Monday, March 29, 2010

The Final Four: It's On!

THE PROMISED LAND!


61 down, 4 to go!

The Butler Bulldogs, the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Duke Blue Devils and the Michigan State Spartans, are the last survivors of a long journey across what has seemed to be an endless ocean.

Now they head to Indianapolis, where 3 games will be played in Lucas Oil Stadium or as some call it, Peyton Manning country. In the end, only 1 will survive. Who will it be?

For Butler and West Virginia this is all to surreal-- a first for Butler and a second for West Virginia, their first since the Eisenhower administration (1959). As for Duke and Michigan State, they are experienced at this-- 23 combined trips, 15 for Duke and 8 for Michigan State.

But--

That's why we play the games.

So folks-- hide the kids 'cause the war is on-- 4 warriors will do battle for 1 ultimate goal. Can't hardly wait.

Let's roll!

Logos courtesy of their respective universities. They are trademarks and are being used for entertainment purposes only.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Promised Land!


CONGRATULATIONS to the No. 2 West Virginia Mountaineers and the No. 5 Butler Bulldogs on reaching the coveted Final Four.

For Butler, it's their first-ever Final Four appearance and for West Virginia it's their second appearance and first since 1959, 51 years ago.

Butler reached the promised land by defeating the No. 2 Kansas State Wildcats, 63-56, in the West Regional Final and West Virginia conquered the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats, 73-66, in the East Regional Finals.

Their victories were sweet on two fronts. For West Virginia, it was redemption for the mighty Big East conference who for the most part performed poorly in this year's tournament. And for Butler, the lone representative from the Horizon Conference, they put to rest this notion that the so-called mid-majors do not have the ability to go deep in the tournament.

In fact, the term "mid-major" should be defunct after this great run by Butler. And they may not be done yet.

To be continued....

Photos courtesy of Getty Images
Logos courtesy of West Virginia and Butler

Monday, March 22, 2010

....And Then There Were 16!

The NCAA Tourney is down to the coveted Sweet 16--


The field includes some of the usual suspects: the Michigan State Spartans, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Syracuse Orangemen, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils.

Also in the dance are a few teams who on any given year figure out a way to make it to the round of 16: the Tennessee Volunteers, the Butler Bulldogs, the Xavier Musketeers, the Kansas State Wildcats, the Washington Huskies, the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Purdue Boilermakers. Kudos to these squads for more often than not putting on a good performance in the NCAA tournament.

Then there's the No. 10 St. Mary's Gaels, the No. 12 Cornell Big Red and the No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers. Now it's safe to say that these three squads are not Sweet 16 regulars. St. Mary's is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1959 and Northern Iowa and Cornell are making their Sweet 16 debuts.

By conquering the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks, Northern Iowa is now known (in the sports world) for something other than being Kurt Warner's Alma mater. St. Mary's (with it's 5 Australian players) has shown that boys from down under know how to play b-ball too. And Cornell has proven that even guys who score 1600 on their SATs can (on their spare time) grab the rock and take it strong to the hoop.

We can call them Cinderellas or whatever, but these three squads are relishing the moment and their new found fame like the Spanish Conquistadors conquering the New World. And I'm sure there's a lot more land they want to conquer. Let's not fall asleep on them.

To be continued....

The above logos are courtesy of their respective universities and are being used for entertainment purposes only.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Northern Iowa: The Shock Heard Around The World!


I'm numb and speechless. What a shocker!

The No. 9 Northern Iowa Panthers STUN the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks, 69-67. Now this has to be the bracket-buster of the ages.

Wow! I'm so shocked, I honestly don't know what to write. Let's just say, a star was born in the Mid West nebula.

What a day!

Kudos to the No. 10 St. Mary's Gaels on their upset win over the No. 2 Villanova Wildcats, 75-68. The doldrums continue for the mighty Big East conference. Last night the No. 8 California Golden Bears sent the No. 9 Louisville Cardinals packing, 77-62. The Big East who sent the most teams of any conference into the tournament with 8, was an unimpressive 4-4 after the first round. With Villanova's loss today, the conference is already in an 0-1 hole in the second round. Only the No. 1 Syracuse Orangemen, the No. 2 West Virginia Mountaineers and the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panther are still alive from the conference considered by many the best in the nation.

