The SportsTalk Shop: District XI Basketball Playoff Preview

Last week, we discussed a number of teams in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference or Colonial League post-season races—nearly all of them will look to be major players in the District XI tournament, which starts this week.  Today here at “The Shop,” we take a look at a few more teams that begin their district championship quests over the next few days.

“Give Me Liberty…”
Don’t let a first-round loss in the EPC playoffs fool you.  Chad Landis always seems to find a way to get his team playing deep into the district playoffs—and usually well enough to get at least one of the top-3 district seeds, which would give the Hurricanes a trip to states.

Liberty lost to a very talented Allen team last week.  On paper, however, I think Liberty could play with almost anyone in their bracket.  They have a tremendous talent on the inside in Cam Hoffman and exciting guard play with added depth now that Chance Neilly has returned and gotten some game action under his belt. They’ll open up the tournament by facing Nazareth on Wednesday (live, RCN4 at 7pm).

“…or Fly Like An Eagle”
Nazareth Head Coach Joe Arndt has to be on a short list of underrated basketball coaches in the region.  Following his great run in the post-season last year (more on that later), he has done a great job grooming young talents Jahan Dotson and Kevin Wagner to become one of the strongest 1-2 underclassmen punches among EPC teams.  Nick Youngkin has added scoring punch from different spots on the floor and probably deserves more attention that he’s received this season.  The key will be containing the likes of Hoffman, Andrew Hudak and Caleb Martinez on the inside and for Nazareth to get its share of rebounds.  More inside scoring could go along way for Blue Eagles—the loser of this ball game sees their season come to an end.

The 3A Race Should be Fun To Watch
Central Catholic has an incredibly talented team, filled with underclassmen and amazing potential.  But when you have a younger group of players, there’s always an element–however slight—of ambiguity in reading how they will play together in the post-season.  They lost to a very solid Pocono Mountain West team in the first round of the league playoffs and, unlike previous years, I don’t think the Vikings are your ‘stone-cold locks’ to win the district title.  Salisbury, Notre Dame and Saucon Valley are all good, well-balanced teams who can play with Central Catholic.

Bethlehem Catholic also showed a tremendous amount of poise in hanging with the area’s best team, Parkland, in their EPC first-round match-up and have scored some impressive wins during the regular season.  Ray Barbosa has done a great job in his first year with the Golden Hawks and I don’t think a lengthy run in districts should be seen as a shocker.

Also, waiting “in the wings” is a Pottsville team that just completed a perfect 22-0 regular season.  The Tide will face the winner of Tuesday’s match-up between Saucon Valley/Lehighton (live, RCN4 at 7pm).  There will be very few “easy” games in the District XI 3A Classification this time around, and I doubt very many people could clearly predict just how this bracket will shake out this winter.

This Year’s Cinderella?
Last year it was Nazareth’s boys team that surprised people with a lengthy and exciting run through the District XI tournament—winning a few more games than many expected.

Who will be this year’s dark horse squad to last the longest? Stroudsburg is always an underrated team that seems to find a way to advance deep in the playoffs—despite the fact local experts rarely predict a successful post-season run for the Mountaineers.  If they can get by Freedom on Wednesday, they have as good a shot against Pocono Mountain West, then would face the winner of the Bangor vs. Solehi/Whitehall matchup, so another post-season run by the Mounties certainly looks like it has potential.

Also, there’s a number of talented girls basketball individuals and teams to keep an eye on that don’t get the hype they deserve.  Easton is coming off an impressive performance in its EPC Championship victory and are led by standout stars like Gabby Bloshuk, Leanna Deegan, Olivia George and Shelby Stocker.

However, this might be one of the most competitive District XI girls playoff fields we’ve seen in some time.  Parkland features Emily Piston, Rachel Medlar, Nadine Ewald and Sarah Stagaard.  Among the other top EPC talents include Nazareth’s Tessa Brugler, Northampton’s Aja Blount and Victoria Keenan.  Colonial League players to watch include Southern Lehigh’s Amanda Mobley, Olivia Snyder and Ellie Cassel (all underclassmen, by the way), Palisades’ Karlee Krchnavi, Northwestern’s Erika Thomas and Bangor’s Marissa Fernandez-Tierney.  We talked about a number of these teams and players in last week’s “SportsTalk” podcast (listen here: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk).

