March Madness Rerun

Yes, this is the same article I wrote on March Madness for concord-nh.patch.com last year, but seriously, I tried to think of something different, and came up with nothing.  One question I thought about but couldn’t think of anything is this:

Is there anything these ads can as a substitute for the “tournament heroics” they normally feature?  State Farm can only show how Tyus Edney typifies what it takes to be a winner, just like State Farm, so many times.  The same 8-10 game winners are used every year, can tourney ads go in another direction?  Like I said, I can’t think of anything, but if anyone out there can, leave a comment with your idea.

So here’s the good ol’  “The New March Madness.”

 

Trying to come up with a new and exciting angle to write about March Madness is tough these days. 

We’ve all read and watched pieces trying capture the essence an underdog, stories of dudes who come from tough stuff or who are actually smart and good at basketball at the same time. After a couple of years of not watching a ton of tourney games, I finally had a chance this weekend to reconnect with one of only two entities that could drive me to call out sick from work and lay around for 12 to 14 hours at once. I discovered that times have changed.

The tournament is now a pretty open field. There are the handful of powerhouses on top (Syracuse, Michigan State, Kentucky) then the rest. I can remember, years ago, the delight of convincing that person/those people at work who knew nothing about sports to participate in the office pool. Looking down, as I took their money, and seeing that they picked all the teams with the higher number next to them (“cause the higher the number the better the team, right?”) reassured me that all the basketball I watched and researched throughout the year was about to pay off. Now that same person has as much a chance of taking home the cash as someone who never misses a Big Monday and follows Jay Bilas’s Twitter feed.  The leveling of the playing field has made the tourney both harder to predict and more fun for everyone.  Now the clueless person at work (clueless about basketball, that is) may have a routing interest and a reason to at least check the paper during the weekend of the Sweet 16.

How did we get here? 

As with many aspects of life, college basketball has transformed right before our eyes. The sport that had schools maintaining prolonged dominance and stellar recruiting (Duke, Indiana, UCLA), is now a sport with schools trying to woo”one-and-done” players (explained below) and hoping to have a good two-year run.  It is extremely rare to watch a player everyone knows is going to the pros play in the tournament for three years. Keeping top talent in the NCAA for more than 2 years is, sadly, impossible.

It all started way back in 19-diggety2, well, I mean, 1995. Kevin Garnett (’95) and Kobe Bryant (’96)** were players with talent so rare there was no debate that they would successfully transition straight from high school to the NBA. This started a trend of high schoolers foregoing college and trying their hand in the pros. It had a major imapct on the college game because guys who would have been grooming their games during March Madness, becoming more and more well known over a two, three, or four year career, just weren’t there. This left the tourney with a bunch of unknown teams duking it out while the best 18- to 22-year-olds were learning the ropes of the NBA, with varying degrees of success. After tinkering with the rules a bit, players must now be 19-years-old and one year out of high school to enter the NBA. This has bred a new type of college player, “the one and done.” These players simply play NCAA ball for a year then declare for the draft. The frenzy to land a blue chip recruit is overpowering and the top programs hope to get one or two and ride their hot hands to the Final Four. This leaves the tournament with a few loaded teams with the blue chippers and “one and dones” at the top, and teams that had the hot hand along with lesser-known, mid-major teams left to fill out the brackets.

SO, here’s my excruciatingly long-winded point: because there are so many teams that count on having overwhelming talent, and don’t have it this year, it is easier for the lesser “known” teams, like Valpariaso or Virginia Commonwealth, to beat them in the tourney. The mid-major teams don’t have the publicity or reputation of the top programs, don’t attract the top recruits, keep players for four years, therefore have a more cohesive unit on the floor. When the team that’s been playing together as one unit for three years matches up against a team in an off year from a major conference, it’s a crapshoot who will win. For the last three years, there has been at least one team who “surprises” the field and makes it much farther than anyone predicted, and this year is shaping up to be the same.  In the pre-one and done years, a lower seed making it far was rare because most of the top teams had loads of talent and chemistry. The fact that today’s teams have one or the other makes “suprises” more frequent, leaving us asking “who will be the upset special this year?” as opposd to saying, “I hope there’s an upset special this year.” So with the changing face of the tourney, the term “upset” is becoming obsolete and the guy who picked Butler to go to the Finals because his uncle’s neighbors’ kid goes there is looking like an expert. 

