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Tournament Culture: A 10-Stage Journey

NEW ORLEANS -- Lest you think this space is devoted strictly to advanced-statisticalhogwash, I'd like to take you on a cultural odyssey though the NCAA tournament. There will be historic images and current images, vintage fashion and contemporary fashion. A great work of literature will be discussed, as will God, floorboard alignments, sleeve stylings and Larry Johnson. And there will be music, from playlist professionals Gorilla vs. Bear. This is a Renaissance blog that dabbles in all media, and this is its Special Collection:

I. Historical Inspirations

Were you under the delusion that thick, nearly connected 'brows are a new phenomenon at Kentucky? The man on the left is Alex Groza, who was Kentucky's center when Anthony Davis, the man-child on the right, was negative-42 years old. Groza was the M.O.P. of the 1948 and 1949 tourneys and the inventor of this highly effective hold-the-ball-to-the-side-so-they-can't-get-it trick, which Davis often employs in 2012.

Retro Kentucky

Peyton Siva is not the pioneer of the close-shave helmet at Louisville. Wes Unseld (seen at right) was sporting it in 1968, a simpler time when shoulder-straps were free of Adidas and NCAA logos, and the InfraRed virus had not yet infected jersey design.

Retro Louisville

Bill Self's lapel flair (that pin) could be interpreted as an ode to Kansas legend Phog Allen, who knew how to Put A Bird On It long before Portland did. Since this tournament is the 60th anniversary of Allen's 1952 national title, Self would be wise to go all-out and sew that gorgeous Jayhawk patch on his suit jacket.

Retro Self

Did Ohio State guard Aaron Craft learn the Black Arts of Defense by studying images of 1939 Buckeyes captain Jim Hull? This picture suggests as much.

Retro Craft

(The vintage photos are from an out-of-print book, Final Four: A Pictorial History of the NCAA Basketball Classic. Current photos are from US Presswire.)

II. When 'Ohio' Was Acceptable

Brady Hoke's attempted rebranding of Ohio State as "Ohio" is perceived as a dig on the same level as the G.O.P.'s references to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party." It's meant to annoy Buckeyes fans, and it does. But in 1939, Ohio State's jerseys actively promoted mis-branding:

Ohio State Team Picture

That team photo is from the first NCAA tournament, in which the Buckeyes were -- like today -- the East Regional champions.

III. Bootleg Fashions

I have scoured tournament crowds to find the finest in bootleg t-shirt art, and have seen none better than the "Chief Crowder" shirt worn by the parents of Marquette's Jae Crowder in Phoenix. ("His hair is his signature," said Jae's father, Corey. "This" -- and he points to his shaved head -- "was always my thing.")

Jae Crowder Parents

On the Sunday after the second- and third-round games in Portland ended, I watched games and did laundry at the apartment of an old college friend who lives there (thanks, Jeremy!). He had this 1989 Iowa Hawkeyes tee -- an ultimate vintage score -- hanging in his closet. Current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has a Marble (Roy Devyn), but what he wouldn't give for a trio like B.J. Armstrong, Ed Horton and Roy Devyn's father.

1989 Iowa Hawkeyes Shirt

(Photos by me. Inset of Crowder from US Presswire.)

IV. Great Works of Tournament Literature

This is an actual book. Actual title, actual photo of author C.C. Risenhoover. I secured a first-edition hardcover for the blog's Special Collection, because Murder at the Final Four is a must-have for any fan of the College Basketball Crime genre.

Murder at the Final Four

The jacket blurb reads: "When 'Tater' Jones, The University's star basketball player, is found dead, it's a tossup: Did the brutal beating or the massive overdose of drugs kill him? The police are confounded and the faculty enraged, which is why Professor Brian Stratford, a former CIA agent, is drafted to solve the case. But as the wisecracking prof and his stunning young girlfriend try to smoke out motives, the bodies pile up faster than free throws."

If the "bodies piling up faster than free throws" line doesn't suck you in ... enjoy the first six paragraphs:

Alexander "Dunk" Knopf can handle just about anything, so I knew something was wrong when he walked into my office and promptly puked on my desk. I would have offered Dunk a Kleenex, but the box setting on my desk caught the full impact of his barf. For a minute, I thought I was seeing a rerun of The Exorcist, a movie that made vomiting an art form.

