My NCAA Regionals Weekend

In case the title of the post fooled you, no, I wasn't in Salt Lake City for the West Regional.  If I had been, pictures and semi-live commentary would have been provided.  Also, I want to apologize for not getting a postgame wrapup posted sooner.  For most of this week, I've been trying to figure out what to write about, and each time I came up empty.

Last night, however, inspiration hit me, as often happens on boring Friday nights when whiskey and Coca-Cola is involved (I felt obligated to spell out the full name of the soft drink so as to avoid any confusion).  The story of how I came to be where I was during the Regionals is a long and confusing one, but I think is also somewhat entertaining.  So, instead of rehashing the stats of the Xavier and Butler games in detail, here is the view of the weekend through this blogger's eyes, with some commentary on each game thrown in.

Last summer, I took my soon-to-be-wife to see The Hangover.  As we walked out of the movie theater, she advised me that I was NEVER (emphasis hers) going to Las Vegas without her along for the trip, as she apparently considers me someone who is at risk to take shots laced with the date rape drug, steal a tiger from Mike Tyson, and possibly marry a stripper.  I have no idea where she gets that notion.  Either way, I informed her that the best man from my wedding would be getting married in early-to-mid 2010, and that it was a foregone conclusion his bachelor party would be in Vegas.  It was also a foregone conclusion that my wife would not be invited.  She harrumphed something about a "we'll see," but she is no Melissa from The Hangover, and thus I booked a flight and hotel in Vegas for the NCAA Regionals weekend.

This was all planned in October, when it was a possibility K-State would be playing on the second weekend, but was still far from a given.  As the season progressed, it became increasingly clear that I had, for better or worse, set myself up to watch K-State compete in the Sweet 16 and possibly Elite 8 from Vegas.  It could be for better because there aren't many places more fun when you're celebrating something than Vegas, but the depression that would inevitably follow a K-State loss could lead to any number of self-destructive behaviors on my behalf.  Hell, even a win could, as I told my friends not to let me do something stupid like buy a drink for everyone at the Mandalay Bay pool if K-State ended up going to the Final Four.

My flight to Vegas from Kansas City was scheduled for Thursday.  As Selection Sunday approached, and it appeared the Cats were destined for the Houston Regional, I was relieved to find that the Houston games were Friday-Sunday.  My only fear could be missing the Sunday game, but I should be OK for the Sweet 16 matchup.  Of course, when we were sent to Salt Lake, I forgot to check the dates, and of course it was Thursday-Saturday.  And OF COURSE they would schedule K-State's game at 8:37 p.m. CDT, when my three-hour and ten-minute flight to Vegas left at 8:05 p.m., thus guaranteeing I would miss the entire game.  By that point, every other flight to Vegas except the ones leaving at the butt-crack of dawn were full, and it would cost $300 to change flights, which was out of the question.

So I bit the bullet and had to miss the Xavier game, which before it even started was the biggest game in K-State history since 1988.  Fortunately, two other K-State fans were in my same predicament, and they convinced our pilot to ignore less important duties such as, you know, flying a plane over mountains and halfway across the country, to give us occasional score updates.  I settled in near the back, next to a delightfully friendly Mizzou fan and directly behind a girl in a pink KU shirt who had to be hating her life the entire three hours she was on the plane.

See, the Mizzou fan apparently flies about every other day, so he has amassed an impressive collection of tickets for free drinks on Southwest.  Every time the flight attendant returned to our seats, it was another Bud Light for me and some sort of well for him.  The pilot gave us two updates, one when we led 26-21 or so in the first half, and the other when we led 46-43 with 12 minutes remaining.  This last update came with about 40 minutes remaining in the flight, and we all became anxious that the pilot didn't update us again.  Was he withholding information because we had lost and he didn't want a disturbance to occur on the plane?  Or was he again doing unimportant things, like making our final descent into Vegas and landing the aircraft?

I turned on my phone and enjoyed the beeping chorus as it informed me I had about 12 new texts.  At the tram, I caught up with the other two fans, who informed me via their much more advanced phones that the game was, unbelievably, still going on.  Mercifully, we were shooting free throws to ice the game away in the second overtime, so at that point I had no idea that the officials had failed to call an obvious foul that Denis Clemente wanted them to call and had thus left Chris Merriewether to foul as Terrell Holloway threw up a desperation heave, or that Jordan Crawford had made a ridiculous three to send the game into double overtime, or that Jacob Pullen had been absolutely freaking nails the entire night.  Instead, we cheered and exchanged high fives as the game went final, and undoubtedly made the start to KU Girl's Vegas trip even less enjoyable.