Don’t forget, we’ll be discussing many more teams, previewing match-ups and making District XI playoff predictions on Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, live from 7-8pm on RCN-TV with the show’s podcast available on Friday.  Guests include RCN Basketball Analyst Tom Stoudt along with Toomey Anderson and Andre Williams from LVBasketballRankings.com.  Email your high schools opinions and questions to rcnsportstalk@rcn.com and our panel will read and respond to your comments live on the air!

The SportsTalk Shop: Wizards NBA Draft Predictions

Last week we took a look at the 76ers lottery “success”  and their outlook to the June 25th NBA Draft.  Today, we take a look at a Wizards team that finds itself looking to continue building on its already established core.

After a sweep over Toronto in the opening round of NBA Playoffs, the Wizards want to take the next step in going further than a six-game, round-two playoff loss to a Hawks team–that in turn was bounced in four-straight by Lebron James and the Cavaliers.  No matter what Washington does in the draft along, they still would not much up well–right now–in a seven game series against James, J.R. Smith and a steady and effective (but not spectacular) frontcourt.  However, I think they can still take a dramatic step “forward” (pardon the pun) by added a big man this off-season.

First of all, I don’t think Kris Humphries is, or will ever be, a starting power forward that can take you to the next level.  Nene did not look very impressive during the Atlanta series and will be entering the final year of his contract.  If  Paul Pierce returns, you’ll still need someone down the road that you can depend on to start at the four spot.  While a team should always select talent over need, the Wizards should have the benefit of doing both, with several quality power forwards available when their turn in the draft comes around.  Here’s a few of the players to consider:

BOBBY PORTIS, PF (Arkansas) — Nearly a double-double guy for his college career (18 ppg, 9 reb last year), who also shot well (just under 75%) from the free throw line this past season.

CHRISTIAN WOOD, PF (UNLV) — Wood is bouncing around the 20-ies in most national mock draft versions.  However, he could be the best available, and most polished, power forward on the board at #19.  I don’t think he’ll stay available for long if Washington doesn’t pick him.

KEVON LOONEY, F (UCLA) — He’s a little undersized right now (he’s only a freshman) if you need him to play the ‘four.’ I saw him play several times on TV and I liked the way he rebounded and seemed very athletic.  He would definitely need a year or two of development and would not make an immediate impact, which is a concern for a team that is looking to improve next year to get to the next level.  However, he might have the best upside of any forward still available at this point in the draft.

TREY LYLES, F, (Kentucky) — I’m not a big fan of the Kentucky program overall, but the Wizards could benefit from a big man who can shoot from the outside.  If the Wizards want to at a big man with range–and don’t want to pursue a player like this in free agency–then they might want to take Lyles with their pick.  He might have the lowest ceiling of the four guys mentioned here, but he might just be the most reliable pick who, at worst, would give you some nice depth in your frontcourt in the very near future.

While there are also several free agent options available that can occupy the four spot, I think it would make sense for the team to take a long look at these four guys.  I think you can count on the Wizards’ front office to do due diligence over the next few weeks in working out these and other potential draftee.  If they feel one can develop into a steady, starting player, they’ll take a run at a college player, and look to add some depth elsewhere via the free agent market.

As far as trading, I don’t think Washington is in a position of strength in terms of trying to move up—or down—in the draft and think their best bet will be to make a selection right where they are at the #19 slot.  They already have a solid foundation of players to build around.  Plus, I was impressed by the continued growth of John Wall this past season.  Speaking with people who covered the team this past year on our “SportsTalk” program, they all remarked at the maturation of the fourth-year player, and his overall goal to make those around him better—something that I think will continue for future seasons.

With a solid first round selection, and a free agent pick-up or two (especially a bigger player who could stretch opposing team’s defenses), the Wizards should be able to upgrade and keep their momentum going for the 2015-16 season.

