When you read a column with a "superlatives" theme, you probably expect the occasional act of hyperbole. From time to time, I may even have been guilty of such an act. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not one of those times.
I firmly believe, without recourse to exaggeration or hot-takery, that we just lived through the greatest four-day opening stretch in NCAA tournament history, and it's an argument I'm willing to defend with all that remains of my tattered Internet reputation. Sure, it's a big statement, and I understand that we need to weigh the evidence with utmost care. It's not a topic to take lightly, because if I'm right, that means things just got historic right in front of our eyes. But even knowing the stakes, and accounting for the nasty recency bias, I still think the answer is "yes, yes, 100 percent yes." I'll do my best to restrain myself in the argument to come, but I make no promises.
The first piece of evidence on my side is a real heavyweight. If high-priced lawyers were arguing this case instead of a blogger who hasn't left the sofa in 96 hours, this would undoubtedly be EXHIBIT A. You already know what I'm going to say, right?
A 16-seed just beat a 1-seed.
Repeat: A 16-SEED JUST BEAT A 1-SEED.
And the reality was even crazier than that already-crazy sentence implies, because it wasn't just any 1-seed. It was the 1-seed—the team chosen by the committee as the best in the entire bracket. And they didn't lose on a buzzer beater, or some flukey piece of bad luck. They got beat in the first round by TWENTY POINTS. I mean, is this real life?
I don't need to tell you that it's never happened before. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (and later to 68), 16-seeds have amassed the following record against 1-seed: One win, 135 losses. That lone victory came on Friday, and it belongs to UMBC, a school whose name, at first glance, is easily confused with the United Methodist Church. The "Retrievers" (hilarious mascot for a literal underdog...they didn't even pick a ferocious dog!) play out of Baltimore, and before 2018, their athletic claim to fame was...nothing. Now? They're legendary.
Before Friday night, I legitimately wasn't sure if I'd see a 16-seed would get a win in my lifetime, and I'm not even that old. The idea was borderline preposterous. It was one of the great impossible feats in sports, and, my God, it actually $%*ing happened. Watching the Retrievers hold on against Virginia was epic, but even with five minutes to go and the game seemingly in hand, every part of me expected the glorious triumph to be wrenched from us at the last minute. I still can't believe it happened. We could go 40 years without ever seeing it again, easily.
That's a huge argument in favor of "greatest opening weekend" status all by itself, but since we can't let the argument stand on just one piece of supporting evidence, let's look at what else the 2018 tourney delivered:
—Loyola-Chicago: A quirky 11-seed making the Sweet 16, with a 98-year-old nun named "Sister Jean" serving as their unofficial mascot, leading them in pregame prayers, and winning America's heart.
—An iconic buzzer beater that will live on in tournament montages: Watch Michigan's Jordan Poole do his thing:
It's also well worth listening to the call on Michigan radio.
—Thrilling end-games: The aforementioned Loyola-Chicago beating Tennessee with a jumper that hit every part of the rim before dropping; the Nevada comeback against Texas; Rob Gray giving Houston a one-point lead with a gutsy drive, and then surviving the extremely good look for the game-winner on SDSU's last possession; Loyola-Chicago with near buzzer-beater against Miami in the first round; Kansas, Auburn, Michigan State, and Gonzaga all holding off Cinderella upset bids.
—Cool players on mediocre teams doing cool things before they go to the NBA. Collin Sexton (Bama) and Trae Young (Oklahoma) aren't around anymore, but it was fun as hell watching them try to win games all by themselves.
—Enough blue-blood chalk to ensure a great tournament going forward—along with the fun Cinderella teams, we've also got Duke, Villanova, Kansas, and Kentucky still in the mix.
—A cheaters-never-prosper morality tale with Buffalo absolutely annihilating Arizona (OK, fine, I don't really believe that narrative, because the real bad guys are the NCAA).
—A coach who wears a t-shirt under a blazer winning a first round game. As David Roth said, Marshall's Dan D'Antoni always dresses like he lost his airline luggage.
—Everyone cheering against Providence so their creepy-as-hell mascot would go away. (Note: It will not go away. It will live on in your dreams.)
With all arguments considered, I have to conclude that yes, this is the best first weekend in the history of March Madness. In fact, I'm not even sure it's close. We had all the ingredients that make a normal tournament really fun, and then we had a 16-seed beat a 1-seed.
I'm all for making strong cases for weak causes, but I actually think this one is ironclad. I've usually got a terrible case of basketball fatigue by Sunday night, but this year, I wish it would never end.
Solid Proof that 2018 Tigers is a New Tiger
Can you imagine Tiger circa 2000 laughing after this happened?
He's a changed man! Old Tiger would ripped out the flagstick, found the specific guy who cuts holes every morning, and impaled him through the heart.
Drunk Sports Hooligans of the Week: Golf Fans
At least according to Rory McIlroy, who had to listen to dumb, drunk fans in Florida shout his wife's name at him as he played golf, and now thinks limiting alcohol sales might be a good solution. And frankly? The man is right. I walked with him for a few rounds during the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and the abuse he endured was ridiculous. People often note that the rules of etiquette for sports like golf and tennis far different from the team sports, when fans scream at the athletes as they're playing, but what they also ignore is that golf presents a far more personal venue for interacting with the players. There are huge chunks of time in between shots when the players are walking near the gallery (sometimes within touching distance), and getting heckled by an idiot in those circumstances is an immediate, intimate kind of experience that you don't get in most team sports. It's more directed, more inescapable, and it's infinitely harder to ignore.
Beyond the fact that I can't imagine why any fan would want to spend his or her time insulting a professional athlete that isn't even on an opposing team, I don't see a great reason why we should make it easier for these people to get obliterated at a golf course. A couples week ago, I had a debate with myself about whether Justin Thomas went too far getting a fan kicked out for bad behavior, but as time passes, he seems more and more sympathetic to me.
The Runningest 100-year-old in world history: Orville Rogers!
Look at this guy run! Note that Rogers is in lane 2, wearing white and doesn't win the race, but he does set a world record in the 60m sprint for people over the age of 100.
I'm lodging an official protest that poor Rogers is forced to compete against bright-eyed youngsters like race winner Edward Cox, a spring chicken at age 90.
Last thought: Can we get Orville Rogers and Sister Jean of Loyola-Chicago to star together in some kind of buddy comedy for the ages? Maybe one where they team up to defeat the Providence Friar for good? Hollywood, please jump on this.