March Madness Odds and Ends

April 2, 2008

Justin Story

Between the game-watching parties I covered and the reporting about the potential windfall to hit WKU after its recently completed Sweet Sixteen run, I feel as though I took on the “March Madness” beat during this year’s NCAA Tournament, talking to John and Jane Public as well as Jim McDaniels, WKU’s All-American from the 1971 Final Four team.

Of course, the news out of Hilltopper country has moved at a rapid pace since the season ended, with Darrin Horn leaving to coach at South Carolina.

Discussions I’ve had with people inside and outside the newsroom revolve around whether this was a good move for Horn.

My input, for what it’s worth — you may as well strike while the iron is hot. A team with several talented seniors who played well together caught lightning in a bottle, and Horn’s path to Columbia also included a stop on the coaching staff of the 2003 Marquette team that played in the Final Four, so there’s little doubt Horn has the ability to improve South Carolina’s position in the SEC.

I respect the argument for building a tradition of winning at WKU before striking out for the proverbial greener pasture (becoming a much more valuable commodity to major colleges with coaching vacancies in the process). After all, South Carolina cannot command the attention of the upper echelon of the coaching pool – at least not in the way Kentucky, Kansas or Indiana can.

Even so, the opportunity to improve on what personal success you’ve already built should seldom, if ever, be bypassed. If South Carolina presents the best opportunity for Horn to continue building on his record, so be it.

Now, some final tidbits and stories during WKU’s run that caught my attention:

— The New York Times had a great feature recently spotlighting the Hilltoppers pioneering spirit on the court when it came to integration. Actively recruiting and giving extensive playing time to black players in an era and part of the country where major schools resisted integrating their basketball teams into the 1970s in some cases should be recognized.

— UCLA legend and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted a blog on the Los Angeles Times’ Web site that is also highly complimentary toward WKU’s history.

— Here’s a commentary on Bloomberg.com that places WKU’s recent tourney run alongside George Mason’s 2006 Final Four and Gonzaga’s emergence as a tourney mainstay. This was written before Horn’s departure, but the short-term gains are still sure to be realized and the opportunity is there for the basketball team to carve out a similar niche to these other so-called “mid-major programs.”

— Finally, we in the newsroom are well aware of the fast-traveling rumors connecting Bobby Knight with the now-vacant coaching position.

As it turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, the Indiana University discussion board hosted by Rivals.com is also addressing this subject.

Please take whatever you may read on this board with the appropriate amount of salt.

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Madness at Double Dogs

March 21, 2008

Justin Story

If this post doesn’t garner many views over the next day or two, I won’t blame anybody.

Everyone with a rooting (or passing, or even negligible) interest will be riveted to their TVs for the NCAA Tournament that opens today, and I include myself among them.

Instead of skipping out on work to do so, I’ll be joining WKU’s Warren County Alumni Chapter this Friday at Double Dogs on Scottsville Road to watch the Toppers take on Missouri Valley Conference upstart Drake in the first round.

This will likely go down in history as one of the most enjoyable assignments it has been my privilege to receive. Getting paid to watch the tournament? In years past, the tournament has been a money-losing venture for me, so this will be a great reversal.

It’s going to be interesting to see the collective mood swings of the crowd throughout what should be a competitive matchup. I should disclose that my principal sporting allegiance is with UK, but one tournament memory that sticks out is following Western’s march to the Sweet 16 in 1993. It was fascinating to watch my mom, a Western alumna but not the biggest sports enthusiast, hang on every shot, rebound and loose ball during the Hilltoppers’ wins over then-Memphis State and Seton Hall and overtime loss to Florida State that year.

The impact of March Madness on offices nationwide is well-documented. Even so, one is nearly tempted to consider the tourney a no-lose proposition in the white-collar world — office pools inevitably bring co-workers closer together, college towns nationwide morph into self-contained carnivals and the tournament has the singular quality of turning complete strangers with divergent backgrounds into best friends, all because of a mutual interest in seeing a particular first-round upset take shape.

Unfortunately, the best teams in college are so top-heavy this year that I don’t predict very many upsets in the early rounds. I will say, though, that WKU appears to have a favorable draw this year that may land them in the tournament’s second weekend.

What plans do you have for the tournament? How much of a difference is there in the daily life of Bowling Green when WKU is involved in March Madness?