Chronicling the March of Madness
By John Kreinbihl
My buddy Mark, who I've known since I moved to Pittsburgh back in January of 1986 when we worked for the Pirates, put his name in the lottery for NCAA tickets during last year’s tournament and found out a few months ago he’d won a chance to buy 4 seats to the Pittsburgh games.
John Kreinbihl (right) and buddy Mark
About that time we realized that Columbus was also a second round site and we set out looking for tickets to those games as well. Our thought was get tickets to both sites and have a great weekend with our sons. We’ve done things like this with them in the past. Golf outings, trips to Atlantic City, etc., and because I’d done this back in 1992 when both Dayton and Cincinnati were regional sites, I knew how much fun this week of the tournament is.
To get tickets in Columbus we turned to our friend—and another ex-Pirates employee—Brian Timm from the Greater Columbus Sports Commission and indeed, he had a line on purchasing tickets.
I called Brian, gave him a credit card number and we were in. By the way if you’re a Buckeyes fan, you should contact GCSC to see how you can get the Heisman O-H-I-O photo featuring Hop, Archie, Eddie and Troy. You’re welcome Brian. Oh, and that photo was taken by the-Ozone's Jim Davidson.
With tickets for both sessions in both cities confirmed we began the scheduling process with our boys. Mark’s son Nicholas is finishing Pharmacy School in Erie and my son Matt lives and works in New York City.
Nicholas and Matt have known each other their whole lives. They were born 6 weeks apart, attended Pirates games together before either could walk or talk, lived in the same neighborhood, went to school together, played ball on the same teams, etc.
As we talked about how we’d get them from Erie and NYC to Pittsburgh and Columbus and back, it became clear that all four days weren’t going to work for both of them. Matt could only afford top take one day off work and since I want him to keep his job, I didn’t pressure him to try and take the extra day.
Additionally, Nicholas has mid-terms on Thursday, Friday and next Monday and since I’ll need him to fulfill my prescriptions in my later years, I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his pharmacy career. I spoke to Nicholas Tuesday night and he said he was sure they scheduled mid-terms around the tournament and St. Patrick’s Day because, “they don’t want us to have any more fun”.
So it turns out Matt will come for the Friday Games in Columbus and Saturday in Pittsburgh and Nicholas will join us Saturday in Pittsburgh. Nicholas got his undergraduate degree from WVU, so we could have a personal battle on Saturday if both OSU and the Mountaineers advance.
Mark and I have been billing this adventure that covers 4 days, 2 cities, 12 games from 3 different Regions and over 750 miles of driving as “The Madness of March”. My wife on the other hand, calls it the “March of Madness”.
Thursday 1:52 pm
The first thing I did was to see if Loyola had any players named Brandon. Between Brandon Paul and Brandon Wood, Brandons kicked our ass. Fortunately there are no Brandons on Loyola. Without being too confident, no Brandons on WVU or Gonzaga either.
Mark and I are in a pool that we paid $50 for a team and the point spread counts. This is Madness. Mark has Loyola with 17 1/2 pts. If OSU wins by less, then Mark takes OSU and moves on. Being a Penn State grad this might hurt. I have Baylor giving 7 1/2.
We have completed the first half here. Kansas State 30 - Southern Miss 27. How did these teams get here?
NOTE: NCAA does a poor job with the jumbotron. Everything is still photos and statistics. Boooooooring.
Thursday 3:50 pm
First of twelve done. Kansas State wins an ugly game and both Southern Miss fans head for the exits.
Syracuse is about to tip off. If you remember Olivia Newton John circa 1975, the question for the Orange is have you never been to class Melo?
Thursday 6:02 pm
So the Cuse advances with a little help. My buddy Mark is a high school basketball ref, so we paid special attention to the refs. Without the benefit of replay it appeared there's missed two goal tending calls and the out of bounds call off Syracuse late in the game.
The lane violation call appeared correct to us but the wrong official made the call. His call was across the lane not the lane in front of him. Television replays may prove us wrong, but we call them as we see them and if we don't see them we make them up.
Two of twelve in the books. Break time for an hour or so.
The march continues.
Thursday 8:24 pm
The photo shows what's left of the old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh it was a cool place. While the CONSOL center is a great addition to the city, its too bad The Igloo had to go.
I think they should keep these remaining panels in place as a monument to the role it played in Pittsburgh history.
Onward to Session Two, Day One.
Thursday 11:13 pm
Halftime of the OSU game. Biggest surprise of the day was WVU getting blown out.
