a 16 seed that has beaten a one in the men's tournament.

Princeton, of course, came really, really close, losing 50-49 to Georgetown in 1989. That game was played 29 years ago Saturday.

TigerBlog has been to the NCAA men's basketball first- and second-rounds many times. If you're a college basketball fan, it's well worth your time to go check one of them out if you'e never been.

When you work in athletic communications, your view of the NCAA tournament is vastly different than that of your average fan. It's an all-consuming few days, from the clinching of the bid to the selections to the preparation to the travel to the games themselves.

During that time, you're dropped into the biggest event going in sports, surrounded by media people everywhere, many of whom you've seen on TV for years. They all have questions, all want to talk to your coach and players, all want to know everything there is about a team that you've seen all year and they know nothing about.

Oh, and the famous media people? Some of them you like and some you don't from watching them on TV all those years, and often the opposite becomes true when you meet them.

You know which TV person TigerBlog liked a lot? Billy Packer.

The busiest time is actually the day before your team plays. There's a shootaround that's open to the public, so it's not really much of a practice. Instead, it's just a chance to get familiar with the arena and have an expectation of what the game itself will be like. For an actual practice, the team will be someplace else in the area, at a local college or high school gym.

In addition to the shootaround, there's also a press conference for each of the eight teams at the site. This takes place in the giant media room and features questions that range from astute to simplistic to stereotypical to funny.

And of course, there's the down time, the chance to go out someplace nice to eat before game day. TigerBlog's advice - never, ever agree to go out to eat with a huge group. Then it becomes 20 people at a table, adding an extra hour to dinner by the time the waiters and waitresses get everyone drink orders and everthing else. And heaven forbid you want to get soup but nobody else wants an appetizer. It's never fun.

TigerBlog did that once, in 1996, the night before the UCLA game. The day after the UCLA game, Harvey Yavener, the longtime local sportswriter and gourmet, took TigerBlog to a fancy steakhouse and said it was limited to a very small group. Back then, there was another writer who covered Princeton who was fond of wearing Disney shirts, and he had been there the night before at the huge group dinner. When Yav mentioned the steakhouse, he said "just us. No guys in Mickey Mouse shirts."

When TigerBlog thinks back to the NCAA tournaments he's gone to with Princeton, he of course starts in 1996, with the win over UCLA in Indianapolis. That was quite a moment for Princeton, a win over the defending national champion after Pete Carril announced his retirement.

TigerBlog couldn't get back to the media requests fast enough. Every time he checked his voicemail, it was full. Everyone wanted to talk to someone from Princeton.

The 1998 trip to Hartford was good, at least until the infuriating loss to Michigan State in the second round. Really each trip to the tournament had something special about it.

Among the non-game related memories:

* shipping football media guides instead of basketball media guides to the Superdome in New Orleans in 2001 before Princeton-North Carolina

* being introduced to then-UNLV coach Bill Bayno at the pre-tournament meeting in 1998 in Hartford and having Bayno say "nice to meet you. We have no chance of winning." He turned out to be right

* being at the same site as Air Force in 2004 - Denver - and hearing Joe Scott being asked to defend his team's at-large bid, after it won the regular season but lost in the league tournament: "I mean, we won the Mountain West Conference," he said.

* when Vinnie DiCarlo, an OAC intern, swiped the sign that read "this is not a public entrance to the RCA Dome" in Indianapolis in 1996

* having to buy extra clothes in a mall in Indianapolis in 1996 because TB didn't pack with the consideration that Princeton would beat UCLA and have to stay for three more days

* watching 15th-seeded Richmond beat second-seeded Syracuse in a Syracuse sports bar in 1991 the night before Princeton-Villanova

TigerBlog has had way more than his share of championships and NCAA tournament trips, in many sports.

He's greedy, though. He still wants more of them.

Still, the ones he's been to have been the source of great memories, the ones he mentioned here and many others.

If you can go watch an NCAA tournament regional, make sure you do. If you can work for a competing team, it's even better.

And good luck to the Quakers. Hopefully the Tigers will be back next year.

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