Yahoo! Sports national columnist Dan Wetzel lived the dream: He covered the first day of the NCAA tournament … from his local watering hole, 24 Seconds in Berkley, Mich.
12:02 p.m. EDT: For the fifth consecutive year (except the year I didn't do it), I've convinced my rube bosses at Yahoo! Sports to allow me to watch the NCAA tournament from a local spots bar and write a live blog about the games, the characters, the gambling and whatever else it takes to make them think this is work.
In past years we've tackled some serious issues, such as could a 900-foot Jesus be a capable basketball player, is Northwestern State the most arrogant school in America and does anyone think Mike Krzyzewski really drives a Silverado?
Expect these topics and other big issues to be broached again.
My freeloading father is joining me again, and in an effort to class things up I've brought in Tony Chiles, assistant basketball coach at Drexel. I told him this was like being invited to break down the games on the CBS halftime show – only the exact opposite.
Their job is to drink beer, watch hoops and occasionally say amusing or insightful things.
"We've been training our entire lives for this," my father noted.
There's a chance he'll even pay attention to more than the UNLV cheerleaders this year.
So we are in good hands. Back when this started, a live blog was cutting edge. Now every blogger and whoever lives in Bob Costas' basement does one. No matter, this remains the granddaddy of them all.
At least, as long as my editor thinks so.
My main goal of the day is to avoid any and all shots. Whatever the other guys do is fine.
Added drama this year: My wife might give birth at any time now, so I'll be the only person at the bar who won't avoid his wife's call. And this entire enterprise could end at any moment. We'll take reader suggestion on names for my daughter. Chamique is an early favorite.
So check back all day. I'll be live during the early games, updating every 15-20 minutes from the 24 Seconds sports bar in Berkley, Mich. If you are in the area, come on by. If not, if you're stuck at work or school or just home, if you have a real job or a real life or a boss that won't fall for this trick, then read along.
With March Madness on Demand bringing the broadcast to your computer, this can be a lonely pursuit. You'd rather be in a crowd. We'll be the crowd.
See you when the action starts.
12:31 p.m. EDT: My father is already plotting how to draft a petition to get CBS to adjust its scoreboard to include the point spread. He'd prefer the Xavier-Georgia game begin with the score Georgia 8.5, Xavier 0.
"It would make things a lot easier," he notes.
There would be plenty of support for such a movement among the people hanging around a bar in the middle of the day, if that means anything. March Madness, baby.
Coach Chiles' breakdown of XU-UGa: I like Xavier because they've got more rest and Drew Lavender is healthier. And Georgia is probably just glad to be here.
Coach Chiles' breakdown Michigan State-Temple: If it's a half-court game, State beats you. If Temple gets up and down, they can win. Their wings are good. State won't blow them out.
Coach Chiles break down Kansas-Portland State: "That's easy." Even with the 22.5 spread? "Oh, yeah."
You aren't getting that on CBS.
• These two have already earned the black and tans they are working hard on.
• We expect a big crowd here early as the Detroit suburbs are a Michigan State stronghold and, coincidentally, two things happened today in the area: first, a vicious flu bug hit causing many workers to head home to nurse themselves back to health. Second, an incredible number of business meetings were scheduled this afternoon with very important clients. Not Client No. 9, but the other guys.
• You think Client No. 9 is watching the tourney? He has nothing else to do, right?
• 24 Seconds regular and Carolina fan Ed showed up like clockwork. He wants to watch Baylor today after seeing a Scott Drew interview this week. He also wants to drink beer.
12:42 p.m. EDT: Not much of a crowd at the games in Washington, D.C. Good to see our politicians are too busy with partisan fighting, bribe taking and intern lunch dates to get to the Xavier-Georgia game.
• Think any of the teams got to stay in the Mayflower Hotel? Do they charge more or less for Client No. 9's old room?
• At least here in Detroit we know our mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, is doing business right now. In every sense of the word.
• Coach Chiles already looks smart. Xavier is a different team when Drew Lavender is healthy. See, this was genius.
• Ed was telling my father about a bar in Hamtramck, Mich., where you can get Black Label in a can for some crazy price like a quarter. Now my father wants to go. He may run off with Ed. Or marry him.
• Coach Chiles says, "Temple has got a New York point guard and two Philly wings, so you know they aren't going to be scared." Spoken like a guy who grew up in the South Bronx, went to All Hallows and now coaches in Philly.
• One reader wants me to name my daughter after the team that springs the first upset of the day. "Siena's a beautiful name!" Of course, UMBC won't work too well.
• Portland State is going to be down the spread at halftime.
