April 1, 2013
Final Four set: The NCAA Tournament will conclude next week and the Final Four has been set. Like many years, the top seeds have disappointed for the most part. Included in the Final Four are No. 4 seeds Syracuse and Michigan, and No. 9 upstart Wichita State. Louisville was the lone No. 1 seed to get into the elite club. My bracket is completely busted at this point, but since I had the Cardinals to win it all, I can still finish respectably. And after two weeks of NCAA Tournament action, I’ve got to say Louisville is looking like the nation’s best team.
Opening Day is here: With Spring Training over, Major League Baseball officially got its season underway on Sunday night with a game featuring the Texas Rangers and new AL West team, the Houston Astros. As always, there are plenty of questions heading into this season. Will Stephen Strasburg continue his dominance after surgery? Can the Yankees overcome all of their injuries? Will the Angels’ additions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the past two years pay off? If you forced me to make an early season World Series pick, I’ll go with the Nationals vs. Angels, but don’t take that too seriously.
Dallas Cowboys all in with Tony Romo: The Dallas Cowboys have shown plenty of confidence in starting quarterback Tony Romo over the years. After another disappointing season, Romo was rewarded with a six-year $108 million extension. The deal could take Romo, who turns 33 this month, to the end of his NFL career. The $55 million guaranteed money he will get even topped the deal Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco recently got with the Baltimore Ravens. Many Cowboys fans likely aren’t all that thrilled with the new deal for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten them to a Super Bowl since he’s been with the team. But finding a franchise quarterback isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and the Cowboys think they’ve got their man in Romo.
Kobe Bryant passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list: Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant passed legend Wilt Chamberlain this past weekend for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he tallied point number 31,421. Statistics aren’t valued in basketball as much as they are in baseball, but Kobe’s achievement is still a big deal. Next up for the Mamba is none other than Michael Jordan, whose 32,292 points are third on the list. Bryant should easily pass up Jordan next season, but getting into the top two could be quite a feat. Karl Malone is second at 36,928 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list at 38,387. Bryant will likely need to play at least four more seasons to have a shot at catching Malone, so Jordan could be the last person he passes on the list. But if there’s anything Kobe has proven over the years, it’s that he shouldn’t be doubted.
Good news and bad news for Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced some highs and lows last week. The team traded for star winger Jarome Iginla earlier in the week in a move that may put the team over the top to win the Stanley Cup. But on Saturday, Pittsburgh lost captain Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw after he was hit in the mouth with a puck during a game. Crosby underwent surgery on Sunday and is now out indefinitely. The Penguins are still in pretty good shape, but losing Crosby to injury yet again has to be frustrating for the team. Crosby is regarded by many as the league’s top player but has dealt with setback after setback in the league.
Miami Heat winning streak ends: The Miami Heat’s long winning streak ended with a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, 101-97. Even though the Heat’s streak was snapped at 27 games, Miami still put together one of the most impressive stretches the league has ever seen. Plus, while the loss meant they fell short of the Los Angeles Lakers historic 33-game streak back in 1971-72, the Heat’s real target is another NBA title. The goal here is to keep everyone healthy for a long playoff run.
March 28, 2012
Last week, after a terrible start, my Elite Eight picks ended up 5-3. I didn’t have time to write an article predicting who would advance to the Final Four, but I am back to predict the Final Four winners and project the NCAA National Champion. The NCAA Tournament is lacking a major Cinderella, but it still has given us our share of upsets. Only one #1 seed, overall top seed Kentucky, has made it to the Final Four, accompanied by two #2 seeds. Louisville is the highest seed left at #4, but when you are coached by Rick Pitino,you aren’t the prototypical underdog. So with all of the teams seeded fairly evenly, let the predictions begin!
Louisville vs. Kentucky
The excitement kicks right off with the Battle for Kentucky. Louisville and Kentucky will be the first teams from the same state to square off in the Final Four since 1962. Louisville upset Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and proved it was capable of taking down a top seed. This won’t be Louisville’s first shot at the Wildcats, though. They played each other on New Year’s Eve and while Kentucky came out on top, Louisville gave them all they could handle. Kentucky has grown a lot since that game and has shown that they are the best team in college basketball during the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats blew out a solid Baylor team to make it to the Final Four, and put 102 points on Indiana in the Sweet 16. I think Louisville peaked at the right time and has played great basketball in the tournament, but Kentucky will be the team advancing.
Ohio State vs. Kansas
This game is also a rematch of an early season matchup. Kansas beat Ohio State earlier in the season 78-67, but Jared Sullinger didn’t play. That will make a big difference this time around, as Sullinger led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds in the regular season. Ohio State dominated their competition in the first three rounds of the tournament, before knocking out #1 seed Syracuse. Kansas has walked a finer rope this tournament, but also knocked out a #1 seed in North Carolina to make it to the Final Four. I think this game could go either way, but I also think both teams have the ability to run away with this game. Ohio State is a very talented team, but I think Kansas will take the opportunity to show that their victory earlier in the season wasn’t only because Sullinger wasn’t in the game.
