Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hoop Dreams

When I Can Afford to Lose - Will Hoge (mp3)
Down on a Bender - .357 String Band (mp3)

If last night were about “hoop dreams,” it was because most of the public had fallen asleep by the time the game was over.

The NCAA National Championship game between the University of Connecticut and the Butler University Bulldogs was, without question, the most torpidly boring spectacle to grace national television in a long, long time. At one point, I was praying to God that the 1968 made-for-TV version of HEIDI would commandeer the station and put us all out of our misery.

If there’s anything worse than watching a team scratch and claw their way into a national championship only to be literally incapable of hitting the ocean from a canoe, I can’t think of it. The story of David and Goliath only makes for good drama if David can hit something, anything, with that damn stone. But if the story of David and Goliath involves David picking up 200 stones and missing everything -- missing Goliath, Goliath’s friends, the bystanders, the animals, everything -- then it becomes just Gawd-awful.

It was THE WORST SHOOTING NIGHT EVERRRRRR. (No seriously. The second-worst was 1941.)

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite SHOWGIRLS bad. It wasn’t Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen bad. Because Butler was pitiful. I don’t pity Showgirls or LiLo or Mr. Adonis Blood. I pitied Butler. They were the little engine that sucked.

By the time the game ended, however, my pity had become seething hatred. I hated them for embarrassing my sport, for making millions of people feel like they’d wasted their time, for making golf look exciting. No no, this Butler made cross-country skiing look exciting.

It was the perfect cap to the season everyone who loves college basketball begrudgingly acknowledged was, from Day One, “the Weakest Collection of College Basketball Teams in the Modern Era.”

Yes, I’m biased because I’m a rabid fan of the UNC Tar Heels. I’m also a true and sincere fan of college basketball. I love that it’s not as much about the star as it is about the school. The coach is often the star, because other than the mascot, a coach is the most consistent thing a school team has going for it.

It’s got plenty of flaws, most of which were painfully visible in last night’s debacle. Bad shooting. More bad shooting. Bad off-the-ball movement. Defense that swallows offense. The desperate hope that a team might score 50 points before the final buzzer.

You remember that scene in CASTAWAY when Wilson drifts away, and Tom Hanks can't get him back, and he sits on his boat and cries like a baby for hours? That was Butler coach Brad Stevens, and Wilson was every basketball manufacturing company in the world, and they were all doing their damnedest to get the hell away from him before he ruined their reputation forever.

Brad Stevens pulled off the greatest coaching accomplishment in college basketball since John Wooden. And I absolutely despise him for it. He stole away a chance for us to see a really good game. He and his non-major conference players who were worse at layups than most D-II girls’ teams.

Brad, dude, I respect you, but please go away forever. Or go to a D-I school and give me a chance to believe you won’t do anything like this again. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a great coach, but your contribution to the game has been gifting a title to Dook and UConn, wrapping the Naismith Trophy in a big red bow and just handing it over to two teams I completely despise.

On the bright side, somehow I still love the sport, and when November comes around, I’ll be full of anticipation and excitement for hoops.

But for now, I don’t want to see a round orange ball for a good long while. And for all those coaches of all those teams seeded 1-5 who somehow managed to screw up badly enough to let VCU and Butler make the Final Four? You should all be put on probation for a year, because all of you have culpability here. You are all accomplices to the crime of stealing my three hours. I want you to pay restitution. You'll be receiving my class action lawsuit very soon, so buckle up.

13 comments:

troutking said...

Though I'm not sure because for me the NCAA basketball season was zero games long, I think Butler's season was more than one game long. Unless this post is just you listening to a lot of that old Janet Jackson song "What Have You Done for Me Lately?"

Billy said...

The title of the song is, "What Have You Done For Me When Anyone Gave One Rat's Ass?"

Nobody watched Butler's season. Making the finals was great. Yay. But if the Chattanooga Lookouts somehow snuck into the World Series only to go scoreless in four games with the Yankees, I don't think I'd be praising them for a great season. I'd be pissed that they destroyed what might otherwise have been an enjoyable World Series.

stowstepp said...