On the other hand, the Pac-10, who many didn't care for this season, are 3-0 in the tournament. The No. 11 Washington Huskies are going to the Sweet 16 after their very impressive dismantling of the No. 3 New Mexico Lobos, 82-64. So far Washington and California are proving that "this ain't no comeback, the Pac-10 has been here for years". Good for them!

On another front-- a special SHOUTOUT to the No. 5 Butler Bulldogs on punching their ticket to the Sweet 16 and to the Baylor Bears who also advanced to the big party. The Bears are one of the most intriguing teams in the tournament. They had a total of 0 tournament wins in a 60 year span and so far they have 2 wins in 3 days. Go figure.

But the stage belongs to NORTHERN IOWA. Not Iowa. Not Iowa State. Northern Iowa.

Wow!

Photo courtesy of US Presswire
Logo courtesy of the University of Northern Iowa

Friday, March 19, 2010

My! Oh My! No. 14 Ohio Shocks No. 3 G'town


Talk about a bracket-buster!

I guess we can call the No. 14 Ohio Bobcats-- the little team that could. Their 97-83 stunner over the No. 3 Georgetown Hoyas was by far the biggest surprise of Day 1, Round 1 of the NCAA Tourney. I'm sure this game was an afterthought for most of us outside of Bobcat country. To be honest, I pencilled in G'town with my eyes closed. I mean, the only reason why the Bobcats made the tournament is because they upset every team in the Mid-American conference tournament and earned the automatic bid as conference champions. If I'm not mistaken they were seeded 9th in their conference tournament, which is not exactly a power-6 conference. But they are living proof of the old adage, "that's why we play the game." Kudos to them on probably the biggest win in school history.

Overall it was a rough day for the mighty Big East conference. They were barely 1-3 on day one. And I say barely because the Villanova Wildcats were lucky to escape alive.

The other big upset was the No. 11 Washington Huskies over the No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles, 80-78. Another Big East team who bit the dust. The win was huge for the Pac-10 because, let's face it, they barely entered 2 teams (Washington and the California Golden Bears) and neither one was given much credibility. I mean, the Pac-10 is a power-6 conference and all they could muster is a No. 8 seed and a No. 11 seed. Not good! Washington's win was huge (extremely huge) for all the bruised egos out west. Let's see how California fairs today against another Big East bigwig, the Louisville Cardinals.

Although not all Big East teams are having a hard time as the No. 2 West Virginia Mountaineers are "cleaning house" as I write this. And I mean "CLEANING HOUSE!" The Mountaineers look mighty strong.

If I'm John Calipari down in Lexington, Kentucky-- I'll have my people looking at video tapes of the Mountaineers as of this moment.

To be continued....

Logos courtesy of Ohio, West Virginia and Washington. They are trademarks of these respective institutions and are being used for entertainment purposes only.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Big Dance Is Alive And Kicking!

Bracket-Mania!!


And away we go....

The NCAA Tourney has officially begun! We've already seen upsets, nail-biters, OT and the whole enchilada-- and we've just got started.

A big CONGRATS to the Old Dominion Monarchs (No. 11 seed - South Bracket), the Murray State Racers (No. 13 seed - West Bracket) and the Saint Mary's Gaels (No. 10 seed - South Bracket) on their upset wins over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (No. 6 seed), the Vanderbilt Commodores (No. 4 seed) and the Richmond Spiders (No. 7 seed), respectively.

For Murray State, their 66-65 buzzer-beater over Vanderbilt was their first tournament win since 1988. As for Old Dominion, their 51-50 nail-biter over Notre Dame was their first tournament win since 1995.

On another front, the No. 3 Baylor Bears won their first round game against the No. 14 Bearkats of Sam Houston State, 68-59. Even though the Bears enter the tournament with a lot of clout and have many people buzzing about their great chances of going deep-- today's win was their first tournament win since 1950. Yes, 1950-- 60 years ago.

But perhaps the most nerve-racking game of the day (so far) was the No. 2 Villanova Wildcats' wild overtime win, 73-70, over the Colonials of Robert Morris. Talk about a major bracket-buster in the making. The Wildcats were lucky to get out alive against the relentless Colonials.

The No. 7 Cougars of BYU were also lucky to escape the No. 10 Florida Gators in 2 OTs, 99-92 (um, Tim Tebow doesn't play basketball?).