"Damn it, Dunk, what's wrong?"

By now he had slumped over on my couch, his face as white as a sheet. I quickly came from behind my desk with a waste basket, hoping that, if he was going to throw up again, he would at least aim it at something less valuable than my lesson plans.

Of course, my students might consider the waste basket more valuable.

"It's Tater," he said. "He's dead."

For the soon to begin basketball season, James "Tater" Jones had been the university's great black hope. The previous season, as a sophomore, he had averaged twenty-seven points a game, a number, I suspected, might have ranked right along with his IQ.

:: smh ::

V. Sleeve Theory

Sleeve Theorem No. 1: Acquiring one of the giant, white t-shirts worn by Larry Johnson at UNLV in 1990, and then wearing it under your Indiana jersey in 2012, will not lend you LJ-like powers in the NCAA tournament. Nice try, Tom Pritchard:

Pritchard LJ

Sleeve Theorem No. 2: If your nickname is based on the word "ridiculous" (as in, "Russ-diculous" Smith), and you have a reputation for taking wild shots, it is best to keep your arms unencumbered by fabric. Smith had to go through four stages of sleeves before settling on none, and then playing his best basketball:

Russ Smith

(LJ photo by Getty Images. Pritchard, Smith photos by US Presswire.)

VI. A Higher Goal

One team, one God, one goal: To debut the most ungodly shorts-fabric pattern in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Baylor God

SI Recommends

(Photos from US Presswire.)

VII. Secret Whiteboard Art

Someday I'll put out a coffee-table book of pregame, halftime and postgame whiteboard art. (Publishing houses, if you're interested, Tweet at me.) This one comes from Louisville's halftime board in the Elite Eight in Phoenix:

Louisville Whiteboard

VIII. Team Picture Dissection

Four points of interest from Kentucky's team-celebration photo in Atlanta:

Kentucky Team Picture

1. Why is Anthony Davis the one who has to contort himself to pose in the small-man-up-front position?

2. Best shoes (bottom left-hand corner): Marquis Teague's Kobe IV "camouflage" models, which, if he wears them in the Final Four, should help him hide from Louisville's pressure.

3. Second-favorite sneaks (bottom right-hand corner): Doron Lamb is, for some reason, wearing AAU-themed shoes -- the Kevin Durant EYBL models that came out well after Lamb played in the EYBL. Commence making Kentucky/AAU jokes now.

4. Team Shinpad (upper right-hand corner): Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wear Nike armor in a place that only soccer players used to protect.

(Photo from US Presswire.)

IX. Flooriginality

The NCAA's move to homogenous court designs has created confusion on telecasts -- you turn on a game and cannot immediately identify where it's being played. Which is why it was nice that Boston's TD Garden was allowed to stick with parquet this past weekend, lending some iconic style to the East Regional:


(Photo from US Presswire.)

X. The Tourney Mix

Grimes will never replace Jennifer Hudson as the One Shining Moment girl. The Gorilla vs. Bear-curated Tourney Mix is your only place where post-witch-house artists and low-post presences intersect:

SI Gorilla vs. Bear

01 Grimes :: Oblivion

02 Shabazz Palaces :: Swerve ...

03 Korallreven :: Sa Sa Samoa (Elite Gymnastics remix)

04 Usher :: Climax (produced by Diplo)

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05 Beach House :: Myth

06 THEESatisfaction :: Enchantruss

07 Preteen Zenith :: Damage Control (feat. Erykah Badu)

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08 Chromatics :: Into the Black (Neil Young cover)

09 Burial + Four Tet :: Nova

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10 Fort Romeau :: Jack Rollin'

11 Lemonade :: Neptune

12 Mirrorring :: Fell Sound

13 Bobby Womack :: Please Forgive My Heart

14 Lower Dens :: Brains

15 Nicolas Jaar :: With Just One Glance/And I Say (feat. Scout LaRue)

16 Frankie Rose :: Know Me