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 26, 2013
Sweet 16 set in the NCAA Tournament: The first week of the NCAA Tournament is complete and, as usual, there were a fair share of big upsets. The big ones in the first round were tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocking the world by beating No. 2 seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed New Mexico being ousted by Harvard. Lots will be made about some of those weaker teams being underseeded, but the fact is that if you played the tournament a dozen times, you might have a dozen different champions. Any team is capable of losing on any given night and if a team like Florida Gulf Coast played Georgetown ten times, it’s difficult to believe they’d win the majority of those games. But that’s the beauty of March.
Brian Urlacher leaving Chicago: A bit of a surprise in NFL free agency was that the Chicago Bears didn’t re-sign longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, a mainstay on the team for the past 13 years, couldn’t come to terms with the team. He had come down considerably from his initial asking price for the 2013 season, but that still wasn’t enough to get the Bears to move from their $2 million offer, as reported by ESPN. Reportedly, his agent has already talked with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. Now at 35, Urlacher is surely slowing down – his tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons. But the bet here is that some team will take a chance on him. With no other options, his asking price may have to come down, though.
Denver Nuggets dominating with 15-game winning streak: With everyone focused on the Miami Heat’s remarkable streak, the Denver Nuggets have gone under the radar. The Nuggets won their 15th straight game this past weekend, beating Sacramento on Saturday. As a result, Denver has soared up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, passing the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The Nuggets have been winning this year on youth and depth. The team has only three players over the age of 25 and only one of those, Andre Miller, is over 30. Also, nine players average more than eight points a game, but none average more than 17. With so much youth and balance, if the Nuggets keep their core together, this is a franchise that could compete for years to come.
Hanley Ramirez out for two months: The Dodgers got some bad news with Opening Day just around the corner. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez had a torn ligament in his thumb and required surgery last week. Because of it, Ramirez will miss about eight weeks recovering. That’s a tough break for the Dodgers, who picked him up in a trade last season. In 2012 splitting time with the Dodgers and Marlins, Ramirez hit 24 home runs and drove in 92 runs, having one of his best offensive seasons of his career. Not having him until close to May could mean the Dodgers get off to a slow start.
Sergio Garcia hits golf ball … from tree: The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was on Sunday. You might assume that the real news was that the event was suspended due to weather, but you’d be wrong. The big highlight came from Sergio Garcia hitting a golf ball while atop a tree branch. Don’t believe me? Here’s the video. Whatever your interest level is in golf, there’s no denying that shots like these make it interesting. Still, I’m not sure Garcia’s move was all that wise. A slip of the foot could have meant a nasty fall and possibly even an end to his season. Not to mention that Garcia double-bogeyed the hole anyway and later withdrew. Still, if we’re going by entertainment value, this one’s a ten all the way. And as a spectator, I’d much rather see Garcia take a gamble like that.
U.S. Soccer wins match over Costa Rica despite snow protest: You read that right. The U.S. Soccer team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the snow in Denver. Costa Rica protested during the match and also filed a formal protest immediately afterwards. Typically, this is where I’d say that both teams had equal playing conditions so Costa Rica should suck it up. But I also understand the point in protesting. Soccer isn’t like, pardon the pun, (American) football where snow is considered as a part of the playing conditions. When you think of soccer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not white stuff falling to the ground. I don’t mind a match being played if it’s a little bit of snow, but the field was covered to the point where Costa Rican players were complaining that they couldn’t even adequately see the lines. Keep in mind, this is also the qualifying for the World Cup – it’s not a meaningless preseason MLB game. With so much at stake, postponing the game would have made more sense. Similarly hilarious is the fact that a qualifying match was even scheduled in Denver when there’s always a chance of spring snow.
March 20, 2013
The best tournament of the year is under way. I’ve already filled out my NCAA Tournament bracket – thrown it away – and filled out a new one. But I don’t like this one either. Time to start over and make a final attempt. But before I do, there are a few things I’m going to keep in mind.
