Joining us for this sure-to-be-contentious chat — which arrives just as we’re starting to think about March Madness -- is Post sportswriter Dan Steinberg, the snarky figurehead of the Post’s D.C. Sports Bog, and Malitz, who gets the warm fuzzies whenever he thinks back on the virulent Duke-Maryland rivalry. Submit your questions/comments about the story here, then join us Thursday at 1 p.m.
We caught up with both writers before the chat to ask them about the college ball scene. Here are a few of the highlights.
Q. You’ve both been to a number of college basketball games. What’s the coolest memory you’ve taken away?
Steinberg: This is pretty easy: Sitting with [Post columnist] Mike Wise in the front row of Verizon Center in 2006 when George Mason beat U-Conn. to go to the Final Four. Everything about that worked: Jim Larranaga being a goofball, players jumping up on the press tables and waving their jerseys, Lamar Butler’s dad hugging everyone, the band playing “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the Wichita State fans rooting their brains out for Mason, Jim Calhoun going down. It was amazing. Forget college basketball; that’s the coolest sporting event I’ve ever attended.
Q. David’s story talks about how the “proximity to the action” makes up for the lack of NBA prospects on the court. In an age of YouTube highlight reels, how would you sell Division III hoops to John Wall fans and folks raised on wall-to-wall ESPN “dagger!” replays?
Malitz: One way to sell it is that it’s free. And even if you won’t see (m)any dunks, you can still see some buzzer beaters or dominant performances. And if there’s a perception (often flawed) that pros are dogging it, you’ll rarely get that feeling while watching teams in lower levels.
Steinberg: Some people like to see the world’s greatest athletes doing the world’s greatest things; for them, you can’t beat the NBA. Some people just like combating the cruel monotony of life with a few hours of sporting fellowship and possible weirdness and/or last-second game-winners. For them -- and I’m one of ‘em, -- a Division III or Patriot League or high school or Jewish Community Center rec league game is basically just as good. Plus the nachos are cheaper. I don’t think this has anything to do with YouTube though; it’s not like there aren’t highlights no matter what the skill level is.
Q. Some fans may want to do a little advance scouting for their March Madness brackets -- which local teams have the best chance of making the Big Dance?
Steinberg: Georgetown and Virginia. Period. The end. George Mason would almost certainly need to win the CAA tournament. American definitely would. Loyola in Baltimore has a nice team, but the MAAC ain’t sending multiple teams. Maryland and Virginia Tech are both sizable longshots.
Malitz: Georgetown seems like the only lock at this point. George Mason would be wise to win the CAA tournament – it will be tough for them to earn an at-large bid this year. Loyola is one of the top teams in the MAAC but will need to win its conference tourney as well. Expanding the map a little, Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia Tech all look like possibilities.
Q. If you’ve got a son or daughter who plays basketball, which team would you take them to see, and why? And are there any teams that aren’t particularly kid-friendly?
Malitz: The smaller gyms are always excellent if you want to really get close and point things out. And the University of Maryland women are a fantastic team and Comcast Center has enough entertainment options besides the action in case kids get restless.
I just want to say that my story last week was intended to be an overview of the many different college basketball options available to area hoops fans. It wasn’t meant to be an authoritative list. There are SO MANY other teams/schools – George Washington, Catholic, Trinity, Gallaudet, Navy, etc. – that are worth checking out.
Q. Finally, putting you both on the spot: Which local gym/arena has the best atmosphere?
Steinberg: There isn’t one answer to this question. As with everything, winning is the key. When Maryland is winning, a Duke game at Comcast Center may be the single best sporting event in D.C. When American gets to host Patriot League championship games, with ESPN in the house and a berth to the NCAA tournament at stake, it’s hard to match that sort of drama. Georgetown’s rare games at McDonough on-campus are super cool. But because I will be a stereotypical sportswriter, I’ll say that I love the feel of GW’s Smith Center. The crowds might not always, or often, be great, but it feels like what you want to imagine a college gym should feel like: smelly and a bit claustrophobic and intimate and awesome.