30 March 2009

North and Central America - Round 1

Now that Nepal has punched its ticket to the Final Four, its time for the battle to take shape in our own back yard. This is Round 1 of the North and Central America, which will encompass all the destinations within North America, Central America and the Caribbean. It should be a wild one!

(1) New York City vs. (16) Jamaica
There is a Jamaica in New York City. So why is this even a contest? Though denizens will annoy you with their self-righteous dribble, I do recognize that NYC is one of the world’s great cities. There is no wonder why it ranks higher on terrorist wish lists than even the nation’s capital, as it represents the financial centre of the world. It is head to the United Nations. It has the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, and Rockefeller Centre. It has Times Square, the model on which Japan was built I’m pretty sure! It has one of the world’s most important artistic scenes, including Greenwich Village, The Met, the MoMa, the Museum of Natural History, and of course, Broadway. It hosts the US Open in Tennis, is home to the Yankees, Mets, Rangers, Knicks, Giants, and Jets. Jamaica on the other hand has Usain Bolt and Hedonism. Close call, but I’ll give this one to “The City”.


(2) Walt Disney World vs. (15) Newfoundland
One thousand year old Viking settlements or Space Mountain? Goofy or goofy people? St John’s George street, with its high concentration of pubs, or Disney World’s Main Street USA, with its high concentration of places you can spend your Disney Dollars. Pinocchio’s Marionette Garden Party or the October Mardi Gras party? Thunder Mountain Railroad or Gros Morne National Park? Well, to be honest, this one is a tough contest. The kid in me loves Disney, but the man in me (and he is in there somewhere) dreams of the fjords, iceberg, mountain ranges, whale watching and the shear majesty of knowing that you are on of the outposts of North American wilderness. The easy pace of “the rock” wins me over against the commercialism of Disney. Consider it the changeup in the strike zone that strikes you out, rather than the inside heat that just gets your adrenaline flowing and results in a base on balls.


(3) Las Vegas vs. (14) Utah National Parks
The odds makers had trouble with this one. Although they are generally not the most upfront people, a little white dude on their shoulder, called integrity, told them not to set odds for events in which THEY are the participants. As such, they called up their friends in Atlantic City, and asked them to make the odds. Las Vegas was set as a 3-1 odds on favorite to win, with Utah’s parks coming in at 10-1. These two, in close geographical proximity to one another, met frequently in the regular season with both sides splitting their 4 contests. In the one that counts, the Mormon tabernacle choir was signing praises, as the land that they call God’s country, was truly divine. The hard hitting five for Utah – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonland, Capitol Reef, and Zion – came out with blazing saddles. Las Vegas’ bench coach had trouble juggling his team, as players were continually being imploded and replaced with newer, bigger and more lavish players. The team chemistry for Las Vegas was its undoing, as old Vegas veterans from Freemont – including the Golden Nugget and Binion’s – could not get along with uptown strip hotels – MGM, Circus Circus, Bellagio and Caesars Palace. As the game went on, it was clear why Brigham Young settled his people in this land they called Zion. The parks managed to take home a close game DESPITE having no bench players. Watch for foul trouble in the second round, and these parks could be out of the tournament fast. Hotel owners in Vegas actually profited from the game, as most gamblers had been on them to win.


(4) Wyoming (Yellowstone) vs. (13) Montreal
Yellowstone got a boost at the beginning of the tournament when it was told that it was aloud to invite along representatives from the entire state of Wyoming to join its team. Alone the National Park was a formidable present, both in the paint and from the perimeter, but bolstered by Devils Tower National Monument, Jackson Hole, and Grand Teton National Park, it proved to be far too much for Les Canadiens. Indeed Wyoming has positioned itself for a deep run in the tournament. French Canadian fans protested about the addition to Yellowstone’s roster, but tournament officials did remind Montreal that it was given the chance to add players from Québec City if it chose to. Montreal mayor had this to say “Jamais! Je ne demanderai pas à Québec de nous fournir des nordiques.” No word on quite what that means. In the end, the land of Grand Teton beats out the city famed for clubs with grand tétons.