What are your thoughts on the Wizards’ potential draft picks?  What do you think are the team’s most pressing needs going into next season?  Email us your sports comments and opinions at any time to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and catch our next live show, this Thursday, June 4th from 7-8pm on RCN-TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Crossover” Season

‘Tis the season.

There is a well-known sports term perfectly describing this time of year for many involved in athletics.  It’s the time of year when all the winter sports are climaxing to an exhilarating finish.  “March Madness,” state tournaments and final swimming and diving meets…all with their elaborate playoff systems formed to create an exciting and balanced formula, pitting the best teams, and individuals squaring off against each other and building in intensity until reaching their conclusions.  With any luck, the results are memorable and thrilling finales.  As we approach the end, everyone involved can enjoy the memories created by this fiercely competitive segment of the calendar, while we all sit back, relax and reflect during a slower, more peaceful time of year….

For some of us.

While there is a perception that the end of winter sports season induces a slower time-period in the sports world, students, parents, athletic directors…and even some of us in the media, have a different story.  A “crossover” exists when one sports season begins winding down following a flurry of playoff action, while the spring sports teams are quietly trying (as best as Mother Nature allows) to put together a winning formula for what every coach hopes will be a successful campaign.  But a heavy snow late in the winter keeps athletes from getting much needed playing time out on their respective athletic fields.  Little to no snowfall but extreme cold temperatures also keeps athletes inside preventing them from much needed practice time out on their fields.  A couple days of rain on surfaces that are still frozen or a low snowfall amount with quickly rising temperatures on hardened surfaces create swampy and/or flooded conditions which…well, you get the idea.

For athletes who participate in both winter and spring athletics, it’s rather challenging to be going full-steam ahead in one sport, then quickly don a brand new uniform and begin competing at a high level instantly in a whole new activity.

And those of us in the media also are doing our best covering the final games of the basketball season while simultaneously attempting to interview as many spring sports coaches and players as we can, without the benefits of cloning.  All this must be accomplished before the looming and unforgiving deadline of the first game/match of the spring season which, ironically and painfully enough, usually gets postponed the day of, due to… (snow, rain, the cold, field conditions, electrical issues, or fill in your own reason here).

Keeping this theme in mind, this week at the “Shop” we look at one of our final winter sports interviews of the year, while also giving you a sampling of several of our spring high school sports previews (you can see more of them on “SportsTalk” live on Thursday evenings or on RCN On-Demand).

First, we check in with Mike Jones to get his thoughts on the final games in the NCAA tournament, the success of the nationally ranked DeMatha basketball program once again this winter, and the outstanding basketball tradition in the Washington, DC area.

Now, here are a few insights into several spring sports teams in the RCN coverage area.

So whether you’re spending the next several days enjoying what promises to be a exciting finish between the last four teams in the NCAA tournament (for the record, I did have Wisconsin and Kentucky in “my” Final Four, but missed with Duke and Michigan State).  Or, if you’re coaching, playing, or supporting one of the outstanding scholastic sports programs this weekend, I tip my cap to everyone who doesn’t take it easy over the next week, continuing to participate in the efforts of our young athletes in action during this special time of year.

‘Tis the season.

 

Behind the Mic: EPC – Life Isn’t Fair

This past Saturday, The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference ended its first regular season of basketball.  And to the delight of the fans, the final weekend was loaded with games that had significant meaning for more than half the teams involved.  Four teams were fighting for two playoff spots and others were battling for home court advantage by trying to upgrade their seeding in the first EPC tournament which will determine the overall champion.  That tournament will be played this week.  After Saturday’s win by Allen, the tournament pairings are set: Parkland-Whitehall; Liberty-Easton; Stroudsburg-Central Catholic; and Allen-Emmaus.  Parkland is the overwhelming favorite to win the title on Friday night, but there are no guarantees.  Every sports fan knows the cliché, “That’s why they play the games”.

However, one has to ask if these final pairings were “fair”.  Is the new league set up in the best possible way?  After this first year, is there room for improvement?  And the answers are an emphatic “YES!”

