The Opening Pitch: The first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament should be a holiday -- I personally refer to it as "First Thursday," as sanctified as any day of the sports calendar. Certainly, no other weekday of the year is better for sports fans.
I am particularly obsessed with the afternoon games -- that's when fans either are consuming at work (though it's hardly "work" at that point) or skipping out of work to hit the sports bar (or, famously, recover from a well-timed vasectomy procedure).
How good are the games on this First Thursday afternoon? Eh: Not great.
Two 1-seeds (no drama, unless you want to see how much less effective UNC is without Ty Lawson -- certainly not "best-in-the-field" good) and the best 2-seed (Memphis, who should roll). Two 8/9 games, which half the country will pick incorrectly, regardless of who wins.
There is one traditional 5-12 upset special, but 5-seed Purdue may be the hottest team in the Big Ten coming into the Tournament (that's not saying much, I know), and 12-seed Northern Iowa reps a Mo Valley Conference that is usually a Cinderella hot-bed -- this year, not so much.
The 7/10 game between Cal and Maryland may be good for an upset, but is it really an upset if everyone (including the President) thinks Cal is over-seeded and Maryland will win the game?
The most intriguing game of the afternoon won't even be seen by most fans:
It's that annual 5 p.m. ET game from the West Coast that is never seen in the East: 4-seed Washington is rightfully favored over 13-seed Mississippi State, but Jarvis Varnado is coming off a monster SEC Tournament (55 pts, 25 reb, 22 blocks in 4 games.)
But no one will see it.
It doesn't matter that the games this afternoon don't size up as particularly compelling. It's First Thursday. It's midday madness. That's enough.
After the jump: Breakdown of every game today.
Previewing today's games: * - predicted winners
12:20 8 LSU vs. 9 Butler* (South@Greensboro)
Just how bad was the SEC if its top team is an 8-seed?
12:25 2 Memphis* vs. 15 CS Northridge (West@KC)
The Tigers could use a statement game immediately.
12:30 8 BYU* vs. 9 Texas A&M (West@Philly)
Half the folks in your bracket will miss this one.
2:30 5 Purdue* vs. 12 N. Iowa (West@Portland)
Classic 5-12 upset? Not quite: MVC down in '09.
2:50 1 UNC* vs. 16 Radford (South@Greensboro)
Ty Lawson won't play. Won't matter, for now.
2:55 7 Cal vs. 10 Maryland* (West@KC)
The best shot at an upset of the afternoon.
3:00 1 UConn* vs. 16 Chattanooga (West@Philly)
Huskies enjoy the advantage of being a 1-seed.
5:00 4 Washington* vs. 13 Mississippi St (West@Portland)
It's the annual Game No One On The East Coast Sees!
7:10 7 Texas* vs. 10 Minnesota (East@Greensboro)
Big Ten 7-bid fraudulence exposed.
7:10 7 Clemson* vs. 10 Michigan (South@KC)
7:20 3 Villanova* vs. 14 American (East@Philly)
Upset potential ... anywhere but Philly.
7:25 4 Gonzaga* vs. 13 Akron (South@Portland)
Zags need to redeem themselves from '07 debacle.
9:40 2 Duke* vs. 15 Binghamton (East@Greensboro)
Duke couldn't possibly choke here, right?
9:40 2 Oklahoma* vs. 15 Morgan St (South@KC)
SN POY Griffin and OU should roll.
9:50 6 UCLA* vs. 11 VCU (East@Philly)
Biggest game on my entire bracket.
9:55 5 Illinois* vs. 12 W. Kentucky (South@Portland)
Last game of night: Best shot at upset?
A few other items to keep you occupied until noon ...
NBA Instant History: Does it help or hurt Dwyane Wade's MVP candidacy that -- without him -- the Heat can take the Celtics to OT before losing? ...
Greg Oden Report: 12 min, 4 pts (1/3 FG), 7 reb, 2 TO, 2 PF. Journeyman's numbers, to be sure, but at least he was back on the court.
If I were arrested, I'd want Kobe on my jury. ...
NFL Draft: Word out of Gainesville is that Percy Harvin slayed the scouts during his Florida Pro Day workout. The only remaining question: His durability. But, oh, when Harvin is healthy enough to play....
More: Top 10 RBs. Lande has Beanie Wells ranked No. 1, but if I had to have my choice of any RB in the draft class, it would be Knowshon Moreno. (Why? Watch the way he pops off the ground every time he is hit. Non-stop motor.)
Mock Draft Mania: The War Room still has Matt Stafford at the top of the list, going to the Lions with the No. 1 overall pick (MISTAKE!), but they correctly note that the Jay Cutler situation could have a huge impact on the draft.
Scandals: Correll Buckhalter. Yikes.
WBC: Heading into the semifinals, the last thing Team USA needed was another injury issue -- this time, it's Kevin Youkilis. (Really: What team in their right mind will let any player participate in the WBC next time? And why haven't teams yanked players off the roster already, mid-tournament?)
Then you hear about Evan Longoria being willing to join the team for the final rounds -- and the Rays are willing to let him? Wow.
Oh, and Adam Dunn will do a lot of things well for you: Hit HR, draw walks. But in addition to striking out a lot, he is a terrible fielder.
Manny being ... a cricketeer? I love the idea of Manny playing cricket. (Or a cricket bowler trying to learn how to pitch a baseball.)
By the way, for the greatest descriptions of cricket ever, read the novel "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill. You don't have to know anything about cricket to appreciate it. The book has some of the most amazing descriptions of ANY sport I have ever read in literature. It's right up there with Bernard Malamud writing about baseball.
Honors: The Cubs are going to retire No. 31 in honor of both Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins. Entirely appropriate. (Is there another team where two Hall of Fame-caliber players shared the same number?)
Economy: Seats at the Final Four are going to be, for the most part, awful -- Ford Field is just too big. Congrats if you're going to be one of the extra 30,000 folks who will pack in the stadium ... bring binoculars. But I love the idea to give a couple hundred students $20 tickets to all three games and let them sit behind the backboards.
The Last Word: There have been a few breakthrough moments for Twitter involving sports. One was the coverage of Shaq signing up. One, actually, was this whole Charlie Villanueva "halftime-tweet" situation. (The latest: CV31 asking, reasonably, how tweeting at the half is different than giving a TV interview).
But I think the real breakthrough between Twitter and sports fans will be this afternoon, when thousands of sports fans trapped at work (or escaped to the sports bar) will take to Twitter (or Facebook) to instantly (and constantly) register their reactions to what is happening in the games.
Don't forget you can follow me at twitter.com/danshanoff. Enjoy the day!
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com.
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