JIM LITKE,AP Sports Columnist
Welcome back to BracketRacket.
Think of it as one-stop shopping for all your NCAA tournament needs. We’ll have interviews with celebrity alumni drawn from sports, entertainment and politics, plus “bracket-buster” picks, news, gossip, videos, photos, stats, notes and quotes from around the tourney sites — all of it bundled into a quick read to give full-time fans and officer-poolers alike something to sound smart about during the day ahead. Look for it daily through the end of the tournament.
So without further ado …
NO FUSS, NO MUSS, STILL PLENTY OF MAJERUS
Just like parenting, a big part of coaching is teaching kids to play well together, especially come tournament time. So even though the late Rick Majerus isn’t in the frame, most of what you need to know about Saint Louis University’s chances heading into the NCAAs can be found here: http://t.co/81ZIMICb4R .
It’s a photo of the Billikens team watching the tournament selection show Sunday afternoon at a Best Buy in Secaucus, N.J.
And yes, that’s the Atlantic 10 tournament trophy sitting at their feet, just to the left of the TV.
They won it a few hours earlier in Brooklyn, beating VCU to cap what’s already been a whirlwind regular season, and were on their way to the airport when they ran into New York traffic. Some celebration that was turning out to be.
But without any fuss — because that is the Saint Louis way — the team bus pulled off the road and into the parking lot at Best Buy to find out where they were seeded (No. 4 in the Midwest) and who they were matched against (New Mexico State).
Soon after their arrival, store manager Jen Hart tweeted: “I brought them in the Magnolia room” — who knew the rooms at Best Buy had names? — “and the next thing I know there (are) 30 guys there.”
Afterward, she sent this dispatch back to corporate headquarters in Minneapolis: “A couple of minutes later, they all started screaming. They thanked us 100 times, helped move the chairs back and got on the bus. Customers were asking what was going on. It was really cool. They were really nice guys.”
Also absent from the photo — but not from the celebration — was Jim Crews, another coaching lifer and close pal whom Majerus enlisted to take over at Saint Louis as his own health started failing. Majerus, a giant of a man who died of heart failure in December at age 64, was the best dinner guest in America. He loved basketball and eating, and he was a genius at both. Heck, his autobiography is titled “My Life on a Napkin.”
But Majerus was even better at teaching kids to seize every other opportunity life put in front of them, too. He grew up the son of a union stalwart from Milwaukee who dragged him along on open-housing marches, and his recruiting pitches were so honest that he always won over the parents, if not the kids. When Majerus was at Utah, Keith Van Horn’s mother called and asked him to break the news to her son that Van Horn’s father had a fatal heart attack. The coach took him to a 24-hour greasy spoon called Bill and Nada’s in downtown Salt Lake City, where the two talked and pushed their eggs around the plate until Van Horn’s flight home the next morning.
This Saint Louis team was recruited and nurtured by Majerus, and it’s a tribute to Crews that they play the way Majerus so loved: sharing the ball on offense and zealously covering each other’s backs on the other end of the floor. It didn’t hurt of course, that Crews learned those same principles playing guard for Bobby Knight’s undefeated national championship team in 1976, and employed them during 17 seasons coaching at Evansville and 7 more at Army.
He’s such a good teacher, in fact, that even though the Billikens have won 15 of their last 16. and 11 of those by double digits — another good omen come tournament time — Crews has been careful to make sure they understand what’s most important about Majerus’ legacy.
“It would be great to say, ‘Hey, this is for Rick. This is for Rick. This is for Rick,'” he explained. “But, you know, what if we lose? I just don’t buy into that.
“Rick’s life and friendship and his coaching and the relationships that he had and the people that he touched — it’s a lot bigger than winning a game or winning a championship or having a good year.”
SHOW ME THE MONEY. THEN STACK ALL THOSE BRACKETS IN A NEAT PILE
Apparently, the dreaded sequester will not affect college basketball wagering.
Las Vegas-based sports-betting guru RJ Bell of Pregame.com said 100 million people around the world are expected to put $12 billion on the line beginning with Thursday’s games — “more action combined than the Super Bowl!” according to his release.
But those aren’t the really staggering numbers.
It’s 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 — or if you insist on rounding off, 9.2 quintillion.
If we read Bell’s release correctly — no sure bet, so we called — those are the odds that even one of those 100 million brackets would be perfect by tourney’s end.
“That’s ONE MILLION times bigger than 9 TRILLION!” Bell’s release added helpfully.