I hope I don’t sound like I’m longing for the olden days, or dismissive of the new era. I love the NCAA tournament, it’s just different, and when you love something, you gotta set it free and let it be whatever it wants to be.

 ** I don’t have too many regrets in life. One that I do have is not declaring myself eligible for the 1996 draft. I graduated high school the same year as Kobe.  If I declared myself for the draft, my name would have been next to Bryant’s and Jermaine O’Neal’s as a potential “high school – NBA” draft pick. It was my one chance to have a professional scout looking down, saying, “Who’s this Sadowski kid?” … cut to highlights of me sweating profusely in lay-up lines and dribbling the ball off my foot during a game.

The Devil’s Throat

While searching for an idea to write about, I came across Quora.com.  Here there are community discussions and questions like, “What was the #1 book you wish you read earlier in life?” or “Who’s the greatest coward in history and why?” and community members answer accordingly.  I saw one that would be perfect for this week’s post:

Where is the most amazing place you’ve visited, of which most people have probably never heard?

The Devil’s Throat (Dyavolsko Garlo)

Located in the Rhodope Mountains in Southern Bulgaria, the largest cave on the Balkan Peninsula has a river running through it.  There is a waterfall deep in the cave where it is believed Orpheus descended into the Underworld to rescue his love.  With the local legends surrounding it, and its proximity to Greece, one can hardly argue.

There is no evidence of anything man made entering one side of the cave and leaving the other.  Locals and researchers have sent unmanned boats, giant logs, even red dye down the underground river, only to have it disappear.  There is a memorial plaque in honor of the two scuba divers who attempted to see first-hand what is actually going on down there.  I had the chance to see this mysterious cave before I left the country.  I was so there.

I was lucky enough to be with a friend who had done the tour about fifteen times, so he knew all the points of interest, cool rock formations, and the difference between a stalagmite and a malagmite, which helped make our descent interesting.  After ten minutes-ish, we came to the large opening of the cave.  I forget how high the ceiling was (well I guess it still is whatever height it was 8 years ago) but being there I had one of those moments when you think, “Wow, I really am small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things.   The echo was deafening and the light was by no means ample, but some rays of the sun made visibility a possibility.  I saw where Orpheus began his trip, and just had to play the imaginary game of “What if took off down the river?”  What was down there?  Why does nothing come out?  Water goes in one side and out the other.  What is preventing anything, even dye, from making it through?!  I could find out.  It would be the last thing I ever learn, but it would…. Oh I guess that’s just silly.

After taking it all in for some amount of time that was just right, we began our ascent.  As we started to climb the hundreds of stairs, the sun seemed to hit the sweet spot on the cave.  We walked up stairs for about 10-15 minutes just listening to running water and looking at this.*

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It was a moment when I was in awe at what I was seeing.  It really was the beauty of nature at its best.  The rays of sun hit the opening in the cave just right, reflecting off the spray to provide a glow that is indescribable.  “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a very apt saying right now.  My friend who had been there so many times told me he had never seen anything like that before, which made the experience even more special.

If you watch the youtube clips posted below, you’ll see the road leading up to the cave’s entrance is not exactly ready for big-time tour buses and heavy traffic.  The remoteness of the site added to the amazingness and rareness every traveler yearns for as they hit the road.   I am lucky to have had this picture come out, because without it, I would not have been able to share as accurately as possible my trip down to Hades’ doorstep.

