By Tim Keown
Page 2

Everyone with a heart roots for the underdog, and most of the non-pool-related excitement about the NCAA Tournament centers on that single fact. And why is that? I'd suggest that most of it has to do with our tacit understanding that big-time college basketball is pretty much a sham.

Most of the best players leave early, if they show up on campus at all. We've long since lost our belief in the myth of the "amateur student-athlete," no matter how often the NCAA tries to make us believe in its institutional fantasy.

Patrick O'Bryant
AP Photo/Al Goldis
C'mon, aren't you pulling for Patrick O'Bryant and Bradley?

Everyone still enjoys the games, and that's perfectly fine. We made our peace with reality a long time ago, and we can appreciate the spectacle as a tremendous athletic endeavor. Nothing wrong with that.

But once a year, Northwestern State hits a 3 at the buzzer and we believe again. We root for Bradley and George Mason because they're good stories, and because they seem a bit purer than the bulk of the field.

The underdog lets us retain our belief in purity. It might not be true -- hell, Northwestern State might be on the Gary Barnett plan when it comes to recruiting and entertaining prospective student-athletes. But it's a pretty good bet it's not.

So most of the country will root for Bradley and George Mason and Wichita State instead of Florida and UConn and Washington. We'll root for the best story.

It's not personal. It would just be kind of nice to see Memphis and John Calipari lose to Bradley.

I'm not saying I think like that, but many people do.

This Week's List
Whoever had the Red Sox in the strikeout pool just got a huge boost: Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena.

Say this about ump Bob Davidson's performance in the World Baseball Classic: The man's one fine patriot.

Upset least deserving of the term: Wichita State over highly overrated Tennessee.

In a way, it's the worst thing that could happen to the women's game because it invites unwarranted comparisons to the men's game: Candace Parker, two dunks against Army.

And while we're engaging in unwarranted judging: Parker's first dunk was solid, but the second one made her look like the kids who try to dunk tennis balls when the floor clears after high school games.

Before you wring your hands and rend your garments attempting to decide whether Adam Morrison really is Larry Bird, ask yourself three simple questions: (1) Does it really matter? (2) Does the answer, hypothetical though it might be, have any impact on your life? and (3) Why does he have to be Larry Bird, anyway?

And you know what really makes me mad?: There's a guy in Kentucky mining country who thinks Kevin Pittsnogle is Mark Olberding with a better jump shot, and that's so insulting I can't even think straight.

It might be a big story, but think of it this way: Do you ever envision a moment when you might feel compelled to say, "Man, I really miss Paul Tagliabue?"

If we're getting serious about our baseball in this allegedly post-steroid era, here's a suggestion: Let's import the guys who are teaching the Japanese players how to play defense.

A note on the type: The previous item was written before Japan's defense blew up in Monday night's game.

The pay's not as good, but the hours are better: It looks as if Alfonso Soriano might prefer unemployment to the outfield.

There aren't many unknowns in the world these days, which explains one thing: The fascination with Cuba's baseball team.

This much we can say without fear of contradiction: That Cuban manager can change pitchers three times before Joe Torre can even check his watch.

This is worth noting, just because there isn't yet a reason to believe this will stop anytime soon: Ryan (The Temp) Howard has eight homers this spring.

Can't you see Daunte out at a club saying, "Oh, man, I've got to get home and log on because I think that AP guy might have tried to hit me up on e-mail"? In an Associated Press story about Vikings coach Brad Childress' comparing Daunte Culpepper to Terrell Owens, it was noted that "Culpepper did not respond to an e-mail request for comment."

The beauty of it is: Billy Packer doesn't really care what you think about him.

Fun with numbers: The Missouri Valley Conference and the Colonial Athletic Association have as many Sweet 16 teams (three) as the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.

There was the UCLA Era, the Bird-Magic Era and the Duke Era, and now we are entering an entirely different kind of era, with an entirely different agenda: The Timeout Era.

And next year, they're going to introduce the under-13:32 and the under-6:17: Seriously, if we have the under-16, the under-12, the under-8 and the under-4 timeouts, does every coach really need to use every one in his allotment?

The absolute best television development in this year's NCAA Tournament, which doesn't necessarily mean the best development for viewers interested in unintentional comedy: No more sideline reporters.

And finally, say this about Bob Davidson: Damn it, nobody's going to even suggest tapping his phone.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.


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