Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March Madness

If anyone pays attention to sports, which I am sure is nearly all of the world, then you are sure to know that March Madness is fast approaching. That sentence alone makes me happy. March Madness is, in all its glory, the best sporting event we have in America. Sure the Superbowl is probably the most popular, and the World Series is the one that is steeped with the most tradition, but March Madness is a four week marathon of epic buzzer beaters, Cinderella Stories, and Goliath Champions.

In the lead up to the tournament, the excitement builds over the final weeks of the season in February to Conference tournament time. Conference tournament time is the time, when some team like DePaul is going to win the Big East Tournament and steal a bid to the big dance from my beloved Virginia Cavaliers. Of course, that wouldn't be the case if UVa would have just beat George Mason, Delaware, and 5-25 Old Dominion, but that's neither here nor there.

This year is the first year in recent memory that the top teams are so spread out that it seems like we have about 12 two seeds and no real number 1 seed, let alone 4. Sure Indiana is going to get one, but they have lost a couple stinkers recently, most notably to Minnesota. Duke is certainly deserving of a #1 seed, but they lost to Maryland, UVa, and got absolutely crushed by Miami. Michigan... ehh nah, not for me. Kansas isn't a #1 seed, especially with a loss to TCU??? No way. What about Gonzaga you ask? Well sure there record is wonderful, but they play in the West Coast Conference. Quick name 4 schools from the west coast conference outside of Gonzaga and St. Mary's... That is what I thought... you can't. Any time someone can make a case for Marquette --- who is currently 12th in the country ---  to be a #1 seed, then you know you have about 12 #2 seeds instead. That said if I had to pick my case for #1 seeds it would be: Duke, Indiana, Louisville, Gonzaga

Some teams on the bubble: LaSalle, Tennessee, UVa, Kentucky. Let's Review.

LaSalle: Aside from their back to back wins over Butler and VCU do nothing for me. They are the 5th seed in the Atlantic 10. They have a decent RPI of 39, and a BPI (one of ESPN's made up stats) of 53. Not only that but they are 21-8. One of their losses is to CCSU (Central Connecticut State University)... Really? I am going to go ahead and take them off the bubble, and put them squarely in the NIT.

Tennessee: Tennesse is an interesting case. Sitting at 19-11 and in a tie for 5th place in the SEC this team has some work to do in the SEC tourney. They have an 8 point loss to fellow bubble team UVa, in which they only scored 38 points. They very nearly went 0-January until they were able to squeek out, and I mean squeek out two 1 point wins over Alabama and Vandy on the 26th and 29th of the month. They did, however, finish strong 8-1 over their final nine including wins over then #25 Kentucky (more on them in a moment), and then #8 Florida. I have a hard time giving a team with less then 20 wins an at large bid. Win a game in the SEC and they should be in.

Virginia: Virginia is the most Jeckle and Hyde team on planet earth. A team with road wins against Wisconsin, where 94% of all people lose when they play there, and at Maryland, who is no slouch. That said , UVA went a whopping 3-8 on the road all year, and 0-1 in neutral court games. However, if LaSalle can lose to CCSU then UVa can lose to ODU. UVa has 4 wins against the RPI top 50: Wisconsin, Duke, NC State, UNC. The two losses were a 4 point loss to then #2 Miami on the road, and a 12 point stinker where UVA forgot to play defense in the 2nd half against UNC. If you were to ask yourself, Can UVA legitimately make a run in the tourney, the answer would be yes because of stout defense. You could also make the case for them to bow out almost as easily, because of shaky offense.  I think they get in, especially with a win over NC State in the ACC tourney.

Kentucky: Without Nerlens Noel, I have a hard time thinking this is a tournament team. That being said, we are talking about Kentucky, and though you should not get in on past achievement, what kind of tournament would we be holding with out a team like Kentucky involved? UK is the epitome of success in college basketball, the benchmark all programs try to achieve. Before Nerlens Noel went down, Kentucky was 17-6 and on pace for the tourney. Then on February 12th during the game against Florida, he went down with a gruesome knee injury. Since then they have gone, 4-4 with losses to Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia. They did however beat #11 Florida in the season finale to make a real push to get in the tournament. At 21-10 I believe they are safely in.

