When Maryland Baltimore County Credit Union Mini-Mart puts its stamp on the NCAA men’s basketball tourney, the apocalypse is nigh. Then again, if the Cubs can win a World Series, the Eagles can win a Super Bowl and 44-year-old Ichiro can still be a starting outfielder in Seattle (well, wait: The last one is more pathetic than absurd), then . . . we all may be in the same Salvador Dali painting.
The thrill of informing your great grandchildren you were alive when a 16 seed beat a No. 1 will make for great holiday-meal storytelling, at least until some wise-ass grandkid asks if that was the same year everyone in big-time college basketball was arrested. The perp walk hasn’t happened yet, but it’s only March.
The sly observation to make after the first-weekend carnage is that you noticed it was also when West Coast ball damn near died.
I mentioned Friday that the tourney was over for the meager Pac-12 Conference allotment practically before it started. UCLA and Arizona State were embarrassed in the play-in games, then league champion Arizona executed a fall from grace that was almost Weinsteinian in its ruthlessness.
Look at the round of 16: There’s only two teams from the West (Texas doesn’t count; it hasn’t been the West since John Wayne rode ponies).
Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference champion, nearly spit up Thursday against 13th-seeded North Carolina-Greensboro (every other outfit in the 68-team field seemed to be from the state of North Carolina) before regaining form Saturday and beating Ohio State.
The University of Nevada-Craps, the Mountain West Conference champion, was down 12 Friday and 22 Sunday before going Russell Wilson on the opposition each time.
No California teams. Oregon was in consecutive rounds of eight, but nada this time. And Arizona merely is hoping someone includes a file in the cake sent to the big house.
Perhaps the West Coast backwater championship game is Monday in Moraga, CA., when St. Mary’s of the WCC hosts the Washington Huskies in a second-round National Invitational Tournament game. I can almost hear, “One Kinda Shiny Moment-Thing.”
Remember when Seattle was alleged to be such a hotbed for youth hoops? Almost no one from hereabouts can still be found in the tourney.
Gonzaga’s roster has one in-state kid, freshman bench-warmer Corey Kispert from King’s High School in Shoreline (the Zags do have two from France and one each from Denmark and Japan).
Nevada has former Rainier Beach High School star Elijah Foster, who led Beach to a state title when he was tourney MVP. But in his senior year, the 6-8, 235-pound forward is the eighth man in for coach Eric Musselman, playing just 206 minutes in the regular season.
As the West joins Bruce Springsteen dancing in the dark, the rest of the country feels more bewildered than lonely. For just the fourth time since seeding began in 1979, two No. 1 seeds (Virginia and Xavier), failed to reach the Sweet 16, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Only seven top-four seeds made it, which ties for the fewest ever.
Coach Leonard Hamilton, whose ninth-seeded Florida State team ousted Xavier 73-70 Sunday, is not big on going with the hoops chalk in the era of the one-and-done, now in its 12th year.
“I think what you see happening in college basketball, it’s almost like a revolution,” he told reporters. “What happens is, you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college. But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better. Just because maybe they might not be in one particular conference, or maybe they’re not considered to be one of the more traditional rich schools, people are playing basketball.
“Sometimes the team that’s the most talented might not necessarily win the game. It’s the team that’s playing well at that particular time.”
Which is many words to say this: Randomness abounds and abides.
Absent any superpower teams, and perhaps fearing the day when the federal investigation names more big names, this tournament is at an all-time high for randomness.
High school kids may think twice about the blue-blood programs if they start to imagine their coach in a uniform — federal penitentiary orange coveralls. Already reeling from the scandal and a first-round knockout, Arizona coach Sean Miller has zero recruits committed for the start of school in fall.
But in the near-term, despite the high casualty rate in the West, the developments suggest perhaps the best opportunity yet for Gonzaga. After its title-game loss a year to North Carolina and roster departures, a slight dip seemed likely. But they are 32-4 and at 7 p.m. Thursday in Los Angeles draw Hamilton’s Seminoles, who may have exhausted their perfect-game shot against Xavier.
The winner plays the winner between Michigan and Texas A&M, neither of which has made a pretense to greatness, for a ticket to the Final Four.
The Zags could be the mayhem guy from the insurance TV commercial, still upright after the carnage.
Now that the threat from the hulking Credit Union Mini-Mart has been dispatched, glorious vistas unfurl before the Zags, like the lentil fields of home.