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February 17, 2004 Columns No Comments

The Season’s First Bracket

by Matt Jones

We have now reached that time in the season where thoughts start to turn to
tournament time. You begin checking the internet every 30 minutes to see if
there is a new bracket projection or if your team is on or off someone’s
“bubble”. Yes this is the time of year when college basketball fans often
think, “Boy I wish the regular season would just end so that we could get to
the good stuff.

Alas, poor Yorick, I understand those thoughts. There is no more exciting
time of year than March and one can grow impatient waiting for it to come.
However we should not just rush past what has been a great regular season in
our fair sport. Here we are creeping towards mid-February and there are 4
teams with just one loss or less, all of whom have a legitimate shot at
keeping their streaks going straight into March. Many of you might have
forseen Duke as one of the 4, but how many of you had St. Joseph’s, Stanford
or Mississippi State?

Yes I too am getting excited, but I also understand that we have witnessed
much that should be preserved in our memory banks. With the season winding
down, I want to take the opportunity to relive the five best games of the
season up to this point. These are the games that included great
performances, amazing finishes and indelible images that will stay with us
long after “One Shining Moment” goes off the air in March. This list may
have to be tweaked after the last three weeks of the season, but this gives
us a good starting point for the debate.

At the same time as I indulge these college basketball memories, I also want
to take the time to relive all that is great in my other passion, reality
television. I firmly believe we are hitting a high point in reality
television with many shows starting up for another season, and other
surprise hits coming down the homestretch. Thus I also want to rank the 5
greatest reality shows of all time. This list represents not only my two
greatest interests, but also a good 95% of my free time. So without further

No. 5 Charlotte vs Syracuse

This may initially seem like an odd choice for one of the best games of the
season. Neither of these teams is among the elite squads in the country and
the game did not finish on a last second buzzer beater. However the game
did embody what is great about the sport. Here is Syracuse, the reigning
Apollo Creed of the NCAA, fresh off their first ever national championship,
playing in front of a home crowd ready to celebrate their ultimate ascension
to the top of the national basketball landscape. In comes Bobby Lutz, armed
with both his Charlotte 49ers squad and his absurd moustache, attempting to
challenge the Giant. Previously unknown Brendan Plavich becomes the Pistol
Pete of Conference USA by making approximately 150 three pointers and
leading his team to a stunning victory in the Carrier Dome. In the grand
scheme of this season, this game may not get another mention. However it
was an early season reminder to me of the magic that occur in college
basketball, even in a meaningless November game with no national attention.

No. 5 Reality TV Moment – The Surreal Life: Season 1

It is time for America to take notice of the Surreal Life. This is the best
reality show on television, and with the exception of a few junkies like
myself, no one watches it. This season is great with the interplay between
Tammy Faye Baker, Vanilla Ice, Eric Estrada and Ron Jeremy providing great
entertainment. However nothing will top the first season when the original
cast (MC Hammer, Vince Neil, Corey Feldman, Webster, Andrea Zuckerman, Jenna
from Survivor and some girl from Baywatch) went to hear MC Hammer preach.
During the sermon (which showed Billy Graham that he has nothing to worry
about), Vince Neil began to break down. As Hammer hit his stirring
crescendo, Neil began to sob and he walked up to the altar and became a
Christian. That moment left me speechless then and leaves me speechless
now. A rapper ministers to a rock star and all of America gets to

No. 4 Kentucky v Mississippi State

Who knew at the time of this game that this would end up being the only
thing that would separate Mississippi State and an undefeated record? While
this could not have been anticipated, the buildup for this game was unlike
any in recent history in Starkville. Students lined up for days, the gym
was packed 2 hours before tipoff and even Dicky V was in town to rant and
rave about how great a shooter JJ Redick is. The game itself began like so
many in the SEC, with Kentucky in control, eventually opening up a 17 point
lead. However the Bulldogs fought back, and behind the play of Lawrence
Roberts eventually caught and overtook the Wildcats. With the Bulldogs
holding a 1 point lead, they pulled off a defensive stand, leading to a jump
ball call. The possession arrow pointed towards Kentucky, causing Dick
Vitale to begin screaming about how awful the alternate possession rule is
and leading to his fourth aneurysm of the evening. With two seconds left,
the Cats fumbled the inbounds pass and Eric Daniels came out of the scrum
with the ball, leaving a wide-open layup as time expired. The Kentucky
players went crazy and Tubby Smith’s group escaped with yet another close
win late.

No. 4 Reality TV – Real World: San Francisco

Now it is time boys and girls to look back and reminisce over a time when
MTV was not simply about beauty and image and occasionally attempted to
confront serious issues, and (gasp!) Even play music. During this ancient
period in 1993, MTV (who one could argue began reality television as we know
it) embarked on its third season of the Real World and attempted to confront
a previously taboo issue. By casting HIV-positive Pedro in the series, MTV
gave most of America their first chance to get to know someone with the
disease. America saw Pedro confront the disease head on and watched as he
attempted to make something positive out of his condition. Other cast
members, such as the one-of-a-kind Puck, made impressions, but this was
ultimately Pedro’s show. When he passed away soon after the show aired,
then-President Bill Clinton gave a videotaped speech at his funeral,
confirming the power that this show had on young people. This Real World
provided both entertainment and information, neither of which have been seen
on MTV in many a day.

