Guys with a fancy title like 'bracketologist' say they didn't belong. Broadcasters and writers called the goaltending call at the end of the SMU game 'controversial'. The matchup against UAB was 'lucky' or 'fortunate'. All of that may be true, but the UCLA Bruins are one of just 16 basketball teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
It's the first time I remember Selection Sunday ever having any drama as far as the Bruins were concerned. There have been years that UCLA didn't get in, but you knew that, and if it somehow happened two years in a row, the coach was fired. Most of the time, as the most storied program in college basketball history (sorry Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, etc.), the only drama for the Bruins was what seed they would get, or where they would have to travel to play their first pair of games.
This year was different. The Bruins were 'on the bubble'. The ESPN guru, whose job is to predict the tournament field (nice gig), had UCLA barely missing. CBS studio analyst Doug Gottlieb almost went apoplectic when UCLA was announced as an 11 seed, and I'm sure Bruins coaches, players, and fans were nervous. When CBS unveiled the first set of brackets, Buffalo was the 12 seed in the Midwest. Not good for Bruin Nation. Texas was the 11, but the ESPN dude had the Longhorns out, so maybe that was a plus. The East Region was next. UC Irvine and Wyoming were the 13 and 12 seeds, but they had automatic bids. You felt the Bruins might get the 'play-in game' at number 11, but Boise State and Dayton drew those spots. Hope was fading in Westwood.
It was in the South Region, the third bracket, at the very end, that the announcement came. The very last pairing—UCLA vs. SMU. ESPN's bracket guy was wrong again, and the CBS analyst was preparing his Jay Leno-to-Hugh Grant “What the hell were you thinking?” question for the Selection Committee. Remember, this is the team that trailed 41-7 at halftime to Kentucky, lost at home to Gonzaga, and really didn't have a good road win. The committee thought they had improved, and also rewarded them for playing a tough schedule.
All of that behind them, the Bruins are still standing. Only 15 other teams can say that, and yes, all have better seeds than the Bruins. UCLA gets Gonzaga next—a team they hosted earlier this season, but also a team that for most of the year, was either the second or third ranked team in the country. Maybe they are playing with house money, but it should still be a fun game to watch. It's fair to say that maybe the Bruins aren't one of the top 16 teams in the country, but they move on. Gonzaga on Thursday night, and with a win, maybe a date with Duke? It's crazy to think about, but the tournament is just that—crazy. Oh, by the way, how is your bracket doing? Yeah, mine too.
Mid Major mojo: UCLA's win over UAB came Saturday morning, but Sunday had a great tripleheader if you like the so-called mid-majors. San Diego State battled before losing to Duke, Wichita State finally got a date with in-state juggernaut Kansas and beat the Jayhawks, then Gonzaga rolled over Iowa. Saturday night's Butler-Notre Dame game was one of the most entertaining games of the tourney.
A shocker: At KNCO where I work, our weather guy is a Wichita State alum and a huge basketball fan. He drove from the Kansas City area to Omaha for his alma mater's first two games. The second matchup for the Shockers was against Kansas—a team they hadn't played in 22 years. It's hard to call that a rivalry when they don't play each other, but the story in the Sunflower State was that Kansas has refused to play Wichita State because they had 'nothing to gain'. Apparently they were right.
Anteater power: After all the first-day upsets on Thursday, I was asked on the air for an upset special for Friday. I offered up 13 seed UC Irvine to defeat number four Louisville. I was laughed at, and I was wrong, but not by much. UCI lost 57-55 in what was called a 'scare' for Louisville. The Anteaters have a player who is seven-foot-six, and as former Utah Jazz head coach Frank Layden always liked to say, “You can't teach height.”
It's still postseason: Sacramento area schools UC Davis and Sacramento State looked NCAA Tourney bound earlier in the season, but both qualified for other postseason tournaments. Davis fell to Stanford in the first round of the NIT, while Sac State got to the second round of the CIT. The won at Portland before losing at home to Big Sky Conference foe Northern Arizona.
Baseball bits: This is March, and spring training is about halfway through, so some baseball notes are appropriate here. While listening to a Texas Rangers broadcast (against the Dodgers), the announcers were talking about a report that baseball will start all of its games on the final day of the regular season at the same time. All 15 games would begin at noon Pacific so there's no unfair advantage on the final day. This came up because last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were at Arizona for the final regular season game and were planning on going with their ace Adam Wainwright on the mound. However, earlier that day, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost, the Cardinals clinched the division, and sat Wainwright to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Now how many times has this come up in the past 100 years? Probably not many, but it's not a bad idea. It would also give whichever network has the rights to the final day a chance to move from one game to another during a broadcast.
More bits: For awhile it was looking like Texas Rangers pitcher Anthony Bass had a better chance of starting the season in the big leagues than fellow Gold Sox alum Max Stassi, and that may still be true. Bass, though, was hammered for eight runs in his start against the Dodgers in San Antonio Friday night. Bass is trying to win the fifth starter job in Arlington while Stassi still appears to be the third catcher in Houston behind Jason Castro and Hank Conger. The Astros also have Evan Gattis in an emergency (Gattis is being converted from a catcher to an outfielder)...The Gold Sox begin their 2015 season May 21—less than 60 days away.
Bible thumping: In that Rangers broadcast against the Dodgers, announcers Eric Nadel and Matt Hicks were discussing the anniversary of San Diego manager Alvin Dark being fired during Spring Training in 1978—the earliest managerial firing in major league history. Nadel was recounting how the players staged a mutiny because Dark instituted many rules the players didn't like, including mandatory Bible study on team flights. Hicks responded with the line of the spring, saying “I guess that was the Genesis of his Exodus.”