• Dave Barend

Praying For College Hoops

While lying motionless on my basement floor, I felt my wife’s shoe nudging me, not so softly. After lifting a pillow off my face, she declared, "You better not be dead." Those words seemed to be missing the franticness that the situation deserved.

"That's how you react upon seeing the person you adore approaching rigor mortis?"

"I think you might be exaggerating."

"Rigor mortis was possible.”

"No, I meant adore."

"I could have had a coronary or been attacked!"

"But you weren't."

"No, it was worse. Do you want to know what happened?"

"I know what happened,” she claimed.

"There's no way you know what happened. You couldn't guess what happened in a million years."

"The NCAA Tournament got cancelled."

You see, I had first learned of this tragedy while on my computer, but I raced to my "tasteless" basement to confirm. Tasteless is my wife's description, whereas I'd characterize my decorative skills as an altruistic means of keeping people employed at Fathead.

I then turned on the TV to verify the truth of this horrible news, and much to my delight - nothing. Granted, I was watching Sponge Bob Square Pants. He's always been good to me.

But then I changed the channel and saw, "Breaking News: NCAA Tournament cancelled." It was as if I got punched in the stomach by Wolf Blitzer.

And every time I turned to another channel it felt like another blow to my midsection. ESPN, "Bam!" FOX, "Pow!" CBS, "Boom!" My agony really should have been accompanied by Batman style word bubbles.

In fact, I'd say it hurt as much as childbirth. "No it didn't." She might be right. It was worse.

Now, the upcoming season seems about as questionable as the carton of milk in the back of my fridge. And as opposed to the milk, I can't hand next season to my kids and ask, "Smell this for me." Do I really want to take the risk myself?

I mean I spent countless hours watching games for last season to be the year that I finally won the big pool. Honestly, it pains me just thinking about having suffered through the whole season, and then not getting the NCAA Tournament. The experience was truly akin to Clark W. Griswold's arrival at a closed Wally World. Except, I didn't have a plastic moose to hit in the face.

I decided instead to take my frustration out the way all college hoops fans do: blame the NCAA. Shortly after I regained consciousness I shot out the following email: "Commissioner Emmert, your claim that you have looked into every possible option to save the NCAA Tournament is a bold faced lie. At no point did you make a single inquiry into the availability of my driveway."

Yeah, that was a waste of time. So should I waste even more time prepping for this season, which may get cancelled? My answer: yes I should. After being stuck at home for over half a year, what else do I have to do with my time? I've already cleaned out all the gutters on the house, well except those on the back and sides. I organized about half of my sock drawer, and on at least two occasions, emptied the entire top of the dishwasher.

I even spent 10 minutes listening to my wife talk about her feelings.

Clearly, prepping for the not quite inevitable 2020-2021 season wouldn't come close to my biggest waste of time over the past seven months. I actually spent time rooting for the Twins - that's the KG Twins of the South Korean baseball league.

And it appeared rock bottom hit when I announced a newfound love for cornhole. I was wrong. The bottom came when I started following NBA2K.

For what it's worth, I really think the season will take place for one reason - money. There's simply too much to lose. As my grandmother used to say, "It all comes down to the all mighty buck." Just to be clear, Nana was not a ho.

This, however, leads to the question, what’s the point of the season if, God forbid, there’s no tournament again? Well, for starters, given that this season might end at any time, every game will feel as special as the first game. I remember last year, barreling down the stairs to my basement, throwing my kids off the couch, ripping the remote out of their hands and exclaiming:

“Wait a minute . . . Get that huge yellow bird off my TV! Siena is about to play American! No, no, calm down. What are you talking about? I have not always hated Big Bird. You need to stop crying right now. And go tell your mother to help me get ESPN back on.”

True story, yet inexplicably rejected by Parents magazine.

And when you think about it, there are better reasons to not watch college hoops than the risk of the tournament getting cancelled. There's the unseemly sight of Buzz Williams sweating through his shirt. Or worse, Sean Miller sweating through his jacket. Or worse still, Bruce Pearl sweating through his pants.

But instead of asking, "What if there isn't a tournament?", maybe the better question is, "What if there is a tournament?" I simply can't imagine skipping the entire season, then finding out that the tournament will be taking place. I'd have no knowledge. And I would have to pathetically rely on expertise from guys like Seth Greenberg and Jay Bilas for my picks. There's no doubt that would be extremely depressing. Mainly because I'd likely have my best bracket ever.

There's an even worse scenario: I don't follow the season, the tournament takes place, and my beloved St. Bonaventure Bonnies win it all. (If that is laughable, well, then I'm counting it as a successful joke.)

I'd want to immediately call Sports Illustrated to get the special commemorative issue: 2021 St. Bonaventure NCAA Champions. But I'd fear hearing the operator say, "Really? Do you honestly think you deserve this?"

I'd want to buy all the National Champs hats, shirts and jackets, but I'd be embarrassed. And not just because anyone my age wearing those things should be embarrassed.

Then my friends will ask at what point during the Bonnies’ season did I think this was possible. My honest answer would have to be, "Can't say. I thought my time would be better spent studying epidemiology."

So I guess I just love St. Bona basketball and college hoops much too much to not go all in for this season. Yeah, the tournament getting cancelled still hurts, but that's what happens - love hurts. I know I heard that in some song. Probably the one entitled, "Love Hurts."

But honestly, love isn't the big reason I'm all in for 2021- it's hope. And nobody knows hope better than college hoops fans for we are constantly rooting for upsets. Heck, over the past few months, I rewatched the 2010 Duke-Butler championship game at least five times. And each time I hoped Gordon Hayward's shot would go in. Spoiler alert: it never does.

This year we need that hope more than ever. I don’t know if you've heard about this presidential election, but I’m sensing some pretty strong feelings on both sides.

The tournament, however, leads to scenes otherwise unimaginable. Like, a guy wearing a Dartmouth polo, dancing around a bar while embracing a guy fully clad in "Roll Tide" garb. Two people who have only one thing in common - they correctly picked a first round upset by McNeese State. Well, and the fact that neither of them knows the location of McNeese State.

Nothing provides more of those moments than the NCAA Tournament. I hope and pray we can get them this year. So I've decided to submit the following to an authority even higher than the NCAA:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

And I pray the Lord the NCAA tournament to keep.

If I should die . . .

Hold on a second, God.

I shouldn't have to die!

I get it - your will be done.

But give us this day our brackets and the best sporting event of the year.

And we'll forgive those who think the Masters is better.

Lead us not into a stupid 14 over 3 seed temptation

And we promise to try to stop calling Duke evil.

Amen.