In the $50 pool, Baylor made two foul shots with 5.5 secs left to win by eight. The spread was 7.5, my team moves on.
Mark has Loyola plus 17.5, so he's happy to be down eleven at half.
If the Bucks win, Gonzaga will wear their dark unis Saturday. Does that mean Zags starting center will be Robert Sacre blue? Sacre blue?
Friday 1:27 am
Well the good news is the Buckeyes won. If I'm the Gonzaga coaching staff, I press OSU all game long. The Bucks didn't handle Loyola's press well in my opinion. They never looked comfortable dealing with the press and didn't get people into the right positions.
We'll also need to defend better. Gonzaga can make the shots Loyola didn't. But it's a win and we get to move on and play again Saturday.
The 17.5 points Mark got for Loyola wasn't enough because Buford's second late three rolled around the rim and in. As a result, Mark is out of that bracket.
Again, in this bracket, if you have an underdog and they lose but cover the spread, you get the winning team and advance. The guy in this pool with Kentucky--and I don't know who that is--lost too because Western Kentucky covered the spread.
The person with WKU now moves on with Kentucky as their team. It's an interesting pool. We don't bet the games but we're watching the spread to see how your team does. Baylor made two free throws with 5.5 seconds left to beat the spread by .5 so I move on to the next round.
We were part of history tonight. Largest indoor crowd in Pittsburgh history. I hope the city installs a plaque to commemorate this feat. I'll bet we beat the record Saturday. How can you not appreciate the opportunity to be part of the two largest crowds in a city? These are the little things that makes these efforts well worth it.
Day One is in the books and Day Two starts early tomorrow--actually later today. It's almost 1:30 AM and we're on the road at 8 a.m. to be in Columbus between 11-12.
Day Two means four more games and 350+ miles on the road. That's why they call it madness. This is fun. By far my most favorite time of the sports year. We'll rest later.
Friday 10:44 am
On the road at 8 a.m. Son Matt flew in from NY last night and sat on the tarmac for 1 1/2 hrs because of lightning. That is just airline madness.
Our drive consists of conversation of how OSU screwed Mark last night. Other than Chico Lind's non-throw to first in Game Seven of the NLCS, last night might be second on his list.
Mark updated his office pools he coordinates, pausing to bitch every time he came to the OSU game. He went 14-2 and 15-1 on his. Not bad for someone who runs the thing.
Some of the things we are curious about today will be whether the video board and atmosphere will be the NCAA Vanilla it was at CONSOL Energy Center. Will Wi-Fi cost an arm and a leg and will the timeout breaks include the same lame trivia questions and sideshows.
Time will tell as Day Two of the Madness continues.
Friday 2:40 pm
For the Columbus segment of the March of Madness we are joined by our friend Eric Davis. Eric took the day off from rehearsals of his off Broadway production of Annie where he's starring as Daddy Warbucks. How far off Broadway? About 600 miles at Montpelier, Ohio high school. If you're holding tickets to next weeks show and his performance is a bit off, it's because he's here. Blame it on the madness baby!!
North Carolina State leads by nine at the under eight time out and we're wondering why the Wolfpack mascot looks like something out of Hello Kitty. It's wearing a skirt and little gloves. Just cuter than Christmas. We know the mascot's name is Mr. Wuf, but he must have been busy and sent his granddaughter.
Friday 3:43 pm
So between games of Session One, we walked around the arena and talked to a few NC State fans about the Hello Kitty mascot. Turns out it's Mrs. Wuf. Really? What else could Mr. Wuf have on his schedule? A swimming meet? Field hockey? A rifle competition or ultimate frisbee? Troubles with the TSA at the airport? This is the NCAA tourney. You didn't bring the JV basketball team, don't bring the backup mascot.
We think Mr. Wuf may have been spending too much time with Fab Melo and was declared ineligible. If he's here Sunday somebody's gonna have some 'splaining to do, Lucy.
Friday 7:35 pm
Georgetown wins easily and we're halfway done. Six down, six to go.
I know I keep harping on it, but the video board entertainment is just incredibly bad. They have a pennant race video that makes Atari's Pong look like Hi Def 4-D. It's embarrassing. They have a million dollars of technology hanging from the ceilings and these arenas and they are showing filmstrips. At $80 a ticket, I'd rather they just pass around family vacation photos.
We went to Gordon Biersch for dinner and watched the end of the Mizzou game. That's the kind if game you hope to see in person. Fantastic!!
