Four Down Twelve To Go

Let’s take a minute and appreciate what the Rangers did last night. The Rangers have made the conference finals two times in the last three years, but it took them seven games in the first round both times. In fact, it took them seven games in the second round too. That won’t be the case if they advance this year to the conference finals as they have dispatched the Penguins in five.

That could be huge as they will get a chance to rest a bit now. Depending on what happens tonight in Washington, the Rangers may be off until Wednesday. That’s valuable time as it will allow Kevin Klein more time to heal and Matt Zuccarello more time as well. The NHL playoffs are a grind and rest is always a good thing.

And while we wait, I am going to root for the Islanders to beat Washington tonight and Monday. I know it may be sacrilege for a Rangers’ fan to root for the Islanders, but I want to see them face each other in the playoffs again. It happened eight times from 1975 to 1994, but hasn’t happened since then. It’s time to see it again.

One More Win

The Rangers are leading the Penguins 3-1 in their playoff series and heading home for Game 5. It was almost exactly a year ago that Pittsburgh was leading the Rangers 3-1 in a playoff series and heading home for Game 5. It’s important to remember that as the Rangers haven’t won anything yet.

My biggest worry is that the Rangers keep showing up flat. They did it in Game 2 of this series and got beaten and they did it last night, but escaped after a brutal first period. Luckily for the Rangers, Pittsburgh didn’t take full advantage of a team that seemed to be skating in circles for the first 20 minutes. The Rangers somehow emerged from a period where they managed only two shots down 1-0.

I don’t think they will get that lucky again. Pittsburgh has way too much firepower, and if the Rangers come out flat tomorrow they will pay for it. And if they lose Game 5, Pittsburgh gets to go home and play for Game 7. And if they go to Game 7, all bets are off.

What’s Your Favorite Sports Day?

Some of my favorite sports days of the year have happened in the past few months. The opening day of March Madness with 16 games is a personal favorite. Opening Day of the baseball season, especially when it is combined with the end of March Madness like this year, is another. It got me thinking, what other days merit inclusion on this list?

For my list, I am including two rules. First, the day has to be a day. You can’t say the first week of the NFL season for example, or the World Series. Second, it has to be a national event. Patriots’ Day in Boston is cool, but it isn’t really known outside of Boston. Here are a few of my favorites.

Fathers’ Day- You get the final round of the U.S. Open and plenty of baseball.

The NFL conference championships- I prefer these games to the Super Bowl because there are two of them and they are usually better.

Belmont Stakes Day- Often you get a triple crown bid, but even without it you also have a NBA final or NHL final game to watch as well, plus plenty of baseball.

Thanksgiving- Turkey and plenty of football.

New Year’s Day 2015- This was awesome with the college football semis, but the powers that be won’t let us enjoy it again until 2018 because they are dumb.

How about you?

 

Dayton Saves The Day!

Thursday was upset central at the NCAA Tournament. Friday saw favorites dominate the action, winning the first 15 games until Dayton came along and prevented the first-ever 16-for-16 performance from the favorites on a single day since the tournament became a 64-team affair.

The tournament is halfway done from a games played standpoint. The strength and weakness of the opening two days is the proliferation of games. It normally provides some memorable upsets, but individual games often get drowned out in the noise of the overall experience.  Saturday we narrow things down to a more manageable number of games. Some of them should be great.

While it is hard to call UCLA a Cinderella, they are an 11-seed. But, they are facing a 14-seed in UAB in the opening matchup. This will be a lot of fun and enjoy this game because the winner is almost, almost, guaranteed to get destroyed by Kentucky next week.

That’s unless Cincinnati manages to beat Kentucky in Game 2 which would be the greatest second-round upset ever.

#10 Ohio State vs. #2 Arizona tips next and that could be a good game if Ohio State plays like it can.

The coach everyone is rooting for #14 Georgia Southern takes on #6 Xavier an hour later in another great matchup. This will be an enjoyable one.

The 6-0 ACC puts that streak on the line when #8 NC State plays #1 Villanova at 7:10. Wichita State (2014), Gonzaga (2013), Pittsburgh (2011), Kansas (2010) are all recent examples of #1 seeds that lost in the second round. History doesn’t have to repeat itself, but if you were going to pick from a list of Kentucky, Villanova, Duke, and Wisconsin to lose in the second round this year, which one would you pick?

