Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Germany Ascendant; Bayern and Dortmund Romp

What an incredible two days of the Champions League! Both German sides have stunned their Spanish opposition with huge home results. I argue that playing the home game last is far more favorable against hearty opposition but Bayern and Dortmund proved that playing the home game first can be just as favorable.

Bayern Munich travel to Barcelona with a 4-0 scoreline and the knowledge that they completely dominated their opposition. Messi, the wizard of inspiration against PSG, was out of spells and tricks against Bayern. He painted a figure of an injured player that didn't have answers to Barcelona's questions. Bayern Munich capitalized on the weaknesses of Barcelona; they retained the ball well and dispossessed Barcelona in midfield while pressuring their weak defense with great attacking movement and utilizing their chances at set-plays. Barcelona defends well because they don't have to against the majority of their opposition, but once they are put on the back foot their defensive weaknesses are glaring. The scoreline is a bit harsh due to two glaring facts: Gomez was offside for the 2nd and Jordi Alba was fouled right before Robben scored the 3rd. However, Bayern dominated the game and were the only team to truly threaten the opposition's goal. Barcelona again are left asking questions due to a tactical flaw; possession does not win games, goals do. They continue to lack any form of a Plan B when it comes to scoring goals and Bayern Munich exposed this with aplomb.
Robert Lewandowski, you just raised your price tag to over 40m pounds easily. Borussia Dortmund, the Cinderella team of the tournament this year, pulled off another huge result for Germany. Dortmund bossed much of the first half but let in an equalizer before halftime to put this tie into question. I do not know what Jurgen Klopp said to his boys but they dominated the second half and came away with a 4-1 win in Dortmund and in front of the Yellow Wall numbering at approximately 25,000 fans. This game came on the tail-end of heart-breaking news for Dortmund fans; Mario Gotze's buy-out clause was paid by Bayern Munich and he would play for them next season. This could have demoralized the team to the point of tragic results but Jurgen Klopp rallied his troops to put on an awe-inspiring display in Dortmund. Mario Gotze and Marco Reus played brilliantly in Dortmund's attacking band with Gotze leading passes in the attacking third and Reus with successful take-ons.
Jurgen Klopp brilliantly had his men press at midfield to dispossess Madrid quickly and completely disrupt any rhythm in their attacking transitions. Madrid were largely unable to attack or counterattack at pace. Once in possession, Dortmund's approach in the final third utilized the space on the wings and attacked Madrid's fullbacks; Madrid tried to attack through a highly congested midfield zone as evidenced below.
Honorable Mention must go to both of the German sides' double pivot midfielders. Javi Martinez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sven Bender, and Ilkay Gundogan shielded their defenses superbly and transitioned play quickly and efficiently. They really are the engine rooms for their respective teams.

Monday, April 22, 2013

United's Twentieth Wrapped Up At Old Trafford

The writing was on the wall for the past few months but today it became official; Manchester United have won their twentieth English League title. It widens their gap with rivals Liverpool a little more (Liverpool sit at 18) and sees Robin Van Persie win his first ever major trophy since the FA Cup in his inaugural season with Arsenal. I'm sure Piers Morgan's head exploded when he saw RVP lift the Premier League trophy today.

A tip of the hat must go to them for securing another title before the month of May and having seen off every competitor with ease. If Manchester United win their remaining games, they will sit on a mighty 96 points and overtake Chelsea's previous record of 95 in the 2004/05 season.

Take a bow, Manchester United, you earned it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tributes In Boston

 

It so happened that the first game in Boston after the Boston Marathon explosions took place tonight as the Bruins hosted the Buffalo Sabres. This was a night honoring those most affected by this horrible tragedy and symbolized a city that needed something to unify everyone and show that life can go on. Superb work by Rene Rancourt, the Bruins anthem singer, to allow the Boston crowd to let their voices be heard as they sang the anthem.

 

This chant came immediately after the first goal that the Bruins scored.

 

The Sabres came back to win 3-2 in a shootout, but rarely do we see both teams raise their sticks in salute to the fans, but this was great it was the case last night. Doc Emrick had the perfect tone at the end of this call.

We are Boston Strong.

(all videos courtesy of nhl.com)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Boston Marathon Tragedy


(Thanks for Ken Fang of Fang's Bites for creating this sign for all of us to use.)

I'm not from Boston (discussing sports with me will make that a dead giveaway), but I have understood that the first Monday in April is a huge day. Patriots' Day allows for a celebration of Massachusetts' important place in the American Revolution. It gives us morning baseball as the Red Sox annually play at 11AM and it gives us the Boston Marathon. As much as I enjoy the New York City Marathon because it gives a wonderful look at the city through all five boroughs, I do accept the fact that the Boston Marathon is more intertwined into the city of Boston's fabric than the marathon here is to New York's.

Obviously, we have all heard about the awful bombings that occurred at the finish line at today's marathon. Once I heard about the attack, all I could think about is that warm September morning twelve years ago when I was a high school student and heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. Yes, this attack wasn't on the same scale as 9/11, but it makes it no less tragic. The fact that many people in the city was flocked to Copley Square to witness the end of the marathon (a place that gets plenty of people walking through on a normal day) has us lucky that the attack didn't strike more people, yet anyone in Boston (and frankly, around the country) will never forget this happened.

Being that this occurred during a sporting event, I felt in particular a need to address this on my blog. The past twelve months have been brutal for those who test the limits of their body by running marathons. Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the NYC Marathon and lost the chance for tens of thousands of people to feel the cheers of the city for their dedication to fitness and to charity. Today's Boston Marathon was supposed to give those who sacrifice to compete against oneself a chance to have a stress-free run, so to speak. Also noteworthy; the 26th mile was dedicated to the victims of the Newtown shooting, showing once again how both New York and Boston have been out in front of that tragedy; to support and honor those from Sandy Hook Elementary.

Unfortunately, that couldn't be the case as these attacks were put on the finish line. Thus, many had the chance to run the full race. When they finally complete it and achieve a goal that had been set months and years in advanced, their joy gets taken away in one fell swoop. Now it's time for New York City to honor the Boston Marathoners (along with those who were cheering on the runners) who were killed or injured from this act. My friend who will be running in the NYC Marathon this fall told me he has more motivation to run; a man so motivated since he was particularly devastated that he couldn't run last year and perhaps might be good enough that he could run Boston if he chose to do so.

Sunday, it was settled that the Knicks and the Celtics were set to due battle in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It was a time for typical New York-Boston allegiances to show it's head as the rivalry between the two cities was to continue. Right now, we would all love it if Knicks and Celtics fans could engage in trash talk for the next two weeks. We all hate that this can't happen.

I wish I could write something that does it justice on the impact of this attack on Boston, but as an outsider, I can't. Besides, Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe seemed to hit just about everything on his reaction to the horrible day, among many others who live and/or work in the city. However, I knew I needed to write something, because this feeling of heartbreak and suffering is something I'm very familiar with and writing for me is the only way I can truly release some of that feeling.

Now that I'm done writing, I will go back to praying for Boston. Praying that they bounce back like NYC did twelve years ago.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Messi-inspired Barca triumph; Bayern oust Juve

Messi fulfilled one of those cliched sports moments; he came off the bench, playing hurt, and inspired his team to victory (on aggregate). He injured his hamstring in Paris and was named to the bench. Both sides started conservatively, feeling the other team out. It wasn't until the second half when the tie really heated up. PSG came out with a desire for a goal; they did not park the bus by any means. They looked to dispossess Barca, not an easy task, and attack them at pace. Zlatan turned into a creator for Pastore for the following.


Barcelona had to score after that goal but PSG still searched for a second; a bold tactic for Ancelotti to employ but his side looked very threatening. Barca pressed on as Messi came on even barely half-fit for the game. Barca's passing had them in behind the defense shortly after but Messi uncharacteristically couldn't sort out his feet and a clear chance was wasted. He, however, helped push forward again and Pedro was able to place a perfect lay-off from David Villa into the back of the net.



PSG didn't have much for chances after this (Pastore had wasted one previous to Pedro's equalizer) but Iniesta put on a bit of a show near the end of regular time.

History was made by Xavi; he completed 96 of his 96 passes. Read it and weep. Amazing.
Sadly, the Bayern-Juve tie wasn't nearly as interesting. Juve looked up for it in the early stages with Neuer having to punch away a fierce free kick from Pirlo. It was quiet until after the break when Bayern looked to put the tie to bed; Mandzukic headed in a rebound from a weak Buffon punch (how many times has he done that this season?) and his replacement added a 90th minute consolation.

