Published Thu, Mar 15, 2012 9:33 pm Dateline
This Thursday in Nashville had the feel of a "made for media" event that saw players and coaches from all eight teams being shuffled through a rehearsed routine. It went something like this:
Three or four players would venture from the locker room to the “interview holding area” which served as somewhat of a press conference powder room. Players would take around 15 minutes of questioning and then the head coach of each club would follow suit and field a session of questions themselves.
Then, the teams were given 40 minutes on the floor at Bridgestone Arena to hold an “open practice.” This essentially means that media, fans, tax paying citizens, and everything short of local wildlife were allowed to sit in and watch. Needless to say, madness has yet to begin in Nashville.
Since it was the day before the action (as opposed to the Superbowl’s Tuesday media day atmosphere) things were a little more serious than they may sound at surface level. Here are 10 observations from Madness Eve in Tennessee.
• One must credit Michigan head coach John Beilein for addressing his opponent in his opening statements. I know this sounds fairly fundamental, but it was almost as if he foresaw the press largely ignoring the subject of Ohio throughout their questioning of the coach. The reporters in attendance managed to toss up a South Florida (who just joined the frenzy today after their “First Four” win over California) question before inquiring about Ohio. In the end, the questioning of the coach ended in a tie - South Florida 1, Ohio 1. Don’t let a few rogue predictions in the national media fool you. Ohio is very much an underdog in this one.
• Beilein, who sported a navy blue Adidas jump suit with a maize “M” embroidered on his chest, was certainly no Ponce De Leon when navigating the bowels of Bridgestone Arena. Strolling out to practice a few minutes behind his team, it took a quick OnStar session with event staff and again with WOUB reporter Blake Brodie and myself to steer him from the locker room to the main court. Something tells me he and his squad will make it just fine Friday night at 7:20 p.m.
• Michigan star Tim Hardaway, Jr. looks more dangerous in person than he does on TV. He used a very relaxed practice session to show off his athleticism, hammering down tomahawk dunks and splashing in fade-away jumpers.
• Speaking of Hardaway, Ohio head coach John Groce told me the closest player the Bobcats have seen to him is Akron sixth man Quincy Diggs. So, Zip supporters, we couldn’t give you a MAC championship. We couldn’t really help you out in the NIT. But we’ve got that for you.
• Groce was relaxed and in rare form before getting down to business today. He hung out in the tunnel outside the locker rooms and sipped on a Powerade (in a toast to NCAA sponsorships) as he dropped a couple Peyton Manning jokes to an arena security guard.
• Once Ohio hit the floor, they did so quietly. Much like Michigan the Bobcats spent pretty much the entire practice session doing generic drills and shooting mid-range jump shots. It was, in its most basic form, as exciting as watching a severed twig ride a reverse current down the Hocking River. It had to be the kind of stuff that keeps Dr. Naismith grinning in his grave. However, it was a player-friendly run-through as it helped them get accustomed to yet another new floor.
• Groce was relaxed throughout what is increasingly more difficult to refer to as a “practice.” He used the last 20 minutes to knock a couple important things off his to-do list. He trotted over to the stands to give his wife a kiss and ragged on his son a little for being engrossed in his video games. Then, he wandered across the court and took a seat by press row. He folded his legs, kicked back, and engaged in candid conversation with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel - TNT's broadcasters for tomorrow nights game.
• Michigan had by far the largest staff among evening teams in attendance. The team was trailed onto the floor by a plethora of training staff, managers, and for all a mindless bystander could tell, a few struggling actors dawning maize and blue. Ohio traveled with their normal two managers, small handful of assistants, and small training staff. Somewhat surprisingly, South Florida (a Big East school) came with the smallest contingent in the stands and on the floor with the team.
• Even more surprising about South Florida is that they used their 40 minutes to get after it a little. They opened their practice session (which I will proudly refer to as practice in this case) with a drill that had players take a charge, dive after a loose ball, and run the floor for a transition layup. This is the team that just played a full game in Dayton on Wednesday night and is scheduled to go again as the underdog against fifth-seeded Temple in the late game on Friday.
• Ohio seems to have traveled well, as they have sold the most tickets out of any of the eight teams in Nashville this weekend. Family of the coaches and players took in the “practice” as well as Jordan Thompson, the tight end from Ohio’s football team. Thompson said he viewed the tournament as something he could look back on as a cool college event to attend and even lauded the publicity it would give the university. When asked to give a prediction for Friday night’s game, Thompson beamed, got a little hunter green in the face, and said, “Ohio by eight.”