Monday, March 30, 2009

March Madness review and Final Four preview

Last week I wrote a post longing for the old days of March Madness, wanting more upsets and buzzer-beaters. Turns out, we only had one game that was like that. But my purpose today isn't really to complain, it's to react to what we watched last week.

We start with UConn seeing as they were the first team in the final four. They successfully showed they can handle the distractions that the program is under with the recruiting accusations. Quick sidebar: If Calhoun did anything more than just calling or texting Nate Miles or any other recruits, then UConn should be punished. But the fact that calling someone or texting someone a few extra times can have the NCAA possibly take away a potential championship from them is absurd. Worse case, loss of some scholarships if the result wasn't a big deal. Back to basketball, I was a little surprised that Purdue and Missouri hung around as long as they did after UConn ran out to early 10-pt leads. Not as surprised as I was that Mizzou beat Memphis, but I should saw this coming. The last C-USA loss Memphis has came against UAB when Mike Anderson was still coach them. Memphis had no way of stopping them, Missouri kept coming at them. UConn I believe is the favorite to win the championship now that Louisville is out because there is a rhythm that they are playing that makes them tough to beat, and more importantly, all three teams will have trouble driving the lane with Thabeet in the middle. That means a greater dependence on the 3 will be needed by Michigan St and the Nova/UNC winner. Michigan St. is now an interesting team after beating Kansas and Louisville to get to the Final Four.

The Spartans can slow down the game like no one left in the tourney, plus they are the de facto home team in Detroit. They're guards are very intelligent and composed; the way they made Louisville look yesterday should be shown by every Big East school when they practice for the Cards next year. It looked to me that Michigan St wanted it more than Louisville, they took many of the hustle plays. Plus Goran Suton was great yesterday and broke the Pitino zone. Now we will have a great matchup of coaches; Calhoun vs. Izzo. The biggest difference between Louisville and UConn is the Huskies can play half-court defense better than the Cards. Louisville needs to play a team they can press to death and score on transition. UConn is more efficient in the half-court both on offense and defense. Also to like about UConn, the likely pro-Spartan crowd won't affect the Huskies since they are the best road team remaining and Calhoun has never lost a Final Four game in his two previous trips. UConn should win the 1st semi; my score, 72-63.

The best game of the tournament was Villanova-Pitt Saturday night and at the time, I thought I still had a chance to win my pool since I didn't believe anyone else took Nova. Unfortunately that wasn't the case, but it doesn't diminish the game in the slightest. Both teams came to play,after Nova dominated Duke and Pitt needed the Fields 3 and steal to beat Xavier. It was a back and forth affair between two Big East teams who don't get outtoughed. The turning point of the game was after the timeout Jay Wright called with Pitt up 4 and Nova came out and promptly stole the ball and the foul, cutting the deficit to 1. They followed with another layup to take the lead and after two Lavance Fields FT's, Dwayne Anderson hit a three to make it 71-69 Nova. It looked like Nova had it won, until the awful inbound play which put Fields on the line to tie it. But with 5 seconds left, Scottie Reynolds on a perfect inbound play ran cross court and make one of the greatest shots in tourney history. They will face North Carolina, who dominated Gonzaga and Oklahoma en route to Detroit. North Carolina pushed the tempo way up against both, the Zags didn't have the talent to match and Oklahoma couldn't do anything defensively against the Heels.

This sets up a very intriging matchup with the Tar Heels and the Wildcats. Villanova has a good chance to pull the upset, they have terrific guard play, can be deliberate on offense. They need to keep the scoring low because they won't beat UNC if the score goes into the 90's. There's a reason why most people think UNC is the favorite, they are by far the best offensive team left and Nova has to be ready for UNC to run up and down the court. They also need to have an answer for Lawson; this team goes as he goes. Villanova needs to spread out North Carolina on defense and take their time and get good shots, which they are capable. They also need to be able to frustrate them, like they did against UCLA and Duke. I think UNC can get frustrated by them and I not sure if UNC would quit. They never have showed me a particular toughness when things go wrong. That being said, UNC is capable of starting the game like they did yesterday and Nova can't comeback. Prediction: I really want to pick Villanova, I do. They can come at anyone and beat anyone. However, I ultimately don't think they will stop Lawson, no matter how hard they try. UNC has to win, this is why everyone from last year came back, to win the title. So it looks like I will pick the Heels. Maybe not, this is the greatest year a conference ever had, and dammit, there will be a Big East championship game. Nova wins 77-72 and face UConn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goalies Gone Wild.

