In basketball, especially in the NCAA, the unexpected is usually to be expected. It's the reason the tournament is so magnetic - that idea that anything can happen and usually does. Look at last year in particular. Did the Jayhawks deserve to win the title? Absolutely not. They should've lost twice in the Final Four. If Memphis spent as much time practicing free throws and how to close out a game as they did alley-ooping to each other and not going to class, they would've walked.
So it's with that understanding that I'm pulling for the Gophers almost as much as I am with any team in my life, and it makes no goddamn sense at all.
Let's do a little run-down. I invest a certain amount of energy and time into each team I follow hoping to profit either by:
1. Running to the refrigerator and beating it senseless when AJ jacks a 3 run dong in the 8th inning in Oakland (this would be filed under "emotional profit")
2. Making money on Niagra, because I ran both the Plats AND the Lats.
So, that being said, I invest an inordinate amount of energy in the Twins. I know this isn't the space to go into that, but it's true. I listen to or watch nearly every game during the summer, constantly keep tabs on stats and movements. That, in turn, keeps me very knowledgeable about MLB in general, and I sometimes (it's rare) get invested in other teams and am happy to see them succeed (I was particularly happy about Philadelphia, because I thought they were the best team for most of the season, and because, hey, it's Philly). THE POINT, JACK, is that when Denard Span hit that fucking triple down the line against the Sox in the Dome, and Gomez flew around the bases (scoring from first before the ball was in the infield), I about popped my ass through my britches. Loud screams were heard throughout my neighborhood. I live for these moments. They are the only reason I put in this much time. And when the time comes, and they hoist that banner, and Joe and Justin stand up front with Gardy to accept that trophy and Pat Neshek rides in a fucking parade, I will be happier than I would if I were ever to have a child. Truth hurts.
The Pack have a special place in my heart, for sure, and rooting for them in this environment just constantly reminds me how much better my life has turned out than those around me. "Oh, you've got that house in Wright County? Interesting, hey how are the Purple this year?" The thing about the Pack is that I am the biggest fair-weather fan out there though... when they are going good I'm up on them every week, listening to every interview and digging in on Sunday. This year? I sometimes just sat and listened to Neil Diamond records rather than watch their games. Often, I didn't even know if they were playing or not. I am able to turn it off extremely quickly. If only Vikings fans could share that ability. Maybe "mouths closed" would be a good policy.
(there is no professional basketball team that plays in this state, so I won't be talking about that)
That brings us to Gopher Basketball. You have to understand something... I have been on an absolute rollercoaster with this team over the past 15 years. The year before I was starting at the U was 1996-97. HEY NOW. Does anyone like cheating? I always knew I wanted to go to here, so when they got that 1 seed and went to the Final Four, well shit, I was very, very happy. When it all came tumbling down and we were left with Horse's Ass Munson, and the best player on the team was Joel Przybilla, and he hated class just as much as he hated life, it was very hard at first. But that's what losing does to you. It starts out really hard, and then it becomes routine. Just ask Wolves fans in 2 years (shit, ask them now, if you can find them). You get used to it. Memories of success fade. But it's always lurking there, you know the program has the tools to turn it around (step 1: fire Munson's fuckin ass because a loser is a loser), and so while the losing is acceptable, and you don't kid yourself into thinking they'll be any good, you keep tabs on the team... just in case.
Well, that was me earlier this decade... pretty much didn't care about the team but wanted the best for them, of course. Not like the Wolves, who I actively root against and think should move somewhere else. Or Gopher football, who I root against for gambling purposes (Thanks Mangino!). No, I always want the basketball squad to do well... they deserve it. And when Vince Grier came along in 2005 and was having himself donuts all season, SHIT! It was a marvelous experience. Even though you knew 1) that it was a complete aberration, and 2) they would never, ever, ever be able to compete against better teams, it was still damn fun to watch. Vince went off so many times during the season... just the old "Fuck this, it's all me from now on" attitude, and he was hooking them in from 20 feet, because why not? You're a JuCo transfer bound for Tel Aviv, better jit your buckets now, when people are watching. After that year, predictably, it was back to the basement.