A No. 5 seed is going down. You can take that to the bank. The hard part is figuring out which one it will be. UNLV looks like the obvious choice because they have a rematch with Cal and it’s only about an hour away from the Bears’ campus. VCU could be in trouble if Akron wasn’t going to play without their star point guard. So the Oklahoma State Cowboys better be on upset alert because they have to play an Oregon team that is better than its 12 seed.
We also know that there is probably going to be a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. Some of the best candidates are Colorado, Bucknell, Oregon, Middle Tennessee St., Minnesota, and Iowa St. Look for two of these teams to make it to the second weekend. It’s Bucknell and Iowa St. in my bracket.
The Mountain West Conference will have a good showing. Five teams got in (New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego St., Colorado St. and Boise St.) and all five will win at least one game..starting with the Broncos on Wednesday night. The SEC, on the other hand, will struggle to find a W. Florida should get one but that could be it.
The key to a successful bracket is to avoid picking teams to make a deep run and then they fall to an early-round upset. That’s going to be tough this year with how even the field appears to be. Here’s one team to avoid in each region…Florida, Syracuse, Ohio State and Duke.
All four No. 1 seeds have reached the Final Four just one time in history. Don’t expect it to happen again this year. Which top team will make it to Atlanta? The last nine national champs have had blue for a school color so I will take Gonzaga and Kansas to win their regions. I’ll take St. Louis to shock the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals and win the Midwest. And if I’m sticking with blue then I guess its Marquette out of the East Region. And I better be right. I can’t afford another finish at the bottom of the office pool or I’m the one that’s going to be blue.
March 19, 2013
NCAA March Madness is officially upon us as our minds, and our desks, are now cluttered with a plethora of brackets.
With bragging rights on the line for the next year, selecting the perfect upsets along the way play a huge factor in the end result.
Everyone loves an underdog and this year the field of 68 is as wide open as it’s ever been. Say what you want in regards to the way the NCAA governs college athletics, the NCAA basketball tournament is the cat’s meow.
The parity in men’s college basketball is gorgeous and the look of Cinderella has now changed. No longer does a Cinderella have to have a lower seed or be from a small conference. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
This article highlights one Cinderella in each region and the results may surprise. No, as a No. 1 seed Gonzaga is not one of them. They have graduated from the Cinderella ranks over the past decade. So too has Butler, so don’t be confused when they don’t make the list. These two schools are the exemplary models of what is right in college basketball.
With that being said, let’s find out just which schools look to become the darlings of the college basketball world.
The South Region: Minnesota Golden Gophers
Surprise, surprise, a team from the Big Ten, which was the best conference in the country, ends up as a Cinderella in the tournament. Don’t be.
After a strong start to their season and a favorable ranking in the national polls, the Minnesota Golden Gophers stumbled to a 20-12 record. Their biggest win of the season against then No. 1 Indiana is what punched their ticket to the dance.
Even with an 11 seed, the Golden Gophers aren’t to be taken lightly in the tournament. They have a skilled big man in Trevor Mbakwe, a talented point guard in Andre Hollins and an all-world flyer in Rodney Williams. When they are focused on the task at hand, they are as difficult to beat as any team in the country.
Their first game is up against UCLA, and with a victory they would most likely face the Florida Gators. This isn’t putting the horse before the cart, but the Golden Gophers are capable of beating both of these teams.
Remember, a trip to the Sweet 16 and a Cinderella is born. Think twice before you write-off Minnesota.
The East Region: UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Yes, the UNLV Rebels are ranked a No. 5 seed, but everyone will be rooting for them in less than a week.
They finished the season third in a Mountain West Conference that received five nods from the committee this March. The conference is a prime example of why college basketball is tough across the board. The respect earned by the Mountain West this season is phenomenal.
UNLV is a scrappy team that has one of the best freshmen in the land. Anthony Bennett is a name that fans from sea to shining sea will be talking about soon enough. He averaged 16.1 points/game this season to go along with 8.1 rebounds.
Long forgotten on the college hoops scene no more, UNLV will be rolling.