The quarterfinals are now finished and the semifinal draw awaits. The Champions League should deliver another tantalizing round of fixtures! I'm hoping for Barca-Dortmund and Bayern-Real with a dream final of Borussia Dortmund v Real Madrid.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dortmund Stuns Malaga Late; Madrid Holds Off Gala

Borussia Dortmund, sie sind wunderbar. Their comeback was one for the ages and a stunning example of why the Champions League is the greatest club tournament in the world. Before their legendary comeback, BVB had given up a sloppy goal to Malaga (poor defending) but then they finally decided to play the way some of us have fallen in love with over the past three seasons. This is pure beauty.


Dortmund kept searching for another goal but they didn't seem to have any conviction; Malaga kept probing and seemed to be the more likely of the two to score. Subotic didn't have his best game; Malaga also capitalized on a linesman error to go 2-1 up. Eliseu is clearly offside at the time of the pass but the goal stood. Dortmund now had to score twice to go through due to the away goal rule.

Marco Reus had been severely under-performing in both legs but he was in the right place at the right time to put home the equalizer. It was a goal of sheer will and now Dortmund could feel victory on their fingertips. They had four more minutes to score the winner to put them through to the semifinals but they only needed one.


That was a comeback and fight to the finish for the ages. Dortmund have been waiting to show themselves on the European stage but have faltered as Manchester City have done the past few seasons. Their next tie will be very interesting but, for now, they celebrate and deservedly so after that game.

There was another game on today that shouldn't have had many talking points but Galatasaray showed a fighting spirit and gave Real Madrid a little scare. Ronaldo scored again within ten minutes and it seemed business as usual. Gala scored three amazing goals to put themselves 3-1 and needing two goals to advance. What seemed an impossibility now seemed a little improbable. Eboue scored a screamer, Sneijder with a cheeky first touch and slick finish, and Drogba scored an amazing back-heel goal. Unfortunately for Gala, they didn't have enough time and pushing so far forward left them open at the back and Ronaldo made them pay in extra time.

We can only hope that tomorrow's games are only half as entertaining as today's games. Hats off to Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid for advancing to the Champions League semifinals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Aguero's Late Stunner Leads City to Victory



Sergio Aguero. The man has been an afterthought for the majority of this season due to a variety of niggling injuries but today his quality shone through as he fired Manchester City ahead of their rivals, Manchester United, in the Manchester derby. City will claim it as a victory to uphold their honor as reigning Premier League champions; Manchester United will say it is a minor annoyance on their way to the title this year. Fergie, after all, is not known to allow his players to blow a twelve point lead in the table during this time of year.

Regardless of United's inevitable 20th league title, Manchester City dominated this game. United could have cemented their title today but City wanted it more. Mancini's men fought with pride and they prevailed. City dominated possession and looked the more threatening side throughout the contest. United had a few breaks that looked dangerous but they, by and large, looked like an away team playing for a draw (they were playing at Old Trafford). Yaya Toure did give away a free kick in a very dangerous area; Phil Jones' header bounced off of Kompany and into the City net to equalize for United. 

Manchester City would regain the lead but not until the 78th minute through Sergio Aguero, having been brought on for Samir Nasri, in a goal that was reminiscent of the one that won them the Premier League last year. City will enjoy the victory of this particular battle; United will enjoy the parade after they win the war in May.

Editor's note: Previous version of this blog post didn't include the video.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Stroll For Real Madrid; Dortmund Wasteful Against Malaga

My predictions would have been correct if it weren't for Dortmund's dreadful finishing; on the other hand, Real Madrid took their chances and easily have their tie in the bag.

If you have failed to see Borussia Dortmund play this or last season, you are really missing out. Jurgen Klopp has assembled a young, energetic, and skillful side that play very attractive, attacking soccer. Marco Reus and Mario Gotze are two of the brightest attacking talents the whole world over - Franz Beckenbauer asserted as much - and Dortmund also have two of the best centerbacks in the world in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. The latter two are the oldest at a grand age of 24. There were plenty of moments of brilliance shown by Dortmund but they really should have capitalized on moments such as this. Malaga played sloppily in midfield and gifted BVB the ball many times. The Spanish defense were held afloat by the sheer lack of finishing by the Germans (e.g. this). Malaga had a few chances of their own but Borussia's slick passing and movements should have seen them take an advantage back to Germany with them. 0-0 is still a good scoreline for BVB but Malaga had their moments; they are not push-overs but Jurgen Klopp has to make sure this performance in front of goal is not repeated at the Westfalenstadion.

As Messi scored again on Tuesday, Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday. Ronaldo will get all the headlines as is to be expected but his early goal came from a great ball in from Mesut Ozil followed by a great chip. Poor defending led to the Benzema goal but I'll take a Michael Essien assist any day. Real Madrid cruised much of the game with Mesut Ozil really putting on a show. Xabi Alonso's ball over the top to Di Maria should have made it three but his shot was poor and straight at the goalkeeper. Alonso again played a great ball in, from a free kick this time, that found Higuain unmarked in the box and he buried his free header. Jose Mourinho takes a three goal lead to Turkey; he is resting easily tonight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bayern comfortably beat Juve; Late Valdes Blunder Saves PSG

The quarterfinals of the Champions League began today and I couldn't be happier even if Chelsea isn't in the competition anymore. Today brought us two tantalizing fixtures in the form of Bayern Munich versus Juventus and PSG pitted against Barcelona. Bayern and PSG were the home teams in each fixture.

Bayern won easily at home - they were coming off a 9-2 victory at the weekend - but both goals raised eyebrows due questionable goalkeeping. Gianluigi Buffon has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world over the last ten years, he was in goal for Italy's World Cup win in the penalty shootout against France, but it seemed that he could and should have done more to prevent the two Bayern goals. Gigi does get a pass on the first goal as Alaba seemed to have bent the laws of physics to score this goal. Muller added a second due to Buffon impotently batting away a shot into the path of Mandzukic who passed the ball across the goal to Muller and he slotted it into a gaping net. While Bayern did win, they paid a heavy price. Toni Kroos likely tore his groin muscle and had to be replaced after 16 minutes; this means he will be out for the rest of the season. He plays in the spearhead of Bayern's attacking trident meaning he dictates almost every attack. Bayern was also lucky to have Franck Ribery for the second leg as he should have easily seen a straight red card for his calf rake on Vidal. This loss won't affect their domestic league form but it will certainly be interesting to see how Muller slots into that spot in the Champions League.

PSG played hosts to Barcelona; the former in the midst of a revolution to be able to truly give the latter a run for their money. PSG are the new big spenders in European soccer as they were purchased by a Qatari group with assets in excess of $60 billion dollars. Messi opened the scoring, not surprisingly, but the story of that goal was the pass from Dani Alves. PSG did well on the counterattack and defended superbly in the rest of the first half. Lionel Messi, known to be very durable, was subbed off at halftime due to a hamstring issue. His injury will have to be watched closely as that could be the deciding factor in this tie. Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally decided to show up and pull one back for the home team...even if he was miles offside at the time of Thiago Silva's thunderous header. See for yourself here. Barca earned a penalty and Xavi stepped up to do the honors and coolly slotted the ball home. Victor Valdes, how you gave up that goal in stoppage time is beyond me. Barca still have the advantage headed to the Nou Camp due to away goals but 2-2 is worlds better than 2-1 for PSG. They have a mountain to climb but with Matuidi's 94th minute goal it is a very reachable destination. It should be a cracking match in Catalonia.

Tomorrow sees Malaga facing Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid versus Galatasaray. BVB and Madrid should win either game rather easily. It is, however, the Champions League and stranger things have happened.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 MLB Preview



As SportsCenter said last night, this is the 75th anniversary of the first recording of the iconic Abbott and Costello skit "Who's On First". That it happens to coincide with the start of the 2013 baseball season makes it even better. Here are my picks for this season.

NL East

Washington 97-65
Atlanta* 93-69
Philadelphia 82-80
NY Mets 75-87
Florida 66-96

NL Central

Cincinnati 95-67
St. Louis* 91-71
Milwaukee 83-79
Pittsburgh 77-85
Chicago Cubs 65-97

NL West

LA Dodgers 92-70
San Francisco 89-73
Arizona 77-85
San Diego 72-90
Colorado 61-101

AL East

Toronto 91-71
NY Yankees* 89-73
Tampa Bay 86-76
Baltimore 79-83
Boston 73-89

AL Central

Detroit 94-68
Cleveland 84-78
Kansas City 83-79
Minnesota 71-91
Chicago 68-94

AL West

LA Angels 92-70
Oakland* 88-74
Texas 84-78
Seattle 68-94
Houston 58-104 (despite the win last night)

(* denotes Wild Card)

ALCS: Detroit over Toronto
NLCS: Washington over Cincinnati
WS: Washington over Detroit

AL MVP: Robinson Cano
NL MVP: Joey Votto
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander
NL Cy Young: Matt Cain
AL ROY: Jurickson Profar
NL ROY: Trevor Rosenthal

Saturday, March 30, 2013

21 Years Later, Coach K vs Pitino Again



Last night, Louisville and Duke both won their Midwest Region games. For the Cardinals, they outgunned an Oregon team who gave them problems on defense, but had no answer for Louisville's athleticism and spacing. The Blue Devils completely shutdown Michigan State's offense enroute to their win. The Spartans only hit one basket during for about 15 minutes in the second half, at which Duke turned a tied game into a comfortable 10-point win. This means that the only matchup of 1 and 2 in a region will be played in Indianapolis on Easter Sunday. This also means the Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski will face in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since March 28th 1992, when the greatest college basketball game of all-time took place at The Spectrum.

