Last week, we handicapped the March Madness column field and predicted four topics that sports columnists would inevitably gravitate toward come Monday. With the results in and tabulated, we're happy to say we nailed three of the memes and were a Kansas victory away from batting 1.000. Like any sports columnist, we weren't completely on the ball, but we'll take our record with pride.
- 'Why March Madness Is the Best' "With a record number of close games in the first half of the first round this year, expect glowing endorsements of tournament parity," we wrote. And after four seeds higher than No. 8 reached the Sweet 16, a spate of columnists wrote a post mortem for the term "mid-major" and ushered in the age of parity. "From this point forward, the term "mid-major" should be deleted permanently from the hoops dictionary," crowed ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski. Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel echoed the sentiment, calling for this March Madness to be "the event that rendered said phrase outdated, unnecessary and (this one's a long shot) extinct."
- 'Meet the Next Big Thing' "Every year, lower-seeded teams reach the second week of action, and they're often led by a single star who goes from no-name to national sensation in 72 hours," we prognosticated. Sure enough, the upset of the tournament--No. 9 seed Northern Iowa shocking Kansas--was spurred by a floppy-haired guard whose name requires a pronunciation guide. Yes, that's Ali Farokhmanesh (fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH), who nailed a three-pointer late in the second half to seal the titanic upset. "This is what the senior from Iowa City does: He makes big shots," writes an admiring Pat Forde at ESPN. "And this is why he has become the face of this endlessly suspenseful and surprising NCAA tournament." In a column written before Farokhmanesh's big shot against Kansas (but after his game-winning three against UNLV), The New York Times' Dave Caldwell found his unique angle, exploring Farokhmanesh's desire to visit his father's homeland: Iran.
Because of the political turbulence in Iran, he knows that the chance to visit might not come for a while. But the values he learned from his father, and, by extension, his family have helped him become a better basketball player. He says he shoots 600 to 700 jump shots a day.
- 'The Cinderella Story' "Unheralded teams get even more ink than unheralded players, and the few underdogs who reach the Sweet Sixteen get the hero's treatment from the sports world," we declared. Boy, were we on the mark. A quartet of lower-seeded teams could make a legitimate case for Cinderalla status, and one team has developed a full-sized bandwagon overnight. That would be Cornell, who blew out two highly-touted opponents and already have the best showing by an Ivy League team since 1979. The Big Red have gained so much momentum that they're an anti-Cinderella Cinderella. "The Big Red don't need [a sling]," gushes Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. "They've proven this season they can stand toe-to-toe with Goliath and trade punches." Fanhouse's Jim Henry insists Cornell has a chance to knock off No. 1 Kentucky in the next round. "Kentucky, of course, will be a favorite. But so [were] Temple and Wisconsin, the two teams Cornell bounced from the tourney." A even stronger endorsement comes from Bleacher Report's John Schuman, who lists five reasons why Cornell will beat Kentucky.
- 'The Juggernaut' "Top teams that are still around will be dubbed "championship contenders" and one or two teams will assume the mantle of prohibitive favorites," we confidently predicted, singling out Kansas and Kentucky the two leading candidates. Whoops. The Jayhawks bit the dust in the biggest March Madness upset in years, and it has become in vogue to pick against Kentucky in favor of Cornell (see above). Lone pieces like Mandel's glowing review of No. 1 seed Syracuse ("whatever doubts lingered about the Orange... were obliterated with these two performances") have turned up. But overall, no team achieved juggernaut status this year. Oh well. Can't win 'em all.