We had no power at my house on Sunday night, so I was excited to be invited over to a friend's for dinner and to watch the broadcast of the NCAA Tournament pairings. My excitement, however, quickly turned into stomach-sinking horror when my husband wandered into the television room, glanced up from his plate of couscous and asked, "Who is this Dick Vitaly guy and why is he screaming so loudly?"
That's right. He said Vitaly, as in rhymes with Italy. How can it be that my husband has been married to a sportswriter for more than a decade and he can't pronounce Vitale, let alone know who he is? Well, as I explained when I outed him in a column in Newsday two years ago, I married a sports illiterate. I have come to accept that bats and balls just aren't in his DNA, that when they were passing out the sports-fan gene, my husband was still lingering at the mastering-dead-languages table.
For the most part this hasn't been a problem. I find it endearing when he asks my 6-year-old son what quarter the hockey game is in, or when my 10-year-old daughter has to explain to him what a balk is. The only time his lack of sports knowledge ever bothers either of us is in March, because I can see him getting nervous each morning as he gets ready to go to the office. That's because he knows that for the next couple of weeks he's going to have to pretend he cares about sports in order to function in the workplace. He knows someone is going to send him an e-mail with a bracket with of all these schools - some of which don't even offer courses in dead languages - and he's going to have to fill it out and then pretend to pay attention to what happens after that.
So once again, I'm going to do it for him. I'm going to make the picks, and then coach him on how to avoid saying things like "Who is the mascot of Play-In Winner?" in an important client meeting. I will give him all the right buzz words and assure him that bracketology is a made-up word, not a legitimate college major.
But most of all, I will assure him that he's not alone. I know there are plenty of you out there who know someone who is a sports illiterate, someone who suffers in silence when their boss drones on about the history of the Big Sky Conference. So here's my tips and picks to help get them through the next few weeks:
Team to Pick: Kansas beats Georgetown to go to Final Four.
Reason I: Kansas is the most complete team in the tournament. They've got size, depth and experience.
Reason II: Bill Self. Not only is he a good coach, but he seems to have a decent sense of humor. You've got to admire a guy who doesn't seem to mind that there are multiple message boards out there discussing his hairstyle.
Player to Watch: Ohio State's Evan Turner is so hot that even President Barack Obama wants to ride his coattails. President Obama made sure to drop Turner's name during a health-care speech in Ohio Tuesday.
Water Cooler Trivia: There are eight coaches in this regional who have gone to the Final Four, and four who have won championships.
Reason: OK, this pick makes me nervous, very nervous. Syracuse lost its last two games. And no one knows whether Arinze Onuaku will be completely healthy after suffering a strained quadriceps last Thursday. Still, the Orangemen were the best team in the country less than two weeks ago. It couldn't have just been smoke and mirrors.
What Not to Say at the Water Cooler: Wasn't there another pretty good player named Ralph Sampson?
Reason: I don't want to be the jerk who goes with all the top seeds. Plus, I've always been one for momentum and West Virginia has plenty of it. They've won six in a row, including the Big East Tournament, and I think there's just too much pressure on John Calipari's team to win the whole thing.
What Not to Say at the Water Cooler: Who is Jerry West?
Team to Pick: Duke over Notre Dame.
Reason: OK, there's a lot of people out there who think that Duke is overrated. And they may be right, but with the talent the Blue Devils are facing early in this regional, it doesn't matter. Notre Dame is playing well and could give Duke a game, but they won't be able to prevent them from advancing to the Final Four.
Player to Watch: California's Jerome Randle is the little guy you want to root for. Only 5-10, he may be the best pure shooter in the country. Averaging 19.7 points, he's hitting 41 percent of his three-point shots and hasn't missed a free throw in a month.
NATIONAL SEMIFINALS: Kansas over Syracuse; Duke over West Virginia.
FINAL: Kansas over Duke.