Tournament prediction time. I think a team like VCU could be really dangerous, the way they use their Havoc defense is going to really force teams to pick up the pace and play at a tempo they cannot prepare for, and have not played at. VCU is an ideal tournament team because of the quick turnaround in games, and should find itself into the 2nd weekend easily. I ultimately think a team like Indiana will find their way into the final 4 along with Louisville, Ohio State, and Florida. Each of these teams has proven over the years that they are more then capable of putting together 5 wins in a row. My pick to cut down the nets is Indiana.

We are in for a good month of March, with lots of great basketball!

Go Hoos!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Penn States Strange Predicament

This might be the touchiest subject I could potentially write about aside from Politics and Religion.

*** For the record, I am not a Penn State fan ***

Penn State University has been on the craziest, most institution altering, roller coaster, quite possibly of all time. By now everyone knows the story, Jerry Sandusky committed a crime so heinous, and revolting that apparently, the institution had no choice but to cover it up for the greater good of Joe Paterno's legendary football program. This is the kind of logic that always works, cover something up with dirt and pray it doesn't rain enough to wash it away and expose the dark secrets you hoped would magically disappear. Works every time.

The judiciary system did its job once the facts started rolling in and Sandusky will certainly be incarcerated for the remainder of his measly life. But there is another man that wasn't able to fight for himself because after what was uncovered last fall, and what ultimately transpired with him being fired and ultimately passing away, Joe Paterno's legacy was left to here say, and quick decisions aimed to quickly alleviate the problem at hand. Paterno was found to have been a co-conspirator in the act of covering up Sandusky's crimes, knowing full well what had taken place. We will never know his side of the story, and what he believed to be true. Instead we have to believe that the NCAA's decision to take down his statue, and 111 wins is just, given what was unearthed in the most recent reports.

What I believe happened is the NCAA wanted so badly to get people to stop talking about this black eye on the institution, and the furious public who weren't satisfied with the man who actually committed the crime, and is being locked up for life, that they had no choice but to find a culpable administrator to take the fall. That person ultimately became Paterno. I believe, unnecessarily so. It is easy to pass blame onto someone who isn't able to defend themselves.

My biggest most pertinent question is... Why, if the Judicial System worked so well, and everyone who was seen as part of the conspiracy to keep quiet, is no longer part of the institution, should the NCAA ever get involved? More importantly, why should the football team be punished as if the players were the ones committing the crimes? Isn't that what the court system is there to do? Punish the folks who commit public crimes and uphold the constitutional rights of Americans? The NCAA's responsibility is to, in my opinion, enforce the rules and regulations that ensure college athletics competes on a level playing field. That's it.

What Sandusky did has nothing to do with Penn State gaining a competitive advantage on the football field, yet it is the Football team that bears the brunt of the NCAA sanctions on this issue. I agree, Penn State should have been fined 60 Million Dollars and put on probation and I'm even okay with them losing some scholarships, but what does vacating wins from 1998 to 2011 have to do with anything? The players that won those games weren't recruited illegally, Paterno didn't cheat like Bellichek and the Patriots, or Pete Carroll with USC. No, he just coached football, but made a mistake with not going further to see that Sandusky be put away earlier. That doesn't mean he didn't win those games. He won 409 games, now I am supposed to believe that, because he didn't do his civic duty, he now only won 298?