Here are the links of two random people’s home movies of the cave.  The first one is just a few still shots.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu-uatOEtTE

This one is kind of lame, someone trying to be funny and stuff, but there are a few good shots to give you an idea of the steepness of the steps we climbed and the aforementioned road.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uzo7I2RD4cA

*Sorry for the weird quality of the picture.  I had to take a picture of the picture because I still have yet to convert all my film to digital files.  I have got to get on that.

Here’s a note of curiosity:  I want to know how people from other countries are reading this blog.  When I look at the stats, it shows from which countries each view comes from. I can figure out France, Bulgaria, Germany, and Thailand.  Russia?  Bolivia?  Iceland?  Netherlands?  How did you find us?  Feel free to leave a comment explaining how you did.  Inquiring minds want to know.

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The 5 Movingest Movies

Here are the 5 movies that have influenced me the most in life. These are not “my favorite” or “the best*,” just the ones that I have thought about or helped me choose a course of action at different times in my life.

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5) Running the Sahara – The epitome of pure grit. This documentary, which follows four ultra-marathoners who attempt to run across the Sahara Dessert, is a testament to never giving up. The movie stuck with me because of the idea is actually, totally pointless. Yeah, these four guys all worked together and pushed their bodies and minds to their limits, but for what? Sometimes in life you just have to give 100% of your energy to truly pointless endeavors (sports, games, cards). This film pushes “pointless endeavors” to the limit.

4) Shawshank Redemption– I take it personally when people don’t think this is the best movie ever made, but it’s not #1 on this list. Even though the overflow of emotion, Red’s voice, and the scene of Zihuatanejo will warm the heart of the coldest curmudgeon, it’s on the list because of one line from Ol’ Brooksy. “The world went and got itself in big goddamn hurry.” As we (or at least I) tend to complain about the pace of life nowadays, that line is a reminder that life has been speeding up for everyone throughout history. We just have to deal with it the best we can and not let it cause us to end up like Brooks.

3) Good Will Hunting – I’m not sure which scene speaks to me the most, but I ALWAYS feel so inspired every time I see this movie. Always be original. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Tell your friends when they’re eff-ing up. It always seems like the first time I’m hearing these messages. I feel recharged every time I see that jalopy heading down the Mass Pike with Elliot Smith in the background.

2) Castaway– This movie actually helped me through a couple of tough times in life. The last ten minutes of the movie are what stuck with the most. “I just kept breathing.” That one line was a mantra for many days when everything seemed pointless, tasteless, and stupid. Breathing is the one activity you NEED to do to make from day to day, and sometimes, when nothing else makes sense, “just keep breathing” is all you can do.

1) Office Space – The year is 1999. I am working away on my applications and resumes for corporate entry level positions through the UMass School of Management career placement services. I just had my 17th viewing of Office Space the night before as I’m looking down at a “career map” for some company where the next 25 years of work are mapped out right there in front of me. I remember thinking, “Ugh, I’m only 21. I don’t want to end up like Samir Nagga-Nagga-Naggonna-work-here-anymore.” I slammed the book closed and didn’t send in anymore resumes.**

* “The Best” according to me: 1) Shawshank 2) Good Will Hunting 3) Royal Tenenbaum’s 4) Zoolander 5) Hoosiers

** Not sure I would handle something like that with my girls the same way my parents handled it with me.

This week we reached the 1,000th view for Firecat Central! Thanks so much for reading, and thanks in advance for clicking through the link to do all your shopping on Amazon. There’s a new link to a daily deals page where the have huge discounts on random items three to four times a day. It’s definitely worth a click.

Monday Song #12

I am posting viral songs from youtube for this month’s theme. To get things started, The Creepy Girlfriend Song!! You have to stick this one out to the end. The funniest part is in the last 20 seconds or so.

I have four songs in mind for the month, but if there is one that is your favorite, pass it along, I may not have seen it yet.