I hate to break this to you, but it's Sunday afternoon, the first two rounds are almost complete, and I can now project, Wolf Blitzer-style, that we are in the midst of a very bad March Madness.
On some level, this was to be expected—last year's tournament was absolutely bonkers, to the point that I declared it the greatest opening weekend ever. First off, there was the small matter of a 16-seed beating a 1-seed, which, you know, has never happened before and probably never will again. No big deal.
Beyond that, there were buzzer beaters, massive upsets, and even an iconic nun named Sister Jean who now has her own Wikipedia page.
What do we have so far in 2019? Very few upsets of note, no buzzer beaters, and lots of stupid teases, where underdogs look good for 15 minutes or so before collapsing. The few upsets that have happened have mostly been blowouts or duds, like Murray State crushing Marquette, or the epitome of "who cares?" style wins, like Ohio State over ISU or Iowa beating Cincinnati. Wofford seemed like a fun team, but then their reigning NCAA three-point leader Fletcher Magee had himself an 0-12 nightmare against Kentucky in a limp six-point loss. The only two really good stories of the first round were UC-Irvine and Murray's Ja Morant, but UCI ruined their mojo by trying to promote a knockoff Sister Jean who is named—I kid you not—"Uncle Blaine." This is not good.
For some reason, March Madness opening weekends tend to follow a feast-or-famine pattern, and we're squarely in the famine zone. It's too chalky, too bland, too predictable. Of course, that doesn't mean all is lost—terrible early rounds sometimes yield fantastic Sweet 16s and Final Fours, and there's an argument to be made that a rash of early upsets is actually bad news for the later rounds.
Still, that's all in the future. For now, we have to accept reality, and there's no escaping the fact that despite our hopes and excitement, the best weekend in sports has been a serious letdown.
The Insane But Not Terribly Unlikely Possibility of the Month: Duke vs. UNC for the title
It's never happened, which is strange all on its own—in the history of the NCAA tournament, Duke and North Carolina, Tobacco Road rivals, have never met. Ever. Other rivals have. Louisville and Kentucky have met twice just in the last decade, for instance. But never the Heels and Devils, and now it's become a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, since the tournament committee seems to have recognized the sanctity of history and routinely places them far, far away on opposite sides of the bracket.
However, this is really, really, really starting to feel like the year that it happens. Both teams look fantastic, and the bracket seems to be clearing out accordingly. Duke has an absolute land mine potentially waiting in the Sweet 16 in Virginia Tech, but if they can survive the Hokies, the path to the Final Four, even to the championship game, looks very clear. Meanwhile, Carolina's region seems weaker by the round, and if Kentucky is the best opponent in their way, the Heels are going to make the Final Four easily. Sure, either one could lose at any point, and teams like Gonzaga and Virginia still lurk, but in my estimation, the two best schools left in the Dance are separated by about 15 miles.
If they do meet—if the impossible comes to pass—the Triangle area in North Carolina might actually implode. The winner will have the kind of bragging rights that never go away, and the mere threat of a loss will have both fan bases either assuming the fetal position or taking to the streets in a collective fear riot. I'm building an underground bunker just in case.
Salt Master of the Week: Angelique Kerber
For a brief departure from college hoops, microphones caught Kerber, in her loss to Bianca Andreescu in Miami, calling her opponent "the biggest drama queen ever."
Here's the thing, though: I watched the whole match (on replay), and the 18-year-old Andreescu is the furthest thing from a drama queen you can imagine. She cheers for herself like anyone else, but ultimately she's pretty muted by current WTA standards. I give a lot of leeway to tennis players exhibiting bad behavior since it's such a mentally punishing sport—I, too, have been known to experience bouts of petulance, and I'm a rank amateur—but this reeks of jealousy or bitterness from Kerber.
In fact, Andreescu is taking the tennis world by storm. Before this season, she had exactly one victory against the top 50, and in this season alone, she's had 20 victories against the top 20.
That includes her win against Kerber in the Indian Wells finals, the first WTA victory of her career. The young Canadian has been a human tornado in the women's tennis game so far, and though we're about to hit the clay season—a great equalizer—she's looking like someone who could win a grand slam as early as Flushing Meadows this year.
The Actually Good March Madness Commercial of the Week: The Red-Headed Announcer
The worst part of March Madness comes at the end of close games, when endless timeouts lead to endless commercial breaks with the same terrible promos that you eventually come to hate with a cold, hard passion. It doesn't help that CBS produces the worst sitcoms known to man, and that even trace contact with them by way of the promos is enough to produce a piercing kind of despair for our nation. Nevertheless, I was shocked to see that there are actually a very funny group of commercials this year, courtesy of AT&T. Two samples:
You can find a bunch more on their YouTube page, and though they all follow basically the same premise, Tim Baltz's performance as the clueless color commentator Phil never stops being hilarious. I want a Baltz sitcom asap please. Preferably not on CBS.