Act like you’ve been here before – even if you haven’t |

Act like you’ve been here before – even if you haven’t

The flu has left me Macauley Culkin-like, alone in the sports department with a column to fill and a snoot full of Day-Quil. Since it’s March, I’ve chalked it all up to Madness.

I’m getting the impression this is a bizarre year for the NCAA hoops tournament with No. 1 seeds Stanford and Arizona and No. 2s St. John’s, Temple, Cincinnati already spun out of the bracket. That’s what the jabbering heads on my TV tell me, anyway.

This, supposedly, rests in pure contrast to a “normal” 1999, when I sat banging my head on the floor of my “Boogie Nights”-decored hellhole of an apartment in Colorado after some guy named – and if I’m making this up, it’s just the (editor’s note: over-the-counter) drugs talking – Harold “The Show” Arcenaux bombed my third-seeded alma mater out of the first round.

But this is the kind of tournament where I can be proud to have two teams out of the Final Four I picked for my pool (Disclaimer, to be repeated rapidly and ad nauseum: Ofcourseit’snotformoneybecausethatmightbeillegal) still alive: Michigan State and Oklahoma State. The other two? Ohio State and Arizona.

Wildcats fans will be happy to know this is the last time I picked Arizona for anything. The Cats would be a 50-50 bet at best to win their own awards ceremony if it took place in March. Yes: They won the 1997 tournament, and probably could win even when Lute Olsen suits up four scholarship players and a sweepstakes winner, but it looked like the latter would have to happen this year. And they’re also a perpetual threat to put schools like Louisiana Christian Growth Academy, Northeastern Wyoming Barbers College and the Quaker Military Institute on the basketball map.

As for the Buckeyes, it seemed a second Final Four would be a fitting reward for senior Scoonie Penn – according to my calculations, a 14th-year senior at Ohio State. Maybe the Al Pinkins/Al Dillard Award for Persistance will make him feel better.

So who’s going to make it? I’m not sure. I think this tournament is getting closer to what organizers envisioned when they expanded the field to 64 team – a tournament where every team is as dangerous as discount sushi, as frightening as the prospect of a Buchanan presidency.

People tell me I should toot North Carolina’s horn more since they picked this year to make the Sweet 16 out of the eighth seed. Maybe I should, after watching from afar as my Tar Heels lost to somewhere called Weber State last year; choked against Utah in the Final Four in 1998; let Arizona complete an unheard-of nonconference regular-season sweep in 1997; and got shell-shocked after Texas Tech’s Darvin Ham broke the backboard over their collective head in 1996. That all followed 1995, when I was actually there, in Chapel Hill, N.C. where the state deployed its National Guardsmen and declared a prohibitive state of emergency should Carolina win.

Besides, as tough as this year has been to predict, there are other teams that seem to have a better chance at the Final Four. Isn’t a free-wheeling Gonzaga team which can’t hit free throws but may be the odd-son favorite at the Final Four a sign of the Apocalypse? And how many people filled in their brackets with an all-Oklahoma semifinal of Tulsa and Oklahoma State?

A few things have stayed the same, though. There’s always a player who comes out of nowhere for a big game (Ty Shine, Seton Hall) as well as a really cool name that rolls off the tongue (Stromile Swift, LSU).

It’s a mad, mad world out there.

– Steve Yingling’s column will return to its regular day next week.

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