Bay Area still waiting

Originally Published: October 29, 2003
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

It is a well-known scientific fact that a university is not a basketball school until someone can say with a straight face:

"Why haven't we won the big one?"

This, of course, translates on a more personal level to:

"Our coach sucks gravel because he hasn't won the big one. We need to get Mike Krzyzewski."

Yeah, right. Like he's leaving his job as the Pope of Durham to start setting up layup lines at your gym.

Mike Montgomery
Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery may one day bring another national title to the Bay Area.

But the essential truth remains, and if you don't believe it, ask Dean Smith, or Lute Olson, or Jim Boeheim, or Roy Williams. Of course, if you ask Roy, he may puddle up on you.

That's another matter, though. The only place that seems immune to this phenomenon is the Bay Area, even though it has eight Division I schools within an hour's drive of the Bay Bridge, and has three schools of those eight that have actually won a national championship.

Unfortunately for the point being made here, though, it's been 44 years since the last one -- Cal, in 1959. We've had nine presidents since then, and none of them have won the big one, either.

Since that glorious triumph in Louisville, though, the Bay Area has sent 49 representatives to the show, and only two, Cal in 1960, and Stanford in 1998, have reached what is now known as the Final Four. Most of the time, this pair has eventually lost to superior teams, although there are the occasional what-the-hell-was-that's.

There was Stanford losing to 14th-seeded Siena in 1989 ... Cal getting dry-cleaning-bagged by Wisconsin-Green Bay in '94 ... Gonzaga's first kiss from God in '99 over Stanford ... hey, stuff happens.

But "Hey, stuff happens'' isn't a satisfactory excuse in most other parts of the nation. "Stuff'' wasn't good enough for Boeheim until last year, when he was the stuff that happened to someone else.

Well, a new season is nearly upon us, and both Stanford and Cal are expected to return to the tournament, Stanford for the 10th consecutive time, Cal for the fourth in a row and seventh in 11 years.

And it may finally be time to ask the musical question, "Uhh, Mike ... Ben ... what up, dog?"

As pointed out elsewhere by that notorious troublemaker Andy Katz, both Cal and Stanford have reason to carry expectations with them this year.

The Golden Bears have a Syracuse kind of team, with just enough experience to help prod a fresh load of freshman to do things they might not be able to do otherwise. And Stanford? The Cardinal has nearly everyone back from a 24-win team that some smart folks think have the equipment to come out of the West Regional.

Besides, Montgomery is now a full-fledged member of the "Best Coach Never To Bring Home The Goods Club" with Williams, Pete Gillen, John Chaney, Gene Keady, Kelvin Sampson, Rick Majerus and Bob Huggins.

It's a stupid club, we grant you, because the concept is so inherently flawed. But it is also another measure that Montgomery has made it, sort of. He long ago beat back any notion that his job at Stanford could ever be in jeopardy, or that there was a job he'd rather have. Oh, maybe he would have liked to have been asked by UCLA, but his gig at Stanford is lucrative without those troublesome 2 a.m. calls from the cops.

Braun has a ways to go, because he hasn't yet reached a round of eight. In fairness, though, his teams have lost to a No. 9 seed (when the Bears were an 8 seed in 2001 and got beat by Fresno State); a No. 3 in 2002 (Pitt, at Pittsburgh); and a No. 1 seed this past season (Oklahoma, at Oklahoma City).

That hardly constitutes membership. On the other hand, he has plainly made his stand in Berkeley, having already turned down a feeler from Michigan.

So it's another year, and an extra throw-pillow of expectation on two schools who have not been asked for much from the citizens, or from the industry. Why, many people barely remember Stanford's one-point overtime loss to Kentucky in the '98 Final Four.

But the time for the free pass is running short. In most places, it would already have expired.

This is the Bay Area, though, a place where pro football is king, baseball is crown prince, and hockey and the NBA are just things that sort of happen now and then.

But this is a year when folks could take notice. The Raiders and 49ers are dry toast, the A's and Giants have disappointed, and the Sharks and Warriors are just things that sort of happen now and then.

So it's time, finally, to ask something of the Cardinal and Golden Bears that they've never asked to deliver before: Meet expectations.

Because the alternative is to start hearing words like "curse," and "long-suffering," and I think we can all agree that's a bad idea.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

ALSO SEE