One of my favorite things about hockey is when a goalie loses his mind and either throw's a tantrum or fights with players (especially other goalie's). If you had been watching SportsCenter or PTI the other day, you probably saw AHL goalie Tuukka Rask of the Providence Bruins go nuts after losing a shootout to the Albany River Rats. Now whether or not you think it was warranted (he did poke the puck away on the 1st attempt), it's always enjoyable to watch a goalie completely lose his mind during and after a game. Though nowhere near as crazy as Rask's tirade, Marty Gerber of the Maple Leafs got ejected last night after bumping the ref and firing a puck at him (not shown in the video). But this got me to thinking, what are the best instances of goalies gone wild?

Since I'm not ranking in any particular order, let's start with Gerber's backup, Curtis Joseph who back in the 2000 playoffs came charging at the ref and bumped him while CuJo fell himself. He also got into a fight many years earlier when he play with the Blues with Red Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae. Goalie fights aren't strange for Red Wings fans as both Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood fought Patrick Roy during the height of the Wings-Avs rivalry in 97 and 98. Let me also take this time to honor the 12 year anniversary of the Brawl in Hockeytown, where Darren McCarty gave Claude Lemieux what he had coming, forcing him to turtle, not to mention the Roy-Vernon fight. The most interesting thing about this rivalry is that they had brawls or mini-brawls on 3/26/97, 4/1/98 and 3/23/02, all around the same time and all turned out to motivate the Wings to win Stanley Cups. Perhaps the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup after the 2/28 game against the Avs turned into this.

I wanted to give credit to Ed Belfour who back in 1993 had a mini-tirade after the Hawks lost to St. Louis in the Norris Semis. Could of been worse, but swinging a stick can always be dangerous. Belfour is no stranger to momentary lapses off judgment as he once took a swing at Bob Probert and gave Martin Lapointe a cringing slash (JD's reaction sums it up), plus he started a brawl with the Sharks in the 1998 playoffs. Belfour is kind of similar to Ron Hextall, a man you can write a book on crazy goalies using him alone. He jumped Chris Chelios in the closing minutes of Game 6 in the 1989 Wales Final against Montreal, fighting Felix Potvin, taking a run at Rob Brown in a drubbing against the Pens, slashing Kent Nilsson in the 87 Cup Finals among his most famous incidents. He had over 100 penalty minutes in his 1st three seasons, I mean a GOALIE with 100 PIM'S. Who does that?

Ray Emery was working on a career like Hextall's when he began in Ottawa. He started getting in fights in the AHL when he fought Josh Gratton. He will always be famous for his role in a brawl against the Sabres back in February 2007 when he fought both Marty Biron and Andrew Peters. He also got into an altercation with one of his trainers in the KHL, because he refused to wear a sponsors hat.

There are plenty of other times that goalies have gone wild, they all can't be written today because it would take too long, be too long and you need more time to watch the videos. But I think we should thank Rask for having a noteworthy tantrum, giving us a chance to relive the best of irrational behavior by the goalie.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's end this fraud of an event.

My good friend Jake posted a good blog piece that we should be more excited about the WBC. He also wants the US to build better teams in order to perhaps win this "event". I mean this is America's Pastime, we should be winning, shouldn't we?

I even have a better idea how to improve the US in this very prestigious "event": let's end it.

I know that some countries, like Japan, Korea and Cuba, seem to actually care about this "event" and want to prove themselves as the best baseball country. Based on the crowd from last night's championship game that I accidentally changed into it thinking that at 12:30 AM, ESPN should have SportsCenter on. I'll give the event credit for having a competitive game with a good crowd that actually seemed interested on the result of the game. Much better than the 13,000 in Miami who saw David Wright's walk-off hit.

Our country will never become interested in watching the WBC. Baseball is a much harder sport to get excited for in an international play situation, unlike basketball, hockey and soccer. Part of the reason is that it took way too long to have international play in baseball, so we're not used to it. Regardless, no one is going to put an American win in the WBC in the same sentence as your favorite team winning a division championship, much less the World Series. Most Americans still put the 1980 Olympic Team in Lake Placid as their favorite hockey memory. If they ever turn on a soccer match, it's during the World Cup and we still leave our expectations enormously high in basketball because the best NBA players are from the US.

