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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/22/2006 06:09:00 PM

Day One In Atlanta

ATLANTA -- I rolled into my old stomping ground of the ATL this morning, cruising past all the old landmarks -- the first one being the So So Def billboard on the way from the airport -- and heading straight for the Georgia Dome. My former 'hood of Little Five Points (and the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club) had to wait -- the first media sessions of the regional finals took priority.

Here's what was going on behind the scenes on Wednesday:

- Shelden Williams has appropriate footwear in his locker. Duke's DeMarcus Nelson, Sean Dockery and Williams were situated side-by-side-by-side in the Blue Devils' locker room today. On Nelson's shelf was a book of CDs and a t-shirt; on Dockery's was a pair of Nikes and an iPod; and on Williams' there was just one item: a pair of giant, s----kicking, tan Timberland boots. Would the Landlord really wear anything else? (The 10 TV cameras surrounding Williams blocked our photo angle of the Timbos, but we did get this shot of the Dukies later on -- when Shelden, unfortunately, opted for the team's standard-issue kicks. Fans, it seems, will show up even to watch the Blue Devils stretch.)

Duke Practice
Luke Winn/SI

- Every paper in the country will be doing a story on the Big Baby (LSU's Glen Davis) this week -- especially after he explained in today's press conference how he owns an "I'm Not Shaq" t-shirt to ward off comparisons to the famed, former Tiger center. Glad to say SI was ahead of the curve on that one ... and I've actually seen the shirt. Davis wore it one day while I was in Baton Rouge earlier this month -- it's a black tee with an ironed-on shot of O'Neal dunking, and the hand-written words (in white-out-style pen) "I'm Not Shaq" on the front. (I apologize for the horrible pic below. This is the point where it becomes clear that I'm not a professional photog.)

Big Baby Presser
Luke Winn/SI

- LSU's Garrett Temple is going to have his hands full on Thursday night. Word is that the Tigers' freshman guard has drawn the defensive assignment of guarding Duke's J.J. Redick -- one of the toughest "chasing" duties in all of college hoops. "I've been thinking about [facing Redick] since after we saw the brackets, and we knew we had a chance to play Duke," said Temple, "but it's going to be a team defensive effort." Senior guard Darrel Mitchell said that while Temple likely would start out on Redick, "we're going to give him different looks. I may guard him, Garrett may guard him, and sometimes even [forward] Tasmin [Mitchell] may guard him." Putting the 6-7 Tasmin Mitchell on Redick might be the Tigers' best option; if Tasmin can handle running off multiple screens on every possession, his length could both Redick's shot.

- Texas' locker room is hooked on the card game Tunk, a version of knock rummy, to kill time between media sessions and practice (they just play for fun, though; you can't have cash on the line with all those NCAA "Don't Bet On It" posters around). Players J.D. Lewis (pictured below, center), Connor Atchley (left) and Ian Mooney, and assistant coach Chris Ogden (right) were kind enough to let me hang around their game instead of fighting the TV cameramen for an interview with LaMarcus Aldridge or Daniel Gibson, who was forced out of his hand in Tunk by press demands.

Texas Tunk
Luke Winn/SI

Ogden calls Lewis "The Princeton of Tunk," due to his low-scoring strategy; they were keeping score on a sheet on the floor (see middle, below), and Princeton was getting housed. Team manager Adam Katlin -- a journalism major whom I met while in Austin doing a Gibson story in the fall -- stopped by the game to say, "Is this going to make it in your blog?" It just did.

Texas Montage
Luke Winn/SI

For all the looseness in the 'Horns' locker room, I think they'll be more than ready to play West Virginia tomorrow. Plenty of teams are taken by surprise in the NCAA tournament by the Mountaineers' offensive execution, but Texas has had the luxury of facing WVU once already -- a Guardians' Classic game UT won on an Aldridge block/no-whistle-foul at the gun. Mountaineers coach John Beilein and his braintrust (who were strolling around here today in matching, baggy gray-and-white jumpsuits) will have new offensive tricks up their sleeve for round two, but it won't be an ambush. As Texas double-double machine P.J. Tucker said, "there ain't no surprises anymore."
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3/22/2006 03:48:00 AM

The (Ticket) Market Report

Oakland Arena
Good luck getting a ticket to see Gonzaga-UCLA at the Arena in Oakland.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

For those of you not fortunate enough to have press credentials for the dance, the Tourney Blog presents its Ticket Market Report. I looked at the demand for ducats -- which have a $65 face value -- at each of the four regional sites, scouring the 'Net to take stock of seat prices from three different sources (none of which is the scalper in Jacksonville who, stuck holding a handful of unsold tix last Thursday afternoon, dropped an expletive on yours truly when he inquired, nicely, how the day was going).

What did I find? That venue size dictates the price far more than the teams involved. Here, the sites are ranked from from most to least expensive, based on tickets for Thursday and Friday sessions only:

1. Washington D.C. (UConn, Washington, George Mason, Wichita State)
Verizon Center, capacity 20,173

Fan Factors: One local Cinderella (the Patriots, from Fairfax, Va.), another surprise story (Wichita State) and a No. 1 seed from the East Coast (UConn). Plus, an expensive city with the second-smallest arena of the four sites.