Kentucky vs. Kansas
Both these teams have been highly ranked all season long, so it is not surprising that they would end up playing each other for the National Championship. Many people have Kentucky in their Championship game, but I don’t think Kansas was a favorite to make it. Nonetheless, this will be a great NCAA Championship game, with two major programs looking to notch another National Championship. In sticking with the rest of these games, Kentucky and Kansas also played earlier this season. In only the second game of the season, Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 when they pulled away in the second half. Both teams have gotten much better as the season went on, but Kentucky might have grown more than any team this season. I don’t think Kentucky can be stopped and I don’t know what would happen if Calipari loses to Kansas again in the Championship game. I think Anthony Davis leads Kentucky to their first NCAA National Championship in the Calipari era.
March 28, 2011
The Final Four is here and March Madness is coming to an end. This year’s tournament has proved to be just as unpredictable as the regular season. Sure, the way the UConn Huskies were playing, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to see them end up in Houston. But Virginia Commonwealth? Butler? Kentucky? This looks almost more like an NIT Final Four than an NCAA Tournament Final Four. We might as well throw in Jimmy Chitwood and the Hickory Hoosiers.
Let’s start with UConn – the Huskies won five consecutive games in the Big East tournament on their way to the Final Four. They were playing their best ball over the past month and because of that, were a trendy pick to get this far. Personally, I didn’t see it. The Big East is a brutal tournament, and Connecticut played those five games in five days. After a tough regular season, even with one of the best basketball players in the nation in Kemba Walker, I figured they’d tire at some point. It hasn’t happened yet, though, and coach Jim Calhoun showed why he’s a Hall of Fame coach. UConn isn’t only in the Final Four again; they also may be the odds on favorites to win.
Kentucky came out of the East region after taking out top seed Ohio State and No. 2 seed North Carolina. The fact that the Wildcats were almost upset in the opening round by 13-seed Princeton is the perfect example of just how crazy this tournament has been. Kentucky now gets the unenviable task of trying to slow down Walker’s Huskies. Sure, they’re led by a freshman in Brandon Knight, but we’ve seen before that first-year players are capable of carrying teams on their backs to win NCAA titles (see Carmelo Anthony and the 2002-03 Syracuse Orange).
On the other side of the bracket, there’s Virginia Commonwealth. After the selection committee chose VCU as a part of the field, lots of analysts, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas, had a field day telling the world just why they didn’t belong. And while their magical run is truly amazing, Bilas had this one right. Virginia Commonwealth’s improbable run doesn’t mean the selection committee did the right thing putting them in the tournament. Their tournament success should really be viewed independently of that selection. That said, they’ve definitely made the most of their opportunity and proved they have an excellent, well-coached team.
They’ll be facing the Butler Bulldogs, another surprise team. Butler reached the championship game last season, falling to Duke in the final seconds. Not many people gave them a chance to win even their first two games but after upsetting Pitt, Butler went even further in knocking off the Wisconsin Badgers and No. 2 seed Florida Gators. The Bulldogs not only have some quality players in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, but they have experience on their side as much of the team’s roster was on last year’s squad, and they know what it takes to advance in the tournament.
So now what? What should we expect? Well, after going 0-fer in Final Four predictions at the start of the NCAAs, the only prediction I feel comfortable making is this: the madness we’ve seen in March is very likely to spill over into April, and I can’t wait.
March 3, 2011
The season spans five months, but the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament makes one month more significant than all the others combined: March. For four weeks each March, while the boys of summer begin spring training and professional golf moves from the west coast to Florida, college basketball sits squarely in the collective conscience of the American sports-viewing public. And the yearly edition of the NCAA basketball tournament continues to be “the greatest show on earth.”
This time of year, it’s hard not to think of Kentucky’s horse fences or the budding flowers lining Tobacco Road in North Carolina. These states are synonymous with college basketball, and their universities have thrilled us time and time again on the hardwood. But each year, the royal families of basketball get some competition for the hearts of America from one team: the “little guy.”
At every level, from the small college gymnasiums of Division III to the huge stadiums of the Final Four, college basketball decides its national champions on the court—not in the polls. When the tournament dust settles, there is no arguing the best college basketball team in America. (Are you listening, college football?)
March is the month of the little guy. Every few years, the tournament features a smaller school upsetting a few larger, heavily favored teams and capturing the imagination of fans and media alike. The 68-team tournament serves as the great equalizer, pitting large universities with national fan bases and huge operating budgets against smaller schools with tenacity and a cohesive style of play, reminding us of the style of basketball played in decades past.