Before reaching the hotel, I tried to catch up on my texts, and received the following text from mystman995 that would become very relevant in two days.  He wrote, at approximately 12:30 a.m., that he was having trouble falling asleep after such an exciting game.  Now, mystman is not one to get overly dramatic about a sporting event, and he wasn't even one of the players who played in the event.  And yet, he had trouble falling asleep that night.

Friday was spent doing appropriately Vegas activities like eating from a buffet, gambling, drinking while gambling, gambling some more, listening to our crew of guys scream ridiculously at the sports book, and drinking some more.  I won't bore you with the details.

On Saturday, we rented a pair of cabanas by the Mandalay pool, despite the weather being slightly less than ideal for pool-sitting (mid-60s and breezy).  Watching games in new environments always makes me nervous because I am needlessly superstitious, and this was no different.  Could it possibly be that my physical presence in front of a cabana television by the Mandalay Bay pool would somehow screw up the way K-State played?  Of course!  Could it be possible that if I gave the sports bookie $100 on K-State to cover or win, Pullen's or Denis Clemente's shots could somehow be affected?  OF COURSE ARE YOU STUPID?!?!  Regardless, I didn't put any bets down on the game, and even a couple of my friends asked me if I cared if they put bets down on K-State to cover the -4 point spread.  Of course not, have at it.

Thus ensued two miserable hours at the pool, watching K-State give up layup after layup and watching Butler ingeniusly force the ball into Dominique Sutton's hands outside the three-point line in the first half.  There were moments, of course, including our 6-0 run to open the second half, and Clemente's three to give us a 52-51 lead with less than five minutes to play.  At that point, I really thought we would win.  Alas, I ended up walking away before the clock had even expired to escape my friends, mostly Texas Aggies, who had lost money betting on my Cats, to return to the hotel room to call Panjandrum and try to make sense of it all.

Now, a digression about the Butler game.  The Bulldogs clearly earned their keep, as they beat both one-seed Syracuse and two-seed K-State to reach the Final Four.  I'm not going to sit here and say that they wouldn't have beaten us if that official against Xavier would have just called the foul on Denis Clemente, as he should have, because there's absolutely no way to know that.  Even if K-State had come into the game without playing a double-OT marathon less than two days before, we still could have lost because Butler is just really damn good.

However, nobody who has watched K-State more than a couple times this season can say with a straight face that the Wildcats weren't fatigued.  We got murdered on the glass (-12), stood around and watched loose balls go out of bounds while Butler players dove into photographers and cheerleaders to save them, missed open shots short, couldn't get open off screens and cuts, and couldn't sustain runs, namely the 6-0 run to start the second half and the late run capped by Clemente's three with 4:49 to play.  All are signs of a team playing fatigued.  I've seen it suggested that Butler was just as fatigued, as some of their starters played a lot of minutes against Syracuse (scroll to comments), including Ronald Nored, who sat only one minute against the Orange.  Now, never mind that Nored had a below-average game against us, scoring four points (season average: 6), and committing six turnovers against five assists (season assist-to-turnover ratio=almost 2:1).

Using StatSheet's possession metric (FGA - ORebs + TOs + (0.475 x FTA)), it's clear the K-State/Xavier game was played at a higher pace, not to mention the obvious fact that 10 extra minutes will bring a lot of extra possessions.  According to the StatSheet formula -- and I figured this myself, so take it with a grain of salt -- there were approximately 170 possessions in the KSU/XU game, whereas there were only about 128 in the Butler/Syracuse game.  K-State played longer, played more possessions, and played more possessions per minute than did Butler.  And for all of those people saying "when I was 20, I'd play ball at the rec all day and never get tired," just shut up.  If you can't recognize the difference between jogging around with a bunch of other out-of-shape 20-somethings and the NCAA Regionals, then you're too stupid to argue with.

Anyway, the combination of sun, beer, and a bitter season-ending loss led to me missing almost all of the Kentucky/West Virginia game while in a coma on my hotel couch.  That, in turn, led to a night that never ended, despite a long run of whiskey and Coca-Cola and losing money in blackjack and poker.  After a day in which K-State had already lost, I probably should have figured it just wasn't my day and stayed away from the tables, but I couldn't help myself.  It was Vegas, after all.

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