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FAN OF THE HOUSE

There's a method to this March Madness

You've got to take the good with the bad in the NCAA basketball tournament: the teams you don't know, the rowdy student sections, the blown calls -- embrace it all.

March 19, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

The NCAA basketball tournament is a crime against insanity -- a bizarre, inexplicable, wonderful festivus of longshots, no-shots and saggy underwear.

For once in America, hope trumps hype.

March is madness, sure, but it's also trombones to the back of the head and Hail Mary shots from 40 feet. It's hicks from French Lick and Chris Webber calling a timeout with nothing in the bank.

March is squeaky sneakers and buzzer-beaters and student sections in need of a good spanking.

Embrace the madness, I say. Take two free throws and call me in the morning.

How about that bracket? As always, the selection committee filled out the 65-team field with several schools they just made up in their heads.

Really, have you ever met a Radford grad? What about Binghamton? I've lived 50 grand years, mostly here on Earth, and I have never heard of this Binghamton. Bada-boom, bada-Binghamton.

At least I've heard of Robert Morris. I think he was in some musical a long, long time ago, opposite Michele Lee in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a show about corporate cheats (as if that really happens).

That's Robert Morse, you say? OK, the NCAA stumped the band again.

Next year, I'm creating my own university in hopes of acquiring a first-round bid against Louisville. All you really need to start your own college is a mascot, lots of federal grants and some tired-looking men in tweed.

Suddenly, "Dobson College" will be born. No one will have ever heard of it. When they check out the website, they'll discover that Dobson is a lovely little campus in South Carolina, home to 700 Bible-thumping scholars.

"Famous grads: Scarlett O'Hara and Gomer Pyle," it'll say.

It's more than mere madness, this basketball tourney. Madness was marrying Anne Boleyn. Madness was Anthony Edwards leaving "ER." This tournament . . . it's way worse than any of that.

The other night, I woke up from a dream in which I was dribbling Dick Vitale's head. Cornered in a game against Purdue, I ricocheted him off a defender's knee -- I had no choice. His head rolled out of bounds and under the scorer's table, as he yapped, "Awesome, baby . . . yeah, yeah, awesome!"

The NCAA tournament is worse than crazy, because it's played mostly by gym rats who, like Vitale, haven't seen the sun since September. The cheerleaders all have the sniffles and skin like raw chicken. And if history is any guide, God will take the week off.

See, during March Madness, there is no fairness in the world. The best team doesn't always win. Get used to it. The refs will blow it. They always blow it. By the time the tournament is over, 64 teams will be calling for Senate hearings.

When a call is blown, it's easy to see why this game was once played in cages (hence the term "cagers"). The young people will become aroused, yelling all sorts of nasty things from the student section, things they didn't learn at home.

I almost quit college hoops a couple of years ago. Seemed to have lost its values -- assuming it had any in the first place. It was coached by men who arrived on campus on the circus train. They were usually named Gene and had acid reflux and suit jackets the texture of parlor rugs. They were clenched men, with trouble expressing their inner feelings. At least till tipoff, when they went off like Krupp howitzers.

Check out the body language of the coaches over the next few days. They begin the game serene, cool, composed. By the end of the first half, it's as if red ants are crawling up their legs looking for lunch. By the final buzzer, their hair is falling out in clumps.

There are other issues too. Just when you learn the players' names, they run off to the NBA.

My buddy Paul grumbles, too, that all the schools seem to play the same systems now, any variety in offenses lost to a fog of coaching clinics and too much TV exposure.

"You miss the four-corner offense?" I ask.

"I miss variety," he says.

"Then you shouldn't have gotten married," I said.

"I'm married?"

Yeah, we're all mad, and we're all married and March provides just enough of spring's allure to see us through to the next crazy week.

So what the heck, Dr. Naismith, pass the Thin Mints and the remote control. I'm using my bracket like a napkin, so it's not a complete waste. Besides, some Cinderella just Twittered me.

"Don't underestimate Siena," she says.

Siena?

--

Erskine's Man of the House column appears Saturday in the Home section.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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