Column: Speaking of Albuquerque…

By Mike Szwaja

I wouldn’t have traded my seat for the Illini/Nevada game at the RCA Dome last Saturday for anything, but it’s a shame I missed the best game – check that, second best game after Saturday night – of the NCAA tournament.

As I walked out of the dome that day, I started hearing the murmur among the fans outside.

“West Virginia and Wake Forest is going down to the wire.”

I, like so many others, was amazed. West Virginia? Who the heck were they? An average team in the best conference in the country. I guess it kind of made sense when you thought about it like that.

Tough schedule. Knack for the upset. Red hot.

West Virginia was that one team this year that made you think, “Why didn’t I pencil them in deeper through my bracket?”

Back to last Saturday, my friends and I hurried to our car and turned on the radio. We couldn’t find a broadcast of the West Virginia/Wake Forest game with good reception, but one thing came through my speakers crystal clear: Mike Gansey was amazing.

In a twisted kind of way, listening to the announcer say, “Gansey … for three … got it!” repeatedly was cooler than watching it happen on TV. The suspense, the amazement, those things were augmented.

They say a blind man’s sense of hearing is stronger than a seeing man’s. That made perfect sense to me while I was listening to that game.

At game’s end, all I could do was sit there, staring into the darkness of I-65 North and have no pity for Wake Forest. No pity for a team’s star, Chris Paul, whose lasting 2005 legacy will be punching Julius Hodge below the belt. No pity for the cocky, throat-slashing Taron Downey. No pity for a team from the overly hyped ACC going home early.

Speaking of pity, I had a little for Gonzaga. What’s the deal with them? They get it done when we least expect it. But when we hail them as contenders, they crash and burn.

Speaking of crashing and burning, Georgia Tech, shame on you. B.J. Elder was back in full force, and the team that made the memorable 2004 run was back to prove they were Final Four material. In an embarrassing loss to Louisville, they proved they were little more than another overly hyped ACC imposter.

Speaking of imposters, how terrible was Pitt? You have to wonder about head coach Jamie Dixon. With guards like Antonio Graves and Carl Krauser and the front court of Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman, Pitt should have put together a much better season and been higher than a 9-seed.

Then to lose to a mid-major in the first round – taking nothing away from Pacific – is just unacceptable. If coach Dixon doesn’t get the Pitt program rolling again, his stay in the Steel City might be a short one.

Speaking of coaching changes, Bobby Knight proved to the college basketball world once again that despite all his faults, he’s one of the best in the business. Is it wrong to think he might be wearing a different sweater somewhere in the near future? Heck, maybe he can take over at Pitt when they fire Dixon.

Seriously, though, don’t be surprised when Knight’s name starts coming up. The only thing he’s got going against him is his age, but if a team needs a quick fix, and they’re willing to spend the cash, you never know.

Speaking of bolting earlier than expected, how about those Washington Huskies? Was I the only one who was totally turned off by ESPN’s behind-the-scenes look at “U-Dub”? The featurettes showcased a cocky swagger that, in my mind at least, showed they had no chance to beat a team like Louisville.

And speaking of Louisville, they had their way with Washington and officially solified themselves as serious national title contendor. They didn’t just beat Washington, the Cardinals embarrassed the Huskies, leaving little doubt as to who was the true No. 1 seed in Albuquerque.

Well, except for the fact that those pesky Mountaineers from West Virginia stood in the way of Louisville’s seemingly easy March to the Arch. And for a while, with the Mountaineers leading the Cardinals by 20 at one point in the regional final, it looked like West Virginia’s dream run would continue.

But when you have a team as deep and as passionate as Louisville, you have a team fully capable of coming back to win a game, regardless of how hot their opponents are. Let’s face it, West Virginia played a near-perfect game and lost.

So, as Louisville makes its way to St. Louis to take on the Illini, a team who prevailed despite Arizona’s near-perfect performance, you have to wonder who the more resilient team is. There’s only one way to find out. We’ll find out on Saturday.

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]