Are we in store for more theatrics at Lucas Oil Stadium tomorrow? Unlike that fateful game in 1992, Pitino's team will be expected to win as Louisville has run roughshod over everyone they faced. Even Oregon, who found a way trail by only single digits late in the second half, never made it more interesting than that as the Cardinals found something to exploit. Duke will be in the underdog role by definition, though to refer to Duke as an "underdog" is an exercise in futility. It's like referring to the Yankees and Lakers that way. Wait, that's a bad example of late? Well, then it's like referring to Manchester United in that way. Plus, Duke beat Louisville this season back in November, though the Cardinals were missing Gorgui Dieng in that one and seem to be playing at their highest-level at this point.

In a couple of years, Duke-Louisville will be an ACC matchup and Coach K and Pitino will see more of each other. Games like this one tomorrow will be needed to be thought of as precious before they become thought of as commonplace, and when either coach leaves, a letdown.

In the meantime, Florida ended the run for Florida Gulf Coast last night by putting the brakes on their uptempo game. It was superbly coached by Billy Donovan after the Eagles were ahead 15-4 early. Now, the Gators have a date with Michigan in an Elite 8 matchup better suited for the Sugar Bowl than the NCAA Tournament. Then again, both teams basketball programs are better than their football programs anyway (yes, I know Florida could have been in the title game, but they aren't the best team in the SEC in football like they are in basketball). That should also be a tremendous matchup tomorrow.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Trey's Trey Leads To Rock Choke



This was a game that appeared to be over. Kansas was dominating Michigan. Too many easy buckets inside for Ben McLemore and the rest of the Jayhawks. They were up by 10 with just under three minutes left when Trey Burke carried the Wolverines on his back. It helped that Elijah Johnson started turning the ball over like crazy and gave Michigan a chance when he missed his 1 and 1 with 12.6 seconds left. That set the stage for the best moment and game of March Madness thus far as Burke hit the NBA range three to tie the game and force OT.

We remained in Trey Burke's world as he scored Michigan's first five points in OT (he ended the night with 23 points, after not scoring at all in the first half). Then, Mitch McGary added four of his 25 points to put Michigan up 3. McGary outplayed Jeff Withey tonight as McGary had a 25-14 games, compared to Withey's 12-7 (though Withey didn't miss from the floor, aside from his one free throw). Johnson kept his Jerkyll and Hyde game going with a three and after a shot-clock violation, Johnson had a chance for redemption. Instead he passes up a good look for the tying layup and fires it to Naadir Tharpe, who wasn't ready to attempt a winning three and all he came up with was an awful looking runner. Somehow, Michigan came back from dead to pull this one out and will play in the Elite 8 for the first time since 1994. That's the last time I count out Michigan dead as long as Trey Burke plays there (though he's only playing at most 3 more games there).

Ross Is The Boss; Syracuse Knocks Off Indiana



This should have been on the blog last night, but I was having internet issues and unfortunately it's posting now. Arizona controlled the game for much of the first half, but Ohio State took advantage of a 7:21 scoring drought by the Wildcats to lead for much of the second half. A huge layup after a foul by Mark Lyons and free throw that followed tied the game at 70, setting the stage for LaQuinton Ross to hit this game-winning three with two seconds left. The Buckeyes move on to the Elite 8 and will face Wichita State as they battle to reach the Final Four. The Shockers barely broke a sweat in their win over La Salle.

The true Shocker from last night was Syracuse not just being Indiana, but manhandling them all over the court. Cody Zeller entered the night with lottery pick potential; now we saw him look very small against the Orange bigs. It didn't help that the Hoosiers looked like they never saw a zone defense in their lives.

Maybe it's from the many years of watching Big East basketball, but I know what to expect from a Jim Boeheim coached Syracuse team. I know that zone can frustrate teams, but if you can players who can drive the lane and wing players who can hit 3's, it can be beat. Plus, a slower pace is your friend in a game like this because trying to quicken the game only leads to mistakes. That's what Indiana did last night.

Syracuse now moves on to face Marquette in the East Region Final. So yes, this is the final, FINAL, Big East game. Marquette was able to comeback on the Orange in February in Milwaukee, but that was before Syracuse regained their confidence. One last bare-knuckeled, Big East slobberknocker for these clubs (and yes, I know Marquette is in the new-Big East as well as have only been in the league for less than ten years).

Finally, all the talk in the college basketball season has been how great the Big Ten was this season. Now, I'm not here to say the league was overrated (they could have three Elite 8 teams after tonight). All I'm here to say is that the Big Ten can't claim to be unquestionably the best conference in college basketball as the Big East in their swan song in current form is at the very least just as good (and boasts the best team in the country it seems in Louisville). Again, why is the Big East breaking up? Something about football? It's basketball's loss.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Domination By Marquette

There are times that if you look at a scoreboard, a game can look closer than it really was. The textbook example is Marquette-Miami. The final score was 71-61. It wasn't nearly that close. Marquette controlled this game from start to finish. 

Losing Reggie Johnson was a killer for the Hurricanes. It gave the Marquette plenty of easy points in the paint. It made it extremely difficult for Miami to hit shots from inside. That can be a major problem when you shoot as cold from outside as Miami did tonight. Yes, the Canes ended up shooting 35% (which isn't good), but they hovered below the 30% mark for much of the game. You'll be hard pressed to compete in games like that, especially when the other team is shooting over 50%.

It was just a balanced offensive attack by the Golden Eagles. Vander Blue scored 14 points. Jamil Wilson led with 16 points, including 3 for 4 from 3. Devante Gardner and Chris Otule added points inside, scoring 14 and 11, respectively. Once again, Buzz Williams found a way to coach every bit of talent out of Marquette and finally takes them to the Elite 8.

This is the Golden Eagles first Elite 8 appearance since 2003, when Dwyane Wade carried them there. Like '03, Marquette's a 3-seed. Indiana-Syracuse winner will have their hands full on Saturday. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WTF Jay Feaster?!?!?!?!?

Alright everyone, let's see if we can follow this correctly. After the Bruins lost to the Canadiens in a shootout tonight, it appeared that the best news to replace the anger over losing to your archrival, as well as losing first place in the process. Aaron Ward of TSN tweeted that the Bruins were set to acquire Jarome Iginla, who's been stuck on a middling Calgary Flames team for many years now. He should have been traded years ago when his trade value was higher; now he's appeared headed to Boston for a whole lot less than he was worth. Until the press conference, when it was announced that it wasn't the Bruins who acquired him, but in fact the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ah, yes. The Pittsburgh Penguins. Owners of the longest winning streak in sports after the Miami Heat's loss tonight to the Bulls. The Penguins, who just traded for Brendan Morrow from the Stars and Douglas Murray from the Sharks. Pittsburgh, who has Sidney Crosby looking as much a lock for the Hart trophy as any player in recent memory (unless David Steckel reacquaints himself). Yes, this team needed to add a future Hall of Famer to be sure to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup (which is funny after the start of the year the Chicago Blackhawks had); now they are a team that seems like not winning a Cup will be the biggest failure in NHL history. The Bruins now must move on without an obvious player who can improve this squad (Iginla is actually more of a fit for Boston than Pittsburgh, which is the ultimate shame). As for the Flames, they basically decided that Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski and 2013 first-round pick (likely pick #30) is worth more to them than Alex Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski and a conditional 1st round pick. All for the greatest player in their history in Iginla. Even the Blue Jackets had a better trade haul for Rick Nash and he asked out of Columbus

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

USA Earn Point at Estadio Azteca

It is not often in soccer that a 0-0 draw means anything; tonight in Mexico City it does. The US Men's National Team earned their second ever point at the Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying (the first having been earned in 1997). This game brings the USA's record to 0-13-2 against the Mexicans at their home stadium.

Historically, this is a huge result for the USA but it also moves the Americans into third place in their region. The USA is behind Costa Rica in only goal difference and sit a paltry one point adrift of Panama. The Mexicans had plenty of chances to earn all three points, the foul committed by Maurice Edu should have been a penalty, but the Americans defended well even with newcomers Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez in the center of defense (the former having only one cap and the latter with three).

