NCAA Hoops: Make Mine An Upset Special

Paul McGuillicuddyAnalyst IJanuary 22, 2009

Our scene opens in a non-descript diner somewhere in Midwest United States.  It’s the breakfast hour, and like so many roadside establishments, there is an apparent purpose to the movements of all in the restaurant. Hosts, waitresses, and cooks all temper their movements so that customers may continue on their way.

Despite the din of silverware clinking on plates, coffee cups clanging saucers, cash register chimes, and the order bell, three customers remain detached from the distractions.  Coaches, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, Dino Gaudio from Wake Forest, and John Beilein, the head man at Michigan, lounge together at a corner booth.

Gaudio is busily attending to his BlackBerry; there are emails to respond to.

Beilein, his back to the wall, is immersed in his notes.

Izzo has buried himself behind a copy of the Lansing State Journal occasionally grimacing as he reads what must be a less-than-flattering commentary on his Spartans.

The greasy-spoon diner has become a crossroads for three coaches heading out on recruiting trips.  Later today they will return to their respective campuses and work with their teams, but for now, the three coaches look forward to planting seeds for the future.

Recruiting is not the only thing the three have in common today.

Heart-breaking losses came to each of their programs in the last couple of nights, and a palpable tension hangs over the table. The usually gregarious trio have refrained for now from their playful banter and barbs.

It is that way as Dolores, the waiter, ambles to the corner booth.

Dolores:  Morning sweethearts! Will it be the usual?

Gaudio removes his eyes from the electronic device and beams a smile as he makes eye contact.

Gaudio:  (as he grabs a menu) Ah gee, lemme think.

Beilein:  Still not looking up from his notes and under his breath : He might want to consider the No. 2 or even the three or four.

Not understanding the jab Dolores looks up from her pad and glances in Beilein’s direction.

Beilein: (continuing) ‘Cause after last night he won’t be tasting number one for a while.

Gaudio, still reeling from his team’s first defeat of the season, flashes a smile that is simultaneosly pleasant and forced. Dolores uncomfortably attempts to remain neutral.

Izzo: (Deciding to enter the fray) That’s all right Dino. Dolores, when you get around to JB’s order there won’t be much shorthand.  Kinda like his team has dropped from the rankings, there is no number for his meal this morning.

Beilein: (Sharing a laugh)  Dolores, you might want to bring a whole pot of coffee over; Coach Izzo here is gonna drink 18 cups—one for each turnover his team committed last night.

For the first time the group chuckles in unison.

Beilein: (continuing) 18 turnovers to the Mildcats?  How didja manage that?  I mean I respect Carm’s (Northwestern head coach, Bill Carmody) motion offense and all, but I didn’t know his students were playing tenacious D or anything.

Izzo: (chuckling) Yeah—Happy Valley wasn’t so the other night huh?  15 points?  How much longer didja think that 1-3-1 would work?  C’mon, you had to know we’d catch onto it. And that finesse offense?  That stuff can work in Morgantown, but how do you like our rough and tumble brigade?

All three continue smiling as Dolores leaves with their orders.

Izzo: (motioning to Gaudio) Duke up next huh?

Gaudio: Yes sir.

Izzo: At least you got ‘em at home.  At Cameron?  You got about as much chance of getting a call in that barn as I do of getting a date in a convent.

Belly laughs emerge.

Beilein: (chiming in) Hey!  Didja see NJIT finally got a win?

Gaudio:  Yeah, like they belong in D1.

Our camera pans away as Dolores delivers the meals.  Beilein gets the tall stack of pancakes. Izzo likes eggs over easy. Gaudio takes his scrambled with his bacon burned.

Throughout the meal conversation continues.  The three do more gesturing with hands than they do actual talking.  As Dolores returns with the checks, Izzo motions with his hand, and the waitress hesitates.

Izzo: Ya know Dino, considering your team’s performance last night, I think you should take the checks and pay.  I mean the Hokies tried giving that game to you with all those missed free throws, and your kids just wouldn’t take the game.  It might be good practice for you and all.  Learning how to take something and all.

Whether out of necessity or survival the Wake Forest coach grabs the stubs and reaches for his wallet.

The camera pans away.

There is recruiting to be done.