I'll never understand why Paterno is being held to the same standard as Sandusky in this case. What Paterno did wasn't enough, I agree, but that shouldn't tarnish his accomplishments as a football coach. Yea, maybe he isn't the great man we all thought he was, but he was a great coach. A great coach that wasn't given the opportunity to properly defend himself, as everyone else tears him down everywhere I look.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Home Run Derby

July 9, 2012

2012 State Farm Home Run Derby and a personal account on how I became a fan of this event.

Baseball has always been a part of my life. I, like most kids with older brothers was turned onto the American Pastime while going to his Little League / All Star Games as an uninterested 3-6 year old. I say uninterested because, between the ages of 3-6, like most kids that age, I had the attention span of a gnat. How could any mother expect me to sit in the bleachers all day and watch 11-12 year old's play baseball. Naturally I ventured off into the woods with the other kids my age and lost my stuffed animals I carried around everywhere I went (I went through about 4 of these stuffed animals due to baseball related tragedies).

Around age 5 it became my turn  to take to the diamond and start developing the love for the game that I still have to this day. Tee-Ball was fun, but if it weren't for the ball already sitting on the tee, I probably wouldn't have swung to hit the ball. Much like my days in C league when I walked more then I swung the bat that season. My on base percentage that year was through the roof, but I probably batted .091 for the season because I was unable to pull the trigger. I muddled around in C league and later B league when something finally clicked in my head. "Hey Ben, you need to swing the bat to hit the ball!" DING DING DING - naturally my baseball career took off at a historic rate. This was around the same time the St. Louis Cardinals acquired the steroid infested, yet super heroic god named Mark McGwire.

I want to preface this next part of this post by saying, my dad was raised in St. Louis and somehow let my brother get away with being Braves/Orioles fan. I suppose my father took upon himself to not let his 2nd born leave the ranks of the Cardinals, so he turned me on the '98 Sosa vs. McGwire homerun-a-thon and that is where my baseball life changed.

Obviously, at age 10, I was entranced. Watching modern day behemoths crush balls into the night sky on a regular basis would turn any 10 year old into a fan of the game. The fact that it was happening on my dads favorite team, against his least favorite team (the Cubs) made it even more of a mind blowing, life altering, landmark moment for me. It was settled, I was a Cardinal fan for life, however my own little league career turned out to be modest at best, as I tried to emulate my heroes to no avail.

It wasn't until the following year, when the All-Star game burst onto the scene in the famed Fenway Park in Boston. My family along with another family were down in the Outer Banks for our annual beach vacation. It rained literally every day for the first 4 or 5 days, its hard to be certain, as it was about 13 years ago to the day. We were couped up in the cottage, the mom's had already ventured to bed, which left Me, my dad, my brother, the other dad, my best friend, and his brother watching the homerun derby, and I had a horse in the race, his name.... Mark McGwire. What followed was the most awe inspiring/hilarious to this day, moments of my life. McGwire proceeded to crush 16 homeruns that night and after each one my dad would scream, "BOOM, GOT ALL OF THAT ONE" and while he was screaming that, Chris Berman (my favorite sports caster) would be painting his picture, and we would all be laughing at my dad, and it was at this point my dad would say, "SSHH, what'd he say?" To this day my dad catches enormous amounts of shit about this moment, but he takes it like a champ and seems to have embraced it. Needless to say, It was a landmark moment for me, and to this day, I have watched each of the homerun derby's and traded texts with my best friend reading, "boom, got all of that one" on a regular basis.

Baseball has this kind of an affect on kids. They say chicks dig the long ball (which is true), but I am willing to say that kids dig the long ball more. 1998 turned into 1999 which in turn, turned into me having 1 favorite professional sports team in the St. Louis Cardinals, and the joy of watching MY team win not one but two World Series.

So, here I sit tonight, watching the Homerun derby, where yet again I have a horse in the race with Carlos Beltran, and I am still in awe of the power these guys have. Mark Trumbo hit one on the roof in left field. ESPN said it would have gone 475 ft had it not been stopped by a gigantic bud light sign. They are about to start round 2 and somewhere, some kid is watching this in Toronto and is turning into a life long fan because his favorite player, Jose' Bautista, just crushed 11 homeruns. He is probably watching with his father, and they are having a moment only a baseball fan can understand and appreciate.

Until next time happy readings, and goodnight!