In Search Of The Vibes Team, With Ken Pomeroy

I don’t imagine this comes off as much of a brag, but I now feel like I know how to watch college basketball. Not very effectively, to be clear, at least where “effective” means “knowing stuff that informs a successful bracket” or even really “knowing what is going on.” But this is what I mean: I have left all that behind, or just realized that it is not really mine to know. I watch college basketball in the same way I listen to music: later at night, un-sober and un-serious, not quite idly but not really with anything like rigor. To do anything else would seem not just to be courting disappointment, but to be missing the point.

And that was why, in our annual sit-down with college hoops magus Ken Pomeroy, I tried to put an emphasis on what teams and games and regions in this year’s men’s NCAA Tournament might be fun. Even Ken, who runs the flagship website for college basketball stats and writes a very good newsletter, does not know what’s coming in the tournament—I don’t imagine that this needs to be underlined given how many of our episodes are about eating sandwiches, but no one is giving any advice here. We talked a bit about that, and about the specific types of unpredictable, uncertain, uncanny basketball stuff that this particular tournament field promises, from the seeming dearth of serious upset merchants to the fallout from a wild conference tournament season that saw a bunch of no-hopers vault all the way into the field to the strangeness of having a favorite who feels as overwhelming as defending champion Connecticut.

Mostly, though, we focused on the good stuff. In this case, that means the wealth of ultra-lopsided teams, from the all-offense/no-defense squads of the SEC to the maniacal defensive stylings of Iowa State to the lower-grade pleasures of having a decidedly mid Duke team in the field. The abundance of janky teams, and an extra-bummy job by the NCAA’s selection committee even by their usual standards, gooses the usual March variance even higher, which may be hazardous to your bracket but did if nothing else give us plenty of stuff to talk about. Our search for The Vibes Team—not necessarily a team of destiny, but one with some momentum and some sauce and some sense of who and what they are—didn’t turn up any solid answers. But this podcast, and this tournament, and this month is not the place to look for any of that.

Because we did such an economical job talking college basketball through the first three-quarters of an hour, we had enough time left over to expose Ken to the horrors of the Funbag. In this case, that meant a frank conversation about the distance between supermarket and greenmarket produce and an attempt to pin down what “happy-go-lucky” means in the macabre context in which it’s generally used on Dateline NBC. Is it a win to subject a hugely in-demand and highly qualified guest, during a very busy stretch of his calendar, to this kind of idiocy? Not necessarily, but wins are not really what this particular time of year is about.

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