I don't know if we'll ever be able to put into words or context just what the Tubby hiring meant, but I'll give it a shot. It was a coup of the highest order, the kind of thing that 1) DOESN'T HAPPEN in the Big 10 and 2) DOESN'T HAPPEN to the Gophers, ever. Big names don't come to the Big 10 (unless you count Kelvin Sampson, and he could count, on never coaching again). So when Tubby rolls into Minneapolis, you think guys like Izzo and Ryan aren't shitting their pants, thinking "Christ, in 3 years we're going to have a fucking game on our hands"? You think the Big 10 as a unit doesn't just pop one in their undies? This is big time... national championship coaches don't grow on trees. When's the last time Bobby Knight took one home? 1987? And if he came to the Gophs, it would've been just as big as Tubby. Anyway, it was one of those moments that define rooting for the underdog... that moment that you know you've now got the upper hand (hang on, I'll tie this to today's game soon enough, you watch). Even though it was going to take time to come around, and his recruiting hadn't even begun, you just knew it was building. We were in the first quarter of a dog fight, and the Gophers, predictably, were going to start slow. But by the 4th quarter, grab your fuckin sack.
Here's a question: if opposing Big 10 coaches are so smart, how long is it going to take them to realize that Lawrence Westbrook is more Sam Cassell than Sam Fucking Cassell? Here's a guy who can't play in the first 3 quarters to save his ass, constantly takes bonehead shots at the wrong times, and then the 4th quarter comes around and you better just get a wheelbarrow, because those nuts are going to start jugglin. He's a guy who just has that swagger, that deep muscle knowledge of how to make shots when it counts. Let's not forget... the Gophs WIN that game against Michigan if Tubby doesn't call that timeout. We're not even on the bubble. I'm not saying it's a bad call by Tubby, far from it, but still. That ball was going down as sure as Bo Ryan makes a stupid face to a ref but doesn't do anything as his team pisses away another lead because they DON'T KNOW HOW TO BREAK THE PRESS. This is a guy who will come in handy in the tournament. He's a match, just waiting to rake across the sandpaper. And when it happens, he's seriously one of the top 20 most dangerous scorers in the NCAA.
Why in god's name am I so pumped by this team? They play clown-ball, which is the opposite of ghetto ball. They muck up the games to the point where the first 50 points takes it, they play lock-down defense but can't shoot for shit (seriously, "Bulls-eye Blake"? Yeah, nice shot from your ass, but what, does he average 20% on 3s? 15%?) The way they play the game is ugly, and when you combine it with the rest of the Big 10, it's almost unwatchable. Or, I should say, it would be unwatchable. If I wasn't so goddamned invested in it. To me, it's like watching Eddie G on the mound.... it looks as awful as you can imagine, but somehow, he pulls it out, and nothing matters after that final out.
But there's always that moment. That time when, no matter what came before, or what the logic dictates SHOULD be happening, you know beyond any doubt that WE'VE. GOT. THE. UPPER. HAND. It takes a certain kind of team, and more specifically, a certain type of player. The Twins get it when they play the White Sox in September. The Pack got it quite a bit when Number Four was tossing. And the Wolves used to get it almost every game when Sammy Big Balls touched the rock in the 4th quarter. Well, it's happening now with Westbrook. No matter what happens, no matter how far they're down, no matter who missed practice or was duck-walking back on defense, when LW gets that ball, the unexpected is about to happen.
So, this win today likely gets them to next Thursday. And that's a good thing. Even though nobody but me enjoys the way they play the game, hell, then that's how it is. We're still early in this game, folks. The Gophs just punched their ticket for the first time in 4 years. Next year will be a 5 seed. The year after that we might be talking about Izzo licking the under-thunder. It's a trajectory. And from here, it's only up.
They'll finish strong. But you wouldn't expect it any other way.