Friday, March 19, 2010

I Leave The Country For 10 Days And College Basketball Goes Topsy Turvy

I'm not sure if all of you managed to survive without my whimsical musings for the last two weeks, but if you did, perhaps you're back reading again. And if that's the case, maybe my readership won't have been as punished as much as I feared it would be. Awesome.

Either way, all of you can rest easy as I am back from a wild 11 days in Israel, where I saw new cities, wild landscapes and very little of the American sports scene. It should be noted, unfortunately, that I was unable to track down an Israeli national team hockey jersey -- I did find a bootleg copy of NHL 2K10 for Wii at a street market in Tel Aviv, however -- but that was hardly enough to bring down the rest of what was an amazing trip. In a visit that provided little in the way of Israeli sports, I was still able to get a feel for how the country feels for soccer and basketball. One night at a bar in Jerusalem I heard an entire street erupt after a major shot in some basketball game. Earlier that evening at our hostel, a number of Israelis were crowded around a TV for Maccabi Tel Aviv's game against Real Madrid.

Basketball would be on my mind, too, though not of the Israeli variety. No, I was primarily concerned with finding some way to learn the field for the 2010 edition of March Madness, and unsurprisingly I wasn't the only one who was anxiously awaiting the release of the NCAA Tournament bracket on Sunday night. It was actually Monday morning for us -- early Monday morning -- as our group woke up at 3 a.m. that day for a sunrise hike to the top of Masada. Because of the scarcity of internet access, keeping up was tricky, though I did see some of the more bizarre stories of the past two weeks. On the dark bus ride to our early morning trek, we hastily got word of the tournament field on one person's international blackberry, and little by little we began to figure out who we'd have in our Final Fours.

It wasn't until later that day in the southern city of Eilat that I finally got access to a pay computer in our hotel lobby and I plopped down 10 shekels to gain access to the internet and plug in my picks. This was easily the most hastily filled out and ill-researched bracket I've ever put together and I don't expect to do particularly well given the limitations, but it didn't stop me from wondering.

For 48 hours after I plugged in my picks I couldn't stop thinking about whether or not I should swap my pick on the first-round showdown between Notre Dame and Old Dominion. Old Dominion, you see, is a pretty solid team. Notre Dame, well, they're not. In fact, the Irish's losses this season include one to my Northwestern Wildcats, who were bounced from the first round of the NIT Wednesday night by Rhode Island.

For some unknown reason, I had taken the Irish anyway and, as you can see in my official picks on the left, that wound up being a mistake as I decided, despite thinking about it more than I'd like to admit, to leave Notre Dame as the pick in my bracket.


Perhaps the only thing that made me feel better this morning as I stepped off El Al Flight 001 from Tel Aviv to JFK this morning was that apparently everybody was wrong. Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Marquette all lost on the first day? Villanova just squeaked by Robert Morris in overtime? Three overtime games? Six games decided by three points or less? Seven low seeds winning?

Did I just sleep on a plane during the greatest opening day in March Madness history?

It looks entirely possible, and after a first day at 9-7 my bracket looks like it is thoroughly in shambles, although my Final Four (Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Villanova) is still intact and my Sweet Sixteen has only taken one hit (Vanderbilt). Of course, that probably puts me on par with just about everyone else in America.

It's too early to panic. After all, Cornell is currently winning early in the second half, which could make me look good, and I still look better than whomever is in charge of marketing for the Buffalo Bills ticket office.

As I watch today's tourney games, I'm still trying to get caught up on what has happened in sports since I was gone and life in general. Apparently, I've missed quite a bit, including the Devils completing a season sweep of the Penguins Wednesday night in what could be a huge two points down the stretch. Even huger? The Devils did so in their totally sweet green throwback duds the team wore from 1982-1993.

I'm still going to take the next few days to catch up on everything I've missed, everything from sports to work e-mail to folding laundry to DVRed TV shows, but it was certainly worth it. Aside from the sights, the trip provided me the added bonus of meeting a few partners in crime who might be interested in knocking out some stadiums with me, and that would be a huge help down the road.

As for this blogging space, I'll do my best to get back in the swing of posting regularly and next week the regular departments will be in full swing. I'll have a story up Monday morning and my retro NFL Mailbag up Friday with all the fun in between.

Until then, I've got some jetlag to conquer. Enjoy the Madness in the meantime.

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