In honor of this week's official start of the national holiday known as March Madness, we've asked some of our regular contributors to weigh in with their takes on the tournament. First up is the inimitable Tab Prewett, who has previously shared his thoughts on a variety of topics, including the Cotton Bowl and the epic win over LSU last fall. Now, join Tab on a trip down memory lane that begins at Maxine's Bar in 1978 and winds up (potentially) in Hawg Heaven this weekend:
While reading the brilliant series on the 1978 Razorbacks' journey to the Final Four by Whit E. Knight, and now with March Madness upon us, thoughts about that magnificent season came back, like the beer often does from the night before. As a dual blurred vision of Maxine’s Bar and Sidney Moncrief dunking in UCLA’s All-American David Greenwood’s face returned to me, like little Marcel Proust chomping on a Madeleine, I recalled that transcendent night when we beat UCLA to move on to the Elite Eight. Several of us so-called students (athletes we were not) descended on Maxine’s and drank pitcher after pitcher while chanting in not-so-perfect harmony and unison: "We beat UCLA. We beat UCLA. We beat UCLA."
It must say something about my academic interests that my most Proustian memories of my days at Arkansas revolve around March Madness and not scholarly research, but, hey, we’re Hawg fans, not uptight, snooty Dukies, or those holier-than-thou Chapel Hill UNC bluebloods that we may face this year in the second round. In 1995 Corliss put a pounding on Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse in the semi-finals and Arkansas took out another Basketball Hallowed Almighty, even with the Dean of the Four Corners Smith coaching. Beating UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan, Georgetown, Louisville, and, yes, Indiana – that’s why March Madness is so thrilling, because the chance of the upset always exists.
Of course, one has to assess the team with the chance to pull the upset, and that brings us to this year’s team, which by unanimous consent has been committed to the Arkansas State Hospital for the Insane for instant and intense psychotherapy. I watched the Georgia game and was as demoralized and as disappointed and yet totally unsurprised as everybody else. Now, it’s Monday afternoon and believe me, by Friday night I’ll be frothing with hatred of Indiana (doesn’t hurt that my ex-wife grew up in Indianapolis, otherwise a nice city) and high with anticipation of our victory. But do I realistically expect a win? No. Again, can we win? Of course.
The question is how, and I have five keys that within five minutes of the game Friday night will determine whether we win or lose. If Arkansas fails in any one of these five areas in the first five minutes, turn off your television, go to the internet, and start making flight reservations for some island to take your mind off your troubles.
<!--more-->One: Don’t hand the ball off to the other team. Generally, it’s not a good idea in any sport to toss a lateral to the other team. Vincent Hunter and Stephen Welsh are particularly adept at failing in this area and thus are to be closely watched.
Two: Make your free throws. I know it’s tough to shoot the ball from fifteen feet with nobody guarding you after ten years of practice at the highest level of competition like Division One players have endured, but it’s a task that has to be accomplished to advance in March Madness. If you shudder when Ervin approaches the line, I don’t blame you.
Three: Make one out of three three-pointers. I remember Rick Pitino saying the three pointer was a high percentage shot because if you make one out of three, it’s like shooting 50 percent on two pointers. Pitino’s teams didn’t shoot 11 percent, though.
Four: Guard in-bounds plays under your own basket like you were guarding the last beer at Maxine’s last call. I know it’s difficult to watch the person you’re guarding for more than a few seconds at a time when you’ve been declared legally schizophrenic, but that medication should be kicking in by tipoff.
Five: Don’t fall behind by one-third of the other team’s total points. Comebacks are wonderful and inspiring. The odds show that they rarely occur.
So it’s simple for the Hawgs: Shoot the three, make the free, guard the under-the-basket plays, protect the rock, and stay ahead. Do those five simple deeds, and we’re in Hawg Heaven ready to take on Number One UNC on Sunday. The memories of those beers at Maxine’s are so sweet!