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.
3/31/2007 04:51:00 PM
The Scalper Walk, and the Pregame Scene
If these fans were looking for tickets, they should have been able to find them.
ATLANTA -- It's a few hours before tip-off, and the scalpers here are hurting. Somehow at a Final Four with the best field in recent memory, the ticket market is lagging well behind the magnitude of the games. I just finished a one-hour walk around downtown ATL, bantering with scalpers ... as well as a CNBC guru and your AP Player of the Year. Details follow.
• You can get inside for a price in the general range of face value, if you're willing to sit in the upper deck and do some half-assed bargaining. Most of these scalpers are hardly putting up a fight in the negotiations. Here's a choice conversation from the corner of Peachtree St. and Andrew Young International Boulevard:
"You need tickets? I've got two 300s [upper-deck] together. Real seats, not obstructed view. $400 a book [of all three games].
"Face is $160, right? I'll give you $150 a book."
"That's bullsh--. You think you're some kind of hustler. $250."
"$400 for the pair."
"I can't do that."
"I'm going to go look around --
"Fine, give me the money."
The lower-level seats were going for much more -- at least $400 a book, if not $500 -- but still far less than the multi-thousand-dollar prices that were quoted online this week.
• My favorite scalper was using a tactic straight out of The Wire (although he was hawking tickets, not pandemic). He was an older guy, maybe in his late 40s or early 50s, and he'd flag down the process and do the negotiations, and then he'd bring over a minor -- a kid no more than 13 or 14 -- to show the tickets and exchange the cash. The weird thing, scalping is legal on non-state property in Atlanta. So what was the point? Was he just grooming his son to take over the family business?
• Second-shadiest dealing: The coaches who pulled up to that scalper a few seconds after I talked to him, hiding behind the barely pulled-down, tinted windows of an SUV, trying to unload their books. The guys were too anonymous to be recognized, but they clearly considered themselves to be on a covert mission.
• Ran into CNBC sports business guru Darren Rovell, a fellow Northwestern guy, on my scalper search. He was also canvassing the scene and said the lowest he'd found a pair of upper-deck books for was $180. So he beat me by $20, which doesn't hurt my pride; he covers money for a living and I just do basketball. Rovell did give some solid insight into the dead market, though, pointing out that even though we have epic matchups, the two headliners, Florida and Ohio State, are still football schools; UCLA didn't travel cross-country in huge numbers, and Georgetown doesn't have a big enough alumni base to bring a massive crowd.
• Kevin Durant may be out of our college basketball world in less than a month, but at present he's living large on the A-T-L awards circuit. I bumped into Texas SID Scott McConnell in the lobby of the coaches' hotel, while he was waiting for Durant to come downstairs before heading over to a pre-game interview with CBS. Durant arrived in a wrinkled-up white t-shirt and jeans, and was soon accosted for autographs by a few grown men holding basketballs and Sharpies.
Durant hung out with a small group of us (myself, Jeff Goodman from Fox Sports, and a few friends) in the hotel cafe for about 15 minutes, telling us that he had collaborated with McConnell on his speeches, but "lost count" of how many awards he had taken home at this point.
It's still amazing to me how meek Durant is off the floor -- he's just a quiet, polite 18-year-old who has yet to even come close to filling out his 6-foot-10 frame -- compared to how dominant he is on it, dropping 30-point games and thumping his fist against his chest.
For critics of the first-year rule who say players like Durant are just sham students, you'll be happy to know that he does not yet consider himself to be NBA Draft mode: "I'm in student-mode right now, full-time," he said. Like a normal college kid, he only owns one suit, which he was soon headed upstairs to put on before appearing on national television. Durant passed Alando Tucker -- who was headed to the same interview -- in the lobby, and gave him some kind of handshake. Tucker was eating a lunch of popcorn and Krispy Kreme donuts, still living a collegiate lifestyle that both he and Durant will soon leave behind.
Memphis' (from left to right) Kareem Cooper, Joey Dorsey and Willie Kemp felt the suspense in the final minute against Texas A&M on Thursday.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
NEW YORK -- What a crazy night. Thursday was my first opportunity to sit back and watch an entire day's worth of tournament games on TV rather than from press row, and I was blessed with five and a half riveting hours of basketball. Makes me worry that there won't be any magic left over for East Rutherford (where I'll be on Friday).
Memphis had a counter-punch for every aspect of Texas A&M's physical play, and the Tigers' relentless offensive glasswork in the last minute -- which resulted in Antonio Anderson's game-clinching trip to the foul line -- was a thing of beauty. With Joey Dorsey, who shed his jersey after fouling out, looking on in a white undershirt, and Anderson grabbing what Grant Wahl referred to as "nether regions" to punctuate the win, Memphis appeared to have the raw, ballsy edge it'll need to take down Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, pulled off an epic comeback with more long-distance wizardry from Ron Lewis. I question how long they can keep tempting fate, but I encourage them to continue trying. It makes for amazing drama.
I can't sign off for the night, however, without feeling slightly depressed. I'm confident the better team won each game in San Antonio, and both (Memphis 65-64 and Ohio State 85-84) were one-point thrillers. It's just that the losers' failed shot attempts at the buzzer left something to be desired. A lot to be desired, actually. Two of the tourney's clutchiest (that's my Stephen Colbert word for it) players, Texas A&M's Acie Law and Tennessee's Chris Lofton, were bounced from the dance as a result. And why is that depressing?
Because, despite their well-deserved big-shot reputations, neither guy was given the chance to take the last one on Thursday.
On the Aggies' final possession, an inbounds play from beyond halfcourt with 2.0 seconds left, Law was used as a decoy, streaking toward his basket with a couple of Memphis players tracking him. This was probably the smart chess move by Billy Gillispie, since it guaranteed a quick, open look for someone else. Law had also just missed a breakaway layup that he would later claim "cost us the game." That said, I'd still put money on Law taking a double-teamed three at the gun over Dominique Kirk taking one in single coverage. Every time.
The Vols' last play was a scramble situation, with the ball in the hands of freshman point guard Ramar Smith, who had no intention of passing it and drove the right side of the lane. He put up a floater that might have had a chance, had its flight pattern not been altered -- drastically and disastrously -- by Greg Oden's right hand. All the while, Lofton was camped on the left wing, well-covered, waiting for a kick-out that never happened.
I'm sitting here looking at the box scores, which say that Law took 17 shots and Lofton took 18. Both players hoisted more than any of their teammates, but those numbers are irrelevant when they don't include the two shots that mattered.
A parting thought for Texas A&M and Tennessee: You lived on Law and Lofton's cold-bloodedness all season. While it's possible you still would have died with the ball in their hands on Thursday, we'll never know if they were capable of heroics. They were owed, at the very least, a chance to find out.