The final three games are all 5-4 or 6-3 match ups.

Georgetown meets Utah.

UNC meets Arkansas

Butler meets Notre Dame

While wins by Utah, Arkansas, and Butler would be considered upsets, I don’t think they really are. All three games should be good ones.

I can’t wait.

Tear It Up

Always fun to see the bracket go up in smoke on Day 1, but Iowa State’s loss did just the to me. Interestingly, CBS reports that over 99% of their brackets have one loss or more at this point after 16 games. And since misery loves company, there is also this. (In fairness, I hadn’t read his original article. This mistake was all my own.)

What have I learned? When you think a conference is mediocre, like I did with the Big-12, watch out. I’m curious to see how far that mediocrity can sink in that conference. Could Kansas lose today to a #15 seed? That’s the real fun of March Madness.

Let’s Dance- Part 2

Well the brackets are out, and I like my ten picks from yesterday, with the exception of Butler and Kansas. They were placed in the same bracket as Kentucky. Not good at all.

But the other eight, look to be in good spots. Let’s go through it.

1- Kentucky (#1 seed)- They are the number 1 seed overall and have Kansas, Notre Dame, and Maryland as the “seeded sixteen” teams in their bracket. I think they cruise to the Final Four.

2- Duke (#1 seed)- I’m not sure how they got a #1 while UVA, the regular season ACC champ didn’t, but they have a clear path to the Final Four. Iowa State (#8 on my list ) is their biggest threat.

3- Arizona (#2 seed)- #2 in the West and probably the biggest threat to Kentucky in the Final Four. I think they make it and I think they do it. Put them in my Final Four.

4- Wisconsin (#1 seed)- Great comeback today, but I think they bow out early.

5- Louisville (#4 seed)- The East is probably the most wide-open bracket, but I don’t think they get past Villanova.

6- Kansas (#2 seed)- Kentucky will kill them. Notre Dame, Indiana could as well.

7- Villanova (#1 seed) – A clear path to the Final Four. UVA is damaged, Oklahoma is flawed, Louisville is the threat.

8- Iowa State (#3 seed)- See #2

9- UNC (#4 seed)- They can beat Wisconsin and Arizona, but that is a stern test.

10- Butler (#6 seed) – doomed with their draw.

So my Final Four is- Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, Iowa State. And I will take Arizona and Iowa State in the finals with Arizona winning it.

Other seeded sixteen teams I didn’t consider.

2 seeds- Gonzaga and UVA. Gonzaga never impresses me as a favorite. They are the classic underdog. UVA is not the same team that won the ACC regular season.

3 seeds- Baylor, Notre Dame, Oklahoma. Of the trio, Notre Dame would be the one I consider the closest to a title.

4 seeds- Maryland and Georgetown. Maryland is also dangerous, but Georgetown could be upset in Round 1.

And if you want two bracket busters, I would pick Northern Iowa and Wichita State. Northern Iowa is a #5 seed in the East and Wichita State is a #7 in the Midwest. Ignore them at your own risk.

 

Let’s Dance!-Part 1

We are 18 hours from the brackets being revealed, but I can’t wait. I have to pick the 10 teams I think can win it all when they ultimately get revealed.

1- Kentucky- If you don’t agree with this, you aren’t paying attention.

2- Duke- Yup, they lost in the ACC semis, but Okafor is awesome. (Though I think the Knicks would be better off taking Towns with the #1 pick)

3- Arizona- We tend to ignore the Pac-10 unless UCLA is leading it, but ignore this team at your own risk.

4- Wisconsin- Frank the Tank is a real beast in college and the next Adam Morrison in the pros.

5- Louisville- Pitino, Pitino, Pitino. Count him out at your own risk.

6- Kansas- Bill Self, Bill Self, ah you get it. I still think this crew is a bit short though.

7- Villanova- If the Big East still was the Big East, they would be higher. For now, let’s just say they have a legitimate shot.

8- Iowa State- Beat Kansas at home and won the Big 12 tourney. Don’t ignore them.

9- UNC- Talent to play with anyone, but do they have the heart ?

10- Butler- Again, if they Big East still was the Big East….

Some teams I am discounting at my own risk that others will tout….

1- UVA- Too hurt

2- Notre Dame- Too lucky

3- Any other SEC team besides UK- too mediocre

4- Any other Big 10 team besides Wisco- see above

5- Any other Pac-10 team besides Zona- The Pac-10 is terrible!

