The Sweet Sixteen kicks off today with nary a Los Angeles team in sight. Actually, it's been a while since Angelenos have been able to take hometown pride in the March Madness tournament, but with no Trojans or Bruins in the running this year’s Cinderellas and Bracket-Busters are extra hard to stomach.
What happened to the good ol' days? Los Angeles' Matt Le wrote yesterday about the legendary John Wooden, who shaped not just basketball but coaching and mentorship as well with his "Pyramid of Success" and nonpareil off-court lectures. We miss the man who fostered ten NCAA championships and four perfect seasons. We miss the feeling of not just a school, but a city united. USC didn't even make the cut this year. UCLA did, but it bowed out before the real fun could begin. And when the Bruins left the Big Dance, so did their coach.
UCLA fired coach Ben Howland as its basketball coach Sunday because, well, the Bruins wanted more than he could deliver. Mr. Plaschke nailed the metaphorical sentiments exactly: Even though Howland had three Final Fours, two NBA All-Star point guards, and 10 years of Golden State recruiting experience, his former employers believed he wasn't good enough. To be a great basketball program, you must act like one. Nixing a skipper that's obviously not getting you to No. 1, then, is arguably a good first course of action. So Westwood joins its crosstown rivals in the losers' circle and goes back to the drawing board. (Ironically enough, Howland is now looking like an appetizing option in USC's coach search.)
So who do we root for? Here are some options:
1. The Pac-12 Option
If you're of the mindset that the West Coast is the Best Coast, No. 6 Arizona and No. 12 Oregon are your only in-conference teams. Both have real uphill battles, as the former takes on No. 2 Ohio St. and the latter readies to battle No. 1 Louisville. Show 'em some love, though, if you must.
2. Mouse House Option
Rooting for an underdog—that wins—has always been the ultimate, feel-good, rub-it-in-your-friends'-faces achievement. Dunk City, formerly known as Florida Gulf Coast, knocked out one of my favorite (and my uncle's least favorite) teams in the very beginning of the tourney. Hoya Suxa! Nevertheless, Brett Comer, Sherwood Brown, and Eric McKnight have quickly stolen the spotlight, inspiring a weird music video, enjoying a host of highlight reels, and notching a spot in history as the first-ever No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. History could go a step further tomorrow, when the team takes on No. 3 Florida for a spot in the Elite Eight.
3. The Presidential Option
Biden threatened not to talk to Obama if the Prez didn't go with Syracuse. Well, he kind of did. Obama has Syracuse taking on No. 1 Indiana in the finals (and losing). Now we don't know who Obama consulted for these picks, but if Capitol Hill soothsaying pulls any weight in your mind, take the Hoosiers or the Orange. I went with neither.
4. The Last Option
Just be happy the team you picked to win it all is still in the running (because it most likely is). Kansas, don't let me down.