Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Greatest Sporting Event You've Never Attended

The children are all bathed and snuggled away in their beds. The wife is comfortably sprawled out on the La-Z-Boy anxiously awaiting this week’s riveting episode of American Idol to begin. Finally, some quiet time to reflect.

It happens about this time every May. I ponder the good times gone by. 16 years ago I discovered the beauty of bladder busters from “the ‘Roo”, eating 3 meals a day at the Taco Stand a/k/a “the Stade” on Milledge Avenue, then topping it off with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Oh, and squeezing no less than 12 hours of NCAA tennis a day, every day, for 9 straight days. It’s a wonder I am still alive.

The 63rd Edition of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament officially kicks off Friday, May 9, 2008. A 64-team field begins the quest to capture the title in what some consider the single greatest sporting event on the face of the Earth. Okay, let’s be honest, maybe I’m the only one who considers it the greatest sporting event on Earth, but sadly it remains one of the best kept secrets in college athletics. This ain’t your Saturday afternoon ALTA match folks.

64 teams begin the journey, at 16 host sites, in the hopes of hoisting the hardware after the traditional dogpile which will undoubtedly take place again this year on center court of Michael D. Case Tennis Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is only Tulsa’s second time hosting the Men’s NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA switched the format to 64 teams, closely resembling that of March Madness, several years ago, growing from what had traditionally been a 16-team field. This year Champaign, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Oxford, Mississippi; Columbus, Ohio; Malibu, California; Knoxville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Charlottesville, Virginia; Waco, Texas; Los Angeles, California(Two Sites); Gainesville, Florida, Tallahassee, Florida; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Athens, Georgia host the action in the First and Second rounds. Unlike the NCAA basketball tournament, don’t expect many upsets early. However, a 17-32 seeded team will undoubtedly find a way to sneak into the 16-team square dance this year. And that’s when the real fun starts.

Each match is determined in a best of 7 points format, consisting of 3 doubles followed by 6 singles matches. The team that wins 2 of 3 doubles matches secures the all-important doubles point. Each singles match counts a point. The first team to 4 points wins.

The Georgia Bulldogs look to defend the title won last year in Athens in dominating 4-0 fashion over the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Dawgs went wire-to-wire #1 in the country and finished the season an unprecedented 32-0. Don’t look for such a dominating performance by any team this year. The 2007 Georgia Bulldogs were undeniably one of the greatest college tennis teams ever assembled.

This year’s #1 seed, University of Virginia Cavaliers, head into the tournament undefeated and on the same trail blazed by the Dawgs last year. The Cavaliers are led by Senior and #1 player in the country, Somdev Devarrman. Some of you may recognize his name as he won the NCAA individual title in 2007 by defeating Georgia’s, John Isner, despite never breaking Isner’s serve. Virginia also boasts the #1 Doubles team in the country. There is no doubt Virginia is the odds on favorite to run the table this year as they eased through the ACC without dropping more than 2 points in any match. But they are not unbeatable, as they played very tight matches with #3 Seed UCLA, Illinois and Kentucky earlier in the season.

Ohio State is quietly having an unprecedented season as well and have been rewarded with the #2 seed for their efforts. In fact, the Buckeyes only loss of the year came at the hands of the Cavaliers at The Indoor Championships in February. Ohio State is led by Bryan Koniecko, the 2008 Big Ten Athlete of the Year. Yes, a tennis player is the “athlete of the year” for the Big Ten. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but the guy is a great player.

The traditional tennis powerhouse UCLA comes in as the #3 seed. The Bruins ravaged the Pac-10 and ended the season undefeated in division play. Again, the Cavaliers are the only blemish on UCLA’s record, losing a heartbreaking match 4-3 at Indoors.

Georgia and Ole Miss round out the top 5 seeds. Georgia’s 40-match unbeaten streak in the SEC ended this year, but went on to win the SEC regular season. Ole Miss won the SEC tournament. The two are on course to meet in a quarterfinal showdown in Tulsa.

Look for one of these 5 teams to win this year’s title.

WHO HAS THE BEST SHOT TO TAKE DOWN VIRGINIA

A healthy Georgia has the best shot to hand the Cavaliers their first and most untimely loss of the season. Georgia has not been healthy the entire year. Senior leaders Luis Flores and Travis Helgeson have battled nagging injuries all year culminating with Flores withdrawing during the first set in his quarterfinals match of the SEC tournament. That was only 2 weeks ago. How healthy is Flores? I think it is safe to say he will not be 100%.