But like I said, this party is just getting started and I'm sure there's lots more surprises to come.

To be continued....

Logos courtesy of Villanova, Murray State and Old Dominion. They are trademarks of each respective institution and are being used for entertainment purposes only.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bracket-Mania! Congrats To The Little Guys!


A big SHOUTOUT to a few schools who made the NCAA tournament this year and who most likely are not getting any buzz.

CONGRATS to the Wofford Terriers and the Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions on making their first ever appearances in the big dance. Arkansas-Pine Bluff made it to the play-in game against the Winthrop Eagles, with the winner to face (uh-oh) the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils in the South Bracket as the No. 16 seed. Wofford, on the other hand, are a very impressive No. 13 seed and they have a date with the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers in the East Bracket. No one expects either one to win but nonetheless they are getting their first taste of the post-season.

Congratulations also to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, the Morgan State Bears, the Sam Houston State Bearkats and the North Texas Mean Green. Oakland, Morgan State and Sam Houston State are making their second ever appearances in the tourney and North Texas is making its third ever appearance.

Oakland (No. 14 seed) will play the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers in the West Bracket. The Golden Grizzlies made their tournament debut back in 2005 and actually won their first round game. So maybe they won't be a "walk in the park" for Pittsburgh and maybe (just maybe) pull off a stunner. We never know. As for North Texas, Morgan State and Sam Houston State, they are all winless in their combined 7 appearances.

A quick note:

Yesterday I mentioned that the most surprising thing about this years tournament (in my opinion) is the absence of UCLA, North Carolina, Indiana, Connecticut and Arizona-- which is truly a shocker. I wasn't sure if this phenomenon had ever happened before but today I can confirm that the last time these 5 juggernauts simultaneously did not make the tournament was in 1966-- 44 years ago.

And a quick comment to all the fans of the Virginia Tech Hokies:

ESPN guru, Dick Vitale, was 100% right when he said "you guys wuz robbed!". With the exception of Duke and Maryland, there is no way the tournament committee can justify inviting Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Clemson out of the ACC and NOT Virginia Tech. The Hokies had a better or just as good a conference (10-6) and overall (23-8) record as these four schools. I can fully understand why the folks down in Blacksburg are pissed off right now.

Anyway, the road ahead for the above little guys is not an easy one-- but nonetheless, they are in the dance and sometimes anything can happen.

Stats courtesy of Wikipedia

Logos courtesy of Wofford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, North Texas and Oakland. They are trademarks of their respective universities and are being used for entertainment purposes only.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's Bracket-Mania Time!

It's that time of the year!


The NCAA Men's Basketball Tourney brackets are in. All the office pools, online pools and everywhere pools are officially buzzing. Let the games begin!
But I'm not going to make any predictions or anything like that on here because we all know how these tournaments can play themselves out.

I mean, who can forget the George Mason Patriots, who as an 11th seed reach the Final Four in 2006 and the Missouri Tigers who as a #12 seed reached the Elite 8 in 2002. While I'm at it, I might as well give the Chattanooga Mocs a shoutout who as a #14 seed made the Sweet 16 back in 1997. In other words, we can make all the predictions we want but we all know anything can happen.

Anyway--

Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks on being the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Jayhawks will rumble out of the Midwest Bracket. The other No. 1 seeds are the Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orangemen. The Wildcats will do battle out of the East Bracket, the Blue Devils out of the South and the Orangemen out of the West.

But--

What is interesting about this year's tournament is--
  • No North Carolina (16-16)
  • No UCLA (14-18)
  • No Connecticut (17-15)
  • No Indiana (10-21)
  • No Arizona (16-15)
My goodness! What is going on? When was the last time these 5 powerhouses were all out of a single tournament? I'm sure this has got to be a first? I mean, we're talking about 5 schools that have 24 national championships between them [UCLA-11; North Carolina-5; Indiana-5; Connecticut-2; Arizona-1], not to mention, 51 Final Four appearances combined [UCLA-18; North Carolina-18; Indiana-8; Arizona-4; Connecticut-3].
Just to put it in perspective, in 17 out of the last 20 years, at least one of these five schools has reached the Final Four. Never mind just simply making the tournament-- at least one has reached the Final Four year after year after year. Only in 2003, 1996 and 1990 did anyone other than (at least) one of these juggernauts play in the Final Four in the last 20 years. So to see all 5 out of this year's tournament is mind-boggling.
My! Oh my! How the mighty have fallen.
But anyway, the show must go on. Good luck to everyone who enters a pool this year.
Logos courtesy of flickr.com
All logos are trademarks of their respective universities and are being used for entertainment only.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Time For The Cubs To Get It Done!

