March 28, 2006


Here's guessing your tuning in this weekend less with a chance to cash in on your bracket and more eager to watch four fantastic stories pen the final chapter in their storybook stomp to Indianapolis.

In a span of 12 games, as 16 contenders were whittled to 4, The Tournament (there is no equal) treated us to bracket-busting upsets, Maalox sponsored overtimes, gripping comebacks galore, breathtaking buzzer beaters, incredulous turnovers and a game-changing goaltending call that will haunt my bank account for tournaments to come.

You want historical significance? For the first time since 1980, not a single #1 seed advanced to the Final Four and George Mason's #11 seed is the lowest since Villanova's remarkable romp in 1986.

This is the same George Mason, mind you, that barely cracked the field of 65 and survived their 1st round with their starting point guard suspended (I'm taking the high road on that can of worms).

That, my friends, is March Madness in its purest form.

Without fail, the tournament lived up to its maddening ways as the gripping saga of hardwood dreams unfolded, some realized, others shattered.

The farewell of scoring machines J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, the regular season's feel-good story, launched us into a wild weekend of tourney unpredictability every turn along the way.

The beauty of the Final Four is at work with the emergence of four teams dedicated to the Norman Dale ideals of team basketball, passing and defense, and none have been caught watching the paint dry.

Though not the usual suspects as we enter "One Shining Moment" territory, each knocked off the #1 seed in their regional, seizing the opportunity to shine on basketball's biggest stage, proving to bracketmaniacs that it's the hungriest teams that feast in Indy this weekend.

It's anybody's guess who will surf their tidal wave of momentum to the laddertop of Monday night's climax. Here's each school's permission slip to run with scissors.


No, football hasn't instituted the playoff system just yet. But these Gator hoopsters are every bit as Fun N' Gun as their gridiron counterparts. They cruised through the Minneapolis Regional like a spring vacationer in the Sunshine State, dictating the tempo with their athleticism and play-making abilities. Watching Joakim Noah quarterback the full-throttle attack is a spectacle to behold. If he continues to dismantle the opposition at both ends of the court, it will be party time in Gainesville and bon voyage for the son of Hall of Fame tennis player Yannick Noah, the inspiration for his diggable hairdo. Billy Donovan's experience leading Florida to a runner-up finish in 2000 only helps their cause, .

George Mason
You'd think the hard part was done after toppling the defending champ Tar Heels, another 2005 Final Four participant in Michigan State, and easily the country's most talented team and odds-on favorite, Connecticut Huskies. Unfortunately, the road has just begun for the Virginia darlings. Their biggest advantage? Underdog factor. They've ridden it this far, what's another two games? They wear their small-school chip on the shoulder like a badge of honor. Why couldn't history repeat itself as George Mason mimics the small school that could, Milan High School, and win one for mid-majors everywhere? These Patriots don't need Adam Vinatieri to chip in game-winning 3-pointers. If they play the loose, team-oriented basketball that trumped the traditional powers, we could be privvy to the ultimate shocker in college sports history. Regardless of the outcome, George Mason's epic run will be cherished in tourney lore forever.

Another SEC football powerhouse making a splash in the tourney, the Bayou brand of basketball has overwhelmed the likes of Duke and Texas with unbridled athleticism and unmatched intensity. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is the Tigers poster child, an ex-running back who's as hard to stop in the paint as Jerome Bettis on the goal line. Along with the lightning quick instincts of Darrel Mitchell and the long-armed freak of nature Tyrus Thomas, LSU defends its goal like a tigress guarding her cubs. As long as they keep exploiting their mismatches and wreaking havoc on the glass, we could be in for a Mardi Gras redux.

College basketball's most storied program finds itself in a familiar setting as the Bruins aim to bump their banner total to an even dozen. Granted, they'll have to aim a little better than they did in eeking by Memphis to win the Oakland Regional. But Ben Howland's boys have bought in to their defense first mentality, harrassing their opponents beyond frustration. With such emphasis on keeping the score to a minimum, any offensive rhythm established is icing on the cake. UCLA knows this trip to Indy means nothing without any hardware. Call it a hunch, but the powder blue and gold seem to be saving their best for last, poised to add their name to the legendary list of Westwood wonders.

March 13, 2006

Sweet 16 Swell Picks Contest

Jimmy the Greek we're not. More like Zorba the Greek, but what's March Madness without a little competitive blood running through We Is ND's veins? The contributors are offering their Sweet 16 choices and picking out to the eventual champ. Winner gets a TBA prize involving a mad props shout out, major respect, a special post dedicated to the champ (and maybe even a champion's beer). We're opening the doors to our readers to join in the picking frenzy so if you post your picks BEFORE games begin Thursday, you stand to win the aforementioned TBA immaterial yet glorious acclaim of Inaugural Champ of WeIsND's Sweet 16 Swell Picks Contest.

