A Seat in the Bleachers: No big NCAA upsets in Albany, but it just doesn’t matter

Stands shot with Bill Murray holding thumbs up

Rooting for UConn, Bill Murray gives thumbs up during the Huskies' win over Iona in the NCAA tournament at MVP Arena on Friday.

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ALBANY — It’s a Cinderella story.

If you weary of Caddyshack references, proceed with caution, but I assure you, there are only two more.

It’s March Madness, so of course No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson knocked off No. 1 Purdue 63-58 in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday, one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history. We had no such surprises here at MVP Arena, as both No. 4 seeds beat the 13’s, and both 5’s beat the 12’s.

You can have a pool (how’s your bracket looking) or a pond, where the big fish don’t always eat the little fish.

Minus upsets and, really, much end-of-game drama in four games at MVP, it was still a raucous blast of men’s college basketball in front of over 14,000 people who showed up in a dizzying kaleidoscope of team apparel. Except for at least one, Bill Murray.

There was no mistaking the comedy legend’s rooting interest, though, when UConn’s 6-foot-9, 245-pound center Adama Sanogo knocked down an apparent 3-pointer to essentially put Iona and coaching legend Rick Pitino out of their misery with three minutes left.

It’s in the hole!

Dressed in a navy blue long-sleeve button-down shirt, gray vest and gray Irish fishing cap, Murray covered his face with his hand, cackling with glee, then pumped his fist.

He sat a couple rows behind the UConn bench in support of his son, Luke, who is a rising star assistant to head coach Dan Hurley.

Murray, naturally, was surrounded by thousands of people in UConn gear, outnumbering fans of the other seven teams around South Pearl Street on Friday, with a tip of the tam o’shanter to the thousands of green-clad St. Patrick’s celebrants.

You could read the fervent enthusiasm for March Madness on their faces, hats and shirts.

The loudest boo of the day went to Pitino when he was introduced prior to UConn-Iona, for a variety of reasons that were embodied by Nick from downstate near Poughkeepsie, who was wearing a gold Siena hoodie.

Siena trashed its MAAC rival at MVP Arena during this regular season, then was trashed even more severely by the Gaels in New Rochelle in late February, but this runs deeper than 2022-23.

“I am … absolutely not [rooting for Iona],” the South Glens Falls native said with a grin. “Obviously, I’m a Siena fan, don’t like Iona, don’t like Rick Pitino. And I also got my master’s from UConn.”

I took a couple strolls around the concourse during the Saint Mary’s-VCU game and could’ve filled several college bingo boards without even including the eight teams that were playing here.

A Bo Kimble Loyola Marymount jersey seemed pretty random, but these people were just getting started.

Duke and North Carolina.

Michigan and Michigan State.

Kansas and Kansas State.

Two pals with beers, one in a New York Yankees cap and jacket, the other in the same, except for the Boston Red Sox. Dogs and cats living together … mass hysteria.

Even more seemingly random than the Bo Kimble guy: three dudes in NHL Florida Panthers jerseys, who must have gotten very much lost, since their team was playing the New Jersey Devils in Sunrise, Florida, on Friday.

The University of Binghamton Rowing Club was represented.

A Hanson brothers Charlestown Chiefs jersey from “Slap Shot.” Because there’s always one.

Smelling an upset, I joined about 20 people camped in front of a TV showing the end of No. 3 Xavier against No. 14 Kennesaw State from Greensboro, North Carolina.

No Xavier or Kennesaw shirts in sight in this corner of MVP, but everybody rapt, and creating a bottleneck for people trying to pass by, as our little crowd got bigger.

Xavier made a free throw with less than a minute left to break a tie, prompting one guy to exclaim “YESSS!” and another to mutter “Fudge.” Only he didn’t say “Fudge.”

This one gradually slippered away from Kennesaw, and the crowd dispersed, including one existentialist whose t-shirt read “MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS,” and another who summarized to his buddy: “Survive and advance, dude.”

Bill Murray cut out a little early from the UConn game, the 72-year-old merrily jogging up the steps to leave the arena with less than two minutes left and the Huskies’ victory well in hand.

If there was any purple-and-gold of Amsterdam High School gear in the house, I missed it, but a few hundred supporters of Amsterdam native Andre Jackson Jr. were here in support of the UConn junior.

He unleashed a massive two-handed tomahawk dunk early in the Huskies’ 87-63 victory, then fiercely pounded the script “Connecticut” on his chest three times, sending a sideways glare to the Iona bench as he skipped back upcourt.

Let them know where you’re from.

Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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