Market Index: Fiery. eBay's ducats were fetching high prices on Tuesday night -- a pair of 400-level seats went for a whopping $280, another went for $326 and a book of two sixth-row seats for Friday and Sunday sold for $2,000. Stubhub.com had four suite passes for $1,000 each, 400-level seats for $175 apiece and lower-level tickets for $325 and up. The cheapest ticket on 1800bestseats.com was $375. (On a side note, doesn't it seem as if Verizon -- which acquired MCI and changed the arena's name on March 5 -- is on a quest to control every venue in the nation? A band could do an entire tour in 2006 and play only in Verizons.)

2. Oakland (Memphis, Bradley, UCLA, Gonzaga)
The Arena in Oakland, capacity 19,200.

Fan Factors: A SoCal squad with a big alumni base in the Bay Area (UCLA) squaring off against "America's Team" (Gonzaga, also from the West Coast), and the only regional setting with less than 20,000 seats.

Market Index: Sweaty. Upper-deck seats were even going for at least $100 apiece on eBay, and elsewhere they're being offered for much more. On 1800bestseats.com, $345 will score you a lower-level ticket, and the cheapest seat available is $175. Stubhub.com has $229 tix in the upper deck and $359 in the lower.

3. Atlanta (Duke, LSU, Texas, West Virginia)
The Georgia Dome, capacity 40,000

Fan Factors: Two teams (Duke and LSU) with sizable alumni bases in the A-T-L, but a massive (football-first) venue twice the size of Oakland or D.C.

Market Index: Lukewarm. Tuesday night on eBay, two tickets in the lower level went for $188 total, and two upper-deck seats went for $100. On 1800bestseats.com, it costs $130 to get into the lower level, and $95 to get into the upper; whereas on stubhub.com, good lower-level seats were selling for $177.

4. Minneapolis (Villanova, Boston College, Florida, Georgetown)
Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, capacity 50,000

Fan Factors: The basketball will be sick -- especially a 'Nova-Florida final, if it happens -- but all four of the squads are from the East Coast, it's snowy in the Midwest, and the Metrodome is enormous.

Market Index: Chilly. A set of two tickets in the upper deck for all sessions -- both Friday and Sunday's games -- went for just $50 on Tuesday night on eBay. Another set went for $78. They aren't great seats, but that is cheap. On Stubhub.com, you can get in the 'dome for $67, and get in the lower bowl for $81. At 1800bestseats.com, lowers are $85 and uppers are just $35. Twin Cities hoops fans: At those prices, who cares if you don't have a team to root for?

The Allmans and Walton
Ace Cowboy

- One, last NCAA tournament note while we're on the topic of tickets: On Monday night, star blogger Ace Cowboy had eighth-row seats for the Allman Brothers show at NYC's Beacon Theater -- and he sent us the camera-phone photo at right. The guy holding up his hands, Ace reports, is none other than ex-UCLA great Bill Walton, thoroughly enjoying Derek Trucks and the boys. From a slightly different angle, we would have seen this expression on Walton's face.

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3/22/2006 02:00:00 AM

Spreading Out The Jinx

SI decided to go with six regional covers this week: Boston College, Florida, Gonzaga ... and Sweet 16 surprises Bradley, George Mason and Wichita State. I assure you I'm not posting these in an attempt to be a corporate schill -- I'm just genuinely excited to see the little guys getting major recognition.

One can only imagine how big a deal this will be in Peoria, Ill., Fairfax, Va., and Wichita, Kan. The last college-hoops-playing Bradley on an SI cover was UNC's Dudley, on March 12, 1979; and before that, Princeton's Bill on Dec. 7, 1964. Nary an NCAA Mason has made it; the last Mason in any sport was the L.A. Rams' Tommy on Sept. 18, 1967. And Wichita? Well, Wichita's been shut out, only famous in this Blogger's world as a White Stripes lyric and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's record label -- until now. Enjoy the cover, Shockers. And kudos to writer Grant Wahl and editor Aimee Crawford for making it happen.
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3/22/2006 01:16:00 AM

Picks Galore

SI.com's Final Four-by-committee (from today's regional breakdown columns) goes like this: Stewart Mandel takes UConn in D.C.; Julia Morrill picks Gonzaga in Oakland; this Blogger takes Texas in Atlanta; and Seth Davis chooses Villanova in Minneapolis.

SI's Final Four, from its tournament preview issue: UConn, Kansas, Duke and Ohio State.

My Final Four (from my original bracket): UConn, Memphis, Texas and Villanova. I'm not going to change it -- even though I've seriously considered swapping Duke for the 'Horns and UCLA for the Tigers.

The mag's Indy quartet has already been halved; but readers, which one do you think will be more correct -- the site's collaborative picks, or my own? Or are we all wrong?
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