The scoring system is easy. For each team that advances to the given round, you get the designated point value. Add them up to determine a winner, with the tiebreaker being closest guess to the total points scored in the Championship game.
Sweet 16: 2 points
Elite 8: 4 points
Final 4: 6 points
Finals: 8 points
Champ: 10 points

On to the picks! (which can be viewed in the comments section below)

March 12, 2006

Let the Madness Begin

The sporting world's greatest single elimination tournament unveiled its brackets today, which means it's time to lace up the Sunday shoes and practice some moves for the Big Dance. Each team showcases its own Dance "steps", if you will, from UAB's up-tempo harassing cha-cha to Iowa's plodding beat-you-to-submission slow dance to West Virginia's backdoor cutting and 3-point strutting tango. Just as "One Shining Moment" is synonymous with the title game, Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1,000 Dances" may as well be the soundtrack for the first 2 rounds as the nation gladly experiences ADD anxiety trying to keep tabs on multiple games at once.

Reports claim that more than $3 billion in production will be lost at workplaces with extended "lunch breaks" and refreshing of websites ad nauseum. That'd be more of a problem if bosses weren't side-by-side with their employees rooting on their brackets. Water cooler bragging rights are at stake in office pools, where someone invariably wins basing their picks on jersey color or meaner mascot. The ritual of filling out a bracket(s) stands unmatched by any other sporting event as the 63 game slate captivates the nation for 19 days. There's a communal vibe that draws us all together, owing to the vested interest in the outcome of every game.

Storylines run as thick as Rick Majerus' clogged arteries, spotlighting senior leaders, emerging stars, deserving coaches and unheralded schools. Auditions begin Thursday for the lead role of Cinderella in this year's dramatic exposition. Fanbases making their first trip to the tournament will be as excited as Dickie V. courtside at Cameron Indoor. And there's no greater joy than witnessing the elation of Small School U. realizing its dreams with an upset victory.

Miracle endings etch their place in tourney folklore with relative unknowns becoming household names come tournament time. Who will become the next Bryce Drew or Lorenzo Charles is anybody's guess. Mid-majors, rightly or wrongly, snared more bids than ever, a subplot with long-term ramifications if the middies can back up their selections. Nearly all of the top teams had weaknesses exposed down the stretch with clear cut favorites lagging close to the pack - a parity proponent's dream.

Cue the 6:41 pm tip-offs and get on with the show. Anything is possible from now until April 3rd, when the smooth sound of Luther Vandross "The ball is tipped..." anoints a new champion, signaling the end of another maddening march to the Final Four.

March 06, 2006

The Day Our Hero Died

Monday March 6, 2006. The cruel Chicago wind wasn't my only greeting walking out of the house. I stared at the cold black newsprint stating Kirby Puckett was in critical condition after suffering a stroke. The reality of the message took a few moments to sink in...

Puck doesn't lose this way, does he?

A day of uneasy speculation unfolded, refreshing webpages compulsively looking for reassurance that Kirby would deliver his late inning heroics once again. The prospect that the world would wake Tuesday without our beloved Puck refused to burrow its way into my consciousness.

Couldn't he jump on his own back in this time of need just as he prophetically told his teammates to do before rescuing the 1991 World Series? For someone who overcame long odds ever since emerging from Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes as a 5'8'' dynamo with a heart as big as his smile, what was one last wall to scale? Unfortunately, this hurdle proved too high for the portly Puck to surmount.

The consummate teammate played the game he loved with a contagious enthusiasm, infecting all lucky enough to cross his path. A rare breed in this primadonna age of sports, Kirby affected games with his bat, glove and clubhouse zeal while winning everyone over with his signature charismatic charm. Even during the dark days that followed his retirement, it seemed inevitable Puck would find the light and make things right, like busting out of a rare batting slump.

The day the Twins retired #34, Kirby echoed the historic words of Lou Gehrig, declaring on that day to be the luckiest man on the planet. Those same exuberant words personifying Kirby's magnetic aura have a haunting effect now that he follows The Iron Horse as the second youngest player to die already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Losing the athlete who captured my imagination as a child and inspired my athletic ambitions has left me a blubbering mess several times in the wake of the news. His impact will long be remembered and his legacy preserved by those touched by Puck's joie de vivre.

The roly-poly wunderkind waxed poetic from time to time, bestowing life lessons that defined the way he played and conducted himself. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech, "It doesn't matter what your height is, it's what's in your heart." His legacy and spirit will carry on.

We're all luckier to have jumped on his back for the ride. We'll miss you #34. You were our hero.