12:53 p.m. EDT: Temple coach Fran Dunphy may have the best mustache in the tourney. "He has an afro mustache," said Tony. Even going gray that thing brings it.
It is the exact opposite of Adam Morrison's mustache.
The mustache seems to be a thing of the past. The facial hair on the players so far has been pretty tame.
"We should come up with an all-mustache team," my father said. This is an excellent assignment for them.
• So far the commercials have been pretty tame. Nothing too annoying. Like those two guys standing in the ocean singing about eating fish at Applebee's. Or whatever they did last year.
Our favorite from last year though was Dick Vitale's Hooters commercial. Besides being campy, which is to be expected, the highlight was when he did something outrageous, like eat a chicken wing or something, I can't remember. But standing next to him was a well-built blonde who, with an exasperated look, uttered the classic line:
That was it. That was her only line. No double entendre there.
I always felt for her parents back in Omaha or someplace who had to hear their "actress" daughter call home excitedly to tell of her first speaking role.
What's the line, hun?
What kind of role is this?
"Don't worry, dad, Dick Vitale is in it."
• These are the things you worry about when you are about to have a daughter – having Dick Vitale get anywhere near her one day.
• I had thought getting out of Big Ten play would reinvigorate the Michigan State offense. Turns out it wasn't the Big Ten that was causing all the ugly play. It was State. 10 minutes in the score is MSU 12, Temple 11.
If this game gets any uglier they are going to bump it to the Big Ten Network.
1:10 p.m. EDT: Portland State is already hopelessly behind Kansas. It's 9:55 a.m. on their Oregon campus. Does this even count as being in the tournament?
Can they still get into the NIT? Or the CBI, i.e. the NIT's NIT?
Is there a worse fate in college hoops than being on the wrong side of the CBI bubble?
• Georgia's miracle Bulldogs are up on Xavier 33-24 and are going to give the Muskateers all they can handle. Talk about a brutal draw for XU. Rather than get a typical 14 seed such as Cornell, Cal State Fullerton or Boise State, Xavier gets the SEC tournament champion. Yes, Georgia struggled for much of the year, but these are still SEC recruits.
• Coach Chiles points out that Georgia point guard Sundiata Gaines played for the New York Gauchos. And Emanuel Richardson, AKA Book, used to coach the Gauchos is an assistant coach for Xavier.
Former Gauchos also in the NCAA tournament include Russell Robinson at Kansas and Ronald Ramon and Levance Fields at Pittsburgh. When they were all together, they dominated summer basketball.
This is why assistant coaches are valuable to have around. You think CBS crew will provide such insight?
• Portland State held for the last shot of the first half despite being down 23. They probably should have tried a two-for-one. Regardless, as predicted, KU leads by the spread at the break.
According to my father's scoreboard it is Jayhawks 49-48.
1:25 p.m. EDT: Michigan State has taken a decent lead against Temple – 35-26 at halftime. This has significantly cheered the spirits of the mostly Spartan crowd here at 24 Seconds. The afternoon may very well get rowdy here. Or nothing is going to get done when everyone returns to work after their "lunch meeting."
Although as Tony Chiles points out, "Fran Dunphy is one of the better halftime adjustment coaches in the game." Must be the 'stache.
• If Guinness is, indeed, "good for you," then perhaps you could call this place a health club this afternoon.
• A couple of readers are wondering how I got a job where I can hang out in a bar with my family and friends and watch hoops. The answer:
I slept my way to the top.
• All three games at halftime right now. Good news, not everyone at CBS wore a pinstriped suit today. Nice to see the fashion diversity.
1:50 p.m. EDT: As Sundiata Gaines makes an open court steal and glides in for layup to extend Georgia's lead, it is obvious what Xavier's problem is – not enough Gauchos.
They have two coming next year, Tony pointed out. So they've got that going for them.
• And to think, Dennis Felton was as good as fired a week ago. Now he has a double-digit second-half lead and is staring down the second round of the NCAAs.
• Sean Gregory, the former Princeton player who's a writer for Time, checked in and noted that he once played for Tony in the Wheelchair Classic back in the day (it's not wheelchair basketball, that's just the name).
• The Kansas-Portland State game is dead to us. But KU is only leading by two, according to my father.
• Meanwhile, Michigan State started strong and everyone at 24 Seconds is very pleased. If you happen to be doing business with a Detroit law firm, you might want to challenge the billable hours this afternoon.
Unless you're Kwame Kilpatrick. Then it really doesn't matter.
• Temple is pretty much done. Fran Dunphy was looking down his bench and couldn't find David Katz to come in and save him like the old days at Penn.