Look for Georgia to make it past Wake Forest and Pepperdine, the 2006 NCAA Champs, for a much anticipated quarterfinal match-up with “The Fighting Chadwicks.” For the Rebels to make it to the quarters, the toughest test will come from the Tar Heels and that shouldn’t be much of a contest. The Dawgs and Rebels met during the regular season with Georgia easily handling the Rebels, 5-2. However, the Dawgs finished the season losing 2 of 3 and limping into the tournament. The Rebels ended the season on a tournament victory high. Look for the Dawgs to meet Virginia in one of the Semifinals.

On the other side of the draw UCLA and Ohio State have equally difficult paths to a Semifinal matchup. Look for UCLA to meet the real USC in the quarterfinals. UCLA has already defeated USC twice this year. Most recently, UCLA won a hotly contest match on the road. Can UCLA beat USC three times in a year? Yes. UCLA advances to the semis.

Ohio State is a relative unknown in NCAA tennis. They have burst on the scene really in the last 3 years finishing #3 in 2007, #5 in 2006. The Big 10(or 11) is not considered a tennis powerhouse by anyone. While the Buckeyes have had success during the regular season, they have never made it past the quarterfinals at the NCAA tournament. To get to the quarters this year the Buckeyes will have to get past arch-rival Illinois first. Believe me, that will be a great match to watch and Illinois could pull an upset.

If they can survive the Illini, the Buckeyes will face the winner of an epic round of 16 matchup between the Florida Gators and the Texas Longhorns. The Gators and Longhorns lock up in the most intriguing first round matchup in Tulsa. I fully expect a knockdown dragout between these two and it’s hard to pick a winner, but I’ll take the Longhorns. The Longhorns can beat Ohio State, but this is the year Ohio State finally makes it to the semifinals to face UCLA.

THE SEMIFINALS

The Virginia-Georgia semifinal will be awesome to watch. Georgia has the talent to beat Virginia and if the tournament was being held in Athens, like it should be every year but I digress, I have no doubt Georgia would win this match. However, the neutral site clearly favors Virginia this year. Virginia has strong singles and doubles play, but so does Georgia. Both teams are well-conditioned to thrive over this 5-day event. The winner of the doubles point will likely win this match. If the Dawgs can win the doubles point, they can win this match on Courts 4, 5, and 6. I expect a lot of barking from the Dawg faithful matched by chants of Wahoo from those yahoos from Charlottesville.

UCLA is the most storied program in Men’s Tennis with 16 National Championships is poised to face Ohio State for the first time this year in the other semifinal match. UCLA has mediocre doubles teams despite having the son of former professional doubles great, Robert Seguso on the squad. Ohio State has two nationally ranked doubles teams and I look for Ohio State to take the doubles point. In singles action, the teams are very evenly matched with numerous highly ranked players. This match is going to be a 4-3 thriller that will probably last about 4 hours. If it holds true to form, momentum will swing wildly throughout the match bringing both fans bases to a roar. Look for UCLA in a mild upset.

Who will claim dominance over the NCAA Men’s tennis world in 2008? I don’t know, but I guarantee it will be exciting to watch. I believe the Tulsa website will have live updates and stats during the tournament. As soon as I figure out how to post a link I will so you can follow the action live if you can’t make it to Tulsa.

Tulsa will host both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA tennis tournament. After the team championship, individual singles and doubles action begins. It's all very exciting to watch but the team tournament is the "must see."

Athens, Georgia has hosted the tournament 24 of the 31 years of the “modern era”. The author despises the rotation of the tournament out of Athens which the NCAA started in earnest in 2002. For those that don’t know Athens, Georgia is the “mecca” of college tennis. Thanks to the efforts of Dan McGill, Manny Diaz, and Kim Bassinger, there is no reason why Athens can’t be to college tennis what Omaha is to college baseball.

2 comments:

Bop said...

MMMM...taco stand.

I'm fairly certain the Bear just published the greatest breakdown of ncaa tennis in the history of the internet.

Otto said...

MMMM...milledge av


Good post Bear