Power Of A Tourney

Though This Be March Madness, Yet There Is Method In 't.

THE SEASON OF discontent is upon us again. Oh, how I have come to dread this time of year. Not because it's Lent, for even I need an occasional break from Doritos. (Listen for the concurring chorus of "No kidding!"). Rather, it is time for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the best by-golly sports event of the year, one full of pathos, anguish and heartbreak.

That's just for Arizona fans. For the rest of the country, it's a lot of fun.

Let's make it clear: I am not one of those fans with unrealistic expectations. Heck, Dean Smith had like eight million great teams at North Carolina and he won two whole championships in his long and storied career. John Thompson's Thug-Life lineup at Georgetown (with a decade-long string where the center was patrolled by Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, respectively) won the same number of titles as Rollie Massimino's squad of undersized drug addicts. Cincinnati ruled the college basketball roost much of this season and then saw any hopes of a national crown disappear when star center Kenyon Martin broke a leg in a meaningless conference tournament game.

It is not an easy thing to win a national championship. It's a fragile, excruciating process. There are no favorites, merely potential survivors. The NCAAs are a deliriously wonderful world where the word "upset" has lost its meaning. If anything, an upset would be a team with a season-long unbeaten record somehow making it all the way to the Final Four.

Lute Olson's Arizona program has won one national championship. That's probably about right in the grand scheme of things, although with a little luck, they could have two or three. A lot of people feel that the Cats should have won in 1988 and again in 1989, but then again, they probably shouldn't have won it in 1997, so things even out.

Unfortunately, many longtime Cat fans have an uneasy mix of too-high expectations and Fear of First-Round Flameout swirling through their heads. Relax! Enjoy! Here's what to expect from the upcoming ride on the Wildcat Gutchurner.

If the Wildcats lose in the first round again: I'll have to listen as my good (yet insufferable) friend Todd Judge trots out his dust-covered Lute Olson jokes about drinking and leaving after the first round... East Coast idiots who couldn't find Arizona on a map if you let them start at the Four Corners will sniff about how weak the West Coast is... Someone will point out that Arizona is not on the West Coast, but the idiots still won't be able to find it on a map... Some moron from Shipping will waltz around the office with a photocopy of his office pool sheet showing how he was "smart enough" to go against Arizona... He won't mention that he went 6-for-32 overall in first-round games and is already officially eliminated from the competition... My long-lost friend Skippy will come out of hiding to gloat...

(Readers of this column may recall that Skippy hails from Chicago, home of such college basketball powerhouses as... well, we're still patiently waiting for one to emerge. He was one of the all-time biggest Cat Haters and he reveled in Arizona's notorious first-round exits. But then he turned 30, went nuts, joined a religious cult, married a reeealy young woman in the Philippines, and basically fell off the face of the Earth. I don't even know if they have TV at his commune, but if Arizona loses early, I'll probably hear from him.)

If they get past the first round: They should make it to the Final Four... National announcers will make endless comparisons of Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas to Mike Bibby and Miles Simon... The entire week of the Sweet 16 people will show up to work wearing red T-shirts, trying to get their money's worth... Some will even wear those God-awful "DOS" things that were all the rage for a few days back in 1998 before Miles 'n' Them got ambushed by Utah in the quarter-finals (Half of the winter visitors thought the "DOS" ones were conveying some kind of computer message)... Loren Woods will be the most-discussed Wildcat, whether he's playing or not...

If they make it to the Final Four: A secret army of NCAA licensing people will descend on Tucson, feverishly making deals with T-shirt makers to crank out the official Final Four shirt... With our luck, it will mistakenly include the word "Millennium"... Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup will wear one of the shirts to a City Council meeting; democracy survives, although just barely... Guy Atchley wears one on the news broadcast; viewers get motion sickness from the cameramen trying to stifle their giggles... Dick Vitale will injure something trying to jump on the Arizona bandwagon... Some kid gets suspended from school for refusing to take off his "Justin Wessel goggles"... In the Every Blessing Carries With It A Curse Dept., radio stations start playing Harvey Mason's "Wild About The Cats" song again... Harvey we like, song we don't... John Ash, Justin Wessel, Rick Anderson and Luke Walton will do a rap version of the song, entitled "Wild About Da Cats"... The lyrics include "Play that 'D,' call them switches, where's my ho's, where my (lady friends)"...

If they reach the championship game: They'll win it all; nobody's out-coaching Lute in a game that big... Some dork on TV will talk about how this solidifies Olson's spot in the Hall of Fame; Lute could walk away today, go sit on a beach somewhere and let his beard grow (how creepy!) and still be a lock for the Hall of Fame... The Star and Citizen will run special sections consisting of stuff written during the season and lots of ads... And all of the bars on Fourth Avenue will hire extra security and then order lots and lots of extra booze... then the Madness will truly commence.

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