"So much for my halftime adjustment theory," Tony notes.
• My editor wanted to know if I was getting free drinks for plugging 24 Seconds. First off, that's what expense reports are for. Second, operating a live NCAA tournament blog from a sports bar is an enterprise rooted in the highest of journalistic ethics. I'm insulted by the question.
2:10 p.m. EDT: If you don't care about the point spread – which means you're either Myles Brand or one of three other Americans – then there is only one interesting game going on: Georgia trying to hold on against Xavier.
Kansas will not suffer first-round humiliations of years past and Michigan State is thrilling the assembled fans here.
• Someone brought a 9-month-old baby into the bar. The dad claims she filled out a bracket by drooling on it.
"I don't think the baby is the only person here who needs a nap," Tony noted, looking at the well-hydrated crowd.
Just wait until the shots get going.
• Reader Matt from Meadville, Pa., says there is a bar there that sells cans of Black Label for 50 cents. "A great deal!" he writes.
Thanks for the note? Do you need a new dad?
"Who'd have thought," mine said. "It must have been sitting in back for 20 years at that price. They could call it, 'Thoroughly aged Black Label.'
If you see a 71-year-old carrying printouts of 17 different brackets/pools and, just for entertainment purposes, Calcuttas wandering the streets of Meadville, Pa., tonight, please send him home to my mother.
2:20 p.m. EDT: Supposedly, DirecTV took the Kansas-Portland State game off of its "live look-in" deal, deeming it a blowout. They clearly have no idea KU only leads by 2.5 points.
• Plenty of people here at 24 Seconds are more than aware of this, however.
• Received this email from Alodia of Cebu, Phillippines:
"Call me an NCAA virgin, I am completely new to this. My boyfriend is an American and absolutely obsessed with college basketball. He MADE ME participate in the bracket pool that he and his family play in every year.
"I picked my winners based on how tough mascots appear to be and at other times, by closing my eyes, letting my right hand click away. So who would win in a street fight, a Running Rebel or a Golden Flasher (and can that possibly be as dirty as it sounds?)? Also, a 900-foot Jesus may be an excellent basketball player, but I do not think he could hit a curve ball."
To answer the question, a Runnin' Rebel because in Vegas a flasher is nothing. Wouldn't even turn a head.
• The sense here is now that Xavier has stormed back and taken the lead, the Musketeers will carry through and win it. Georgia looks tired and fading. They really could have used a Friday game. But, then again, Xavier had to face perhaps the toughest 14 seed in the tourney.
• This much I do know: Somewhere Skip Prosser is watching this game and having a pint of Guinness also.
2:31 p.m. EDT: Georgia is still putting up a fight, although even the guys at the end of the Georgia bench that hold hands during critical free throws look tired. Still, this has the look of a potential March Madness classic.
• Kansas covered. But not by much. Still, one person who will remain anonymous is quite pleased with Bill Self. "One and a half is one and a half," he said.
• With Michigan State's game in the bag, all the Spartan fans here are working diligently at trying to join them in there.
• Second slate of games look good. Purdue-Baylor, Oral Roberts-Pitt, Marquette-Kentucky and UNLV-Kent State. They should be more competitive.
2:40 p.m. EDT: Temple's Dionte Christmas was talking about going pro. He had three points and four fouls. He might want to register for fall semester classes.
• The good news about the alternative scoreboard theory is there is no need when it comes to UNLV. They have not just the spread on their wristbands, but a three-team tease.
According to my father, the cheerleaders chant, "Win by 11! Win by 11!".
I need to call Tark and find out if this is true.
• Xavier may not have enough New York Gauchos but they do have enough guys who can hit free throws. So Georgia's magical run ends as XU spreads it out with ease and wins 73-61. They needed some wild weather to save them late.
Here's hoping Dennis Felton sticks it to UGA on his contract renegotiation.
• Xavier's free-throw shooting also allowed them to cover, which also pleased one person who will remain anonymous.
• Coach Chiles' breakdown of Marquette-Kentucky, which has just begun: I like Marquette because of their toughness. They have four guards, and all of them give them something. There won't be a dropoff when they go to their bench.
2:50 p.m. EDT: Coach Chiles' breakdown of Baylor-Purdue: "That's a pick 'em. Could go either way. I think they are kind of similar, both grind it out a little bit. I haven't seen Baylor as much but Purdue is tough to beat."
• Coach Chiles' breakdown of UNLV-Kent State: "I like Kent State just because they are battle tested. They have been good year-in, year-out and this is the year to break through. Jimmy Christian does a great job coaching defense."
