This was almost the perfect year. The Big Boys in Bristol shot their collective loads and stained every media man’s jeans in Connecticut over Michigan State and Arizona. From Paula Lavigne’s hair brained efforts to smear Tom Izzo’s character (sidebar: Tom Izzo deserves a lot of criticism, but all about basketball), to Mark Schlabach’s “Schlabotching” of Sean Miller making DeAndre Ayton the highest paid teenager outside of a Disney Channel show. ESPN did everything they could to shit on two of the premiere basketball programs in America. Piggybacking off of the trials of Larry Nassar to create a ratings bonanza for a dying brand is the single most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen from ESPN, as well as the most blatantly irresponsible.
It almost worked out though. It was set up so perfectly. It was the anti-ESPN crowd’s wet dream. Arizona and Michigan State both opened the NCAA tournament as National Title favorites. I could already imagine how incredible it would be to see Tom Izzo or Sean Miller cut down the nets in San Antonio, and then take a shit on the podium during the postgame presser and force Schlabach and Lavigne to scoop it up. Dreams of an Arizona vs Michigan State National Championship game that ends like the ending of Goodfellas, with everyone being escorted out in cuffs.
It was over before it began. Arizona got ran out of the gym by Buffalo (BUFFALO!) in the first round, and Ayton and Allonzo Trier both declared for the NBA Draft at halftime. Sean Miller could have coached his final game at Arizona, and to everyone’s surprise it’s for basketball reasons instead of duffel bag reasons. The Spartans, on the other hand, went full “Dis shit finna be a BREEZE” in the first round, to advance and look completely inept against Syracuse and the Boeheim Zone, shooting 23% at home in Detroit in a game where Tom Izzo didn’t seem capable of keeping his eyes open on the sideline, let alone covering up assault scandals. Good for ESPN, good for CBS, bad for America.
A 93-year-old nun in a wheelchair. That’s the story of this tournament. No, not the 11-seed Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. You may not know that the Ramblers haven’t lost a basketball game since January. You may not know that they have five players on the roster that average double digits. You may not know that they’re 18th in America in defensive efficiency. You may not know that the head coach’s name is Porter Moser. You may not know any of that, because the media world can’t turn their camera’s away from the 93-year-old nun in a wheelchair.
An article in Sports Illustrated really said “Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago did become the fourth 11 seed to reach the national semifinals…” as though Sister Jean had anything to do with it. Being in the arena has made her a national icon. She’s doing the postgame interviews. Seriously. Screw the coach, screw the players, WHO ACTUALLY WON THESE GAMES, because there’s an old nun on the sideline who was awake for 40 minutes we can talk to. Thank the basketball God’s we have such nuanced analysis in a postgame interview as “I knew they would do it and then they did it.” Fantastic Sister Jean.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean any of this as an offense to Sister Jean. It’s not her fault that sports media is embarrassingly bad. It’s not her fault that media loves to embrace a meaningless feel good story in March and then bludgeon viewers over the head with it to the point of being completely unable to connect to the story in any meaningful way. It’s not her fault the media has decided to blatantly disrespect the actual basketball people of Loyola-Chicago by basically running them over with Sister Jean’s wheelchair to put her in front of a camera.
This is a microcosm of what is wrong with sports media right now. Forget allowing a good story to marinate, or a bad one to get the appropriate coverage. Nah, let’s run a good story into the ground and focus on all of the wrong aspects, and piggyback the bad stories to manufacture bullshit narratives and ratings. America doesn’t deserve the tabloid level toilet paper we’ve been getting out of Bristol and Los Angeles. And I’ll be damned if sports media outlets deserve their dream scenario of the darling Sister Jean getting to the National Title game. I can already hear the 30 for 30 promos.
I’m sorry Loyola. You’re a really good basketball team. It’s not your fault that the media did you dirty, and fatigued all of us on your Cinderella Story. But you have to lose. It’s for the good of sports media everywhere. It’s for the good of America.