The US Men's National Team can relax and enjoy this achievement as they do not play another qualifier until early June against Jamaica. Hopefully, by that time, they will not have to worry anymore about conditions akin to those in Denver.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Tourney Run Of FGCU



This tourney will be remembered as the one that put Florida Gulf Coast University on the map. They are now the first 15-seed to win two games in a single NCAA Tournament, beating Georgetown and San Diego State. These games weren't even close. The Eagles have pulled away in the second half of both games with their uptempo, high-flying style that's earned them the nickname "Dunk City"(I think that's a better name than Fort Myers).

Before winning any games, the biggest story about this team is that head coach Andy Enfield is married to Amanda Marcum, a former supermodel whom he met when driving to Boston for a college basketball game. Now they are truly America's Team as they move on to their matchup with Florida on Friday night. The Gators might have the offense to match up best with the Eagles that Georgetown and San Diego State don't have, which could spell doom for Florida Gulf Coast's run. Win of lose, FGCU has been a winner this month of March as now people know where they are. Now if only people knew how to spell the school's name correctly. Perhaps next March.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

La Salle Explores Sweet 16; Tough Loss For Illinois

When La Salle and Ole Miss took the floor, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that both teams would play a close one. And wouldn't you know it, it was tied with a minute left at 74. The Rebels had the first chance, but Ladarius White missed a jumper. It appeared that La Salle had the ball, but it was called out on them and Mississippi kept it. Then, Marshall Henderson took a shot and was fouled, but no call was made and the Explorers took the ball after a shot clock violation. With the last shot, La Salle  ran it down and Tyrone Garland drove the lane and hit the layup to give La Salle the win. Ole Miss had a timeout left and 2.5 seconds to get Marshall Henderson the ball, but Andy Kennedy thinks he can carry it over into next year, so the Rebels are done. Here's the video:



Miami and Illinois also were tied down the stretch before Tracy Abrams split free throws to give the Fighting Illini the lead. The Hurricanes put it in the hands of their leader Shane Larkin, who drilled a 3 to give Miami a 57-55 lead. Illinois couldn't answer, then got on the wrong side of an out of bounds call, which was clearly off a Miami player. They then proceed to waste time not fouling a big man and letting Larkin ice the game at the line. Miami moves on, joining Florida and Florida Gulf Coast (I'll have more on them in another post) in the Sweet 16, most schools from one state to advance to that round this year. Here are some all-time gifs from Miami's win


Julian Gamble with an all-time photo bomb of Shane Larkin's interview


Jim Larranaga Dancing!!!!

Also, Duke beat Creighton. America loses again.

(gifs courtesy of @cjzone)


Kansas Overwhelms UNC; Rosario Leads Florida

I'm not sure what was said by Bill Self in the Kansas locker room, but the Jayhawks responded and turned a North Carolina nine-point lead into a 12-point victory. Kansas outscored the Tar Heels by 21 in the second half as Jeff Withey scored 12 of his 16 points. He also grabbed 16 boards throughout the game and Travis Releford added 22 points. It just appear as if UNC decided to stop playing defense in the second half. Roy Williams once again can't beat the team he used to coach. Most importantly, it led to this by a Tar Heel fan:


Florida also had an easy time handing the Big Ten their first loss of the weekend, defeating Minnesota by 14. Mike Rosario led the way with 25 points. This has been a good March for former Rutgers players. While Gregory Echenique has helped Creighton get to a date with Duke, Rosario has become a go-to-guy for the Gators. Since he's doing this not for Rutgers, I'm happy for him.

(gif courtesy of @buzzfeedsports)

Smoke Is Mad



Remind me to never piss off Tony Stewart. Joey Logano blocked Stewart in today's NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway and this was his reaction to it. When Fox interviewed him after, time didn't calm Smoke down.




Logano better be careful that Stewart doesn't do to him in two weeks because of this as Logano did to Denny Hamlin today after what Hamlin did last week at Bristol (and not in a last lap, going for the win situation).

B1G Final Four Still Alive, But Barely



Ohio State and Indiana both had scares in Dayton, but found ways to win. In the case of Ohio State, everything that Aaron Craft did would have been the reason had the Buckeyes won or lost. Aaron Craft missed layups and multiple free throws down the stretch; the main reason Iowa State was able to rally from a 13 point deficit to take the lead late. Then he took a controversial charge which could have made the Cyclones lead to 4 and finally hit the game winning 3 at the buzzer. They avoided joining the West Region Dumpster Fire and have their eyes directly set for Atlanta, by way of Los Angeles.

Ohio State mostly led against Iowa State; Indiana on the other hand mostly trailed against Temple. The Hoosiers had no answer for Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 for the Owls. Problem with Temple was that only four players were able to score, whereas Indiana had three who scored double figures and Christian Watford scored 9. Victor Olapido hit the dagger 3 with 14 seconds left.




Both teams winning now have the Big Ten at 10-1 in the tournament with four of their five best teams in the Sweet 16. An all-Big Ten Final Four is still a possibility.

Shocker: Close Games

After a day filled with blowouts, the late games Saturday finally gave us some close finishes. The best game of these was Marquette-Butler which was close throughout the second half. When Andrew Smith scored with 1:39 left and shot the free throw to make it 69-66, it appeared Butler was going to move on. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Vander Blue makes a habit out of picking up the slack for Marquette and tied the game with a 3. The Golden Eagles would score the rest of the way from the free throw line, while Butler had two chances to tie or win the game late. The first time, Rotnei Clarke missed a rushed shot. Incredibly, Butler got another chance after a quick Andrew Smith layup and turnover in the inbounds with 2.9 left. Too bad Brad Stevens didn't have a better play that to give Smith the ball from beyond the arc and him fling it to the hoop. Marquette wins and will have bragging rights for when these two play in the Big East next year.

So many puns will be used to describe this game (it's in my headline), but Wichita State knocked off Gonzaga last night, making the Zags the first 1-seed to lose. The Shockers led for much of the game, but Gonzaga seemed to right the ship, topping off at a 7-point lead with 5:32 left. Wichita State then went on a 16-4 run, as they got hot from 3. Ron Baker led the way, scoring 8 of the 16 (as well as his 16) during that stretch. The Shockers held on and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. Gonzaga's loss only adds to the West Region Dumpster Fire, which has now claimed the 1, 3, 4 and 5 seeds. This either means that Ohio State has a Final Four berth locked up or they are the next and last victim.

Meanwhile, Syracuse beat Cal late last night in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. The Orange did this with a balanced approach on offense; with C.J. Fair and James Southerland shouldering the scoring load and Michael Carter-Williams adding secondary scoring. Defensively, they frustrated Allen Crabbe, holding him to 8 points on 3 of 9 shooting. Syracuse looks to be back on all cylinders and if Indiana does win today, their matchup with Syracuse could be really good.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Louisville Upsets Ram Boy; Pac-12 Dominates

It's been a letdown all day long for March Madness, full of blowouts. Louisville closed out Colorado State in the middle of the 1st half, while Arizona seemed like they finished Harvard in the first few minutes. The Wildcats had a 17-2 start and the Crimson never had a chance. Mark Lyons was Arizona's best player, scoring 27 points on 12 of 17 shooting. They now are set for a matchup with the Iowa St-Ohio St winner and with the way the West region has played this tourney, the Cyclones could be there.

Louisville look unstoppable. They took Colorado State's will in the first half, with a dagger buzzer beater to end the first half up 14. That buzzer beater seemed to be when Ram Boy gave up all home for a win.


Anyone who faces Louisville will have a difficult time, but it appears that Oregon will be up for the challenge. They shot lights out from behind the arc against Saint Louis and the Billikens couldn't match on the offensive end either. The Ducks also seemed to grab every 50/50 ball. Overlook the Ducks at your peril, Louisville.

(gif courtesy of SB Nation)

Snowmageddon On The Pitch



I would be remiss if I didn't have this on the blog from last night. Yes, the World Cup qualifier between the US and Costa Rica stole time away from March Madness because of all this snow on the pitch in Denver. This was an important match since the US team needed to get a win on home soil; by doing so, they jump from last into 2nd in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. They get ready for Mexico on Tuesday, which they will have to deal with similar altitude, but pretty sure likely not the same weather.

Banner Day For The State Of Michigan

It's appropriate that both Michigan and Michigan State were playing their games today in Auburn Hills. Both teams moved on to the Sweet 16 with convincing wins. The Wolverines had no issues with VCU's Havoc as the trio of Trey Burke (despite his 7 turnovers), Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III always seemed to find an answer to the Rams press. It was Mitch McGary, though, who beat up VCU inside, scoring 21 points on 10 of 11 shooting and grabbing 14 rebounds. Anytime the press failed the Rams, McGary was there to score inside and to deliver bone crushing screens like this:



While Michigan had almost no trouble at all, Michigan State played a tough first half with Memphis, who started to frustrate the Spartans and cut an early 13-point deficit to 3 at halftime. Luckily, Gary Harris came to play in the first half, scoring 16 of his 23 points there. Adrelan Payne scored 10 of his 14 points in the early stages of the second half and the Tigers were held to 30% shooting.