• Coach Chiles' breakdown of Pitt-Oral Roberts: "I've got to go with Pitt, stay true to Ronald Ramon (who also attended All Hallows in the Bronx). His nickname at the Dyckman Tournament is 'The Oya from Broadway'."
I'm sensing a New York bias here.
"South Bronx has to stick together."
I'm not arguing with that.
• Marquette-Kentucky is tied early and this has the look of the best game of the early part of the day. For UK, it's a chance to enact some revenge on Marquette for beating them in the 2003 Elite Eight. That day, Dwyane Wade recorded a triple-double to end a long Wildcat winning streak. It was one of three triple doubles ever in the NCAA tournament and portended some postseason greatness to come, to say the least.
3:01 p.m. EDT: In 1985, my mother won a big NCAA pool by picking just the Catholic schools. That year Villanova, St. John's and Georgetown came in for her. Now, as a fine young lady from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Queens, N.Y., she'd never change.
However, my father, always looking for an angle, is wondering which religion he should be this week to better his bracket chances. And on further review, going Catholic makes a great deal of sense.
The Catholics have Xavier, Mount St. Mary's, Notre Dame, Butler, St. Joseph's, Villanova, Siena, Marquette, Gonzaga, Georgetown, St. Mary's and San Diego.
The Protestants have Oral Roberts and Baylor.
The Mormons have Brigham Young.
The Jews have Temple (kidding).
"Isn't Austin Peay some religion?" my father asked.
"It doesn't mean all of the teams don't have some God-fearing young men," noted Tony. "I like this. You've got to have a system."
Well, tomorrow is Good Friday.
3:15 p.m. EDT: UNLV-Kent State finally started and CBS has already shown the Rebel cheerleaders three times.
There is no truth to the rumor that the UNLV cheerleaders wear stiletto heels, are all named after cities in Texas and constantly make the pep band play "Pour Some Sugar on Me." And no, there is not a new team member named "Kristen."
These are all lies. I am fighting a barrage of bad jokes being thrown my direction right now.
Of course, I swear I saw one of them grinding the basket support last year.
• Not that I'm saying any of the above is bad thing.
• But let's remember these are real students. After all, a couple of them have already lined up summer internships at Crazy Horse Too.
• Marquette-Kentucky has slowed to a grind, which was predictable. There is serious contact every single possession as both teams absolutely love to defend.
Down in El Paso, my man Don Haskins is absolutely loving this game and pulling for Billy Gillispie.
• It appears most of the attorneys have left and gone back to billing clients. All that is left are the defendants.
3:25 p.m. EDT: On the idea I should name my soon-to-be-born daughter after the first team to spring an upset – you know, Siena or something like that – comes a completely inappropriate email from Jeff in Big Rapids, Mich.
"Hopefully, for your daughter's sake, Oral Bob doesn't pull off the first upset of the tourney."
Let's put that entire idea to rest before I punch my ticket to hell just for reprinting that.
• How great is March Madness on Demand for ex-pats around the world? How's this from Travis is Shenzhen, China:
"It's 2:20 Friday morning and I got to go teach English to the children of China in five hours."
"Tell Travis no child left behind, even in China," my dad said.
Unless they live in Tibet, of course.
• There may or may not have been a bet just placed on the Marquette-Kentucky game, with Marquette giving 4.5. Maybe. Perhaps.
• Four games going at once. This is March in all its glory.
• In good news, Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press showed up and my man Gator Anderson of 97.1 The Ticket probably isn't too far behind. So the clientele is improving.
3:35 p.m. EDT: Almost 16 minutes into the game, Kent State has six points and is down 16 to UNLV. Usually when someone has a cold streak like that against Vegas, they lose a house.
"They are going to take Majerus off the hook for that 20-point game this year," my father predicted.
You know it's bad when Kent scored a basket and the crowd at the bar gave a mock cheer. Tough day.
• Tony is trying to figure out how many teams in the tourney had New York City guards. I think this has become an obsession.
If New York guards are so great, how come he didn't lead Columbia to the tournament back in the day?
"I led them to the bar."
• Much debate right now over why a place like Oral Roberts, which was founded by a faith healer, needed to build a hospital? In fact, considering Oral Roberts once raised the dead, this seems like a great hospital to go to. They can fix some mistakes.
Oral Roberts is actually a great place. But we've long thought that when Oral Roberts claims he saw a 900-foot Jesus, why he didn't sign him to a national letter of intent? A reader last year noted that a 900-foot Jesus would not be a good player because you could never pass him the ball since his foot would be so big that he would always be out of bounds on offense.
I think a 900-foot Jesus can do whatever he wants.
