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.