By Dan Bernstein–
In 1965, the Beatles concert at Shea Stadium featured its own version of a “First Four,” before the Fab Four made history.
The unforgettable opening acts that set the tone for the show were King Curtis, Cannibal and the Headhunters, Brenda Holloway and Sounds Incorporated.
Might as well have been UNC Asheville, Clemson, Texas-San Antonio and VCU.
At least as far as I’m concerned, the NCAA Basketball tournament starts today, as it always has.
I spent a grand total of zero minutes tuned to any of this year’s inaugural artifice, perfectly confident that I have missed nothing of significance.
What was the idea, again, other than to allow a few more coaches to say to potential recruits and their own bosses that they’d made an appearance? If it was to test the waters for further expansion down the road, it seems like good news for those of us who are against that plan.
This pointless concept is the equivalent of the basket of warm rolls set down on the table as you’re seated at a steakhouse. Fill up on them if you want, but don’t confuse it with dinner. It’s all about that succulent, medium-rare, $45, bone-in ribeye to come, so don’t ruin your appetite.
I didn’t, so I’m more than ready for today’s glorious, first-round chaos – wait…they changed that, now, so the last two days were the first round, technically, today and tomorrow are the second and Saturday/Sunday is the third. Ok, then.
This is the event’s best weekend, and one of the best four-day spans we have as fans of anything, even without a specific rooting interest. Everything feels like it’s everywhere. Games tick by fast against a background of brass bands, weeping cheerleaders, red-faced coaches and the shouting of play-by-play men who are apparently watching the Hindenburg come down. The energy that begins today needs no lame, fake introduction.
(I’m even going to some of the games here as a fan for the first time since I watched DePaul’s thrilling win over St. John’s at the Horizon 24 years ago. The one when Dallas Comegys missed a free-throw intentionally, Rod Strickland scored, and Mark Jackson drove end-to-end but missed the potential game winner)
“NCAA decided to copy boxing, stage a dull, dreadful undercard to kill the anticipation,” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel posted on Twitter last night.
I was always perfectly content to avoid those tomato-can contests leading up to the main event, too, back in the days when boxing was compelling. We know what we want to see, and bad matchups between insignificant opponents aren’t it.
The problem lies in the disconnect between the actual relevance of the games and what the NCAA purports with their placement as the official start of the party.
We are coming off some thrilling conference championship games between recognizable schools with nationally-known players, and then forcing an uncomfortable soft-launching of the big tournament two days before anybody’s ready, by showcasing teams nobody cares about.
I feel like I arrived at the show and settled in just as the lights are dimming for the star to take the stage.
If any of you chumps sat through that garbage warm-up act, I hope it was worth your time.