I'm with ya Billy. I watched the first half (switching between hoops and my beloved Bruins spitting the bit against the hated Rangers) then gave up on both. It was a doubly ugly night for me.

Bob said...

Isn't there an underlying elitism/snobbery to all of this? And it's not about shooting percentages or boring games. It's about who deserves (italics mine) to play in a title game, isn't it? Why wouldn't you put the coach of any team who lost to a lower seed (say, a #2 that lost to a #4) on similar probation? Because they lost to a "legitimate" team? How can a "true and sincere fan of college basketball" be so disappointed by the circumstance that a lower-seeded team in the tournament almost went all the way? I thought that was supposed to be the tournament's charm.

Nobody watched Butler's season?

Is the gripe really because the title game was crappy? So what? A lot of times, so is the Super Bowl, but the run up to it usually makes for some very exciting football.

Sure, I thought last night's first half was a humorous anomaly and the second half nothing but painful, but that doesn't stop me from celebrating Butler's (or VCU's) run.

As for UConn, who didn't exactly light it up last night, they are the Green Bay Packers--they weren't the best team this year, but they put together the best run at the end when it counted. Ain't that sports?

Billy said...

Bob. Seriously? You are going to attribute my nausea at the worst shooting performance in the history of the title game to snobbery? No major conference team would have had that kind of full-blown collapse in the same situation. I know this because history proves it.

I had no fewer than 6 friends -- three of them most decidedly not UNC fans -- all texting me and saying it was the worst title game they've ever watched. The number of Facebook comments of that nature are countless. I guess they could all be snobs, but I think everyone who loves basketball was in disbelief that Mr. Magoo could have shot better than Butler.

That game virtually guaranteed the BCS at least another 8-10 years of survival, because how much worse could the BCS system be than a tournament if the Butler/UConn game is your end result? Even I have my doubts now.

UConn never lost on a neutral court all season. They played and beat four teams ranked in the top 25 on the way to the title. I didn't knock their part in this. Except that they were the Green Bay Packers who played the Super Bowl against some Canadian Football League team.

And no, I wouldn't dare want to get in the way of your celebrations. You can drink all day and night to the greatness of VCU and Butler. Huzzah to you.

troutking said...

But why are you blaming the coach and the players for one bad game? They (mostly the same team) have now run through the tournament twice, beaten teams with more "talent" and "tradition" and fallen just short of upset victories which would have made them the darlings of the entire sports world. Who really cares if Duke, UConn, Kansas or, dare I say, UNC wins another title? Same old, same old. So Butler had a bad game. That doesn't make them bad players or incompetent coaches. Why berate them for "ruining" your night and daring to defeat the established basketball powers of the world? If it's not snobby, it's just peevish. Brad Stevens could paraphrase Elaine Benes: "For it is I who have seen the nipple upon YOUR soul."

Billy said...

Trout -- As someone who (a) doesn't follow basketball and (b) supposedly gave up on actually following sports and (c) once "loyally" cheered for the Cubs, your "who really cares" comment speaks more to you than to fans of a sport. The answer, to any actual fan of any actual sport is, "We care." You actually know this, but you're having fun with this just like I am.

Calling Butler's performance "a bad game" is like calling Custer's demise "a bad day." It's like calling JFK's assassination "a bad day." It was record-breakingly bad in the biggest moment of the biggest stage of the sport. It was historically bad.

(And in my original post, I acknowledged that Stevens pulled off the most amazing coaching feat since Wooden. Not exactly an insult. My hating what he did to the championship game didn't prevent me from recognizing his accomplishment.)

Daisy said...

I think you might be onto something with your Mr. Magoo comment. Butler's mascot does bear a high resemblance to Magoo's trusty sidekick.

Bob said...

This post is a continuation of your post-UNC loss to UK outlook when you celebrated that contest as being between "two legitimate teams," implying that others in the tournament were not legitimate.

