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Sunday, March 31, 2013

NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight: Stunned


That is the one word I will use to describe last night's game between Ohio State and Witchita State, and I think it is fitting.

I think we've all grown tired of hearing that other word that CBS/TNT analysts have often used, especially if you happen to be an Ohio State fan like myself.

No, I'm stunned. Stunned that not only would two of the team's best players (Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas) have their worst shooting games of the season on the same night, but, for 31 minutes, it also seemed that Ohio State wanted victory less than Witchita State did.

Seriously, for about three fourths of the game, instead of Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, it felt like Thad Matta's Nightmare Before Easter. The team kept missing shot after shot, taking ill-advised three after three. And, to make matters worse, whenever Witchita State would miss, there was nary an Ohio State defender around to even challenge for the rebound.

About five minutes into the second half of last night's contest, I received a text message stating that Aaron Craft was the most overrated player in the country (from a fellow OSU fan, no less). Having committed 3 fouls, 3 turnovers, and on the worst shooting performance of the night, he might have been right. The really sad part is that, despite having more turnovers than assists and steals combined at that point, Craft's on the ball defense of the Witchita State point guard was absolutely horrendous.

At the 15 minute mark, with the Buckeyes down  22, 55-33, I should have just walked away and chalked it up as another loss. Then, with about 9 minutes and 30 seconds left, things started to change. Sophomore LaQuinton Ross would come off the bench to hit some timely threes. The Buckeyes would soon clamp up on defense, hitting the glass too, chipping away at the lead. And with some key free-throw shooting, they had cut the Shockers lead to 4 with just over two minutes to play.

Would the miracle run for Ohio State continue? Unfortunately, no. But Ohio State fans shouldn't be disappointed with their finish this season, even if a loss to the West Region's no. 9 seed wasn't the way they wanted to go out. After all, they did make it deeper into the tournament (the Elite Eight) than three of the four 1 seeds, and all but one of the other 2 seeds (Duke still plays Louisville this afternoon).

And guys like LaQuinton Ross have given fans something to look forward to next season. If junior (that's right Mr. Elmore, I said junior) forward Thomas returns for another year, expectations will be even greater.

But that is still several weeks away. Last night, once again, I ran the gamut of emotions (anger, elation, and then melancholy) that has become the signature of March Madness. And, while in the heat of the moment I had decided I would not talk to anyone about the game or my brackets anymore, this morning I have calmed down. After all, it is only a game.

Want to know something else? Even though all of my brackets are busted and I don't have a dog in the fight, I may actually cheer for Big Ten rival Michigan tonight(whose gone mad now? ha ha). That is of course, as long as Duke beats Louisville.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Maddness, Bottom Line: Ohio State Keeps Winning

Mmmmadd, Maddness. Or so goes the song by alternative rock band Muse, chosen by CBS Sports as the theme song for the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

The 2013 NCAA tournament is full of Maddness this season, no different than any other year really. In fact, the odds that I win any of the four brackets I filled out are slim and none.

And I'll let you in on a little known secret: I could care less if I lose all of them, if it means that Ohio State is cutting down the nets on April 8th. For that would signify the Buckeyes are National Champions, king of the courts for the first time in my lifetime.

As a matter of fact, I will admit that last season I finished dead last in the tourney pool amongst my family members, finishing behind my nine year-old niece, who doesn't watch sports at all. The rest of the family had a good laugh at my expense, as well they should. It was quite funny. And I could finish last again.

Of course I will point out that the final four of my bracket 1A is Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, and Miami. For comparison purposes, it should be known that I just saw ESPN college basketball expert Jay Bilas' Final Four is Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, and Indiana. The point being that, not only did we come up with three of the same Final Four participants (and I guarantee you I didn't let him copy off of me, even though he begged me to do so), only Louisville and Ohio State remain in our respective brackets. And while I am getting paid the big bucks, Bilas is sitting on his cozy stoop in the ESPN studios at Bristol making his minimum wage.

