March 13, 2012
Admittedly, both men’s and women’s college basketball turn my crank. Especially this time of year, of course, with the NCAA tournament’s March Madness brackets assuming their springtime pedestal. Not that it’s a sports fetish with me like, say, college football or any level of baseball or rugby.
Some years are much more captivating than others, of course. Like back in 1998 when Rick Majerus took the University of Utah Running Utes to the final four before losing to Kentucky in the national-championship game. Much of it, to be sure, is the David versus Goliath component of the early round matchups when higher seeds go up against lower seeds and should prevail, barring upsets. And there’s the rub!
That’s where the true joy resides, of course. If you are able to actually pick an upset or two correctly when filling out your bracket, well, then, rapture has been known to set in. Hormonal "atta boys" start piling up to the point where you begin to believe that something more than blind luck is involved that you might actually be little more astute than your fellow bracketeers.
A year or so back, however, I began vaccinating myself against just such a post-tournament outbreak of hubris. I have always been totally clueless about the process and it was time that, when filling out my brackets anyway, I quit acting like there was some inherent value in my manner of breaking down particular matchups.
So, like I said, as protection against acquiring any unwarranted intellectual snobbery, I now give my left brain the month off. It’s not that right-brain-driven intuitions are any more successful at predicting winners than the usual left-brain analytical approach. It’s just that an inflated self-esteem finds it somewhat more difficult to enter the building.
That being said, in lieu of dissection and interpretation, here are my gut instincts, what I feel deep down in my bones, my hunches and psychic predilections, which, as often as not, don’t even relate to the sport in question.
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First of all, I love a good bourbon. With Kentucky once again a favorite, I should get that out of the way. I truly feel that they’ll come out of the South Regional by outlasting a plucky Lehigh squad which, after shocking Duke in their opening game, becomes 2012’s Cinderella team. Just a hunch, but I’ve long been drawn to the middle-distance component of the Mountain Hawk’s track squad.
The West Regional features a most intriguing early-round clash between Rick Majerus’ current ball club, the Saint Louis University Billikens, taking on the University of Memphis Tigers. Being a portly gray dude who gravitates toward the rotund in sports, I’ve gotta go with Majerus to upset Memphis here. Plus I flat-out love the word Billikens, whatever it means.
Another early-round matchup in the West features New Mexico, alma mater to both Ed Abbey and Tony Hillerman, taking on Long Beach State University where Dave Alvin and Steve Martin once separately plotted weekend jaunts to the Ash Grove and the Troubadour. Hunch-wise, it’s kind of a push. But since Old Town Albuquerque has the to-die-for Church Street Café, I’ll play my hunch there.
In the East Regional, Harvard, which gave us jazz fans saxophonist Joshua Redman, goes up against Vanderbilt University which is located across town from where Bob Dylan recorded "Blond on Blonde." This is a tough call. However, since Nashville, historically, gave little love to Waylon Jennings, I’m opting for the Crimson from Cambridge.
Also in the East, I’ve got Montana over Wisconsin and Gonzaga over West Virginia. Just the fact that Alicia Christians and William Kittredge hung out in Missoula is enough reason to infer victory for the Grizzlies. And with Gonzaga being just over the Washington state line from my schoolboy "hood" in the Idaho panhandle, the Bulldogs are a natural selection, so to speak.
Which leaves us with the Midwest Regional and a built-in conundrum bracket-wise. As my column deadline looms, the game between Cal-Berkeley and the University of San Francisco, which will decide who plays Temple, has yet to tip off. In that I’m much more Mario Savio than Bill Russell, I suppose the Golden Bears get my nod in this one.
So there you have it. And for the first time ever, both of my cranial hemispheres are in at least modest agreement. The Kentucky Wildcats will reign supreme. Methinks, however, that if a hoops squad from Tequila, Jalisco, were somehow allowed into the brackets, my right-brain might at least have wavered.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.