sports (2006-11)

The NC2As bring out the best and worst

Mad Love, Mad Hate

by Tony Basilio

Calling March Madness wonderful would be like saying Bruce Pearl is perky. There’s simply not another time like it on the sports calendar. It’s manic depression personified. March brings some the highest of highs and others (see UT) the lowest of lows. Perhaps this is why I carry an enduring love and hatred for the NCAA Tourney. Here’s my explanation.

Love: The first round of the tourney. Best two days in sports! David versus Goliath from pillar to post. Weber State & Harold ‘The Show’ Arceneaux. Princeton beating UCLA in the round of 32. Larry Bird leading Indiana State to the final. Willie White and Russ Schoene leading UT Chattanooga to a win over NC State in the first round in ’82, or UTC getting to the Sweet 16 in ’97. Bo Kimble shooting one-handed foul shots with his left hand in the ’90 NCAA Tourney in honor of Hank Gathers, his teammate who died only days before on the court in the conference championship.

Hate: CBS TV. Sure it was a lucrative arrangement to give CBS the entire NCAA Tourney about a decade and a half ago. Still, it cheated the country out of the opportunity to see the best part of the event, the first two days. When ESPN had the opening round, it was a Visine dream! I can remember watching, in one 36-hour period, every minute of every game that ESPN served up in ’85—28 hours of hoops! 14 hours per day! No breaks for local news and Andy Griffith. Games that tipped off at 11:30 p.m. Of course, these late games were on CBS back in the day as part of the old agreement. Still, ESPN created a true national holiday of basketball during the first couple of days of the tourney.

Love & Hate: CBS’s #1 broadcasting team of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer.  Nantz calls everything like it’s golf. He’s a great golf announcer but he’s a wretched, melodramatic, metrosexual hoops announcer. And his partner, Billy Packer, is loved here because he acts like the very balance of our eco-system is at stake in every minute detail of the game. He deals in minutia to the highest order. His greatest moment annually is when the pairings are announced and he attacks the rotating head of the selection committee for not getting it completely right. This year Nantz did the heavy lifting by cremating Tourney Chair Craig Littlepage, who couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Hey Jim & Billy, it’s college basketball. It’s a diversion. Get over it. Tennessee’s a #2 seed. Live with it!

Hate: The conference lovers. Fans who call talk shows from coast to coast worried about how their conference does. Never got it. Never will. Here’s the deal. You spend 365 days recruiting against, being maligned by and engaged in smear campaigns against a quasi-geographical collection of talent that seeks to destroy you at every turn. Then for a couple of weeks, you suspend this reality and act like you’re one big happy family. I would rather wear an ‘It’s Taliban Time In Tennessee’ T-shirt than cheer for Kentucky! Remember in this March Madness who won the SEC Coach of the Year according to the coaches in this league? (Hint:  It wasn’t Bruce Pearl). They spit in the man’s face because they don’t want him to gain any traction!

Love: The contrasting styles that amalgamate to create superb drama. So many times teams can mask a lack of talent and depth with a system that creates alchemy. It’s the old adage of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. You will see teams that love to run like Tennessee matched with squads that want to take the air out of it. Who wins the chess match many times is who advances. This means that sometimes the better team gets eliminated. Now that’s a great sporting event!

Love: Being there live. If you ever get a chance, go. There is a South regional this year played in the cavernous Georgia Dome. Hate hoops in football stadiums. Love seeing the magic of the moment, as the finality of tournament basketball is startling. There’s almost a fatalistic attraction about the event live. Put it this way, you work your whole life to put yourself in a situation to succeed and then, eight poor minutes of play later, you’re extinct! It’s Ecclesiastical!

Hate: The fact that Tennessee, no matter who the coach or era, has never been to the Final Eight. In the modern era, consider the teams that have been there like Penn, Gonzaga, Providence, Villanova, Utah, Indiana State, Marquette, Florida, Mississippi State, Kent.

Love & Hate: The office pools and filling out the brackets. You gotta love the fact that office pools are won by people who are so unknowledgeable that they think “Acorn” State is a school in Texas. They think Boston University plays in the ACC. They think Tennessee State is the Vols. Yet, because they are unemotional and ignorant, they win the money while you and I sit around and wonder what went wrong. Now, that’s the love and hate of March Madness.

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit for more information.