No one will be admitted to this column after the first 300 words. Persons with a history of heart trouble should consult their physicians before submitting to the sustained suspense here. Do not reveal the ending to anyone. Or else.
We fade in to a man sitting in the dim light of a bare room. Pain owns his face and around his feet we see balls of paper. He screams and throws another piece of wadded-up paper at a typewriter on his desk. This man is a sportswriter in the demon clutches of devilish desperation.
"The NCAA," he cries. "Who's going to win all the marbles? Where will the ball of wax go? Out there in Readerland, they want to know, and here I am, suffering the heartbreak of writer's block, to say nothing of terminal stupidity. Oh, woe."
He lurches forward onto his typewriter, hoping to impale himself of the letter "y" and end it all. And here the music goes up. Softly at first, then a full cavalry charge, the sound of trumpets glorious. Sweet rescue, ever-loving escape. Yes, kissed by the Muse again, the sportswriter has An Idea. He picks up the telephone.
So it's a little melodramatic. Anyway, the sportswriter wound up on the telephone to Louisville, talking to a man we'll call Bill the Bookie. In real life, Bill is an accountant. In the more important parts of living, he is a Kentucky basketball fan who sometimes gambles on his wisdom. He knows the game.
"So who's going to win?" the sportswriter said by way of greeting, and Bill the Bookie knew the conversation was to be about the NCAA college basketball tournament beginning this weekend.
"Have you seen the pairings?" Bill shouted. He seldom shouts. This was unusual. The telephone line quivered with the weight of the words' anger.
"You mean Kentucky against Florida State?"
"My Lord, how could the NCAA do that to Kentucky? They're supposed to be seeding the teams this season, right? So if Kentucky, as the Southeastern Conference champion, is seeded No. 1 in the Mideast Region, they're supposed to play the last-seeded at-large team, right?"
The sportswriter listened. Bill the Bookie isn't wrong about affairs this important.
"Now, the other three at-large teams in the Mideast are Marquette, Providence and Syracuse. I won't argue about Marquette. But if Providence and Syracuse are better than Florida State, I'm Rock Hudson. Florida State is a great team. That NCAA selection committee wouldn't know a basketball teak if it saw one."
The sportswriter sat back and listened, a contended man.
"Looks to me like they're out to get Kentucky.
Or just to make a good game for the TV. Kentucky's got to beat Florida State, then Marquette, then Michigan State - just to get to the Final Four.
"And look at the East Regional.Nothing. Garbage. Duke is in there with nobody else except Indiana. And what's Indiana doing in a weak region? Wayne Duke, the Big 10 commissioner, is on the selection committee that put Indiana there. I'm steamed and you can quote me on that."
"Sure thing. But what I called for is to find out who's going to win. Who are you picking?"
"Kentucky, of course."
"After all that griping?"
"They're the best."
"Who else will be in the Final Four?"
"Got to go with Duke from the East - a shaky pick. The Midwest is hard to figure. Louisville is inconsistent. I can't pick DePaul. Notre Dame has never won a game at the regional level for Digger Phelps. So give me Utah in the Midwest."
"How about out West?"
"New Mexico. It's on their home floor. Then Kentucky will beat New Mexico, and Duke will beat Utah. Kentucky-Duke in a rematch of the 1966 NCAA semifinals, when Kentucky won. It will happen again."
The sportswriter disagreed. Sort of.
"I'm picking Indiana in the East. Duke can't play any defense except that zone and nobody is better at beating a zone than Bobby Knight. His big man, Ray Tolbert, will make Mike Gminski wish he was back in the ACC tournament.
"In the Midwest, nobody will win. DePaul will survive, only long enough to lose to Indiana in the Final Four.
"I'm afraid Florida State is quick enough and good enough to beat Kentucky in the Mideast. And I'm ignoring it. Kentucky there.
"In the West, it's UCLA, which will then lose to Kentucky. So that gives me a championship game of Kentucky against Indiana. Kentucky beat them, 78-64, early in the year and they'll do it again."