Baseball, unfortunately doesn't have that benefit, as this is a more diverse sport ethnically than any, except hockey and soccer. While basketball is more widely played around the world and more popular, that doesn't show in terms of the best NBA players. Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol wouldn't be confused as being among the absolute best players in the NBA, they are behind Kobe, Lebron, Wade, CP3 and D-Ho. MLB, on the other hand, can boast that Johan Santana, a Venezuelan, is the best pitcher in the sport, while Albert Pujols, a Dominican, arguably is the best hitter, plus Cuba and Japan still have most of their best players. We don't have a monopoly on the talent, thus we shouldn't be expected to win an international event just because it's our game. Of course, just because we might not win, that itself isn't reason enough not to have this "event."

Here's a list of reasons that the WBC should be eliminated:

1. You know the event is bogus if David Wright comes through in the clutch.

2. There isn't a good time to have it. You have to have the players and pitchers come into the "event" after a full offseason and play "meaningful" games in March. The chance for injury is too great. Ask Red Sox fans how they felt when Pedroia and Youkilus got hurt. How about Mets fans when K-Rod had 4-out saves and Wright got hit in the head and lost his toenail. Or the mosh pit when Wright won the game which Jeter, Youkilus and J-Roll were promenantly involved. I know what you're thinking, how about we do this in the fall. Well then the major leaguers have played a full year and the quality of play is down, which it is now anyway.

3. The "event" can never be the most important thing going on, its overshadowed by March Madness now and would be by the NFL and college football after the World Series.

4. We AREN'T growing the game with this event. We many think we are because of countries like Australia and Italy, but this is still mostly played with countries that care about baseball. Countries like Britain and France will never play baseball, they just don't care.

5. Players can choose their teams. How do you explain Mike Piazza playing and coaching for Italy. Or A-Rod playing for the US in 06 and almost for the Dominican Republic this year. How do you play for national pride if you decide to change your country if you happen to have a grandmother from somewhere else. Under those rules, I could play for Ireland or Scotland if I wanted.

6. How can you go all out if there are pitch limits. If this is to be such an important "event", then you should go all out and not be forced to remove a pitcher.

These reasons all show what a collosal waste of time the WBC is. The real season starts April 6th; most major leaguers aren't ready to play competitive baseball in March. That's what spring training is for, so they can prepare for the season slowly. Nothing should take away from that and the risk of injury, especially for the pitchers is to great for a pure money grab that's flawed to begin with.

End this now!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What happened to March Madness?

March Madness has always been my favorite sports tournament (slightly ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs) because of two main formulas: Buzzer-beaters and Cinderellas. I got hooked at age 8 when Tyus Edney ran cross court and hit a layup which gave UCLA a win over an upset-minded Missouri team. The rest of that year, I remember rooting for UCLA to win the national championship which they ended up doing. The next year, I filled out my first bracket and proved to be such a novice at doing it that I actually picked San Jose St., a 16 seed, to beat a Kentucky team that would win because I didn't like them (neither did my father, probably influenced my thinking).

Ever since, I made sure to tune in to CBS's selection show, see who's in the tournament and start filling out bracket, as I'm sure everyone of you have done. Some of my highlights include: nailing the 2001 Final Four, having Duke, Maryland, Michigan St., and Arizona; memorable upsets I nailed, like Manhattan over Florida in 04, Siena over Vandy last year and winning the Xavier Hall pool when I had LSU and UCLA in the final four when I'm sure no one else had the Tigers. Of course I've had my share of busted brackets, most famously, Syracuse losing to Vermont and Kansas losing to Bucknell on the same night wiped out half my Final Four in the 1st round.

Aside from my personal successes and failures, the tournament for most of its history has seen 1's, 2's and 3's regularly losing early. Back in 2000, 5 top 2 seeds were knocked out in round 2, with two regions not having a seed higher than 4 in the sweet 16. 2004 we lost 4 top 2 teams early. Since then, a 1-seed has always made the Sweet 16 and this year no 2-seed lost early for the 1st time since 1996. Another factor of March Madness that is a staple is the buzzer beater. We all remember Bryce Drew beating Ole Miss and Mike Miller propelling Florida over Butler, leading them to the championship game. Last year's Western Kentucky-Butler game was the last game-winner buzzer beater which the game ended on the shot.