3:45 p.m. EDT: Alert reader Michael of Pittsburgh noted that in the first three games, each of the losing teams finished with 61 points and all three teams that were losing at the half had 26 points.
I'm not sure whether I should I feel good or bad about not noticing that myself.
• A number of readers have written in to point out the Crazy Horse Too strip club in Vegas is now closed. It's nice to know your audience.
• Pitt is having its way with Oral Roberts, leaving Bob Knight's bold selection of the Panthers for the national championship look smart (at least temporarily). The best part of Knight being on ESPN is that his stuff is the opposite of chalk.
• The Flashes flashed to 10 points in the first half. They wish that 26-point thing held up.
• The only game that looks worth watching at this point is Marquette-Kentucky, which we'd be focusing on if, indeed, a bet had ever been made on that game or even if activity of that sort was allowed in these here United States of America.
4:05 p.m. EDT: Laura from Meadville, Pa., also wrote to ask about the the local bar that sells 50 cent Black Label in a can.
Hopefully, Matt can let me know. If both of you guys are single, I can even exchange emails. This could be like eHarmony, Northwest Pennsylvania Cheap Beer Division. Talk about personality profiles, "enjoys cheap beer in a can" pretty much cuts the pool down a little better than, "enjoys travel."
• Gator asked Tony and my father how long they are in town for.
"We're here to drink beer and watch games. When they run out of beer or games, we leave."
Sadly, that is essentially the plan. And they aren't going to run out of beer.
• Drew Sharp has a simple addition to the column: "The Big Ten sucks."
• Last year Gator was made famous for his failure to hit on a fetching young lady who was at 24 Seconds. There is no such pressure this year, it's all men at this point. It's funny how attractive young women aren't into spending a nice afternoon in a smoky bar.
• A nice addition to the CBS alternative scoreboard would be a GPS-like voice that chimes in when certain prop bets are in the mix.
"The over/under is approaching."
• With Marquette now up more than 4.5 points, a double down may or may not have just gone down with the spread moving to 5.5. You wouldn't think someone would take that bet at Two Keys in Lexington, but we'll see.
4:06 p.m. EDT: Turns out Butler isn't a Catholic school. Just sounds like one, I guess. Sorry to anyone on any side of this who may have been offended.
4:19 p.m. EDT: Larry Johnson is in the stands for the UNLV-Kent State game. What, Moses Scurry was busy? The way the Rebels are laying it on the Golden Flashes, you'd think it was the glory days.
Perhaps most fans won't agree with me, but college hoops was more fun when UNLV was what Memphis is today, annihilating people and angering the establishment.
• The TV showing the UNLV-Kent State game temporarily broke. Kent State's offense was probably to blame.
• Other than Marquette-Kentucky, the games are so dull and decided that there was a noticeable groan here when it was announced "Judge Joe Brown" would be preempted.
• And that part about me not drinking shots until I'm off duty? Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.
• Marquette-Kentucky is as competitive and well-played as you'd expect, which is nice, but for the day to be complete, we could really use a buzzer-beater or something.
Although the guy with Kentucky making the bet that may or may not being happening is trying to buy another point for $10. It's getting desperate around here. What a surprise.
• Just a reminder, this blog will end after the early games. In fact, it will probably end after the Kentucky-Marquette game since the other games aren't worth watching. If you work second shift, our apologies, you'll have to live without it. We will be back tomorrow.
4:50 p.m. EDT: Court from Redmond, Wash., wrote in to say he knows the woman in the Dick Vitale Hooters commercial who said, "Oh, Dick." I wish I could reprint it. But I can't.
• Due to the nature of the possible bet and the fact that leads and deficits of .5 points and wild Kentucky three pointers kept happening, the Marquette-Kentucky game required incredible concentration. I mean, let's just say hypothetically you had Marquette giving five and a half, the last two minutes were absolutely a roller coaster. If only you could have watched along on the alternate scoreboard.
However, now that all is safe and well with the world and my unborn daughter can attend college one day, we can breathe easy. If that bet ever actually happened, of course.
• Joe Crawford's 35 points in the final game of his career was perhaps the best performance of the day. His college career didn't go exactly as planned, but he had a great senior year and really came to play in today's loss.
• As for the other games, a bunch of dogs. So to recap the afternoon, there were no upsets and no buzzer-beaters and no really close games if you go by the actual scoreboard and not the alternative one.
Now, if you think you missed nothing by actually working, you missed the entire point of the endeavor.
• I broke it to the gang that the blog was about to end.
"What about Stanford-Cornell? The brain game," my father said.
It's definitely time to go.