By the way Columbus, great job on the Arena District. This place rocks.
St Louis and Memphis next. Looking forward to watching Rick Majerus stomp the sideline.
Friday 9:58 pm
Earl wins!!! Earl wins!!!
Apparently a Billiken is some type of art created by a St. Louisan, but their mascot looks like Eric's crazy cross-eyed cat Earl.
Hence we pulled for St Louis and we called them "Earl" as in "rebound Earl", "'D' it up Earl", "big three Earl", etc.
Earl comes through and the Billiken fans all over the arena are thrilled. It was a nine-seed over an eight-seed, but an upset is an upset.
Seven down, five to go and Sparty is next.
Friday 10:01 pm
ScUM and the Dookies go down within minutes of each other.
What a beautiful thing.
Saturday 3:28 am
Top seed Sparty moves on and so do we. Eight down and four to go. Got home at 3 a.m. because we took a brief break at the casino in Wheeling to, um, stretch our legs. How convenient.
We'll be back at the Consol Center by 11:30 a.m. for the 12:15 tip.
Saturday 10:45 am
Two hours to tip-off in Pittsburgh. Beautiful day in the 'Burgh. It should be a zoo downtown this morning. The annual St. Patrick's Day parade was to start at 10 a.m.
The parade in Pittsburgh is the second largest St. Paddy's Day parade in the U.S.A. Only New York City's has more participants according to the parade organizers.
As for the games today, especially the OSU game, only Michigan State looked better than Gonzaga of the games we've seen. Against WVU, Gonzaga was very efficient and everyone knew where everyone else was on offense. They moved the ball and more importantly, moved without the ball, very well. That gave them great looks and they made shots.
I think the Bucks will have their hands full today. They'll have to play as a team. If they fall into "individual mode", they could struggle.
Off to the arena, more later.
Saturday 9:57 pm
Ten down, two to go.
Mark's son Nicholas, who is finishing up pharmacy school in Erie, drove down to Pittsburgh last night and today was the only day the "core four", the original group identified for this journey, was together.
We rode the local trolley into town, which was jammed with both NCAA tourney fans and local St. Paddy's Day celebrants. And when I say jammed, I mean so jammed that most folks on the trolley had someone else sharing their shoes.
As for the games, the first game was Kansas State - Syracuse. When KSU attacked the Syracuse zone, which they didn't do nearly enough, they either scored or got fouled. Most of the time however, they merely passed the ball from the top of the key to the wing and back 8-10 times and threw up a brick. I think icebergs in the Arctic Sea move more than the KSU offense.
Scoop Jardine has the best name for a basketball player ever according to the guy behind us--and he mentioned this about 20 times. Plus he's a guard. "Scoop", a guard, get it? While we decided not to address the issue with him directly, we've agreed Scoop is a better name for an employee at a Baskin Robbins or a newspaper reporter.
As for Game Two, one of the nice things about attending the games is after the first session is over, you can find fans of other teams leaving the building and ask if you can have their tickets to move to a better location. We did this for the OSU game. In game one, we were in section 214 in the balcony of the Consol Center. For the OSU game today, we moved to the Club Level, or lowest section, section 101 row V. Most excellent.
Our seats were directly in line with the baseline of the basket the Bucks defended during the second half. I haven't seen replays, but two incidents of note: number one, Aaron Craft was not out of bounds when he got the ball in the scramble late in the game; and number two, after the Gonzaga miss on the subsequent possession Sully passed the ball to Craft and he did step out of bounds.
I'm sure BCast will have all the details in his coverage--I think he was at about 11 o'clock across the court from our seats and was consistently working on his laptop, but here are a few observations from the game today:
- You have to love the way Gonzaga plays. Not necessarily as talented, but they never quit, shoot the ball very well and really play as a team. That's a tough trifecta to beat.
- I thought Thomas played well despite a lot of double teams.
When Gonzaga went to a zone defense, it got them back in the game.
- The two three balls Gonzaga tried late in the game were shot right in my line of sight. You could tell the first one was good as soon as the ball left his fingertips. The second looked even better. I have no idea how that ball stayed out.
- William Buford with two HUGE rebounds in crunch time. Strongly grabbed both and secured them. Big plays. Outstanding game by Aaron Craft and good scoring balance by the Bucks. We'll need more of both to win in the next round(s).
A good day with our sons today made a little sweeter for me, with an OSU victory.
Nicholas heads back to Erie tonight and my son Matt flies back to NYC tomorrow. Thanks guys for being a part of this. Hope you had a good time.
