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It has been 33 years, but I was wrong once before. It’s just some obscure sports moment now, but back then, when Mike Tyson fought Michael Spinks, it was huge. Tyson wasn’t just a celebrity fighter or the guy who sings badly in the Hangover movies and punches out Zach Galifianakis.
Tyson was dominant. Spinks was a bulked-up light heavyweight. They were both undefeated.
I was sure, just sure, Spinks was going to beat the unbeatable Tyson. I was young; what the hell did I know? I kept telling my friends over and over. Spinks. Spinks. Spinks. And then he showed up before the fight and his eyes were twice their normal size. He was scared to death.
It was already over. Ninety-one seconds later, he was counted out.
“If you want to know who’s going to win the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga or Baylor, here’s your answer: Illinois. You heard it here first.’’
I tweeted that a month ago today. And I said it again and again. That was before they were a popular pick. Illini. Illini. Illini. I was sure, just sure. And then they stepped onto the court Sunday against Loyola Chicago in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and were counted out 180 seconds later. The Illini were down 9-2 and never in the game again.
Loyola won 71-58. At least the Illini lasted twice as long as Spinks, who we never heard from again.
It’s hard to explain what happened in that Illinois-Loyola game. How long can you talk about 180 seconds? Punch, punch, take a knee. Punch, punch, you’re out.
Loyola has 101-year old Sister Jean, survivor of two pandemics 100 years apart, so Illinois shouldn’t seem like a big deal in comparison. But while Sister Jean is a great team mascot and inspiration — not to diminish her, god bless her — what happened Sunday was that Loyola was the far, far better team. The Ramblers bumped and pushed around Illinois’ stud guard Ayo Dosunmu and center Kofi Cockburn.
You can’t be Cinderella if you’re the bully. Loyola had two guys on Dosunmu, two on Cockburn and one on everyone else. They had seven players on the court, I swear. And then they slowed the offense and lulled Illinois’ athleticism away.
Illinois was cocky, throwing overly chancy passes to try to look flashy. Loyola’s players were working their butts off. Loyola had a gameplan from Coach Porter Moser. Illinois had some guy standing on the sideline watching it happen. That was all in the first 180 seconds.
Loyola is a legit national champion contender now.
I remember writing at a Masters once that Jack Nicklaus was “just for show’’ now. He was a ceremonial golfer. On the 10th fairway that Sunday, with Nicklaus only a few strokes out of the lead and charging, a reporter from Seattle actually spotted me and said, “Aren’t you the guy who wrote that Nicklaus can’t win?’’
In fairness, Nicklaus didn’t win that day. But I tore the column I’d written out of the Chicago Sun-Times and literally ate it, then wrote about what it tastes like to eat your words. Luckily, Spinks was just a thing between friends and me. (In fairness to me, Muhammad Ali picked him to beat Tyson, too.)
I’m not sure why people care about writers’ predictions. We know some things; we don’t know others. A lot of it is based on history and patterns.
That’s what makes my Illinois pick so dreadful. The Big Ten hasn’t won a college basketball national championship in 21 years. And I picked a Big Ten team to win?
I won’t make that mistake again.
Turns out, the Big Ten was highly overrated. It got nine teams into the tournament. We still aren’t past the first week of the tournament — the final second-round games are today — and only three Big Ten teams are left: Michigan, Iowa and Maryland.
Some people had three Big Ten teams making it to the Final Four. But instead, the Big Ten has lost major upset after major upset. No. 1 Illinois lost to No. 8 Loyola. Purdue lost to North Texas. No. 2 Ohio State lost to No. 15 Oral Roberts.
Michigan State had UCLA beat and fell apart. Rutgers was about to get an upset win over No. 2 seed Houston, but choked.
Some people thought Ohio State could contend for the national title. When I watched some of its game, I started thinking that the Big Ten wasn’t any good after all and that my Illinois pick was shaky. I thought about Spinks’ eyes.
The Big Ten had five of the top 14-seeded teams. Meanwhile, the Pac-12, which didn’t have a team seeded higher than No. 5, hasn’t lost a game yet.
Because of the pandemic, there weren’t many great non-conference games. So these conferences are being judged on their reputations, not their actual play.
Fortunately for Dosunmu and Cockburn, they’ll go on to the NBA. I looked up Michael Spinks on Wikipedia. He talks to school kids and has to bring his title belts because no one knows who he is.
Well, I’ll probably get another pick wrong around 2054. Until then, I’d put my money on Loyola to win it all. I’m sure of it. You heard it here first.