There are 18 teams in the EPC, broken down into three divisions of six teams.  Each team plays their division opponents twice and three selected teams from the other two divisions – 16 conference games in all.  This system creates a schedule where each team does not play six teams in the conference.  This allows some teams to play a much more difficult schedule than others if that team happens to get six of the stronger teams and another gets some of the weaker teams.  This was especially true for the Lehigh Valley teams that had the much weaker bottom-echelon Mountain Division teams on their schedule while others did not.

In addition, the Skyline Division was so much stronger top-to-bottom than the other two divisions that having to play those teams twice was certainly detrimental to some.  It also means that some historically great rivalry games were lost – Allen did not play Central Catholic, their cross-town rival; Nazareth and Easton did not meet; Liberty and Parkland did not play.  I think you get my point.

Granted this league is in its infancy and certainly some growing pains were expected.  But there is a quick and fair fix.  Just eliminate the divisions (they really did not serve much of a purpose anyway) and have each of the 18 teams play each other once.  Everybody plays everybody!  That creates 17 conference games, allows five independent match-ups, and creates a regular season champion.  The only drawback I see is that a team has a home-court advantage for that one game, but that will be reversed the following year.  Choose your top eight based on the standings that were created where everyone is being judged equally because each team played the same schedule.

We have all been told by parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses that “Life isn’t fair”, but if there is a way to make it fair, then do so!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I worked the Lafayette-Bucknell game this past Wednesday night with John Feinstein, noted author of many top-selling non-fiction sports books (A Season on the Brink, The Last Amateurs, etc.) and young-adult fictional works. He also writes for the Washington Post and is a guest commentator on the Golf Channel.  He told me his next book will be about three of college basketball’s most iconic coaches – Jim Valvano, Dean Smith, and Mike Kryzewski.  John was good friends with all of them.  Dean Smith died this past Sunday at the age of 83 from complications caused by dementia.
  2. Tiger Woods withdrew from the Farmers Insurance tournament this past week because of a bad back. Despite coming off his worst year on the tour in 2014, he still earned $55 million from golf and endorsements, so in case you think his future income is threatened, ponder this.  Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus made $40 million and $22 million respectively last year.  I don’t think “washed up” works here.
  3. The New England Patriots players received $97,000 for their win in the Super Bowl, the Seahawk players got $49,000. That may seem like a nice paycheck for one game, but considering that the players on the winning team in the Pro Bowl got $55,000 each and Tom Brady got $1 million a game this year, not so much!
  4. Let the playoffs begin! Crowning EPC and Colonial League champions in boys and girls basketball and District champions in basketball and wrestling are all on tap in the coming weeks. Please join us for the best in high school basketball.
  5. I actually had a rare Saturday off this past week because Lafayette’s game with Loyola was picked up by CBS Sports Network and broadcast on Monday, so my wife and I, daughter and son-in-law went into New York to see a show and watch my granddaughter perform at The Pit, an ”improv” theater. The show was “Beautiful- The Carole King Musical” and my granddaughter is Abigail Ludrof.  Both were great!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the Mic: Overlapping Seasons!

There are a couple of weeks every year when the college basketball, college football, and high school football seasons overlap.  This past week was particularly challenging because I was doing my first college basketball game on Wednesday, the District XI AAAA football championship on Friday night, the Lafayette-Lehigh two-hour pre-game show on Saturday afternoon, and the first Lafayette women’s game on Sunday.  So… here is how the week unfolded.

MONDAY
Monday is always “gather information” day.  I put out the request for Easton and Parkland starting lineups and statistics and await a response.  I also begin to formulate the Lafayette-Princeton basketball information.  Luckily there is a plethora of stuff on the internet at the two websites.  I can gather statistics, starting lineups, information about the players and coaches, and begin to get a feel for the match-up.  Hopefully, all is completed by mid-afternoon because I need to write a blog for the RCN website.