Games Eleven and Twelve tomorrow in Columbus. Back on the road at 8 a.m.
Sunday 3:05 pm
Hello Kitty!!!! After mostly chalk for us in Pittsburgh and Columbus, we finally get an upset of note.
NC State led by the cheering and support of our favorite mascot, Mrs. Wuf, or as we call her, Hello Kitty, sends Georgetown home.
The Hoyas had control early but some excellent outside shooting and crowd support carried the Pack to victory. They punch their ticket to St. Louis and the Sweet 16.
Sparty and the Billikens are up next. Rick Majerus will coach this game in classic defensive position--knees bent, head up and slide stepping along the sidelines. He always looks like he wants to put himself in the game and make a big stop
Tough choice in this game--do we root for the league with Sparty or do we go with Earl?
Monday 9:04 am
Wow. Just wow. If we'd only see the last three games of our trip it would have been worth it, but the fact that they were games Ten, Eleven and Twelve is, well, madness.
Sparty moves on, but it took another big dose of Draymond Green late in the game and a three-pointer from Keith Appling that appeared to hit both the rim and the backboard more than once to put away the Billikens.
It was an outstanding game and a great way to end an incredible four days. As soon as the buzzer sounded today in Columbus we all looked around and asked, can we get to Greensboro, Nashville or Omaha in time to see more games?
We didn't want it to end. It felt as if it was too early to end. It was only 5:30 and we were still full of adrenaline, like Mortimer Duke in Trading Places when he said "turn those machines back on", but only in a good way.
The last three games we saw, OSU-Gonzaga, NC State-Georgetown and Michigan State-St. Louis all had leads of 5 or fewer points at the under 4 timeout. One featured a big upset and two top seeds were fighting to hang on and advance.
By now the game stories and highlights have been shown everywhere, but to see those three games in person was all we'd hoped for.
As we drove back to Pittsburgh we passed two Georgetown buses on I-70 between Cambridge and Wheeling. We weren't sure if it was the team or just fans but we wondered why, close to 4 hours after their game ended, that was far as they'd driven. They probably stopped for food at one of the many gourmet restaurants that litter that stretch of the highway.
Once we passed the Hoya buses, a strange thing happened. As we listened to the UNC, Florida and Ohio U. games on satellite radio we began to hear these voices. Very faint at first. The only words we could make out were "look for" and "glove compartment".
Slowly it got a little louder and they sounded like the Sirens, or the voice in Field of Dreams, "look for the free buffet coupon in the glove compartment", "look for the free buffet coupon in the glove compartment".
It was the Sirens of Wheeling preying on our lack of sleep and love of Let It Ride. Reluctantly, I opened the glove compartment in Mark's car and there it was--a Buy One, Get One coupon for the buffet at the Casino. About 45 minutes later, we walked out of the casino, full and up $75. We felt like a top seed. Win and move on.
For four days, we lived the NCAA tournament. Everything fell into place for us. We got tickets to both venues; our sons were able to make part of the trip; the Buckeyes got a #2 seed and were sent to Pittsburgh and won; the weather was fantastic which made for worry-free travel--both driving for us and flying for my son Matt; and we saw some great games.
If you ever get the chance to do this, I highly recommend it. This was the second time I'd done it and while it was easier 20 years ago in Dayton and Cincinnati, I feel good knowing that at 54 and a little shy of being "physically fit", I emerged tired, but unhurt.
Start your planning now. Here are the 2013 Second and Third Round sites: Auburn Hills, Lexington, Salt lake City, San Jose, Austin, Dayton, Kansas City and Philadelphia. The dates are March 21, 22, 23, & 24. Have fun.
Scribbled notes. It ain't easy being a reporter!
We to thank a few people for helping to make this happen. First to our wives Jayne and Carol who didn't understand the appeal of the trip and were probably happy to have of out of the house for a few days. To our buddies Bob Derda at Duquesne University and Brian Timm of the Columbus Sports Commission for helping us get tickets, to Matt and Nicholas for joining us when they could, to Eric Davis who twice drove three hours from Montpelier to join us in Columbus--remember, E.D. the line is, "Been away six weeks, where IS everybody?"--Eric's daughter Andee for making Sunday's games more fun; and to John Porentas at the-Ozone who, when I told him what we were doing, encouraged us to keep a journal and get him our notes any way we could--even if it meant scribbling on your arm and taking a picture of the scribbling and e-mailing it to him.