Like an old-fashioned playground fistfight, the NCAA tournament is the perfect way to settle scores. When fist meets chin, a school’s size, fan base and national reputation mean very little. Each school sends its five best players to the floor. In a world where this statement is often made but rarely meant, size means nothing in the NCAA tournament (though it doesn’t hurt to have a talented 7-footer on your team).
A funny thing happens across living rooms and in arenas when an underdog challenges a favorite deep into the second half of a tournament game. Electricity builds as fans cheer for schools they don’t care about and players they don’t know, for one simple reason: Americans love an underdog.
Last season, tiny Butler University from the state of Indiana took basketball behemoth Duke to the brink of elimination in what would’ve been college basketball’s equivalent of the Hickory Huskers upsetting the South Bend Central Bears in “Hoosiers.” For 40 minutes, Butler’s group of relative unknowns stayed with the Coca-Cola of college basketball programs basket for basket. In the end, a half-court shot for the history books missed by less than an inch.
But the moment wasn’t lost on Butler, Duke, the media or the millions of fans watching at home with weary eyes and clenched fists. Prior to last season’s tournament, most fans couldn’t have named the town where Butler University is located. Several years ago, the same could be said for George Mason University and before that, it was Valparaiso University. And yet, each year fans stand with sweaty palms, hoarse voices and accelerated heartbeats—all hoping to see David slay Goliath.
As Americans, rooting for the underdog must be part of our DNA. As underdogs ourselves, we won our independence from a bigger, stronger rival and established the “a man can be anything he wants” credo. Americans have a soft spot for the overachieving “little guy.” We love him. We are him. Each March, we can’t get enough of him.
The underdog represents the best of America—in sports and beyond. As we look forward to all this month holds in store, somewhere out there an underdog is preparing to capture our hearts. Long live college basketball.
March 1, 2011
Insanity. Frenzy. Intense excitement. These words aren’t just a description of the Macho Man Randy Savage. They are also in dictionary.com’s definition of “madness”. Savage frequently referred to himself as “The Madness” and said “The Madness is running wild!”
The Macho Man may not be the world champion anymore, but every March the madness returns in the form of the NCAA basketball tournament. Every year millions of people around the country fill out their brackets and enter the office pool for one of the biggest sporting events in the world known as “March Madness”.
The 2011 edition of this tournament promises to live up to the “madness” billing and give us an exciting and unpredictable tournament. This year the madness started a couple weeks early. Kansas, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Texas (three times), Pittsburgh (twice), Notre Dame, Ohio State, Arizona (twice), Duke and San Diego St. are all top 10 teams in the poll who have lost in the last two weeks. Four of the top six lost this weekend, and the upsets should continue throughout the tournament.
The tournament itself will be different this year as well. The NCAA has increased the number of teams from 65 to 68. The last four at-large teams selected and the four lowest ranked automatic qualifying teams will play in the “First Four” on March 15-16. The at-large winners will advance to the main draw of the tournament, most likely as an 11 or 12 seed. The two winners of the automatic qualifiers will advance to face a No. 1 seed.
Television coverage of the tournament will also be different this year. The NCAA agreed to a new deal with CBS Sports and Turner Sports. Now, every game of the tournament will be televised nationally on CBS, TNT, TBS or TruTV.
As of today, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, BYU, and Pittsburgh are likely in the discussion to be the four No. 1 seeds. The fight for the final spots in the tournament is much less clear. 31 teams will qualify by winning the automatic berth from their conference. That leaves 37 spots for the selection committee to fill.
Assuming the top teams in each conference win the conference tournaments, (which we know is not going to happen), there another 24 teams who should be a lock to make the field of 68. This leaves 13 tournament bids and somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 teams fighting for them.
The road to the Final 4 begins today with the Big South and the Horizon League conference tournaments getting underway. The first three teams will punch their tickets for the big dance on March 5, and when Selection Sunday rolls around on March 13 the field will be set, and the madness will be running wild. I’m sure the Macho Man will be watching.
Teams thought to be locks:
BYU, Connecticut, Duke, Florida, George Mason, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Purdue, San Diego State, St. John’s, Syracuse, Temple, Texas, Texas A&M, UCLA, Villanova, Wisconsin, Xavier
Teams in the conversation:
Alabama, Arizona, Baylor, Belmont, Boston College, Butler, Cincinnati, Clemson, Cleveland State, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida State, Georgia, Gonzaga, Harvard, Illinois, Kansas State, Marquette, Maryland, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Missouri State, Nebraska, Old Dominion, Penn State, Richmond, Saint Mary’s, Southern Miss, Tennessee, UAB, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Vanderbilt, VCU, Virginia Tech, Washington, West Virginia, Wichita State