This is the first time that both Michigan and Michigan State have reached the Sweet 16 in the same year. Unfortunately, this is the last time that both teams get to play in the state of Michigan. With the way both teams played today, I wouldn't be surprised if either made the Final Four.

Kansas Outlasts Western Kentucky; Second Round Set

Friday night ended with a whimper (two blowouts and a comfortable win by San Diego State), despite Western Kentucky's attempt to be the first 16 seed to knock off a 1. Kansas held on late and are set with a date with North Carolina. Can Roy Williams finally beat the Jayhawks? That will be the game Sunday that everyone will hype, though there are plenty of other games that are just as interesting. VCU-Michigan to me seems like the best matchup this weekend.

VCU just shows the strength in the Atlantic 10. The conference had all five teams reach the second round; only the Big 10 has more (6). On the flip side, the Mountain West and Big East haven't impressed this tourney. Louisville should be able to uphold the honor of the league (even though the league can't claim them after this year), whereas only San Diego State has a good chance to reach the Sweet 16.

We know that one of Ole Miss and La Salle will reach the Sweet 16 as a double digit seed, but I'm particularly curious who which of the leftover double digit seeds (Oregon, Cal, Florida Gulf Coast, Iowa State, Minnesota, Harvard) can move on as well. I think the Pac-12 double digits have tough matchups, and the Cyclones will have a lot more trouble scoring. I actually like Minnesota since they are a little underseeded against Florida (tough conference, good rebounding team). Harvard also wouldn't shock me, but I do think Arizona is better offensively than New Mexico is capable of playing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

UNC Outlast Nova; Illinois Streaks To Win

Ohio State and Florida both avoided any upsets with some dominant wins over Iona and Northwestern State, respectively. So we'll focus on the last early game with Illinois and Colorado, which saw both teams go on streaks, hot and cold. In the end, the Illini prevail behind the efforts of Brandon Paul. They are set to face Miami and the only chance they have is to be hot all game long. Miami is too good to survive a cold streak like they had.

North Carolina in the first half had control over Villanova, but Jay Wright's team rallied in the second half. They dropped the deficit down to one with a little over two minutes left. Then, Marcus Paige and P.J. Hairston hit some shots and free throws to give the Tar Heels the win.

Let's see if there's another Roy Williams matchup with Kansas.

Hoya Failure; FGCU Wins As 15

This year was supposed to be different. Georgetown arguably boasts the best player in college basketball in Otto Porter. They won the Big East regular season and received a two-seed. They weren't going to lose make an early exit this year. Florida Gulf Coast isn't Ohio or Davidson (w/Steph Curry) or VCU. That's what they thought. That's what we all thought.

It wasn't so. Georgetown once again crash and burn in March. The Eagles actually looked just as athletic as Georgetown, which tends to be the biggest problem for these low seeds against 1's and 2's. They were getting in passing lanes and the Hoyas responded to this by fouling everyone. Going to the foul line where the Eagles truly beat the Hoyas, as all the other stats were quite similar. Sherwood Brown scored 24 and Bernard Thompson added 23, leading the way for FGCU. Here was the punctuation:



I'm still can't believe John Thompson III has actually taken the Hoyas to a Final Four once.

Awful Ending For Cincy; Kansas State

For the first time this March, we had a legitimate moment where you needed to be handy with the remote, as both Cincinnati-Creighton and La Salle-Kansas State were tight toward the close at the same time. For the most part, the Bearcats and Blue Jays were tight throughout with Creighton beginning to pull ahead. That was before a flagrant foul call on Doug McDermott that gave Cincinnati two free throws and the ball. Of course, Shaquille Thomas missed both freebies, before Sean Kilpatrick drilled a three. Cincinnati ended up with a chance to tie the game, but another three (and an awful look and poorly-timed one at that) by Kilpatrick was missed and Creighton moved on. Score one for the new Big East over the old one.

La Salle looked like they weren't going to be worrying about a close game at all when they ran Kansas State off the court in the first half. Then, the Explorers became ice cold and the Wildcats became white hot and went from being down 44-26 at the half to up 57-56 with seven minutes left. Then both teams became ice cold. Down 1 under a minute left, La Salle got to the foul line twice, but missed one with 8 seconds left with a two-point lead. Then you'll see one of the worst offensive plays ever run by Kansas State who saw Angel Rodriguez basically run the clock out without any good look, despite having a timeout. Bruce Weber in fact tried to call the timeout, but not until basically the game was over. Another NCAA disappointment for Weber, which has now followed him from Illinois to K-State.

Kansas State's loss means that the 3, 4 and 5 seeds have lost in the West Region. Either Gonzaga and Ohio State are both reaching the Elite 8 or we are going to see a crazy region the likes of the Southwest Region back in 2011 when VCU went to the Final Four. I'm willing to bet on the latter.

No Repeat For Duke, Ole Miss Upset and Temple Hangs On

Duke went up against Albany today hoping to avoid last year's pitfall against Lehigh in this 15-2 matchup. While the Great Danes played hard all game long, the Blue Devils never allowed them to make this closer than 8 in the second half. They shot very well in the first half, ending up shooting 58 percent, not to mention too much Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee for Albany to handle. Duke will move on to face the Creighton/Cincinnati winner.

The story of the SEC Tournament (besides the failures of Kentucky) was Marshall Henderson from Ole Miss. Now, him and the Rebels start making noise in the NCAA Tournament as they beat Wisconsin 57-46. The Badgers looked like a sleeper Final Four team after reaching the Big 10 Final, but for the first time in 6 years, they are sent home in the first round, despite what someone decided to put on Wisconsin's Wikipedia page.



Temple dominated the first half against N.C. State, who continued their Jerkyl and Hyde routine upon the close of this season. The Wolfpack tried to rally late, but not enough smart decisions (allowing 11 seconds run off before fouling late was a killer) helped the Owls prevail, who looked for any way to give this one away. Credit Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 points and was more importantly 12-14 from the free throw line as being able to give Fran Dunphy his third tourney win in his career.

I know Miami-Pacific isn't finished but Miami's up by 30, so we can pretty much move on.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Breaking Brackets

It seemed like today was going to be a quiet day of the Madness. Yes, Marquette won on a last second shot, but they held their seed over Davidson, along with everyone one else aside from the 5's losing to Pac-12 12-seeds. The late night games were full of blowouts. VCU and Syracuse both doubled up Akron and Montana, respectively. Colorado State finally upheld the honor of the Mountain West, pulling away from Missouri 84-72. It's too bad the conference's honor was extinguished about an hour later.

Harvard broke brackets tonight when they beat New Mexico 68-62. The Lobos seemed like they would be the one team to be immune from a 14-3 upset, yet they had no answer for the way Harvard spread the floor and their three-point shooting. The lack of easy offense for New Mexico also hurt them, but let's face it, New Mexico had no business losing this game.

Now, Harvard will move on to face Arizona after their first ever NCAA Tournament win. This is the first time a sitting President's school won an NCAA Tourney game since Georgetown in 1996. Meanwhile, New Mexico continues to have never reached a Sweet 16 and now Steve Alford has his second loss as a 3-seed (lost to Northwestern State when he was with Iowa), joining Lute Olsen and Eddie Folger as the only coaches to lose as a 2 or 3 multiple times in the first round. Finally, the Mountain West is in need of a win by San Diego State to regain some lost pride the Mountain West have already lost with New Mexico, UNLV and Boise State last night.

Blowouts Galore, Plus Another 12-5 Upset

The early evening games were mostly snorefests, as Louisville, Michigan and Arizona all won handily. Louisville got up early on North Carolina A&T and it was never in doubt. South Dakota State had an early lead on Michigan, but midway through the first half when Michigan was primed for a loss, the Jackrabbits couldn't jack a score. Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr each scored 21 points to lead the Wolverines. Just saw on the box score that South Dakota State played 6 players and four of those players played the full 40.

Belmont was a popular upset pick, but they were no match for Arizona, who were firing on all cylinders. The Wildcats pulled away during an 18-4 run that occurred between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half; going up 18 in the process. The Bruins tried to come back, but Arizona kept them at arms distance throughout the rest of the game.

Drama was only alive in San Jose, where UNLV was facing 12-seeded Cal, in essentially a home game for the Golden Bears. Cal was led by Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs in the back and Robert Thurman who had dunk after dunk in the second half up front. Some poor free throw shooting (where have you heard this before?) made this a closer game for the Runnin' Rebels. Proved to be too little, too late and Cal became the second 12th seed to win today, both from the Pac-12, who are making the selection committee eat a lot of crow over their seeding.

One takeaway from UNLV-Cal though is there can't be another situation where the high seed has to play a rematch in their first game. Not to mention they have to play in the same area as the lower seed, making it a de facto road game. If the committee was going to make a rematch happen, they should have had UNLV play Oregon, where distance for both are considerable.

