The NCAA Tournament

College Basketball's Shocking Hotel Scandal!
The stadium scene.
March 20 2007 1:28 PM

The NCAA Tournament

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Josh, as a Syracuse man, I'm naturally hoping Georgetown and John Thompson III—aka the son of Beelzebub—will fall flat. Please note that if we're talking about tournament pain, Syracuse alums only need two words: Keith Smart. Yes, Carmelo and Co. made the pain go away for a while, but we've only won two tournament games since cutting down the nets in 2003. At least Texas and LSU are football schools. You'll always have memories of Vince Young and Justin Vincent and those national championships to keep you warm. But when a hoops-first institution like the Orange gets shunted to the NIT, it's excruciating.

On the subject of my old stomping grounds, this piece in Monday's Washington Post was an eye-opener. It seems the NCAA puts higher-seeded teams in swanky hotels while sticking the bottom feeders in the local dive. I'm astonished that a) this unfair practice exists, and b) this is the first I'm hearing of it. The article relates a 2002 trip to central New York by then-11th-seeded Southern Illinois.

During [their] 2002 stay in Syracuse, the Salukis refused to eat food prepared inside what was then called Hotel Syracuse—a deteriorating, circular tower in the underbelly of the city. Instead, [the team] asked if they could eat a pregame meal in a Syracuse University dining hall.

Chris Lowery, Southern Illinois' current head coach who was an assistant coach in 2002, suffered an allergic reaction while at Hotel Syracuse. His face broke out in hives, and he missed a pregame practice. Doctors weren't sure what caused the reaction, but players blamed the food and cleanliness of their hotel.

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Hey, my brother got married in the Hotel Syracuse! And I thought the queasy look on his face was merely due to cold feet. As a proud survivor of Syracuse dining halls, I can testify that they are hardly a better option than room service at the Hotel Syracuse. Small wonder Southern Illinois was pummeled by UConn in 2002. This year, with mints on their pillow as a No. 4 seed, perhaps SIU is primed for an upset of Kansas.

Scanning the Sweet 16, what stands out are the resurrections of a trio of coaches humiliated by the NBA. Well, that's only partly true for UNLV's Lon Kruger—he coached the Hawks, so he wasn't exactly in the NBA. John Calipari may be a shadier version of Rick Pitino, but his long and lanky Memphis Tigers are even better at running and pressing than Louisville. Most impressive is Tim Floyd of USC. After brilliant work building programs at the University of New Orleans and Iowa State, Floyd skippered a sinking post-Michael Jordan ship in Chicago. Scarcely remembered is a .500 season with the New Orleans Hornets, but Floyd, by his own admission, wasn't cut out for the nonstop ego massaging required of a pro coach.

Clearly, college hoops is more his speed. He rallied Southern Cal after the devastating murder of starting guard Ryan Francis this offseason, steering an extremely young squad to two tourney wins. Even if they can't find a way past the Tar Heels, the Trojans have come the farthest in the last year. Look out next season, when superprospect and problem child O.J. Mayo comes to Heritage Hall. Surely, Bryan, you'd rather have Floyd than Rick Barnes in Austin, no?

Over in the Midwest Region, Florida would seem like a mortal lock for the Final Four, but watch out for Oregon. Remember, a year ago the Gators were unknowns until they cruised easily through the latter rounds. Oregon, like Florida a year ago, is a No. 3 seed and plays a switching defense that's extremely frustrating for unprepared teams. I see them taking Florida to the wire, as the Gators, blinded by the Ducks' horrid yellow unis, struggle to score. Yes, I love Butler, but I fear my guy Brandon Crone will be facing his dreaded final college game on Friday.

Which fans will be tying up traffic, jamming restaurants, and otherwise making my life miserable in Atlanta next week? Aside from Florida, I see Kansas going on a 19-1 run to blow away UCLA, Texas A&M riding a virtual home-court advantage in San Antonio to victory, and North Carolina outslugging Georgetown in the best of the quarterfinals. Three ones and a three—not very bold, but a titanic Final Four. Who you got, Bryan?

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