Sunday, March 30, 2008

Down to Four

And so there are four.

If you're like me, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The Final Four. The NCAA men's basketball tournament. The semifinals of the grandest free-f0r-all in present day sports.

The All-American version of the World Cup (which for my money remains the grandest spectacle in athletics).

For two consecutive weekends, I have been glued to the television watching basketball. Some games were boring, some riveting. Some teams overmatched, some hopeless underdogs, some even matchups, some so-called Cinderellas.

And then there's Davidson. The tiniest Division I school in the tournament, I'm told (based on undergraduate student enrollment). A team that captivated audiences nationwide during its improbable run to the quarterfinals. And the team then came within one shot of beating mighty Kansas this evening to crash the semifinals.

It was a sublime game played by a sublime team with a sublime coach. Magnificent.

Davidson plays basketball the way we snobbish purists like it played. A minimum of tear-down-the-backboard dunks and a maximum of back-door cuts and layups. Intricate, thoughtful offensive sets. A team on which the players know each other, can read each other and plays together. A team in which individuals play selflessly, an all-for-one effort to win. A team in which the players know their roles and play within their limits, rather than a collection of uber-athletes who seem to showcase their talents for the NBA.

A team that defies the modern era of showmanship over fundamentals, style over execution, flash and pizazz over simplicity and substance.

My kind of team.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Davidson's run through the tournament, and chances are, their play is what I will remember about this year's competition. So many of the other games have been boring, rag-tag affairs of athletic showboating that borders on streetball. Not my kind of basketball. Hell, maybe I'm just old fashioned that way.

So, Davidson is gone. The four top seeds from each region remain. I like Carolina over Kansas, betting on the Tar Heels' depth and a healthy dollop of Hansbrough to carry them through. I like UCLA over Memphis, betting on superior team play and tournament experience to carry the Bruins through. In the final, I like Carolina for the same reasons as their edge in the semifinals. I don't think Hansbrough will be denied. It's his year, he's good enough and has a fine supporting cast to lift UNC to the title.

Not to sound immodest, but that scenario would match my prediction from the outset. That won't be enough to rescue me in the family pool (again, sigh), but it certainly restores some of my dignity of years past.

And now a word from your local stations. Boy, I can't stand when Greg Gumbel tells us that. Who does he think he's kidding? These are commercials, and national ones at that. The same ones, played over and over and over. Oy vey. It just numbs the brain, turns that electrically charged gray mass into a vegetative pulp.

So, can someone please tell me why Subway honors the former fatboy named Jared for 10 years of eating its sandwiches? Is there anyone out there who even cares a whit that Jared eats Subway, and that he lost his weight eating nothing but their sandwiches?

Can someone please tell me why Charles Schwab advertisements feature animated figures who look eerily like real people? Here's one on the golf course, here's another lounging on a balcony with what looks like Monte Carlo in the background. Why not just use people, rather than these odd silhouettes that look everything like a person? I don't get it.

It hurts that REM sold out on its song "Superman" for a Toyota truck commercial. And it's not just that, it's a Toyota truck ad in which a bunch of preppies blow up an inflatable ball, jump in it and go rolling down a hill straight out of the Sound of Music. What a waste of a terrific song. Shame on one of my all-time favorites groups.

But the commercials weren't all bad. I loved the AT&T ad featuring Chuck playing Pop-A-Shot at some dive bar and whining that his cell phone has no reception. The line "Chuck is an idiot" is classic.

And then there's Sven. I'll be darned if I know what he's selling, and really I don't care. I'm just too mesmerized by his Scandinavian precision and accent. "Rise and shine, short one, Kung Fu today!" and his delivery of "Bundle up" as he hands out matching heavy white sweaters to the American family he's supervising is hilarious, in a bad au-pere imitation kind of way.

I can deal with more Chucks and Svens next weekend as the Final Four is played. But, please, no more Schwabs, Toyotas or Subways.

Better yet, no more words from my local station.

Yeah, right. Dream on.

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