I'll have a final post on the late night games later on.

Martin Brodeur Returns; Scores A Goal



So Martin Brodeur has returned to the Devils from injury tonight against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. So what does he do. Just score a goal. This is the 3rd goal of his career and his first power play goal. He already has as many power play goals this year as Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik and more than Brad Richards. Fun fact about those three; they are paid more money than Brodeur and their job is to score goals. Thankfully, Brodeur saved this for Carolina instead of Tuesday against the Rangers.

Marquette Rallies, Gonzaga Takes A Scare, Oregon's Eff You

After St. Mary's nearly came back on Memphis, it sent a jolt to the remaining afternoon games as we saw close games and upset change the mood of Thursday's early session. Perhaps the sea change really took place throughout the Davidson-Marquette matchup which had upset written all over it.

As the Gaels effort fell short, Davidson was taking control against the Golden Eagles, going up by 9 late in the 2nd half. Somehow, Marquette found a way to rally back, despite the Wildcats great free throw shooting and Marquette's own awful three-point shooting. They made some three's and forced a turnover on the press. Finally, it came down to Vander Blue took the inbounds from 3/4 court and drove it to the hole and gets the winning layup. Now, a soon-to-be Big East matchup will take place as Butler awaits the Golden Eagles.

Meanwhile, Southern University gave Gonzaga a scare. A 15-4 run in the second half tied the game at 56, before three's by Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos put the Zags back ahead and ultimately the win. Meanwhile, all the criticism of Oregon getting a 12-seed was proved to be warranted as they dominated from start to finish over Oklahoma State.

More recaps for the night games, which as I post this will come sooner, rather than later.

Sparty Soars, Butler Survives, Memphis Escapes

Not a great slate of early games to start this year's March Madness. Michigan State dominated over Valparaiso, despite the 65-54 final score. Butler and Bucknell was the game that was closest in the afternoon. The Bison were up by 6, until the Bulldogs realized that the only one capable of hitting shots was Joe Willman and shut him and the Bucknell offense down at that point. Still didn't stop Bucknell from making the game last about an additional 20 minutes thanks to fouls.

Atlantic 10 power spread to San Jose when Saint Louis dominated over New Mexico State by 20. The shame of the Aggies losing is we no longer get to see 7'5" Sim Bhullar play. Dwayne Evans took great joy in attacking the giant of a human for much of his 24 points. The Billikens continue to show they are a team that Louisville (assuming they make it to Indianapolis) will need to be ready to play.

Finally, in the "this is stunning" department, Pitt lost early in the NCAA's. Today, it was to Wichita State by 18 as their lack of offense caught up to them like always. They head to the ACC where we hope they continue to fail at March Madness (hopefully I won't foolishly take them like I always do). Also, Memphis seemed to have St. Mary's put away in their game, but missed free throws remains the biggest issue with the Tigers. Luckily, they held on after a Matthew Dellavedova missed 3 at the buzzer. Nice to see Josh Pastner is continuing tradition at Memphis. More updates later today.

Final Four Picks

So a Final Four of Louisville, VCU, Indiana and New Mexico has been made after the South, Midwest, East and West tourney previews. Now to play out the championship.

When New Mexico takes on Louisville, they finally face a team who will force the tempo out of the Lobos comfort zone and are just too skilled in the backcourt, producing nightmares for Steve Alford's club. Too much Peyton Siva will help the Cardinals win in a blowout.

VCU will try to do the same to Indiana, but unlike New Mexico, Indiana is a superior offensive team and if/when the Rams havoc style fails them, the Hoosiers should supply a huge dose of Cody Zeller on the weak frontcourt of VCU. This won't be a blowout, but Indiana should hold off VCU at arms distance.

It's sets up a championship between Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals and Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers. This would be the second championship game that the Harbaugh family will be fervently interested in. The fact that Louisville plays a similar style to VCU, but better only makes this likely to be one of the best National Championship games in history. I have to go with the firepower of Indiana who are good enough defensively to match Louisville on that end, whereas I don't think Louisville can score like Indiana can if they have to.

Your National Champions: Indiana

West Region Preview

After looking at the South, Midwest and East Regions, we've finally reached the West. This region has a disputed 1-seed in Gonzaga, despite their 31-2 record. Of all the regions, this one is the most wide open as the potential is there for five different teams to realistically reach the Final Four. Let's look at the region.

THANKS FOR ATTENDING

Southern (16) is somewhere in the South. Iona (15) stole Seton Hall's tourney spot a year ago; now they will play Ohio State and lose big. Harvard (14) has been undergoing it's greatest run of basketball under Tommy Amaker. This team isn't as good as last year's team, and should be in trouble against New Mexico.

TALE OF TWO MID-MAJORS (AND TWO TEAMS WHO MAY AS WELL BE)

Wichita State (9) are good enough to win in the tourney, but I think they drew a bad matchup with Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Belmont (11) is more than capable of winning in the first round. It probably isn't an upset if they were to beat Arizona (6), who's struggled to the finish line. That's a toss-up. Finally, we have Ole Miss (12) who had to play their way into the field by winning the SEC Tourney. If Marshall Henderson stays hot, the Rebels have a chance against Wisconsin. Problem is that Wisconsin's style will wear down Mississippi and they are pretty hot themselves.

RETURN OF THE EXPLORERS

Last night, La Salle (13) played very well in knocking off Boise State in the last First Four game. Now they have a date with Kansas State and the question will be if the Explorers can keep the hot hand that they did last night in Kansas City, the city where some the glory days of legendary basketball program occurred when they won a national title in 1954. I think the size that the Wildcats pose will be too much for La Salle's guard-heavy lineup, but let's hope that they won't be strangers from the tourney for another 21 years.

BIG EAST (SOON-TO-BE ACC) UNDERACHIEVERS

Notre Dame (7) once again gets to try to avoid another early loss in the tourney. They've only made it into the Sweet 16 once under Mike Brey. This year, being a 7 means avoiding a first round loss. That won't happen as Iowa State (10) will shoot on the Irish all day. Pittsburgh (8) also have a mixed tourney history, but at least they reached the Elite 8 under Jamie Dixon. Back in 2011, I swore off the Panthers after their loss to Butler, as controversial as it was (the loss, not my swearing them off), but I see that matchup with Gonzaga (1) and I just think that Pitt will have an answer for Kelly Olynyk and the defend the floor at the same time. My biggest upset: Pitt over Gonzaga.

BIG TEN TITLE GAME REMATCH?

Yes, Ohio State (2) and Wisconsin (5) can face each other again in the regional final. The question is will they? As well-coached and disciplined in their style that the Badgers are, there always comes a point in the tourney that it's not enough to outlast. I see that happening against Kansas State, who's only crime is not being able to beat Kansas. Problem with Ohio State is they are playing a New Mexico team who probably should be the 2-seed in this region (or at least some other region) and are perhaps stronger defensively as the Buckeyes are.

ELITE EIGHT

New Mexico (3) vs. Kansas State (4). The Lobos were put in a fortunate region, which isn't filled with teams that have an abundance of high caliber NBA talent. The Wildcats will play a slow style, just like New Mexico and want to keep the scoring down in the 40s-50s. The difference: New Mexico is outstanding at shooting free throws and not allowing opponents to shoot them, while Kansas State is awful in both. Yes, I said to avoid picking the Mountain West, but I'm making an exception for the Lobos.

West Region winner: New Mexico

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

East Region Preview

So far today, the South and Midwest Region were covered. Now that James Madison won their First Four matchup, it's time for the East Region preview. The East sees Indiana, who fell out of the Midwest Region which would have had their Sweet 16 games in Indianapolis. Instead they have to play in Washington D.C. where a potential matchup with Syracuse could be filled with Orange fans. Miami also might have been shortchanged as the winner of the ACC regular season and tournament titles to only get a 2-seed, but some head-scratching losses have the Hurricanes where they are. Can the Canes and Hoosiers end up in the Elite Eight. Is there a Cinderella lurking in this region. Let's find out.

THANKS FOR ATTENDING

James Madison (16) has made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994 and tonight they defeated LIU. A date with Indiana is the result of their troubles. Pacific (15) found themselves up against a well-coached Miami team filled with upperclassmen.

DEFINITELY CAN PULL THE UPSET, EVEN THOUGH I'M NOT PICKING IT

Davidson (14) and Montana (13) are both easily capable of beating Syracuse and Marquette, respectively. I think Montana is facing Syracuse one week too late after they played well in New York, while Marquette has improved as the season goes along and Buzz Williams' teams usually avoids the early round letdown. Another won who could pull an upset is Bucknell (11) over Butler. My faith in Brad Stevens will hold true in this one. The Bison don't play fast enough to pull that upset.

WAIT, HAVEN'T WE MET BEFORE?