Or, put another way: “If all the people on Earth filled out one bracket per second, it would take over 43 years to fill out every possible bracket.”
And another: “If all possible brackets were stacked on top of each other (on standard paper), the pile would reach from the moon and back over 1.1 million times.”
Of course, that’s just for the 64-team bracket.
“If expanded to consider 68 teams,” Bell added, “multiple the figures by 4.”
Somebody get the man another espresso.
CELEBRITY ALUM OF THE DAY
When last we saw “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, he had a full plate. Season five ended with his character, Don Draper, and the rest of the old-boy network at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce wrestling with issues like adultery and suicide. Turns out his time off from the series was almost as stressful.
“I’ve been around long enough to remember the Big Eight,” the Missouri alum (Class of ’93) told Associated Press television writer Lynn Elber. “Then, we’re in the Big 12. And now we’re in the SEC, which is really weird for me because this is our first season, and our football team just got destroyed.
“But a rising tide lifts all boats,” he added, “and we will, hopefully, be challenged by our new conference.”
“Mad Men” makes its debut this season April 7, the night before the NCAA championship game, and the shooting schedule has wreaked havoc on his regular sports-viewing habits. The Tigers open tournament play against Ole Miss on Friday at Nashville, but Hamm — who played football, baseball and swam in high school — concedes he hasn’t been able to follow them as closely as he’d like.
“We’re usually off by this time, so I usually get the whole March Madness-wash-over-me excitement. That has not been this season,” he said. “Last year, we finished (taping) in February. This year, it will be April. So I missed the World Series last year, I missed the playoffs this year, I’ll miss everything but the Stanley Cup playoffs.”
Not that it will stop him from filling out a bracket.
“I usually do every year. Give somebody $10,” Hamm chuckled, “and break the law.”
DON’T BE A STRANGER
From the opening tip of the play-in games until the sound of “One Shining Moment” is blaring in the background as confetti falls on the newly crowned champion, we will be told over and over how each and every tournament game is freighted with emotion.
But if top-seeded Kansas and North Carolina both win their first games, and wind up colliding in the second round at Kansas City’s Sprint Arena, well, you’ll probably see Tar Heels coach Roy Williams fined for carrying excessive baggage.
Williams’ ties to both schools are wrenching. He was born in in North Carolina, played briefly there, and worked under legendary coach Dean Smith as an assistant. Then he went to Kansas and made his reputation as one of the best in the game by winning almost everything in sight — Williams still has more wins in Kansas City than any other active coach, including current Jayhawks coach, Bill Self — except the national title. He had to go back to UNC to do that.
It’s not that Williams didn’t try at Kansas. He came achingly close to winning it all — four Final Four appearances there between 1988-2003, including a runner-up finish in his final season. But as that gap in his resume widened to become a sinkhole, Williams masked his competitive streak behind a series of stunts he said were designed to change his luck.
Once, he stopped the team bus so he could spit in the Mississippi River on the way to a Final Four. Another time, he patted the gravestone of Dr. James Naismith, Kansas’ first coach and the man credited with inventing basketball. Other times, he brought a stuffed monkey to meetings and told the players to feel free to knock it off his back. None of it worked.
Yet he has nothing but good memories about his stay there, occasionally turning up in the crowd to pull for the Jayhawks when they play somebody else. Wonder if he’ll feel the same way if Kansas — which beat his Tar Heels in the 2008 Final Four and again last March in the regional finals — pull off the trifecta this time around.
STAT OF THE DAY
Hard to predict exactly what the season-long game of musical chairs at the top of the rankings presages for this year’s tourney. Does it mean there’s lots of very good teams, but no great ones?
STATS cautions against a rush to judgment. The four top seeds this time around— Louisville, Kansas, Indiana and Gonzaga — have 18 losses between them. Only twice since the since the advent of seeding in 1979 has the top quartet piled up more: in 1990, when UConn, Michigan State, UNLV and Oklahoma combined for 19 losses; and in 2000, when Michigan State, Arizona, Duke and Stanford had 20.
But guess who took home those titles in both seasons a decade apart. Yep, No. 1 seeds UNLV and Michigan State, respectively.
It never hurts to be the king.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“They didn’t even tell me there was going to be a whole bunch of people here. They just told me there was going to be food. So I said, ‘Sweet, food,” Pittsburgh freshman center Steve Adams, who grew up in New Zealand and had no idea why his teammates and a few hundred Panthers fans were gathering to watch the tournament selection show .
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.
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