April 1, 2014
An Unlikely Final Four: After another crazy weekend of college basketball, an unlikely Final Four is finally set. Florida, the No. 1 overall seed, is there and the lone non-surprise. But Kentucky topped higher seeds Louisville and Michigan, UConn upset Iowa State and Michigan State, and Wisconsin beat No. 1 seed Arizona. Of the four teams standing, only Florida was a popular Final Four pick and this year is one of the best examples of what March Madness is really all about. By the way, I’ll take the Gators.
Northwestern Football Players Win Right to Form Union: Northwestern’s football players scored a historic victory when a court ruled that they have the right to create a union. We’re likely still a long way from anything significant happening on this, but in essence, it could open up the door for college athletes to earn money as employees. While the win holds some significance, I still find it difficult to believe athletes can get paid with things remaining the same in the NCAA. There are really too many hurdles with this – for example, who gets paid … the football players or all of a university’s athletes? How much do they earn? What about football programs that don’t earn boatloads of money? To me, the best solution always has been to allow high school athletes to go straight into the NFL Draft if they desire. The league could create a de facto minor league system, similar to the NBA’s Development League. For players that are good enough to be selected in the draft and want to earn money right away, that’s their ticket. For the others that wouldn’t be selected, they still have the option of playing in college for a scholarship.
Philadelphia 76ers Win: Typically a regular-season NBA win against a bad team isn’t big enough to garner much attention, but all eyes were on Philly after they defeated the Detroit Pistons over the weekend, 123-98. The Sixers had lost 26 straight games, tying an NBA record with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the dubious distinction. Philadelphia’s last win was a one-point victory over the Boston Celtics on January 29th.
Bowling for Records: A man nearly bowled a perfect game … backwards.
Mike Montgomery Retires from Cal: The head coach of Cal’s men’s basketball team is stepping down after a long career. Mike Montgomery gained fame from his 18-year run at Stanford, leading the team to numerous NCAA Tournament Appearances and a Final Four. After leaving that job for a brief NBA stint, Montgomery returned to the college ranks at Cal for six years. He led the Bears to six NCAA Tournament appearances, but couldn’t get the team past the third round. With a 21-14 record this season, Montgomery led Cal to the NIT, where they were eliminated last week by SMU.
Andrew Wiggins Declares for NBA Draft: Kansas freshman basketball star Andrew Wiggins suffered a disappointing loss when his Jayhawks were bounced early in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Stanford. Now, the phenom is ready for the next step and declared himself available for this year’s NBA Draft. Wiggins didn’t have a good game in that finale against the Cardinal and while he had some duds this season, they were few and far between. He averaged 17.4 points and six rebounds per game, and was a Second Team All-American, making the decision a no-brainer.
Maurice Jones-Drew to Raiders: Longtime Jacksonville Jaguars running back will continue his NFL career after being let go by the franchise. MJD heads to the Oakland Raiders on a three-year deal and should give running back Darren McFadden some much-needed competition for the starting job. Jones-Drew rushed for a career-best 1,606 yards in 2011, but became expendable when he had an injury-prone 2012 and lackluster 2013, rushing for a combined 1,217 yards in both seasons. Over those two years, he only found the end zone six times on the ground and last year, really struggled with a meager 3.4 yards per carry average – a career worst. As bad as Jones-Drew has been lately, though, there’s still a fighter’s chance that he wins the starting job. McFadden has been a career underachiever, and only once reached the 1,000-yard mark. Over the past two years, he’s averaged only 3.3 yards per carry and might even be the underdog against the older Jones-Drew.
UMass Leaving MAC: Conference realignment and expansion in college football has slowed dramatically in the past year. It isn’t over completely, though, as UMass will be leaving the MAC – their home for football. The Minutemen currently play many of their sports in the Atlantic 10 and were offered full conference membership by the MAC. However, they declined and the conference asked them to look for a new football home after the 2015 season. With teams like Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Central Michigan finding success in recent years, the MAC is becoming a stronger football league. Still, the Atlantic 10 is rising too quickly in basketball to leave right now and the Minutemen basketball program is much farther along than the football program, which just leapt to the FBS in 2012. It may be difficult finding a new football home, but the option to remain as an Independent exists.
March 25, 2014
What a weekend that was! The first couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament had it all….upsets, overtimes, controversy….it was everything we hope for. Sadly, the tournament is already 75 percent over, but at least we’ll have some really good match-ups before it is all said and done. What’s going to happen this weekend? I can’t wait to find out.
I know a lot of people are excited about Louisville vs Kentucky, but to me the best game is Virginia vs Michigan State. Has there ever been a #4 seed get as much love from the media as the Spartans have this year? Has there ever been a less talked about #1 than Virginia? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Michigan State was the #1 seed. This game, more than any other, will make-or-break a lot of brackets out there.
Sorry. There are only eight games. They can’t all be a hype-machine. Especially, Wisconsin vs Baylor. Both of these teams have conference rivals that are still alive and getting all the attention so there is still plenty of room on the bandwagons here even though the Badgers and Bears have been two of the most impressive teams so far and the winner has a great shot to reach the Final 4.
Connecticut over Iowa State. The Huskies have played a lot of games in Madison Square Garden over the years and should have the crowd on their side. And they’ve got Shabazz Napier, the best name in the tournament and the kind of player that can put a team on his back and get to the Elite 8. It also helps that Iowa State will be without Georges Niang.
Two #11 seeds will reach the Elite 8. It could happen. Why not? Dayton has already knocked off Ohio State and Syracuse without playing its best. It won’t be afraid of Stanford and if the Flyers get hot from 3-point range, the Cardinal will be in trouble. Tennessee is as hot as anybody after cruising by Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer but that’s also about as easy as it gets to reach the Sweet 16. The Tennessee big men will need to dominate inside against the Wolverines.
Player to watch
Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. If you watched Gordon and the Wildcats beat Gonzaga, you know what I’m talking about. How many massive dunks did he have in that game? He may or may not be the best player in the tournament, but he provides some of the best highlights for sure. Arizona will need some of those plays against San Diego State to quiet that Anaheim crowd.
Final 4 picks
Florida, Virginia, San Diego State, Michigan
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.