102 Years And Counting?....

In the words of legendary broadcaster Jack Brickhouse (when asked about the Chicago Cubs championship drought): "Anyone can have a bad century."

Well that century 'ole Jack was referring to, ended 2 years ago. In year one of the second century the Cubs had a so-so year (83-78). Bad by Cubs standards but nonetheless it was a winning record. So 2010 kicks off year 2 of century 2 for the Cubs.

But to be honest, the Cubs 101 year championship drought is not my biggest curiosity. We all know how difficult it is (in any sport) to win a championship. My biggest curiosity with the Cubs is that they haven't even won a PENNANT since 1945-- 65 years and counting. Now that's inexcusable.

With the exception of 3 expansion teams: The Texas Rangers (est. 1961); The Seattle Mariners (est. 1977) and the Washington Nationals (est. 1969)-- these 3 teams are the only teams who have never won a pennant-- every other major league team has won at least one pennant in the last 30 years (never mind 65 years)-- except the Cubs.

In other words, 26 out of the 30 teams have gotten it done in the last 30 years (even the Pittsburgh Pirates - 1979 World Champions). Although I'm not excusing the Rangers, Mariners and Nationals futility (it's time for them to get it done also)-- but they are infants compared to the Cubs (est. 1876).

Even the Boston Red Sox (2004, 2007 champions) when they were battling their funk were at least winning a pennant (1946, 1967, 1975, 1986) every 15-20 years or so. Other teams thirsting for a championship-- the Milwaukee Brewers (1982); the Houston Astros (2005); the San Diego Padres (1984, 1998); the Colorado Rockies (2007)-- have all won pennants in the last 30 years.

We can blame the "billy goat" all we want, we can run Steve Bartman (or whatever his name was) out of town all we want, but at the end of the day, 65 years is inexcusable. Their pennant drought is longer than the next two team's championship droughts-- Cleveland Indians (62 years); San Francisco Giants (56 years). But at least the Indians (1995, 1997) and the Giants (1962, 1989, 2002) win pennants.

Anyway--



My message to manager Lou Piniella, Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and company:

If ya'll want to win a championship, these guys (above, below) were the last to do it in Cubs Nation-- take a good look at them-- I mean, they are kinda old so don't expect any of them to walk in through the door and do it for ya. It's time to get it done!




Anyway, I just wanted to debunk this whole 100 year thing with the Cubs. Personally I find 65 years more troubling than 102 years. In order for them to break their 102 year funk, they first have to worry about their 65 year funk. I mean, all the fans who were born the last time they won a PENNANT are set to retire this year. My goodness, the Tampa Bay Rays were born yesterday and they already have a pennant (2008) under their belt.

As a baseball fan all I want is for the Cubs to at least win the pennant (just win the pennant)-- then we'll take it from there.

The above photos are believed to be part of the public domain
Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Zack Greinke Makes His Spring Debut

Beware of this man....


Kansas City Royals pitching sensation, Zack Greinke, made his spring training debut yesterday against the Texas Rangers and pretty much picked up from where he left off. Greinke pitched 3 innings, allowed 1 hit, 0 walks, 0 runs and 3 strikeouts in the Royals, 4-2 win, over the Rangers.

The defending American League Cy Young Award winner hasn't missed a beat. Some of the adjectives being tossed around by the media (after the game) to describe his debut performance were, "stellar", "dominant", "flawless"-- and his unofficial nickname (THE GREAT GREINKE), which first appeared in the Kansas City Star the morning after he won the Cy Young Award, may have been officially cemented, as it too got tossed around.

Its to early to start comparing him to, let's say, Jim Palmer, especially due to the fact that he's pitching for the Royals who are at best a mediocre team and run support may be lacking at times-- but if last year's unbelievable season was a prelude of things to come, I'd say the nickname fits him just fine.

Somehow I get the feeling last year was no fluke.

My prediction for 2010: Greinke (20-6, 2.38 ERA, 260 K)

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Orangemen Are No. 1!