(5) Chichen Itza vs. (12) Queen Charlotte Islands
The star of the Mayan civilization comes up against the mostly unknown force of Haida Gwaii. As European settlers are basically responsible for destroying each of these cultures, in a rare display of solidarity, neither team wore “white”, but rather dressed in traditional garb. This game had more of a religious ceremony than a sporting event; journalists from ESPN and other major outlets had very little information the British Columbia Islands. The Haida people used knowledge pre-dating the previous ice age – one which they mostly escaped – to put up a deafening defensive attack against their opponents from the Yucatan. Using a totem pole offense, Haida warriors – Queen Charlotte players do not use terms such as guard, centre or forward to distinguish themselves, but simply refer to each player as a warrior – stand one on top of another and drive hard to the basket. The Mayan team had little to no response to this devastating attack, due mostly to the absence of their big man El Castillo. In 2006, the star centre was sidelined by the unfortunate death of a tourist trying to climb the Mayan pyramid. As such, team officials have sidelined the jewel of the destination, resulting in many fans turning on the team. With the physical loss El Castillo, upstart Queen Charlotte Islands stunned Chichen Itza. At least Mexican fans have plenty of liquor in which to drown their sorrows.


(6) Banff and Jasper vs. (11) Costa Rica
Please, this game was over before it even started. As the winner of the Central American league tournament, Costa Rica was invited to the dance. With little to no experience in cold weather games, the neutral site game in Washington state did not bode well for the Costa Ricans. Although the game was played indoors – naturally – the team suffered from cold shock simply being in the Pacific Northwest in March. Banff and Jasper players on the other hand were like the English visiting Spain – fully clad in shorts and tank tops. The venue proved to the difference; Banff & Jasper sat their star player, the Columbian Icefield for future games, as fears of its receding glaciers has meant limited playing time. The Costa Ricans did eventually take to the weather and were seen in the days after their loss signing eco-tourism deals with thousands of local tour groups, thus ensuring a prosperous post tournament run. In fact, their popularity as a destination for well-to-do Americans seemed to have completely dispelled the actual outcome of the game.


(7) New Orleans vs. (10) Pacific Coast Highway
The Big Easy tries to even up the bracket’s record for sinful cities (Montreal being its sister in lust north of the border). Their opponent is the stretch of California highway #1 most people like to refer to simply as “paradise”. In both locations, you are just as likely to be caught up in the moment as you are to be caught up in a natural disaster. Hurricanes or earthquakes notwithstanding, both destinations are microcosms of American tourism. In New Orleans you have the Cajun culture of great food, great music, decadence and good old parties, such as Mardi Gras. In California’s highway, you have the beach bums, surfers, migrant workers, beat writers, busted dot com businesses, 90210ers and everything in between; between L.A. and San Francisco is a land that stretches beyond the 350 miles. As I’m a sucker for road trips, this being the mother of all road trips, I’m giving this one to the roads. There is something to be said for Southern Comfort, but that is just as good in California as it is in Louisiana!


(8) Alaska vs. (9) Hawaii
In what many are questioning as strange seeding on the part of the tourney officials, America’s two non-continental states come face to face. In a battle of the Nanooks and the Rainbows, this one turned into an instant classic. Both teams had significant scouting reports on their opponents, despite the distance between the two. Kauai, the MVP of the Hawaii team dominated the first quarter. Fans appreciated Kauai’s sunsets, bird life, mountain ranges and beaches. Alaska responded through the remainder of the game; reminiscent of the Asia bracket, Alaska posted their big man, Mount McKinley, down low and turned to him to pound the ball off the glass. Not to be outdone, Hawaii responded with their own big men, Manua Kea and the Volcanoes National Park. Although vastly different in terms of climate, each state boasted a strong “sea to sky” perimeter defense. With both states steeped in aboriginal culture, mountains, wildlife, forestry and water, this turned into a near deadlock for most of the game. Late in the second OT, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin was called in to make two critical free throws for the Northerners. Surprisingly, she turned out to be more like Obama in their basketball prowess. Those free throws made the difference and Alaska was on to the next round. Hawaii went home to be laid. I think they’ll survive.


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