No. 3 Duke v North Carolina

There is no one in America who believes that the ACC, and these two schools
in particular, are too overhyped by the national media more than I do.
Having said that, one can’t help but recognize that when these two teams get
together, more often than not, something special happens. Whether it is
Jeff Capel’s half-court heave or Vince Carter’s windmill dunk, these games
leave indelible images forever with the viewer. I sat through such a game
in 2001 when Brendan Haywood hit two free throws after being fouled by the
golden boy Shane Battier, and led then No. 1 North Carolina over the Blue
Devils in Cameron Indoor. It is still the best game I have ever seen in
person and I remember it fondly. Similar thoughts must have entered the
minds of those in the Dean Dome this year as Duke squeezed out an overtime
victory over the Tar Heels thanks to a late layup by Chris Duhon. This game
featured plenty of back-and-forth action, huge three point bombs by Rashad
McCants and the beginning of a secretly testy rivalry between Roy Williams
and Coach K. While Duke may be the superior team this season, UNC played
admirably and with a great deal of heart (something the team has lacked at
times this season), thus helping qualify this as one of the 5 best games of
the season.

No. 3 Reality TV: Joe Millionaire Finale

I remember the first time I heard about the premise of this show. I was
sitting with a bunch of buddies and we heard that a woman would be led to
think that a random guy was a millionaire, and late in the game she would
find out he was not and would look like an idiot. At the time we giggled
with anticipation (or at least my friends giggled, I of course engaged in a
manly laugh), and promised to be glued to the sets. When the finale came,
and the women looked silly after realizing the Evan Marriott (what ever
happened to him anyway) was actually just a normal plebeian, I was happy and
able to have fun at someone else’s expense. With the novelty of the joke
having worn off, it was no surprise that the sequel to the show bombed and
that America moved on to greener reality pastures. But we will always have
that span of weeks when the suits at Fox came up with a great idea, executed
it to perfection and had America laughing at the joke.

No. 2 Wake Forest v North Carolina

Another great game in the Dean Dome, but unfortunately for the Tar Heels,
another close loss. These two Tobacco Road rivals battled over the course
of regulation and then three overtimes, before the immovable force of Eric
Williams helped Wake Forest pull out the victory. This game put the world
on notice that Wake Forest was for real (at least temporarily) and helped
bring attention to the surprisingly deep ACC. This game seemed to
especially stick in the craw of UNC fans more than normal. Whether it was
the complaints about the extended coverage that Williams’s mom received or
the ubiquitous questioning of the referees’ calls, UNC fans seemed in a
particularly foul mood after the game. As for Wake Forest, the joy of being
undefeated was short-lived and this may have represented the high point in
their season.

No. 2 Reality TV: American Idol: Season 2

There are some things I will not debate. I refuse to listen to any argument
that Jay Leno is funny, that anyone but Tiger Woods is the best golfer in
the world, that Ann Coulter should be respected or that the Second Season of
American Idol was not absolutely brilliant. All of America became engulfed
in the “Ginger-Mary Ann” debate for a new generation. Who was the best:
Clay or Ruben? I admit to being partial to the big guy from Alabama with
the smooth voice, but like all Americans, I couldn’t help but cheer for both
of them. Watching the transformation of Clay from dorky North Carolinian to
miniature sex symbol was nothing if not hilarious. And at the time that
Luther Vandross had his stroke and Barry White passed away, Ruben emerged as
a possible replacement. Tell me that you weren’t watching when the winner
was announced, and did not think that Ruben’s “Flying Without Wings” was not
great. Television at its finest.

No. 1 Arizona at Stanford

One of the things that makes college basketball games great is that they
often occur in the perfect setting. Such was the case in the best game of
the season between the Wildcats and the Cardinal. Stanford had lost four
straight home games to Arizona and was attempting to stay undefeated by
breaking that curse in their home arena. The gymnasium was packed with
rabid student followers and many friends of the university such as Bill
Walsh, Jim Plunkett (whose wife got trampled in the post game celebration)
and Tiger Woods (whose wife is hot). The end of the game has been endlessly
replayed, but Nick Robinson’s steal and 30 foot jump shot at the buzzer will
live forever as one of the greatest endings in college basketball history.
The crowd stormed the floor (leaving me a bit worried about Robinson at the
bottom of the pile) and the scene was pure bedlam. Dick Vitale went nuts
(proving my point that games are just a bit better when he calls them….3
of 5 on this list) and Stanford moved atop my Hoopville Top 25 poll. If the
college basketball season had ended that day, I would have been happy.

No. 1 Reality TV: Survivor Season 1 Finale

When television historians sit down (and if there are such people, they have
the best job on Earth) and debate the best moments in the history of the
invention, this should be top 5. I am serious. Since the dawning of cable,
there have been very few moments that were not tragedies that have not
unified the country in front of the television set. Events such as the “Who
Shot JR” episode, final episode of “MASH” and the “Roots” miniseries very
rarely occur now thanks to all the options that the viewing public has.
However one of those moments was the Survivor Finale in Season 1. It could
not have been scripted (and may have been) any better. Evil Richard takes
the final prize, using his conniving abilities to ultimately gain the
respect of his fellow competitors. Loveable old Rudy found himself close to
winning the last challenge and the game, but ultimately fell asleep, thus
allowing his hand to fall off the pole he was required to hold onto. And of
course there was Sue, with her late speech, telling Kelly that she would not
stop to help her even if she was “on the grounds with buzzards picking at
her.” There has not been a better hour of television in recent memory that
lived up to the hype (sorry Seinfeld finale), while also bringing America
together. That is why it is the number one moment.

So those are my rankings. You may disagree, and I hope you will write me on
either the college basketball game or the reality television issue. Until
then, watch for a Stanford loss in the next two games and the slow
re-emergence of the Texas Longhorns.


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