' ' Cinema Romantico: Curating a Fake March Madness

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Curating a Fake March Madness

Hi, friends. This is a movie blog, of course, first and foremost, and always will be. And we have no plans to go anywhere as everything goes to hell, not least because, well, we literally probably won’t be going anywhere. Besides, writing this morning helped clear my mind and bring some comfort! COVID-19 can stop sports but it can’t stop Cinema Romantico. (Yet.) And that brings me to my main point. Sports are stopped, including the NCAA Basketball Tournament, America’s great three-week sporting extravaganza. There’s nothing like it. But it’s all gone, at least for this year, stopped cold, the plug yanked, to quote Elaine Benes as she popped a can of soda open, like you’re starting a mower. Suddenly, those of us who planned to spend the next few weekends consuming an all-you-can-eat buffet of March Madness – whoops! sorry! that’s, March Madness™ – are left not even with scraps; just…..nothing. So if you’re feeling blue and suffering hoop withdrawal, I have, drawing from my deep (disturbing) knowledge of NCAA Tournaments past, curated a six-pack of historical March Madness classics, all culled from the first and second rounds, since those rounds are the best, for your viewing pleasure (and mine) over the next week, should you so choose. What other choice do you have? This is all we have left.

Georgetown - 50 Princeton - 49, First Round 1989. Obviously I was starting here. It is, as I’ve written before, the greatest college basketball I’ve ever watched. And you should go back and watch it too, the moment when the 450 million to one shot Ivy League champions nearly toppled then-hardwood colossus Georgetown. If the game’s pace feels deliberate, that’s because it is, in the era of a 45 second shot clock, one which Princeton consistently, smartly milks. But if that sounds boring, it isn’t, not just in the rising tension of the game but in Princeton’s offensive choreography, lulling you into its pleasing rhythm as much as it lulls Georgetown. More than that though, today, I think about the crowd. As the now canceled Tournament was briefly planning to go ahead without crowds, it led to several writers and commentators noting how the games are essentially a television product anyway and a lack of spectators would not impact the viewing experience, perhaps suggesting their future. Maybe not, but the crowd in Georgetown v Princeton enhances the viewing experience, the way it gasps at every Princeton make and moans at every Princeton miss; you FEEL them feel what’s happening. It doesn’t matter if you know how this one ends, I assure you, the event’s electricity sweeps you up anyway.

Loyola Marymount - 119 Wyoming - 115, First Round 1988. Do the kids today know anything about, never mind remember, the famed Paul Westhead Jesuit & Marymount teams of the 80s? The ones that led the nation in scoring three years running at 110 points a game or higher? Do they remember Hank Gathers? Lord, were the Lions of Loyola Marymount something fun. So cue up this first rounder in which both teams combined for 234 points in just 40 freaking minutes. It’s like a roller coaster refusing to stop. Bonus: you get to see All Time, All Name First Teamer Fennis Dembo, “the only Wyoming cager”, as Chuck Klosterman once wrote, “who’ll ever be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”

Ball State - 62 Louisville - 60, Second Round 1990. The run of David Letterman’s alma mater to the Sweet 16 in 1990 was beyond compare, knocking out Gary Payton’s Oregon State team in the first round and then pulverizing Louisville in the second. Indeed, long before Florida Gulf Coast earned the moniker Dunk City, the Louisville Cardinals of Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum were the Doctors of Dunk. And yet. In this glorious upset coated in two layers of majestic irony, the other Cardinals of Ball State came out and threw it down all over the Doctors of Dunk, like the emphatic slam up above, the one, fabled time Cinderella didn’t wear a slipper but showed up in boxing shoes and threw a damn left/right body blow.

Georgia Tech - 94 LSU - 91, Second Round 1990. If there was ever a barnburner, this was it, complete with a colossal comeback that didn’t happen at the end but the beginning when Georgia Tech fell behind 24-5 and then electrolyted [sic]. With four future lottery picks – two apiece for each team – featured, this gives you a chance to see Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson, maybe the best college basketball player I ever saw, one of the precious few who could make the indoor game feel like the playground, going against Baby Shaq. I mean, what else do you need?

Iowa - 84 UTEP (University of Texas El Paso) - 82, Second Round 1987. Granted, I’m a native Iowan and so my bias is showing here but…seriously. Did you ever see these late 80s Iowa teams play? They were hell on wheels, running the full court press full stop for 40 minutes, with Roy Marble (the late Roy Marble, alas) who, to a kid from small town Iowa, was cooler than Jordan, running and gunning and dunking. Marble put up 28 in this second round tilt that was resplendent helter skelter, not least because UTEP had Tim Hardaway (Sr.) running the point, practitioner of the UTEP 2 Step, a crossover dribble from Mars, who was born to break a press. This game never let up, frentic to the last. It might be over 30 years old but compared to the control freak coach choreography of so much of CBB today, I swear, this 84-82 ragged masterpiece will look like a different galaxy, in the best way.

Arkansas - 96, Syracuse - 94 (OT), Second Round 1995. For spring break my junior in high school, I went not to, like, South Padre with my bros but to Winter Park, Colorado with my Lutheran church youth group for a skiing adventure. But because we left early Sunday morning, I missed the last day of that year’s NCAA Tournament opening rounds, a day, friends, which proved legendary, one still fondly remembered 25 years later. Georgetown won on a last second shot and Memphis (State) won on a last second shot and UCLA, eventual national champion, won on a last second shot and, finally, Arkansas and Syracuse played a game infamously decided by the latter’s Lawrence Moten calling a timeout his team didn’t have, belying a scintillating contest that was astounding, epic, dramatic, basketball on a stage as much as a court. Or so they say. I never saw it because I was on the road to Winter Park. And friends,  I’ll be honest here and say I didn’t much care for skiing much and have never skied since. And while I enjoyed parts of the trip, like sitting in a hot tub looking at the Rockies, I still, to this very moment, regret missing that Sunday of basketball. I always will. It’s just how I’m wired. And so, why not, a quarter of a century on, sit down and finally see what led to that (non) timeout.

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