Back after the brackets.

Midnight

I live two subway stops away from a tiny college with a D1 basketball team. Saint Francis College tonight  had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. In fact, Saint Francis is one of five programs from the original NCAA that has never made the tournament. (Army, Northwestern, William&Mary, and The Citadel are the other four.)

But it wasn’t meant to be. Robert Morris will now have the “honor” of being slaughtered by some college powerhouse like Kentucky. Losses sting no matter when or where, but Robert Morris danced a few seasons ago. For St. Francis a 40-point blowout at the hands of Kentucky would have been wonderful.

Bad Name, But Maybe A Good Team

NYCFC starts play in the MLS league today. Despite the dumb name, I am looking forward to it.

The name is dumb because the “F” stands for “Football” and this team plays soccer. I get it, outside of this country soccer is called football, but inside of it, the primary market for this club, it is soccer. And, when I think of a New York Football Club, I think of the Giants.

But despite that, this is an exciting thing. While the Red Bulls have existed for 20 years, they play in Jersey. For now, NYCFC will play in Yankee Stadium, but they should end up somewhere in the five boroughs.

In addition, they have some big-name players. Frank Lampard will join the club when the EPL is over. David Villa is here and playing in their opener. They are backed by deep pockets- Manchester City and the Yankees. In short, they aren’t your typical expansion club.

It’s been 20 years since MLS launched and they now have 20 teams playing in the U.S. and Canada. Apart from the ugly Chivas situation, they haven’t lost a team since 2001. Most of the clubs play in dedicated soccer stadiums in front of rabid fan bases. MLS is currently a AA or AAA league in terms of talent worldwide. It will be interesting to see where they are in 40 years.

“New York’s” Team Takes A Whack

Let’s get this out of the way up front. I have never liked Syracuse. I grew up in New York City when St. John’s basketball and Chris Mullen did battle with Syracuse on a regular basis. I booed Rony Seikaly and Dwayne Washington growing up and kept on booing guys like Carmelo Anthony later on. On the list of teams I really don’t like, Syracuse holds a very high spot.

And I find their whole marketing campaign about how they are “New York’s” team a joke. Rutgers has tried this marketing angle as well, and it is just stupid. New York doesn’t have a college football team, and while there are certainly plenty of Syracuse basketball fans in the region, St. John’s still draws the biggest cheers. With so many people from so many different parts of the country, you can find a group rooting for almost any college somewhere in NYC. Case in point, I walked into a bar that was packed with UNH supporters and memorabilia a few years ago in the East Village.

But I digress, I want to talk about today’s sanctions against the Orange and the joke that the NCAA has become. I am not going to argue that Syracuse did or didn’t do what it is accused of doing. I suspect they did. But the punishment and the solutions offered by the NCAA hurt the wrong people.

Have you noticed how great Kentucky is this year? Undefeated, and heading for what could be a historic 40-0 season. Have you noticed who coaches them? John Calipari, the only NCAA coach to have Final Four appearances vacated at two schools. I have a feeling the NCAA had that in the back of their mind when they specifically named Jim Boeheim in today’s announcement. They are trying to show how tough they have become, but “punishing” Boeheim by taking away wins and suspending him nine ACC games is laughable. Taking away some scholarships will hurt, but losing three scholarships a season from a total of thirteen is hardly a death sentence.

The people who get hurt the most are the current Syracuse players. They can’t leave the school without sitting out, and they weren’t even involved in the recruiting and other shenanigans that led to this punishment. It is another example of the flawed system the NCAA perpetuates.

I wish we could all just agree that this “student-athlete” model is garbage in the big name sports. Most of these athletes are students in name only and their athletic work is making enormous money for other people. Money that they don’t get anywhere near. Some will argue that they get a free education. But I will ask you this. How valuable is that education when it comes secondary to athletics? Athletic schedules are driven by television and conferences have expanded to the point of geographical absurdity. Missing classes for games isn’t an exception, it’s the rule at most of these schools.

I wish one of two things would happen. Either the NCAA stopped the charade and paid the players a fair wage and treated them as adults, or they actually created a system that enforced the rules equitably and totally. Neither will happen, but perhaps we could ultimately move to something closer to the former. Otherwise, we will have another “scandal” like this one in the very near future.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.