Selection Sunday is the beginning of the end of the actual fun

Selection Sunday is the beginning of the end of the actual fun

Selection Sunday is at our throats, and for college basketball fans everywhere it is Christmas wrapped in New Year’s Eve and marinated in Mardi Gras.

And why is that? Easy, silly. Because none of the coaches will announce on Selection Sunday that they are resting four of their starters because they have to go to the Southeast regional.

But, everything after Selection Sunday is a letdown by definition, in the same way that talking about the NFL draft before it happens is better than the draft itself, and picking All-Star teams is better than the All-Star Games in which they appear, and Hall of Fame ballot arguments are better than Hall of Fame voting results.

It’s because reality is never good as anticipation, let alone the alternate realities people make up to satisfy themselves. Once the bracket is announced, it stops being the user’s world and becomes part of Corporate World. And these days, nobody approves of the judgments of others.

Such is the new way of thinking about sports that we have challenged the speed of time to satisfy our need to talk about the future in anticipation of being let down by it. We love to construct and de-construct realities about who should be a three-seed and who should end up in the West Regional, and once the reveal comes we can no longer make up our own universes. We are stuck with complaining for a day about the people who did fill the brackets because our versions are no longer worth contemplating.

That doesn’t prevent us from talking about “snubs” and other ill-defined injustices because, despite the fact that there is no such thing as an actual “snub,” we find the need to savage the fact of selection by its variance from what we would do if allowed the great honor of days-long sequestration with people we would never consent to drink with otherwise.

You know – as in, “What do you mean, UCLA’s a 3 in the East? Why isn’t Northwestern a 5 when so many media people graduated from Northwestern and therefore clog our brains with open cheering that they would not otherwise tolerate? Why do you personally hate mid-major schools, and whose pay are you in, actually?”

We call it “feeding the beast,” when what it actually is, is making arguments. And what we make argument with is the end of the arguments.

Indeed, the real problem with Selection Sunday, once you’ve disposed with the annual process story, “68 Reasons Why The Committee Is Stupider Than You,” is that the cycle is the same every year.

First is the months-long Jockeying For Committee’s Eye story. Then comes Bracketology, Joe Lunardi’s pernicious invention for the fetishizing of the bracket process. Then comes Selection Sunday, then comes The Snubs, then comes The Embarrassing Interview With The Barely Articulate Committee Chair, then comes The Incessant Breakdown.

And then, in a massive letdown, come The Results. Two, then two more, then 16, 16 more, then eight and eight. That’s 52 games in what most folks agree is the best weekend of the tournament, because that’s when the chance of chaos is greatest.

And the chaos is what we’re in it for, unless we are burdened with having a favorite team. Game after game, weird finish after absurd development, piled atop each other in a mad tapestry that allows us to believe that everyone can get something out the event.

Then come The Sweet Sixteen, and the return to big-name form that almost always serves as a letdown.

You see, while the myth of the bracket is that there is a path to glory for everyone, the truth of the bracket is that there are built-in benefits for the usual names. Kinder seedings, gentler matchups, shorter travel, more beneficent TV times, etc. – all the things that make the money grow.

That’s why Selection Sunday marks not the beginning of the tournament but the beginning of the end of the actual fun. The NCAA Tournament may be about basketball for the basketball wonks, but for the far greater majority of fans we can call “casuals,” the tournament is about your personal bracket, followed by the schools you never heard of. The rest of it is noise, with the daily interviews with The Famous Coach first among equals.

The weeks before Selection Sunday are about the comforting hilarities of What Could Be, only to be turned into the rigidity of What Is, and ultimately into What You’ve Already Seen And Pretty Damned Recently (three first-time champions have been crowned in the last 27 years), with style points given or taken away for the excitement of the final. For instance, last year’s final with Villanova and North Carolina was so good that it made you forget that the rest of the tournament was pretty ordinary stuff.

In short, Selection Sunday is the beginning of dreams for a few underdog schools, and the end of dreams for everyone else. Eventually, the games must be played, structure must be applied, and structure is never as much fun as what we pretend could be.

Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss


Quinnen Williams, possible Raiders draft target, misses mark in Alabama's loss

SANTA CLARA -- Quinnen Williams proved Monday night that he can talk a big game, even if he doesn’t play one.

The Alabama defensive tackle, whom many project to be a top-five pick if he leaves school for the 2019 NFL draft, didn’t exactly show out in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi’s Stadium. The redshirt sophomore finished with just four total tackles (three solo, one assist) and 1.5 for loss.

Williams went relatively unnoticed in Clemson’s 44-16 rout, except for this first-quarter stop that showcased his power.

Williams, who entered the game tied for second on the Crimson Tide with eight sacks this season, didn’t register any noticeable pass rush -- to be fair, no one on Alabama did -- as the Tigers handily won the title.

Still, Williams wasn’t that impressed by what he saw from the now-national champions.

“They really didn’t do anything that caught us off guard,” Williams said. “We knew everything that was coming. They ran zone. They ran go routes, 50-50 balls.

“[Clemson QB] Trevor Lawrence threw the ball, and it looked like he put it on the money. He didn’t drop dimes, none of that. He threw it up, and the receivers made plays. All the respect to the receivers.”

While Williams later called Lawrence “good,” his comments were reminiscent of his pre-Orange Bowl words on Kyler Murray, when he smartly stopped himself from criticizing Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Williams showed no such restraint this time, and while you could chalk it up to the hurt of losing a national title game, NFL teams surely will ask him in pre-draft interviews about how he'll handle such situations.

As for his NFL draft status, Williams didn’t want to say much, claiming he really hadn’t thought about the possibility of turning pro after the season.

“I don’t know yet, man,” he said. “I got to go home, watch this film first, get with my teammates and let them know, man, everything.”

New Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, whose team has been linked to Williams with the No. 4 overall pick in numerous mock drafts, saw the defensive tackle in person Monday. Whether he liked what he saw or heard remains to be seen over the next three months.

DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent


DeAndre Hopkins explains how Clemson keeps producing NFL-level talent

SANTA CLARA -- The Clemson Tigers came into Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship with a shorter list of 2019 NFL Draft talents than their counterparts, the Alabama Crimson Tide. But not if you ask some notable alumni.

To Houston Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the next wave of NFL stars are Tigers.

“The way they prepare here at Clemson, the strength and condition program, Joey Batson and Larry Greenlee do a good job of getting those guys ready for the next level," Hopkins told NBC Sports Bay Area after Clemson's stunning 44-16 blowout win in the title game at Levi's Stadium. "I think they’re definitely ready for the next level."

Clemson has produced 29 picks in the last five NFL drafts. The last time the program didn't have one of its players called come April was all the way back in 2002.

Watching with former Clemson stars Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley Jr., Mike Williams, and Tajh Boyd, Hopkins witnessed one of the greatest teams in college football history. The 2018 Tigers accomplished a feat 121 years in the making, becoming the first FBS football team to go 15-0 or 16-0 since Penn in 1897.

“To me, it means a lot. I’m from Clemson, S.C., so to see this team do what they did … I think they are (the greatest ever)," Hopkins said. "I think they can be one of the best teams ever. Do it again next year, for sure.”

The last statement is what means the most to Hopkins and everyone else who once wore a Clemson Tigers jersey. Coach Dabo Swinney took to the podium immediately after the win and said he'll soak it all up now, but he'll get back to film Friday and start preparing for next season.

“I think this is the next dynasty," Hopkins said. "Deshaun Watson started it by winning a national championship here. I think those guys are going to continue it.

"I think they’re gonna be here next year and the year after.”

That's not hard to imagine, either.

Freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence wowed with his precision passing, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. His top target, Justyn Ross, made one-handed catches as a recently turned 19-year-old and finished the night with six catches for 148 yards and two TDs.

Clemson made its fourth playoff clash with Alabama look easy. The biggest names in the NFL know, too, that these could be the next stars of not only Saturdays but Sundays before we know it.