But I digress, the point is, I would love nothing more than to see the Buckeyes win it all. This Maddnness has driven me so insane that Thursday, as my day job proceeded into the night, I couldn't decide which would be worse: missing the game due to my job, or Ohio State getting knocked out of the tournament. At the end of the day, it was clear that I wanted Ohio State to keep playing, regardless. And they did.

Madddnnesss, I tell you.

Did I mention that I bet my best friend $10 heads up that my bracket would finish better than his? I have told him repeatedly I will gladly pay up that bet if it means the Bucks win it all. Of course, I should note that he has significantly more money to lose in this tourney than I do, but, hey, that really isn't my problem, is it?

 So, when its all said and done, I hope my team wins the whole bleeping thing. Cause if they don't, I am going to be kicking myself madd I didn't do a better job of guessing in these brackets.

A few other observations as we head into the Elite Eight:

Leave Aaron Craft alone. Where's all the criticism of Deshaun Thomas?

For as much as Buckeye fans want to pin the team's recent struggles on Aaron Craft's inability to make free throws in the latter stages of the game, I would like to offer up another scape goat: Deshaun Thomas.

It has seemed all along that fans want to overlook Thomas' flaws (there are several) because he leads the team in points and rebounds. But there are times in every game where I think to myself, "this guy is really the leader of this basketball team?"

I mean, first off, let's examine his shot selection. Within 7-10 feet, there is probably no one in the nation better than Deshaun Thomas. When he moves to the perimeter however, it becomes more problematic. If he has an open shot, and he gets his feet set, I say let him shoot. The thing is, he often takes off balance shots from three point range (sometimes with defenders in his face. Which brings me to another point. My best friends argue ad nauseam how difficult it is to defend the three. How is it, then, when Thomas shoots a three, many times the defenders are right in his face?)

Then there is DT's defense, or lack thereof. It should come as no surprise that, in the Iowa State game, the reason Aaron Craft took a controversial charge was simple: Thomas was out of position. And this still happens quite often. For as much as fans want to say he has improved that part of his game, he still employs the O-le method of on the ball defense.

So it seems funny to me that people believe Thomas is a lock to leave for the NBA next season. Especially when they were quick to ridicule Jared Sullinger last year, even though the Northland graduate was a much more polished player than DT is now.

Michigan may have caught the break of the tournament last night.

I know this may seem like I am hating, especially since, in my last post, I claimed the Wolverines were playing the best ball of anyone in the tournament. But hear me out.

Last night the Kansas Jayhawks had Michigan beat and let them off the hook. Seriously. This is no Denny Green "We had 'em...and we let 'em off the hook, so crown them champions" bs. No, Kansas was clearly dominating the game, up by double digits with six minutes left, and shooting over 55% from the field. All they had to do was run out the clock and they were moving on to the Elite Eight.

Yet something happened that has still left me dumbfounded. It was as if, in the waning moments of regulation and overtime, KU point guard Elias Johnson stopped playing smart basketball. There was the missed front end of the one-and-one. And the 10 second backcourt violation. Then the wild pass at the end of overtime to someone who is not even a good perimeter shooter.

That is not to say that Trey Burke and company didn't play hard. Burke's three pointer, from about 30 feet, was just as dramatic as Ross' bomb a night earlier. And it appears that this tournament has single-handedly propelled freshman center Mitch McGary into a star as well. But the way the game ended had to leave anyone not wearing Maize and Blue extremely perplexed at the very least.

Florida has quietly put themselves in position to make another final four.

The talk of the South regional for days has been the cinderella Florida Gulf Coast and its coach, Andy Enfield. And it seemed that, for the opening moments of last night's game versus Florida, the glass slipper would remain. The Eagles raced out to a 24-15 early lead with five minutes left in the 1st half.

From there it was all Florida. Going on a 22-7 run that would last deep into the second half, the Gators would eventually win going away, 62-50. And, while most of the focus on that side of the bracket centers on Michigan and Syracuse, it would be foolish to count team Billyball out.

Coach K inches one step closer to a basketball immortal, the late great John Wooden.

Be honest, if I asked you how many Final Fours Duke had been to under Mike Krzyweski, what would you say? Seven? Eight? Cause that is what I guessed.

Try 14. I know it surprised me too. Which might be one reason he is so hated among so many people.

