A few years ago, slipping away from work for a four-bracket, three-cocktail lunch carried minimal risk.
The unemployment rate was so low your boss knew you could go down the street and find another job – unless you had one of those AIG retention bonuses. Besides, businesses were practically running themselves, or at least cooking the books.
Now we have the recession, and everyone's white-knuckling their paycheck. Stealing away to watch some games is a dangerous proposition. Counting on the boss button to save you is scary enough. The only positive is if you're company's hiring freeze offers temporary job protection – i.e. even your underperforming, college-hoops-obsessed self is better than nothing.
Either way, here in the recession, we expect that less people watched NCAA tournament games during work hours. And we know college kids never skip class, so that group is out of the equation.
The good news: you didn't miss a thing.
Oh, Cal State Northridge played with Memphis for 35 minutes. And Northern Iowa hung with Purdue until the end. And LSU beat Butler in an entertaining game. And Maryland-Cal was decent for awhile. But that's about it.
The biggest event of the afternoon was Jim Calhoun not coaching Connecticut due to illness. Even that has limited news value since this is the third time he's had to sit out a NCAA tournament game (the last two times – 1999 and 2004 – UConn won the title).
For this day, UConn not only didn't need a coach, it probably didn't need five players on the court to beat Chattanooga.
The biggest upset? The ninth-seeded Texas A&M Aggies hitting their first 10 shots of the game en route to a blowout of eighth-seeded BYU. It was that dull.
As NCAA tournament afternoons go, this was a good day to work.
• The big event, of course, was Northridge giving Memphis a game. Eventually the Tigers won with superior rebounding and the white-hot shooting of Roburt Sallie (10 of 15 from three, 35 points). That's only slightly above his 4.5- point-a-game average and tells you all you need to know about how loaded John Calipari's program is.
Expect the Tigers to see plenty of zone the rest of the tournament, though. Northridge switched between a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 and made Memphis beat them with great shooting. It's unlikely Sallie is going to be able to keep up that pace.
• Maryland defeated Cal 84-71, which means Mike Silver is wrong and Cal isn't the center of the universe.
The question going forward is which Maryland team will show up? We've seen the Maryland team that got blown out by Duke and lost to Virginia in the regular season finale and had people speculating about Gary Williams' job.
The one that pulled away from Cal, however, had the look of the Terrapin club that beat North Carolina and Michigan State this year. It had great ball movement, played with passion and made shots. It's obviously capable of beating anyone. In a game with Memphis, the Terps' Greivis Vasquez, who had 27 against Cal, could be the best player on the court – Tyreke Evans included.
If that's the case, the Tigers are going to be in for a battle.
• Northern Iowa put together a late run to make the game interesting, but the 61-56 Purdue victory was relatively stress-free. At no point down the stretch did Northern Iowa ever have the ball with a chance to tie. Plus, Purdue hit most of its free throws. Failing to do so leaves teams open to being upset.
• Always good times when CBS busts out the abbreviation for Northern Iowa – No Iowa. This would be one occasion that fans could legitimately complain about a media bias.
• The No Iowa-Purdue game was one of the rare basketball games where players may have been discussing developments in the corn-seeding industry.
• The worst commercial of the tournament is the one for the hotel chain where fans of opposing teams are so happy to be staying there they help each other out. You know, the UCLA fan holds the elevator of the USC fan, the Ohio State fan picks up the bag of the Michigan fan.
It's not a terrible idea, even though having a Duke and Carolina fan wait for a bus in the rain seems a little strange for a hotel commercial.
It breaks decidedly creepy though when a Georgetown fan is eating chicken wings at the hotel bar and gets some ranch dressing on his beard. Then the Syracuse fan reaches over and wipes it off with his bare hand.
Now, I don't know what kind of hotel they are running, but I want no part of a place where men wipe dipping sauce off each other's face – especially men who have never met. This would be disturbing if they were best friends or even domestic partners. But perfect strangers?
In any bar I've ever been at, wiping someone else's face in this manner would result in an immediate bottle smash over the head.
Who wrote that thing?
• Is this dipping-sauce situation a jinx of my Syracuse pick? At this point I'm completely paranoid.
• LSU outlasted Butler and there are two obvious things about the game. One, LSU still has LSU talent, but it now has Trent Johnson as a coach. This is a very good team. LSU won the SEC by three full games. While everyone is rightfully down on the league this season, you have to be pretty good anytime you can win a major conference by that margin. For the record, Michigan State won the Big Ten by four games.
Butler hung around and hung around, but the Tigers never got rattled. In the end it was enough to advance.
As for the Bulldogs, this season was an unexpected boon. Coach Brad Stevens wouldn't want to label it as such, but this was really a rebuilding year for a very strong program. Starting a junior, a sophomore and three freshman, the future is extremely bright. Matt Howard is a player.
• College coaches have long been drunk on power, but Mike Krzyzewski scolding Barack Obama from wasting 10 minutes to fill out a bracket with ESPN has got to be the ultimate moment. "The economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets," Krzyzewski said.
It's not just that Obama picked North Carolina to win the tournament. Krzyzewski actually thinks he should be telling the president what to do and not do.
The economy is a dicey subject, but perhaps General Motors wouldn't have needed a bailout had it not used Krzyzewski in past March Madness commercials. The one of him wearing a suit trying to hawk manly, outdoorsman pick up trucks remains one of the most baffling choices for a pitchman ever.
I like Krzyzewski – when he sticks to hoops. As long as Obama is in favor of a college football playoff, he can do what he wants.