The West Region: Wichita State Shockers
That means that they’ll be the most rested team in the tournament. Another bonus, foul trouble doesn’t affect them like it would many others. That kind of depth gives the advantage to the Shockers, especially in a situation where overtime may occur.
They’re a true team where every kid on the team is an intricate piece to the puzzle. They’re a team that outsiders can easily become fond of quickly.
The Midwest Region: St. Louis Billikens
Though they may be a No. 4 seed, the St. Louis Billikens are a real Cinderella. They took the A-10 Conference over the likes of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler this season.
How did they do so when it seems they just came into the national spotlight?
Well, for starters they won 15-of-16 to end the season, which earned them such a pleasant seed. They beat ranked VCU and Butler all four times they played them this season.
They also beat New Mexico, who just so happens to be the No. 3 seed in the West Region this season.
To put it lightly—they fear none. A Sweet 16 victory over the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals would prove that last statement. Don’t be surprised when that happens.
March 18, 2013
The NCAA Tournament is here: It’s NCAA Tournament time. The NCAA released its tournament bracket yesterday and while the field is generally wide open, that’s even more so the case this year. In case you missed it, the four No. 1 seeds were Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga. There’s been no truly dominant team in college basketball with the No. 1 spot changing hands nearly every week. I haven’t hashed out my bracket yet, but my early pick to win it all might be Louisville. The Cardinals fell a bit off the radar in the middle of the season after three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, but they lost two of those games by a total of four points. And as we found out, those are three pretty good teams. Louisville went on to win 13 of their last 14 games and the one loss was a five overtime thriller to Notre Dame.
Team USA bows out of World Baseball Classic: Team USA lost games to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. Most amusing was the attitude by some players on Team USA who were none too pleased with the way the Dominican Republic celebrated after their victory. First things first – the tournament means much more in general to the other countries playing. Team USA’s players want the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic title. I’ve got no problem with the enthusiastic celebration by the Dominican Republic. It’s not only a big deal to them, but it was a dramatic victory as they scored two runs to snap a ninth-inning tie. Team USA being upset about the celebration is akin to a ranked college basketball team losing on the road and then being angry that the home team’s fans storm the court. Want to know the best way to avoid opposing teams celebrating? Win.
Tony Gonzalez Un-retires: The NFL season has barely ended, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t wait to get back onto the field, despite saying he was retiring during last season. Gonzalez is expected to now return for 2013 and his coming back isn’t really that much of a surprise. He’s still in great shape and with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, he not only was productive but had one of the best years of his career. What is surprising, though, was that Gonzalez made the announcement to come back so quickly. It’s only March and training camp isn’t any time soon. By making his decision so soon, it only shows he was never all that convinced that retirement was for him. You could make the argument that the team was pushing him for a decision in order to figure out what path they might need to take in free agency. But Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who’s still producing, so they would have given him a bit of leeway.
NHL Realignment for 2013-14: In a move that’s gone somewhat under the radar, the NHL will undergo some realignment for next season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move into the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will head to the west. Simply put, the move makes a ton of sense and the only hope is that other professional leagues will follow suit. Don’t hold your breath, though. While it would make far more sense for the Dallas Cowboys to be playing in the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers to move to the NFC East, things like that aren’t likely to happen for one big reason: rivalries. Unlike the NHL, with a limited schedule, the NFL can’t have all of its teams face each other every year. And Cowboys fans wouldn’t be all that thrilled with losing annual games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.
The Miami Heat keep winning: In case you’ve not noticed, the Miami Heat are pretty good at basketball. The Heat have been winning, and winning … and winning. The team won their 22nd straight game on Sunday and is a threat to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game record streak set in 1971-72. Can the Heat break the record? Sure. But even though they’re steamrolling the rest of the league right now, there are a few things that will stand in their way. The Heat have many road games coming up in the next couple of weeks including some that should be tough. Among those stops are trips to Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Heat have had several near losses during their streak. Four of their wins have been by five points or fewer and one has gone to overtime. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this – the Heat have already clinched a playoff spot and have a large lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. At some point, you’ve got to imagine the team will try to rest some players and that could bring an end to the streak.