That's all for now. Enjoy the games and don't let March Madness get you too down.

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 NCAA Sweet Sixteen: Florida Gulf Coast U Cinderella No More

The second round of the NCAA tournament is officially over, and it is now on to the Sweet Sixteen.

A few observations regarding this past weekend's games as we look forward to Thursday:

Florida Gulf Coast University can no longer be considered a Cinderella story.

The Eagles, a 15 seed in the South region, had already pulled off the improbable victory when they beat the Georgetown Hoyas on Friday.

But last night's game against San Diego State was supposed to be harder. The Eagles were supposed to be tired and emotionally drained from Friday's upset. Yet it appears someone forgot to tell the kids from Fort Myers, Florida, that they were tired. In fact, as the game's end drew near, it appeared that the Aztecs were the ones who had tired legs.

The Florida Gators better not underestimate this team or they will become its next victim.

Ironic thing is their star player, guard Sherwood Brown, started as an unknown walk-on freshman. Now it's safe to say the senior might be more popular than Johnny Manziel.

The University of Michigan Wolverines might be playing the best basketball of anyone in the tournament so far.

That had to be said, even if it pains me to say that as an Ohio State fan.

What's worse is that I have to admit that even though I didn't give the Wolverines much of a chance entering the tournament. I figured the way they ended the regular season--losing 5 of their last 11 games--would surely mean an early exit.

Yet John Beilein has been able to get his charge to believe in one another and step up when it matters. In Saturday's win versus VCU, four Wolverines scored double digits--led by the freshman center Mitch McGary.

What's ironic is that a coworker asked me today who I thought was the best team after two rounds and I answered Arizona. If the U of M keeps shooting like it has been, I may have to change my answer.

The Pac-12 is the surprise conference of the tournament so far.

I'll be honest, I didn't give any team from the Pac-12 much of a chance to make it beyond the first round in 2013. Mostly because I believed that after UCLA, the conference was really weak.

Boy, was I wrong. Turns out the only Pac-12 team that was weak this year was UCLA.

Oregon and Arizona, the two remaining teams from the Pac-12 in the Sweet Sixteen should give Louisville and Ohio State, their two respective opponents, all they can handle.

The Big Ten is the best conference in the tournament in 2013. Period.

Charles Barkley's claims that the Big Ten is overrated nothwithstanding, this conference has four teams in the Sweet Sixteen (more than any other conference), and has a cumulative record to date of 10-3.

Not only that, but it boasts names such as Thomas, Craft, Oladipo, Zeller, Payne, Appling, Burke, and Hardaway just to mention a few.

And speaking of Charles Barkley, I'd like to briefly address the exchange that occurred following the Ohio State-Iowa State game yesterday afternoon. Many people think I have a problem with the fact that he disagreed with a charge that Aaron Craft took late in that game. Not at all. What I have a problem with is the fact that he trivialized an otherwise classic showdown by saying the refs cost Iowa State the game.

Fact of the matter is, the call(one subject to split second human error, and no video replay) didn't determine the outcome of the game. The Cyclones had their chances, both on offense, and defense, in the final minute of that game. Barkley's insistence on being bull-headed might work with the NBA crowd, but it is obvious he doesn't understand the college basketball audience.

Finally, the West Region might be harder to navigate than it looks, even with four of the five top seeds falling by Sunday.

Ohio State, the lone top seed remaining, needed some last minute heroics from point guard Aaron Craft to escape from Dayton as 78-75 winners over Iowa State.

Arizona, the Buckeyes' opponent on Thursday night, doesn't appear to be any easier. The Wildcats appeared to be hitting on all cylinders this past Saturday while dispatching of Harvard 74-51. And Sean Miller, former pupil of Ohio State coach Thad Matta, is certain to game plan for the Buckeyes.

It's March. And it's Madness. Indeed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An All-Big Ten Final Four?

VCU, thanks a lot. Shaka doesn't seem so smart right now, pardon the pun.

Actually, it wasn't really his fault. You see, Smart's Rams ran into the buzzsaw that was the Michigan Wolverines basketball team. With the hot shooting Trey Burke and Glenn Robinson, Jr, and a tenacious defense, VCU didn't stand a chance.