TUESDAY
Happily, the high school information arrives that morning so it is time to put together each team’s profile, starters, statistics, stat charts for the game itself, a team stat chart, player name pronunciations, and find out which officials will be working the game.  This pretty much fills up the day.  I am able to come up with the Keys to the Game and the Trivia question of the week if there is still time; otherwise that’s done first thing Wednesday morning.

WEDNESDAY
Keys and Trivia were done first thing (no time the day before) in the morning.  I finish up the prep work for the basketball game that night and start to look at my responsibilities for Saturday at Yankee Stadium.  I leave the office @ noon.  It’s off to the Kirby Sports Center at 4:30 to set up for the Lafayette men’s basketball game.  It’s my first of the season and it literally is like riding a bike.  You don’t forget how to do it.  The Lafayette men win 83-66 over Princeton, a team they rarely beat, and have five players in double figures.  I leave the gym @ 9:30.  It was a good day.

THURSDAY
This is supposed to be a day off, but I spend the morning collecting all the notes concerning the Easton-Parkland football championship game.  There are a number of players in the game who have already set records (season and career) and who are still chasing other records.  I have always felt responsible for giving them the credit they deserve for reaching school and career records.  Also, there is a rich history to the AAAA championship and that needs to be conveyed on the broadcast.  I finish around 1:00 and begin a day off with my wife.

FRIDAY
After reading the Express-Times and the Morning Call article on the high school game that night, I return to the office to prepare for Sunday’s Lafayette women’s basketball game against Hartford.  The Hartford Hawks played on Thursday night so no preparation could have been done before Friday.  Same routine as the men: starting lineups, season stats, human interest stories on the players, coaches’ background info, matchup keys, etc.  When that’s done, I really need to familiarize myself with the Yankee Stadium pre-game.  It is a two-hour show before 49,000 fans on the large Jumbotron screen in the stadium, and also sent out over the internet.  I am told that I will interview the Lafayette and Lehigh presidents.  Now that’s pressure.

The afternoon is taken up with packing a bag for Saturday since I am heading to New York right after the high school football game.  Warm clothes will be essential, but so are a crisp dress shirt, a tie, and a top coat.

Now it’s off to the high school game.  Parkland beats Easton.  Naturally, since I want to head to New York as early as possible, the high school game goes to overtime, but it was a very good game.  I exit Cottingham Stadium at 9:45 and arrive at the Hyatt Regency in Jersey City at 11:15.  The view of the city during the ride in is just awesome.  Now picture this.  I check in to the hotel wearing ski pants, two jackets and a sweater.  I must look like I was heading to Stowe to ski and made a wrong turn.  The check-in receptionist and I have a good laugh as she assures me there is no need to wear so many clothes.  The rooms ARE HEATED!

The view of New York from my beautiful room is spectacular, but fatigue is beginning to set in especially after removing all those clothes needed during the high school football game.

SATURDAY
I eat my $23 breakfast at the hotel and leave for Yankee Stadium at 9:45.  The traffic is bad early on due to construction, but I arrive at the Stadium at 11:00.  A pre-production meeting is held for the 1:20 start of the pre-game and then I get to soak in the mystique of the Yankees and the Stadium.  I visit the Yankee locker room, stop by Derek Jeter’s locker, check out the staff offices (why do I think of George Costanza and Seinfeld at this moment?), look at the historical memorabilia, and then walk out onto the field.  I am awestruck!  It is massive. My initial reaction was there is no way the fans will fill this stadium.  I was wrong.

The place begins to fill up with the 47,750 fans.  The pre-game goes smoothly and kickoff occurs at 3:40.  I watch the game from the sideline and the Leopards dominate with a 27-7 win!  After celebrating with the team a bit, it is back in the car to head home.  I arrive back in Easton at 9:30.

Mike Joseph, Gary Laubach, Scott Morse

Lafayette Sports Network’s Mike Joseph, Gary Laubach, and Scott Morse at the 150th meeting of Lafayette and Lehigh football at Yankee Stadium on November 22, 2014.

SUNDAY
I review the Hartford-Lafayette basketball information and head to the Kirby Sports Center at 11:45.  First, there is set-up, followed by a nice lunch provided by Lafayette.  The game brings another Lafayette win for the week (the men won on Saturday at Penn).  Lafayette beat Hartford 74-59.