I agree with Trout--one bad game don't spoil the whole bunch, girl! Sure, Butler sucked, but they didn't quit. I'm reminded of the Neil Young song where he says, "He tried to do his best, but he could not." Isn't there something worthy in that?

troutking said...

Billy,
Please don't speak at my retirement ceremony, as I don't want to hear "Jeff was a great college counselor, though in the end he didn't know what he was doing. I hate him and want him to go away." Let's face it, regarding the accomplishments of Butler's players and coach, your "not exactly insults" were really candy-coated poop balls. Butler did everything they needed to do to win a title during the last two regular seasons and 10 of 12 days in the tournaments. They barely lost last year in the title game and didn't play well this year, but not out of lack of effort or trying to sabotage your sport. Not out of arrogance like Custer or, um, are you blaming JFK for his own assassination? That's a novel new conspiracy theory that a certain middle school science teacher might like. I know you're exaggerating your vitriol for humorous purposes, but I still say the world of sports would be better off with more Brad Stevens and Butler Bulldogs than more Calhouns and Caliparis and their rent-a-players on the way to the NBA via the tattoo parlor. It's true I don't really care about college basketball. That colors my perspective, but it also may provide it.

Billy said...

Saying someone has pulled off the greatest coaching feat since John Wooden is a "candy-coated poop ball"? Well how the frick do you suggest I compliment him?? Or maybe you don't know who John Wooden is.

My post is the following: (1) I state the game sucked.* (2) I declare how watching it made me feel. (3) I acknowledge the significance of Stevens' job. (4) I declare more of my emotional reaction.

I never anywhere in my write-up tell either of you how you should feel about it. I only state my own reaction. If you go back and read carefully, you might realize that it never once commands others how to react or think.

Thankfully, neither of you are judgmental like this on any level, so I guess it's hard for you to understand.

* -- and it sucked on a level never before seen in a championship game, to the tune of 18% shooting.

troutking said...

Billy,
Your emotional and judgemental response to the game was exactly what made this post interesting enough to get so many comments, but it was emotional and judgemental, and in my opinion at least, unfair to Butler. It often doesn't come across as your opinion, but as statement of fact. I KNOW I'm guilty of this sometimes. My own dad once said "sometimes you can be an asshole" when I was doing it. In my opinion it was just a bit harsh. As you might say, I'm just sayin...

Examples:
"without question, the most torpidly boring spectacle to grace national television in a long, long time." [really? there's a lot of bad TV out there]

If there’s anything worse than watching a team scratch and claw their way into a national championship only to be literally incapable of hitting the ocean from a canoe, I can’t think of it. [how about the Japanese nuclear disaster, slaughter of Libyan rebels or mass murders on Long Island, just to name a few current examples. or perhaps more relevant, recruiting violations, steroid use, cheating, etc that is so prevalent in athletics]

I pitied Butler. They were the little engine that sucked.
By the time the game ended, however, my pity had become seething hatred. I hated them for embarrassing my sport, for making millions of people feel like they’d wasted their time. [harsh, just because an emotion feels genuine, does that mean it's justified?]

Brad Stevens pulled off the greatest coaching accomplishment in college basketball since John Wooden. And I absolutely despise him for it. He stole away a chance for us to see a really good game. He and his non-major conference players who were worse at layups than most D-II girls’ teams.

Brad, dude, I respect you, but please go away forever. Or go to a D-I school and give me a chance to believe you won’t do anything like this again. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a great coach, but your contribution to the game has been gifting a title to Dook and UConn, wrapping the Naismith Trophy in a big red bow and just handing it over to two teams I completely despise. [the compliment at the beginning of each paragraph is certainly lost when you re-context what you think his accomplishment is]

I guess my main reaction is that if someone loves college basketball, it seems there are much more important and genuine threats to the sanctity of the sport than Butler's bad performance in one game. I'm thinking of things like cheating, commercialization, selfishness, etc. To me, Butler represents the antidote to those things, even if they do miss some easy layups.

goofytakemyhand said...

I've solved the mystery. "Billy" is really Billy Packer!

Now is "Bob" really Bob Davie?