And my bracket may not stand a chance, either.

Having watched the Big Ten all season, I fully realize they could put four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State) in Atlanta. After all, they are three of the most talented squads-plus an Ohio State team that plays some of the best defense in the country.

So while I had the privilege of watching guys like Burke and Hardaway and Victor Oladipo and Adrian Payne week after week, I was weary that this conference may have beaten each other up. Which is why I did fill out an all Big Ten Final Four.

If Michigan's win today is any indication, they may all be beating up on each other again in couple of weeks.

2013 NCAA Tourney: Harvard Wins, And Chaos Reigns

Round one of the NCAA tournament is over and my bracket is busted.

Not really, but it almost happened yesterday afternoon. With Georgetown falling to previously unknown Florida Gulf Coast, at least one of my brackets is bound to lose.

You see, I filled out four different brackets before the tournament started. And while the one I feel most confident in is still in play (Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, and Miami are my final four), in another bracket I had the Hoyas going all the way to the final. And they totally blew it.

Of course, right now you are saying how much confidence can I have in any of my brackets if I completed four different ones. To be honest, I don't really know what is going to happen. Neither does anyone else. Which is why less than 5% of America correctly predicted that both Harvard and Florida Gulf Coast University would advance to the second round.

The point is that this tournament is wide open. The fact that two no. 1 seed, Kansas and Gonzaga, barely survived and advanced to the round of 32, only emphasizes this point. Which is, of course why I don't have either team in my final four.

Among the highlights of this year's first round:

Kentucky will not repeat as National Champion.

As a matter of fact, the Wildcats, not even selected to this year's tournament, will not win the NIT. They lost to Robert Morris in the first round on Wednesday.

All four no. 1 seeds still remain intact.

Although it seemed for a while that Gonzaga and Kansas might become the first top seeds to fall to a 16 seed.  For now, however, the possibility of an all chalk final four still exists. Whether that remains true after the second round is something that even Charles Barkley can't tell us.

Harvard once again proved that schools with the smartest kids can also produce athletes.

Try telling that to the New Mexico Lobos. According to one report, the Crimson's win provoked one writer to quit according to reports from Yahoo . But it'll take more than that to get rid of me, even if I lose every one of my brackets, and Ohio State gets booted on Sunday (but they're not, of course.)

Not only did Ohio State score more points than any other team, but they also provided us with the highlight of the first round:

Well, maybe not just one highlight. From Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith making diving saves that end up in Buckeye points, to Sam Thompson's high flying acrobatics, the No. 2 seed in the West dazzled the thousands of fans that made the trip from Columbus to Dayton. To go deep into the tournament this year, they will need more than just fancy plays. They must continue to play the hard-nosed defense that has help them win their last nine contests.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Most Impressive Streak in Sports History?

A topic of discussion that has created a lot of buzz around the sports world lately is who has the more impressive streak, the Chicago Blackhawks (National Hockey League) or the Miami Heat (National Basketball Association.)

To be honest, I am not sure the two are totally comparable. For starters, the Blackhawks streak includes games that earned them a point to their record (and thus include several overtime losses), whereas the Miami Heat's streak only counts wins.

The Heat have looked absolutely dominant during their latest run, with LeBron James making yet another case why he should be the league's MVP.  Miami has also been able to do this while not taking themselves too seriously, as evidence by the filming of their very own Harlem Shake Video.

Yet I would argue that Miami's streak should come with an asterisk, if only because they are one of the few elite teams in the league. There isn't another team in the Eastern Conference that has been able to give the Heat a consistent challenge.

On the other hand, Chicago's streak, even if it has taken place in the midst of a shortened season, should not be taken lightly. That they have been able to score 45 points in only 24 games is nothing short of amazing, especially given that the team with the best record last season (Vancouver) amassed 111 points in a 82 game season. Certainly, over an 82 game schedule, the 'Hawks would not match the 180 point pace their current record suggests, but it is a fair assumption to say they might have scored in the 130-140 point range.