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SYRACUSE ORANGEMEN!!


A special SHOUTOUT! to the Syracuse Orangemen for reaching the regular season No. 1 ranking for the first time in 20 years. Even though they were the 2003 NCAA champions, the Orangemen never reached the No. 1 ranking that season. They won the championship as the No. 3 seed in the tournament. The last time they were the outright No. 1 team in the nation was in the 1989-1990 season.

The Orangemen (28-2) have already won the Big East outright so next up-- a No. 1 seed and bracketmania. From the looks of it, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils will join the Orangemen with the coveted No. 1 seeds in the tournament.

A look at the Top 10--

AP Poll:

  1. Syracuse
  2. Kansas
  3. Kentucky
  4. Duke
  5. Kansas St.
  6. Ohio St.
  7. Purdue
  8. New Mexico
  9. Villanova
  10. West Virginia
USA Today/ESPN Poll:

  1. Syracuse
  2. Kansas
  3. Kentucky
  4. Duke
  5. Kansas St.
  6. Purdue
  7. Ohio St.
  8. West Virginia
  9. Villanova
  10. New Mexico
How sweet it is!

So once again, CONGRATS to the Orangemen.

Photos courtesy of Syracuse.com

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Take It Easy On Jim Bunning!


So I hear Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) is causing ruckus on the floor of the United States Senate. Although I'm not much of a political guy, I do have a general idea about what's going on in Washington. And from what I understand, Senator Bunning is single handily blocking a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for the unemployed. He says he has no beef with the $10 billion bill if Congress can tell him how they'll pay for it.

Ok, I can see where the Senator is coming from, but I think he picked the wrong bill to try and flex fiscal responsibility. Basically what Bunning is claiming is that he's following President Obama's "Pay As You Go" orders. But the government is already in a $6 trillion hole, so what difference is an extra $10 billion gonna make? So maybe Senator Bunning could let this one go but I definitely heed his point.

But anyway, enough with the politics--

I'll leave the party bickering and the standoffs to the political blogs. I mean, it's something that's been going on for 234 years so I don't think anyone is surprised by it.

I won't vouch for Jim Bunning the Senator because, like I said, I don't know enough about the issue to form a genuine opinion-- but I will vouch for Jim Bunning, the eccentric Hall of Fame pitcher.

People in Washington can say what they want about Bunning, but no one can take away is tenacity and no-holds-barred style on the pitching mound. If he governs the way he pitched, I can see why he has the Senate in a standoff.

Bunning played 17 seasons in the major leagues mostly with the Detroit Tigers (9 seasons) and the Philadelphia Phillies (6 seasons). He compiled a 224-184 record, 3.27 ERA, and 2855 Strikeouts. When he retired, his 2855 SO were the second most ever behind Walter Johnson's 3508. Bunning was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

When Bunning was on the mound he owned the plate. If a batter was too close he did not hesitate to pitch inside and he could care less if he hit the batter or not. On the mound he called all the shots, driving his managers (especially Gene Mauch) crazy. Mauch would signal a pitch to the catcher from the dugout and Bunning would shake his head basically saying, "No, I'm doing my own thing."

A few of Bunning's highlights--

  • Pitched a no-hitter for the Tigers on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox.
  • Pitched a perfect game for the Phillies on June 21, 1964 against the New York Mets.
  • 7-time All-Star selection.
  • He is one of only 6 pitchers to throw a no-hitter and a perfect game.
  • And one of only 5 pitchers to throw a no-hitter in both leagues.
  • He was at the center of the infamous collapse of the 1964 Phillies. Manager Gene Mauch overused Bunning down the stretch and in the end the fatigue got the best of Bunning and the Phillies who blew a six game lead with 10 to play. They lost 10 in a row and handed the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • His No. 14 was retired by the Phillies in 2001. Why the Detroit Tigers haven't retired his number is a mystery to many, including myself.
  • As mentioned above, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

So with all the heat the two-term Senator from Kentucky is feeling these days, as a baseball fan, I felt it was important not to forget who the man was. But somehow I get the feeling Senator Bunning could care less what his critiques are saying about him.

Compared to the pressures he felt on the mound, criticism in Washington is probably a piece of cake for him.

Senator Bunning photo courtesy of the AP
Baseball card photos courtesy of baseball-almanac.com

Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com