This is for UNLV (5) and California (12), who met back in December. The Runnin' Rebels beat Cal in Berkeley by 1, so their reward was a rematch in San Jose. No wonder a 12-seed beats a 5 every year. If the Golden Bears can avoid the pitfalls that spelled them in their last two games, they should win. Allen Crabbe is the best player on the floor and the Mountain West isn't to be trusted tournament time (usually).

NOT ONE, BUT TWO NIT GAMES IN THIS BRACKET

What could have been for N.C. State (8). They were thought to be a top-4 seed at the start of the year, but inconsistency puts them in this spot against Temple (9). Since a 9-seed usually wins, I have the Owls winning here. Colorado (10) won't get past Miami if they were to win, while Illinois (7) has a small chance to do so; only because they have some wins over top teams.

MIDWESTERN, SOON-TO-BE BIG EAST BATTLE

A battle in the second round between Butler (6) and Marquette (3) seems inevitable. The Bulldogs beat the Golden Eagles back in November by 1. While Marquette seemed to gel as the season wore on, Butler had to deal with a tough conference schedule for the first time and if they could have beaten Saint Louis, they would be in better shape. Even still, they move on to the Sweet 16.

THE ENIGMA

What to make of the Syracuse Orange? Are they the team that started 18-1 and went to the Big East Final? Or are they the team that were 5-7 down the stretch before the Big East Tourney? What's going to help Syracuse is they will play some teams that aren't used to playing their zone. One thing to remember, Tom Crean used to play Syracuse regularly back in his Marquette days, so he would be familiar with what the Orange do.

ELITE EIGHT

Indiana (1) vs. Miami (2). I have these two going to the final in D.C. The Hoosiers have too much talent (and too much Victor Olapido), while the Hurricanes have too much experience with their talent, plus I love Jim Larranaga in March. Big 10 slate is tougher than the ACC slate was last year and Indiana will find a way past this team who plays well defensively.

East Region winner: Indiana

Midwest Region Preview

Earlier we looked at the South region, now it's time for the other region that has all 16 teams set, the Midwest. One thing that I will say before we go in-depth; this is clearly the toughest region. Duke could have been a 1-seed, Michigan State might have been a 2 if they could have beaten Wisconsin and Saint Louis probably gets a higher seed if they aren't in the Atlantic 10. Here's the Midwest region:

THANKS FOR ATTENDING

North Carolina A&T (16) won last night against Liberty, getting their first NCAA Tourney win in the process. Their reward: the right to lose to Louisville by 35. Albany (15) is back in the tourney for the first time since 2007 when they gave a scare to UConn as a 16th seed. It's probably the one school in the tournament that I know the most alums. Too bad that Duke isn't going to allow another Lehigh to happen.

ONLY BECAUSE THEY ACTUALLY WON NCAA TOURNEY GAMES BEFORE

Valparaiso (14) and New Mexico State (13) have been to the Sweet Sixteen in the past. Bryce Drew is coaching Valpo and was there when they reached the Sweet 16 in 1998. It's too bad both teams go against Michigan State and Saint Louis. Different region might have led to an upset.

MIGHT AS WELL BE A GAME FROM THE NIT

Colorado State (8) vs. Missouri (9). I hate to shortchange Colorado State here, but after they beat Missouri, the matchup against Louisville is a killer for Colorado State since the Cardinals will speed it up. They will have to settle for beating up the Tigers down low, led by Colton Iverson.

BIG EAST LEFTOVERS

Cincinnati (10) will have their hands full with Doug McDermott and Creighton will speed up tempo to get the win. Memphis (6) has yet to win a game in the NCAA's under Josh Pastner and if you look at their schedule, 3 of their 4 losses came against tourney teams. They will be fun together in the Conference Formally Known As Big East.

FODDER FOR THE TOP SEEDS

St Mary's (11) won their First Four matchup last night and for the first two instances, this meant that one of those teams won the First Round game. They will against Memphis, but Matthew Dellavedova won't be enough to get past the size of Michigan State. Doug McDermott gets Creighton (7) past Cincinnati, but Duke will have multiple scorers who can do the job that Creighton can do. Oregon (12) was screwed with their seed and got stuck with a tough matchup against Oklahoma State (5). I think the Ducks win the rock fight between these teams who are great defensively. It won't really matter who wins since Saint Louis will be waiting.

REALLY WANTED TO PICK THEM FURTHER

Well, in the case of Duke (2), I'm not that upset that I'm picking them to be finished in the Sweet 16. Michigan State is too big for Duke and the Blue Devils get too dependent on the three-ball. Plus, Tom Izzo always extracts as much out of his team as possible once the tourney begins. Saint Louis (4) has the size to beat Louisville, but the Cards are better in the backcourt and uptempo doesn't work in the Billikens favor. Would be very interested to know if Rick Majerus would have been able to outwit Rick Pitino in this one.

ELITE EIGHT

Louisville (1) vs. Michigan State (3). Rematch from last year when the Spartans couldn't score much against the Cardinals. With Louisville more experienced and seemingly more explosive as the second half of the Big East title game showed. Louisville is looking to be the fourth straight Big East Champ to reach the Final Four and I (along with almost everyone it seems, something that makes me hesitant) believe this will happen.

Midwest Region: Louisville

South Region Preview

Tomorrow will be the true start of March Madness, so today, there will be looks at all four regions. I figured that once some of the First Four games were played, and a couple of days to think about the bracket would be wise before going ahead with this post. Since there was no play-in games in this region, let's start with the South, looking at grouping the teams based on chances on advancing.

THANKS FOR ATTENDING

Western Kentucky (16) and Northwestern State (14) have no shot of an upset. Thus, we get reminded how we have no idea what the Hilltoppers mascot is and that Northwestern State has made more NCAA appearances than Northwestern, who's in the Big 10.

SO YOU'RE SAYING THERE'S A CHANCE?

This is the group for Florida Gulf Coast (15), South Dakota State (13) and Akron (12). If everything broke right, an upset can occur. Akron's hurt by a suspension of PG Alex Abreu, which is a killer against VCU. I'm also pretty sure that Georgetown will be on guard for the upset by FGC. The Jackrabbits of SD State are on this list because they gave Baylor a scare last year; unfortunately I think Michigan won't allow another First Round loss (for the purposes of this and any other posts, I will, rightfully, refer to the Second Round as First Round), after the one Ohio gave them a year ago.

MAY AS WELL BE A GAME FROM THE NIT

San Diego State (7) vs. Oklahoma (10). Neither team is beating Georgetown and they are close enough competitively that seed doesn't matter. The rule of thumb is to pick against Steve Fisher-coached teams in the tourney, since they only won a game in the tourney once since 1994, right before Juwan Howard and Jalen Rose went to the NBA. Oklahoma is the pick by default.

ROCK(CHALK), PAPER, SCISSORS

For some reason, I think Villanova (9) has a shot to pull over Kansas. Problem is, North Carolina (8) looks like they will create matchup problems with the Wildcats. Which is too bad, because there's no way that the Tar Heels knock off the Jayhawks.

SHOULDN'T THESE SEEDS BE REVERSED?

UCLA (6) vs. Minnesota (11). I know why Minnesota is an 11-seed, but the Bruins are missing Jordan Adams and the Gophers will be happy to be freed from Big 10 play. They finished the year 5-11 after a 15-1 start. I think playing on neutral courts can get them back to a November-December rhythm. Don't be surprised if Minnesota can make their way to the Sweet 16; they rebound the ball very well.

DON'T FALL IN LOVE WITH THESE TEAMS

Kansas (1), Florida (3) and Michigan (4) all will be picked to go to the Final Four in a bunch of brackets. Florida, in fact, has the Nate Silver seal of approval. With the Gators, I really don't like how they have absolutely zero close wins. As for Kansas and Michigan, they seem to be bad matchups for VCU and Shaka Smart's Havoc.

ELITE EIGHT

VCU (5) vs. Georgetown (2). I'm relishing this matchup with Otto Porter and the Hoyas will try to slow down the Rams of VCU who will do all they can to rev up the tempo in this one. In the end, I don't think there's enough for Georgetown to pull through past the Rams.

South Region Winner: VCU




Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Photobomb Involving Bill Walton


Yes, Bill Walton was photobombed by Bill Walton. N.C. A&T and St. Mary's won First Four action tonight and Robert Morris upset Kentucky, but this is the biggest story in college hoops tonight. It doesn't even matter if Stanford or Stephen F. Austin wins.

Then, this happened...


God Bless Bill Walton.