That is not to say the Blackhawks streak is by any means more impressive. First off, one must take into account that, due to the lockout shortened season, they are playing teams in the Western Conference only. And it should also be noted that, as a casual observer of hockey (watching the Columbus Blue Jackets will do that to you), I am far from an expert on the matter.

But I digress. All of this fuss leads me to the central question of this post:  who holds the most impressive streak in all of sports? Is it the Philadelphia Flyers (who scored a point in 35 consecutive games)? Or maybe it was the Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33 straight games way back when. Or how about Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hit streak? And let's not forget Cal Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games played for the Baltimore Orioles. Maybe it isn't even someone in the professional ranks. How about the UCLA Bruins' 76 consecutive wins in the 1970s? Or Oklahoma football's 57 consecutive wins?

So, whom do you think holds the most revered streak in all of sports? I'll be waiting your answer.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

ESPN Has a New "Best of the Best" Candidate

Good evening sports fans, I trust you all had a good weekend. Unless you're Bobby Knight's assistant, that is, and then you have my sympathies. (Joking, coach!! Lighten up, buddy)

I normally try to stay away from shameless re-posting of videos I see on, especially those shared on social media outlets such as facebook and twitter as a rule of thumb.

But in this case I will make an exception, as I think this video should be No. 1 on ESPN's Top Ten plays of the week. In fact, I would go so far as to say I believe it merits serious attention as a " Best of the Best" play.

Those of you who are diehard sports fans like myself are quite aware that every Monday ESPN compiles a list of the top ten plays of the week(or weekend, as it may be). Those of you who are casual sports fans, well think of it like being named employee of the week or month.

Enough beating around the proverbial bush, however. What you need to know is that this is a New York High School Class 1AA championship game between New Rochelle and Mount Vernon in Westchester, New York.  New Rochelle's Khalil Edney hits an improbable three quarters court shot to give his team the win over Mount Vernon.

At this point you may be wondering 'what 's the big deal, guys hit buzzer-beaters from halfcourt all the time." If that's the case, you need to re-watch the video. What stands out to me is that a player from the opposing team, Mount Vernon, casually throws the ball away, and, the game should have been over. Edney didn't even have time to get his feet set before he heaves the 55 footer for the win.

I hope ESPN doesn't sue me for copyright infringement. After all, I am only trying to get people to lobby for this as a best of the best play. Which is where it should remain for at least five or six weeks.

Ohio State Basketball: Are They Tournament Ready?

With two games left in the 2012-2013 regular season, and the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments around the corner, opinions on the Ohio State men's basketball team are as varied as which four schools should get No. 1 seeds to the Big Dance.

Truth of the matter is the Buckeyes have no legitimate scoring threat beyond Deshaun Thomas. That flaw has been painstakingly apparent in each of OSU's five Big Ten losses this season, most notably in blowout defeats on the road to Wisconsin and Illinois. Thomas accounted for approximately 40% of the Buckeyes scoring in both of those losses.

That is not to say Thomas himself doesn't have serious flaws. The junior foward-guard forces way too many shots, and his accuracy from beyond 17 feet needs some work. Not to mention that, defensively, he plays a little too much of the 'ole' (pronounced O-lay) defense.

But I digress. After 28 games, what type of team is Ohio State? Their  head coach, Thad Matta, is routinely criticized, more often than not for his reluctance to make in-game adjustments. Two of their more ballyhooed sophomores, Laquinton Ross and Amir Williams, have not lived up to expectations. And they have let teams such as Purdue and Northwestern hang with them despite having a clear advantage in talent.

Yet, at the end of the day, this team may be poised to make a huge run come NCAA tournament time. For starters, they are in the thick of the Big Ten race despite Thomas being the only scoring threat, in large part due to the suffocating defense that Matta employs. This was never more evident than in the last game at Northwestern, where the Buckeyes won despite shooting a dismal 41.9% from the field. The Buckeyes are led on the defensive end by point guard Aaron Craft, but sophomore guards Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott have also stepped up their games on that end.

So the Buckeyes have flaws, but so does every other team in the nation this year. Which is why the NCAA tournament should be really fun to watch.