The worst part of this week, actually starting before last weekend, for a USC basketball fan is the disconnectedness. March Madness, if I'm a USC guy, is something that could be for thee but not for me.
Not really a surprise here from a Trojan viewpoint. We're hearing that with a chance to follow up the Arizona State Pac-12 tournament upset with a big effort against UCLA, USC fans came up as short as the players. Neither showed up.
We're hearing that to use up the 30 tickets set aside for each team, USC had to hand them out to paid adminsitrative types to fill the seats. Maybe USC fans knew something.
We're guessing there were far more USC fans on hand for Trojan-themed Selection Sunday get-togethers in Las Vegas than bothered to show up for the UCLA game. And that disconnectedness is becoming a major issue for USC basketball.
No way a program with a nice new arena a mile-and-a-half from two NBA franchises in the epicenter of the most productive high school basketball recruiting hotbed in the country should ever go six seasons with one lousy NCAA play-in game to show for what, by many measures, is the most popular sporting event in the nation.
Sure you can be one of the fans who fills out the 70 million brackets or maybe wager some of the $9 billion on the tournament (we know it's three weeks long but that's $5 billion more than on the Super Bowl). Or be one of the 21 million watching the title game on TV.
But as someone who grew up right in the middle of college basketball country, and thought he was moving to another place where it really mattered, we find ourselves wishing there were a way to connect more closely than to just watching all the teams, players and coaches we know as they make their runs.
Growing up in Northern Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati, I can remember thinking from a young age how lucky I was to be right in the center of it all. Cincnnati was making its run at three straight NCAA titles that it missed on a buzzer-beating tip, with Kentucky and Louisville alternating their runs with Indiana and Ohio State, even for a couple of years Western Kentucky, all a part of it.
And there I was. Lucky me, I was kicked out of an Adolph Rupp Kentucky practice as a kid when we snuck in through a door left open and later in life, as the Xavier SID, kicked out of a Bobby Knight Indiana practice.
Lots of great memories. Favorite team ever? Probably Rupp's 1966 Runts, forever memorialized as the team that lost to Texas Western. That was a tough one although great for Don Haskins, patron of one Tim Floyd.
Managed somehow to be courtside for sophomore Michael Jordan's shot in New Orleans that won it for the Tar Heels over Georgetown, saw Lorenzo Charles catch and dunk one at the buzzer in a play to win the championship over Houston's favored Phi Slama Jama that will have a celebrating Jim Valvano living forever in our memories. Liked the Villanova team -- not the coach -- that played the perfect game to shoot 78 percent in beating Georgetown in Lexington for the title.
And of course, there I was sitting in the first seat in the first row in Philadelphia in 1992 covering Kentucky in the best game in NCAA history, although I don't "hate Christian Laettner," don't count me as a big fan of all that much of what Duke does. But you can't ignore the Dookies. And in that four-year run, got to talk to Laettner a half-dozen times.
And while I look at game sites close to My Old Kentucky Home this year in Louisville, Columbus and the Final Four in Indianapolis, probably the best place to play it even if it's too close to the actual NCAA for comfort, it's still easy to feel left out a bit without a rooting interest nearby even if the West Region does come to LA next week.
UCLA? Right. The Bruins shouldn't be there and must have had photos of the committee. Even their own fans will have trouble feigning interest this time around. UC Irvine, where the American flag is at risk on the Anteaters' campus, will have more support their first time in the tournament.
And I'll always pull for my alma mater Xavier, where they got started on the long pull to where they are now when I was there. I'll always be a part of that. And I was lucky to have covered Valparaiso's Bryce Drew when he made that iconic shot and now he's coaching the Crusaders. Will root for them too.Bryce's brother Scott, now the Baylor coach, was a favorite in a family full of them. And Cincinnati basketball coach Mick Cronin, on medical leave through the end of the season, is the son of a friend and the coach I succeeded in high school. Knew him since he was born.
Knew Villanova's Jay Wright when I was in Philly. Class guy. Great coach. Was never a Steve Lavin fan when he was at UCLA but have to give him credit for hanging in there and bringing St. John's some of the way back.
Dayton, coached by Sean Miller's younger brother Archie, was always a great basketball school and Xavier rival. Think how far they've come since USC beat the Flyers in Dayton in December a year ago before UD went on its NCAA Elite Eight run and now is headed back this year with just six scholarship players. No excuses for Dayton.
Then there's Arizona, with a former Xavier coach in Sean Miller. Just as Ohio State has another Xavier guy, Thad Matta.
There are a couple of teams I just like the way they play -- Notre Dame with guys who can shoot it and Wisconsin, with guys who can do that but also defend without fouling. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, a Philly guy (Chester, Pa.), and ND's Mike Brey (even if he is a former Duke assistant) are having great seasons and we wish them both well.
Two others I can't not root for are Gonzaga with Trojan Byron Wesley and Fred Hoiberg's Iowa State team in their USC lookalike uniforms. We like the way they play as well.
But at the end, this tournament is all about Kentucky. They either do it or they don't, with the only way for the Wildcats to do it is to finish an unprecedented 40-0 now. And do it with defense and rebounding and unselfish hustle, something you don't always find in a team full of McDonald's All-Americans.
Give John Calipari credit here. And that's something we didn't always do. We were there in the press room after a Temple-UMass game in Philly when legendary Temple coach John Chaney tried to choke Calipari. And like everyone else in the room, we were rooting for Chaney to get the job done. Coach Cal has come a long way in our eyes. Although riding herd on the legendary Big Blue fans, if that still matters, might be his biggest challenge right now.
Our biggest challenge is to some day see USC back into all of this, somewhere, sometime, somehow. March should be for Trojans basketball not baseball. Let baseball wait until April and May.
USC owes it to, if no one else, the Galen family for their generous $30 million donation to make possible the arena named after them. That building deserves to be used by more fans than the 3,552 per game that put USC ahead of only Washington State in Pac-12 attendance this season. Although maybe that's what you'd expect from a USC team ranked by Ken Pomeroy as the nation's No. 154 program, two spots below St. Francis (New York).
Hard for USC to be connected from down there to the rest of the college basketball world when March comes around. We're thinking it shouldn't be this hard. And it shouldn't take this long.
March Madness here
Scout has a pretty March Madness bracket game with some great prizes. There are more details here if you follow this link: http://usc.scout.com/story/1526965-play-the-scout-weekly-bracket-challenge?s=15
There's also a custom group for USCFootball.com called "USC Trojans on Scout" and you can join that group here: http://bracketcontest.scout.com/scout/hoops15/leagues?gl=U&view_group=988464
You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at email@example.com.