The Back Nine comes at you after a wonderful week in Nashville where the music never stops and Kentucky fans spent Sunday booking rooms in Indianapolis. Used brackets sold separately.
10. OK, so it’s a quick turnaround for the Back Nine, flying home one day and out the next to see my good friends at the Biting Sow blues bar in Oklahoma City and dining at Mantle’s. Tough life but somebody has to do it. The only downer is I miss my wife’s birthday. She had gotten used to it through nine straight NCAAs. So let’s get to my picks for the bracket (especially since my pick of Tennessee in the SEC Tournament was so spot on.) In the Midwest I have Kansas beating Georgetown in the final. In the West, I have Butler beating Kansas State in the final. In the East, I have Kentucky beating New Mexico in the final. And in the South, Villanova beats Duke. Now off with you. Kentucky is the toughest call because it has some difficult matchups. But I’m going with the theory that you stick with the teams that have the most NBA players. That, of course, doesn’t explain Butler in the Final Four, but I believe in miracles. Still, Kansas beats Kentucky in the title game.
11. Must-see TV this week, peeps. Obviously, everyone will be glued to the Gator game (this just in, they got in) but there are some others I’m looking forward to seeing. And with Florida playing the first game of the tournament, the opportunities will be there (bad omen though because the last time UF opened the tournament it lost to Manhattan). Vandy-Murray State should be intriguing, as will Temple-Cornell in a battle of two under-seeded teams. FSU-Gonzaga oughta be a doozy. But the great thing about the tournament is that you don’t know which games will be good and will be the ones you talk about the next day. It’s the best week in sports in my opinion. Add in UF Pro Day and the start of spring football and the boys on the sports desk are going to be busy, eh?
12. I’m like everyone else who can’t figure out why Duke received an easy path to the Final Four and the top seed of the tournament Kansas received such a difficult one. And I don’t get the inconsistencies of rewarding or not rewarding teams for how they played late. They eliminated the last 12 criteria but then seemed to apply it anyway. But I do know that the writers who participated in the mock selection process said it was incredibly difficult. And I know this — the tournament is a lot more fun now that Florida is back in it.
13. Nobody is less happy about their seed than the boys at Tennessee. It’s as if they were penalized for a lousy second half against Kentucky in the tournament and the subsequent 29-point loss. “A six seed? A six seed?” said Scotty Hopson. The look on Bruce Pearl’s face when the Vols flashed up on the screen, I mean, it was like he was trying to read instructions to install a microwave in his couch. I think the committee erred in a lot of its seeding but nobody will remember when the tournament starts Thursday.
14. Remember last year when the NCAA asked its officials to start enforcing the coaches’ box in college basketball? They did during the non-conference schedule but backed off the rest of the year. This season, it has been ignored completely. And nobody abuses it more than Rick Stansbury, the Mississippi State coach. Personally, I have no problem with coaches leaving the box. But Stansbury was on the court more than some of his players at the SEC Tournament. At one point, Vanderbilt’s Jeffrey Taylor inbounded the ball from in front of the Mississippi State bench and had to literally dodge Stansbury so he could go up the court. I wonder if he had run into him if it would have been a technical.
15. If it was up to me, the tournament would be in Nashville every year. The arena is ideal for hoops and right around the corner from Broadway, which is packed with restaurants and bars. But it will continue to move around in part to expose the tournament to different groups of fans but mostly because Bridgestone Arena only seats 18,000. You can fit a lot more people into the Georgia Dome and with Kentucky rolling again that means extra revenue for the league.
16. If Tiger Woods is ready to come back, The Masters is the perfect spot. I keep hearing people say he can’t come back for a major without a tuneup, but he’s not coming back to win another major. He’s coming back to come back. And for the most controlling athlete in the world, why not make your return to the most controlled tournament in the world? Remember a few years ago when Martha Burk staged her protest and they made her hold it a mile away in an empty lot and there was more media than protesters? That’s why Augusta will be perfect for Tiger.
17. Kentucky fan comes up to me while I’m trying to eat dinner Saturday night in Nashville. He wants me to buy him a beer, like that was going to happen. He’s hammered and when he finds out I’m from Gainesville he starts ripping Joakim Noah for being a horrible person. It was at that point that it changed. My conversation with Ashley Judd earlier that day had killed all of my bad feelings about Kentucky fans. It’s back.
18. The iPod was great for workouts and four flights on the trip, so here are the weekly recommendations: Try “Ordinary Day” by Dolores O’Riordan, “Dirty Robot” by The Lemonheads and for old-school memories, how about “She’s Not There” by The Zombies?