Which brings us to this year's tournament, where the best game we watched was Ohio St.-Siena; an 8-9 game which was a terrific game in its own right, for some reason had the feel of a mammoth upset. This was because people know Ohio St. and don't know anything about Siena. However, Siena beat Vandy last year as a 13, dominating much like Cleveland St. did against Wake Forest and gave my championship pick Louisville all it can handle. But if you take a look at the remaining teams, none of them are a surprise (even Arizona). The only way you have a busted bracket is if you took Wake, a team wouldn't have been a bad pick, or definitively lesser team. Now we go into a Sweet 16 with anyone who knows nothing about college basketball or anyone who never takes a chance and picks chalk at the top of leaderboard in pools across the country.

Look at my bracket; I could just as easily taken Michigan St, Kansas, Syracuse and Oklahoma because they have the higher seeds (of course, I would of had Kansas over Dayton) but I like to try to find the upsets and take chances. This year? No real upsets, aside from Cleveland St and even if Arizona would of beat Wake, I wouldn't think of it as a real upset. As for the games themselves, we are having way to many games that have potential of going down to the wire. Both Pitt games, Siena-Louisville, Memphis-Northridge, USC-Michigan St., Kansas-ND State just to name a few all could of been great games, but somewhere before the last minute, the team expected to win took control. Thus, the only good games were Siena-Ohio St., OK State-Tennessee, Gonzaga-Western KY and Wisconsin-FSU (and Wisconsin is so boring to watch, it negates it's goodness).

So the real question: Is this a one year aberration or are we starting to see a trend? Last year, we saw all the 1-seeds reach the Final Four, but the Sweet 16, although had all four 3's, had only two 2's, a 7 and 3 double digit teams. 2007 was arguably worse than this year with the only Cinderella being an 11-seeded VCU team who beat a lesser Duke team in round 1. For God sake, there wasn't even a 12-5 upset that year, much less anyone lower. However, what 2007 did have is quite a few legitimately good games: Ohio St.-Xavier, Duke-VCU, Vandy-Gtown, Gtown-UNC, Ohio St.-Tennessee to name a few. It's still too early to claim this is the end of March Madness as we knew it because we can always end up with the most busted bracket ever in next year's tournament, especially if Stephon Curry and Patty Mills stay in school another year.

There is one good thing in this tourney, now we will be treated to some terrific regional final games since there really is no clear team to beat. Pitt-Xavier, Nova-Duke, UNC-Gonzaga, Syracuse-Oklahoma, Missouri-Memphis and Kansas-Michigan St. are great matchups and we could have the best regional final in years if UConn-Memphis happens. Hopefully the games will be as good as the matchups.

And most importantly, the Final Four better end up being Louisville, UNC, Nova and Memphis.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Resurrection of The Cycle

I know some of you reading this blog is wondering what is The Cycle. I also know that some of you reading this might be a little pissed that I'm calling the blog The Cycle. The Cycle was the name of the sports talk show that was on Seton Hall's Pirate TV, which I was an analyst. Now that I have graduated, and for the fact that I don't believe The Cycle is still airing, I decided to bring back the name for my first regular blog.

The purpose of this blog is to articulate my thoughts on the goings on with sports and more. Hopefully, I won't write too much like Bill Simmons, since he's almost certainly going to influence my writing in some way, shape or form. Next time I post, it will be a review of the first weekend of March Madness, for my first one, here's some background on my fandom.

As you can tell from the picture, I'm a Giants fan. That's from the Super Bowl parade, the second time I was there for a celebration of my team's championship. The first time was in 1994, when the Rangers ended their 54 year curse. I've also grown up a Yankees and Knicks fan. Thus there will be plenty of times where I blog about baseball, football, basketball and hockey, so if you hate any of these sports, tough luck.

I like to write about sports past as well. There may be plenty of times that I end up recalling a story about 70's NFL, 90's NBA, greatest Yankee games, etc. I also plan to make fearless predictions. Based on my Streak for the Cash record, my picks are like flipping a coin. Even though there will be a NY-slant to my blogs, I always keep an eye on what goes on elsewhere and my previews of the upcoming NBA/NHL playoffs, MLB season and NCAA second week/Final Four will reflect that.