(h/t to Awful Announcing and Amanda Rykoff)

Frank Lampard and his Two Hundred

This weekend marked the two hundredth goal scored by Frank Lampard for Chelsea F.C. This milestone is significant because it means that he only needs two more goals to tie the all-time record of 202 set by Bobby Tambling. If Frank were to score more than two, as many as willing to bet, he will sit at the zenith of goal-scoring achievement at Chelsea F.C. The truly breathtaking fact is that he has done this from midfield. He truly is one of a kind and should go down as one of England's greatest ever midfielders. He will also go down as one of the greatest scoring midfielders in the Premier League for many years to come; he reigns king in that category already. One thing is true:  you do not have to be a fan of Chelsea to appreciate the player that he is and the record he is inches away from tying and, fingers crossed, breaking.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day Two: Zags Win and the Big East Starts

Last night began a daily look at how the NCAA Tournament field was taking shape. There was a clear omission by me in yesterday's post: the Sun Belt championship was last night. Congratulations to Western Kentucky for knocking off Florida International and clinch an auto bid. What's unfortunate is now Middle Tennessee State, who went 19-1 in the Sun Belt (and won the league by FIVE games) and 28-5 overall, now must see on that bubble and pray that the number of bid thieves are minimal. They're ranked 28th in RPI, yet they have a 135th ranked schedule and their best wins are UCF and Ole Miss. Everyone seems to think of them as this year's Drexel, who missed the tourney with a similar profile.

If Middle Tennessee State is now on the wrong side of the bubble, St. Mary's, who I thought were more in regardless of result yesterday, should be thought of being at least squarely on the bubble. Gonzaga's win over St. Mary's clinches a top seed for the Zags, yet might have put only one team in the West Coast Conference into the NCAA's. At least the Gaels beat Creighton. As for other action on Monday, James Madison, Davidson and Iona locked in auto bids as they won their conference tourneys. The James Madision Dukes in particular are heading back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1994, which is always good to see when a team returns to glory. Now let's look at Tuesday's slate, which has three more bids on the line and the start of the Big East tournament.

Autobids: Liberty, Florida Gulf Coast, Creighton, Belmont, Harvard, Western Kentucky, James Madison, Davidson, Iona, Gonzaga

Northeast: Mount St. Mary's have won their last nine games enroute to the Final in the Northeast conference. Now they get a chance to finish the job in Brooklyn as they take on LIU. My Brooklyn roots won't allow me to root against the Blackbirds, but the Mountaineers look to be destined to win this one.

Summit: It's going to be a battle of the Dakotas, as North Dakota State and South Dakota State will face off for the autobid. I still remember Ben Woodside from 2009 helped the Bison put a scare into then-defending champion Kansas. However, the SD State nickname is the Jackrabbits, so I'm rooting for the Jackrabbits to make it to two straight NCAA berths.

Horizon: With Butler joining the Atlantic 10, the Horizon is open for a bid and it's Valparaiso going against Wright State. Can you believe the last tourney appearance for Valpo was back in 2004? For Homer and Bryce Drew (who happens to be the current coach), for their Sweet 16 run in 1998, let's hope the Crusaders head back to March Madness.

Big East: For the final time, the Big East will begin it's tournament on a Tuesday as the league will officially split. I will have more of a preview on Wednesday, but the two games are Seton Hall going up against South Florida and DePaul-Rutgers in the nightcap. Of these four teams, I guess only Seton Hall could reach Thursday, simply because they love to shoot three's and if they're falling, an upset can occur.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wild WR Day

Today saw three moves made on the eve of NFL free agency that will impact the market for WR's and show how the NFC West is now the top division in football. The Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin of the Vikings for a couple picks this year and one next year, as reported by Jay Glazer. One of those picks was Seattle's first rounder for this year.

Since Jim Harbaugh is physically incapable of allowing Pete Carroll to get the upper hand, the 49ers trade for Anquan Boldin from the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, who finally figured out how they will handle a potentially rough situation. Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun is reporting that San Francisco gave up just a sixth round pick for Boldin. Seems like the 49ers made the better pickup since Boldin is a better WR (at least more of a classic WR) and Harvin has injury issues. Still, after picking up Mario Manningham last year, I'm already wondering which WR San Francisco will pickup from whichever team beats them in the playoffs next year.

Still, the NFC West continues to show signs that it's far from being the worst division in the NFL like it was as recently as two years ago and now it might officially be the best division in the league. Especially after the Rams improved by leaps and bounds last year without a great offense. As for the Cardinals, all they need is a QB and an O-Line and they could be good.

The other takeaway from today is how the WR market is heating up. Greg Jennings is among biggest names at WR when free agency starts Friday and expect many teams to get involved in the bidding. Wes Welker and Mike Wallace will also garner plenty of attention; Wallace in particular I expect will leave the Steelers. Once those three sign, eyes will focus on Victor Cruz, who's a RFA and has a first round tender. The Giants seem to be indicating that there is a ceiling on how much they will pay Cruz, which doesn't shock me at all since the Giants have a number for every player they have and when someone exceeds that number, the Giants find someone new to take the spot and the transition becomes seamless. Just note that the Vikings now have two first rounders, both of which are in the 20s; should they not sign Jennings, Welker or Wallace, there's a fit with them and Cruz. Still think Cruz will remain a Giant, but I'm already preparing myself for the day we grab the draft pick.

NFL Free Agency tends to be a whirlwind day of transactions and it's happening as we get into Championship Week in college basketball and starts during what should be an epic showdown at Camp Nou as Barcelona will try to rally against AC Milan. This week just keeps getting better and better.

This Isn't The AHL



Tonight, Ottawa Senators forward Kaspars Daugivens failed on this amazing shootout move. Pretty sure the only people upset about this are Don Cherry and apparently, David Krejci, who had the SO winner tonight for the Boston Bruins.



Clearly, Tuukka Rask has seen this clip.



Daugivens has to come up with some new material.

(h/t to @Ian_mendes)

What's Needed For The NCAA's

This week, the bracket for March Madness will finally be fully realized. So far, there have been five teams who clinched automatic bids into the NCAA's. As the week goes on, The Cycle will take a day-to-day look at who's moving in and out of the tournament. As the week progresses, will look at the bubble teams and see what's needed during this ever softening bubble to reach the tournament. This begins today as there are four games that will decide automatic bids, though not much to see in terms of bubbles.

Autobids: Harvard, Liberty, Creighton, Florida Gulf Coast, Belmont

West Coast Conference: Tonight, it's Gonzaga trying to finish this outstanding regular season as they look to defeat St. Mary's for the third time this year. I wasn't sure if the Gaels needed a win to clinch a spot, but looking at their resume, they have no losses vs +150 RPI teams, beat Creighton two weeks ago and are 26-5 with a 33 RPI. They're in win or lose. For the Zags though, this game is a must-win in order to lock up a #1 seed. They don't have the strongest schedule and even with a win, you could argue that they belong more on the two-line than the top-line. Thus, a win for Gonzaga tonight would clear any doubts to them getting a top seed in my eyes.

MAAC: Last year, Iona qualified as an at-large, becoming on the 2nd MAAC team to qualfiy as an at-large. This year, they try to head back to the NCAA's and will face Manhattan, who haven't been to the NCAA's since 2004, when PG Luis Flores and coach Bobby Gonzalez led the Jaspers to a win over Florida as a 13-seed. A Manhattan win would also make them the 2nd sub-.500 team to reach the tourney after Liberty won the Big South yesterday.

Southern: Davidson had a great year in the Southern conference, going 17-1 in the league and overall are 25-7. However, without a win tonight over Charleston, they are still heading to the NIT. No back door for the Wildcats. At least Charleston was second in the league, so if they were to win, they wouldn't have to worry about playing in Dayton in the first four.

CAA: With VCU gone, the Colonial has been a weaker league. It's title game will feature two teams looking to end long NCAA tourney droughts. Northeastern hasn't been to the Big Dance since 1991, while James Madison hasn't been in since 1994. Northeastern is guaranteed at least a berth in the NIT if they were to lose tonight.

Tomorrow, the Sun Belt will play its conference championship, and they'll be plenty of time to discuss Middle Tennessee State tomorrow, so let's focus on the other big loser from yesterday: Stony Brook. They dominated the America East conference, finishing 14-2 and three games clear of the rest of the league. Unfortunately, they lost to Albany yesterday and now are done in terms of the NCAA's, since they have no wins over the top-100 in RPI and a very weak schedule. A team like this who can run roughshod over an entire league over a full season, then have their season end on one fell swoop is particularly harsh. Yes, I know they will make the NIT, but that's not really the point when you easily win a league. Too bad for the Seawolves.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I'm Sorry Brandon Knight

The L.A. Clippers are enroute to a blowout win over the Detroit Pistons. So why am I bothering to do a post about this game? It's because we just found out who Brandon Knight is. If you don't know, Brandon Knight is the victim of this...



If Knight can live this down, all the more power to him, but it clear that DeAndre Jordan has a better poster than any teammate Blake Griffin can claim. Arguably the best in NBA history. Still probably is below this one (go to 2:24)...



UPDATE: I'm sorry again, Brandon Knight. Wikipedia can be very cruel.