Make no mistake. These men know a hazard when they see one.
Okay, let's get our actors straight. Gene Hackman is currently appearing in Twilight as an aging Hollywood idol dying of cancer. It's a guy with a name straight out of a boys' sports novel--Homer Drew--who's inherited the role of a basketball coach from a tiny school in Indiana whose team keeps slaying giants.
But not even the scriptwriters of Hoosiers would have dared to lay the schmaltz on this thick. On Friday, Homer Drew's unheralded Valparaiso Crusaders, champions of the equally obscure Mid-Continent Conference, knocked off favored Mississippi on a three-point buzzer beater (shot by the coach's son Bryce, no less). Then, on Sunday, the smallest school (enrollment: 3,500) in the NCAA Tournament survived a six-minute scoring drought and a 15-0 run by Florida State (enrollment: 30,000) to beat the Seminoles 83-77 and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Wait. There's more. Valpo's next opponent, in the Midwest Regional Semifinals, is upstart Rhode Island, which knocked top-seeded Kansas out of its dancing shoes Sunday. The thirteenth-seeded Crusaders will meet the Rams Friday in St. Louis. Guess what: The son of Rhode Island head coach Jim Harrick, Jim Harrick Jr., is a Valparaiso assistant.
Leo Tolstoy himself couldn't have cooked up more intriguing family complications. Or more bewildering player names. The starting front line for Valpo features Zoran Viskovic and Antanas Vilcinskas--"V for Victory" all the way around--and if you're a play-by-play person who can pronounce their handles three times in a row without stumbling, you probably deserve an Emmy Award. As long as you're not that other V, Dick Vitale.
All right, all right. Big boys North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, Arizona and Kentucky are still in this thing, and one of those traditional powerhouses will probably be the last one dancing. But even those of us who usually regard basketball as a collection of freakish pituitary accidents get caught up in March Madness when stuff like this happens.
If a guy named Homer Drew, from a wide spot in the road, doesn't deserve to reach the Final Four, who does? How about son Bryce, who launched the crucial three against Ole Miss? Or Jim Harrick Jr., who will be coaching against his dad on Friday? I don't know about you, but I'm hoping Viskovic feeds Vilcinskas the rock with seconds left in a tie game Friday and he sinks the thing.
With that, the most engaging college-hoops drama of the year could get even better. In the other Midwest Regional semifinal, you see, Stanford plays Purdue. Purdue. Huge Big Ten school. Right up the road a piece from tiny Valparaiso, Indiana.