I'm not sure nights of fandom get much better for me than they got last night.
First, Florida beat BYU. You have to understand that I picked Florida to lose to Michigan State in the opening weekend. After they advanced and they were bracketed to play BYU, I was almost positive -- no Quickie reverse-jinx intended -- that BYU was going to win decisively. BYU is precisely the kind of team that gives Florida fits.
Let's pause there.
So much of fandom is simply expectations. One of the reasons I fell in love with being a Florida football fan is that every year, the expectation is to win the SEC (and, consequently, a national title). Anything less is a failure.
Back in 2007, when Florida basketball was the defending champs, there was no margin for error. It nearly made the Tournament run depressing, because the championship was EXPECTED. When they finally won it, it was: Of COURSE they did.
But this Florida team is different. The seniors came in after the back-to-back titles. Their first two years were horrendous. Last season was another dud; they backed their way into the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round (to BYU).
This year was an improvement -- damn well better have been! -- but I had low expectations (see above). When they beat UCLA to make the Sweet 16, I was pretty happy (mostly figuring they would get throttled by BYU).
That's what made last night's win one of the most enjoyable of my Florida fandom: With no expectations, the fact that they won -- and the way they won -- made me as proud as I've been of the team since the 2006 national title.
Yes, BYU had Jimmer. But Florida had 5 good -- not great -- players, all playing well. That was the best game of Alex Tyus' four inconsistent years. The shooting -- by almost any of them -- makes me cringe. Every shot is "NO NO NO...YES!" (Until it misses badly; then I'm yelling and pounding pillows.)
Here's the crazy part: When the game was tied with 14 seconds to go and Florida was holding for the final shot, Gus Johnson got crushed for suggesting on-air that BYU should foul Florida. And yet... he was absolutely right. This isn't hindsight: BYU should have fouled Vernon Macklin -- an atrocious FT shooter -- away from the ball.
If he makes none, one or even both, at least BYU has a shot to win the game with the best shooter in basketball (even if he was struggling). You saw what happened in OT: BYU ran out of gas. They needed to play for the win at the moment. It would have been totally unorthodox, but it was their best chance to win. Anyway....
At this point, I can't imagine any Florida fan that isn't thrilled with making the Elite Eight. Would making the Final Four be even better? Yes, both in an absolute sense and because making it would mean that Florida would have beaten Butler, as tough an out in the tournament field as there is. But I'm going to stick with my expectations: Butler is more likely to throttle Florida than BYU. I'm wincing at the thought of the match-up.
But I'm totally comfortable. Florida has overachieved -- even if, technically, it has reached the potential of its seeding (they were overseeded) -- and they have their breathtaking signature win that almost entirely eclipses the past four years of frustrations. It was that big.
Meanwhile, I'm basking in Florida's win -- then Duke gets throttled. Duke losing in the Tournament is my favorite college basketball game of the year. It might be my favorite sports event of the year, period. When they get dismantled, it's even better than when they lose close. And last night was a dismantling. Amazing.
On to tonight's games:
7:15 CBS: (2) UNC-(11) Marquette. The way UNC barely survived Washington and the way Marquette handled Syracuse, I'm tempted to pick Marquette. It won't be an easy one for UNC. Pick: UNC, barely.
7:27 TBS: (1) Kansas-(12) Richmond. It's been fun, Richmond. Kansas is too big and too fast. Pick: KU.
9:45 CBS: (1) Ohio State-(4) Kentucky. I'm nearly ready to believe in this OSU team. Perfect timing, as Jim Tressel is going to lose his job, so I can offset my head-shaking buy-in with typical schadenfreude. I don't know why I ever doubted this team. Pick: Ohio State.
9:57 TBS: (10) Florida State-(11) VCU. FSU plays great defense, but they can't score. VCU is on a hot streak. How can anyone NOT be rooting for VCU at this point? Pick: VCU.
More later. Visit Quickish -- great day-after analysis, preview commentary and real-time reactions tonight!