MONDAY
Back at the desk to choose the Patriot League football Players of the Week, contact the Parkland and St. Joe’s Prep coaches for information concerning this Saturday’s PIAA state football game, put in the PIAA media request for permission to broadcast the event, and start to write this blog as you can see.

When seasons overlap…

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!!
Gary's Picks

 (Last Week – 11-3; Seasonal Record – 112-61-1:  65%)
DETROIT
PHILADELPHIA
SEATTLE
INDIANAPOLIS
HOUSTON
BUFFALO
BALTIMORE
GIANTS
CINCINNATI
ST. LOUIS
PITTSBURGH
MINNESOTA
ARIZONA
GREEN BAY
KANSAS CITY
MIAMI

The SportsTalk Shop: A Game of Community Spirit

The SportsTalk Shop: “A Game of Community Spirit”

One of the responsibilities in my role as an on-air presence in the media is that I am privileged to be asked to speak at banquets and in classrooms, to emcee programs and to be asked to participate in special events. One of my favorite activities I continue to be asked to participate in is the Sacred Heart Celebrity Basketball game, played each year at the famed Rockne Hall in Allentown.
 
It’s not the biggest event of the year, nor does it warrant a healthy admission fee. However, it is a very special occurrence that the students, faculty and staff of the Archdiocese look forward to every year. It is the climax of a special week of activities in the school district. The basketball game is the brainchild of Morning Call writer and Sacred Heart Middle School Principal Jim Krupka … truly one of the very special school leaders in the community. Jim not only works tirelessly with the students in his building, but you frequently see him out in the community at Central Catholic events. He’s always there to support his kids in their endeavors, whether it be football, basketball, a school play or just about any activity a Viking student is involved in.
 
After a busy week of many diverse activities, the “celebrity” game features a team of politicians, community leaders, past and/or present standout Central Catholic players and others (that’s me) who take on the Sacred Heart students, faculty and staff members on the other squad.

The statistics from the game are of no importance (I went 5-7 from the floor, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 TO and an embarrassingly badly missed wide-open layup). Truth be told, our objective each year is to have a lead late in the game to try to make us feel good about ourselves and our ..uh, ahem … athletic ability. We only “let” the other team win so that the kids also feel good about themselves (some years it’s MUCH easier to lose than others), which is a much more important goal.

The real gem of this activity is the bonding and school-spirit that is evident each year among the student body. In an age where you don’t go too many days without seeing a negative report on the news regarding schools and an adverse student-faculty relationship (there have been 3 ominous news events to this effect in the Lehigh Valley in just the last month), it is refreshing to see the bond the people at Sacred Heart have with each other. This event includes administration, teachers, students, parents, family and friends all coming together and cheering one another on. There’s no razzing, taunting, nor ever a negative comment said during this event. Each year I take a moment and absorb the good-feelings exchange exhibited by the teachers and students at this event. I’m truly impressed and admire the respect that these two groups show for each other at this time.

I remember one student vs. faculty game when I was in high school (before buses were invented, of course). There was shouting and heckling of the teachers and non-playing teachers were getting on students. The students who weren’t skipping school at that point could really care less what was happening on the court and were just thrilled to get out of their final classes for the week. It wasn’t necessarily a “bad” event, but it never really was a “fun”, school-spirited event. We certainly didn’t feel “unified” at this one-time game.

That’s not the case at this annual event. Several of the school leaders say a few words before the game, usually invoking a feeling of thankfulness of what we do have, and compassion for people who may not have the good fortune or the ability to participate in everyday duties we sometimes take for granted. With all the talk of anti-private schools in the community (see some of our other blog posts), this event helps the students rally around a feeling of pride for their school community. For this event, there are no thoughts of school politics, nor even a care about the final score.

A big thrill for me is to have played on the same court over the years with some of the all-time great Vikings and Vikettes basketball players — a few of them have gone on to be major starts on the collegiate level. This year I was honored to call Central Catholic current standout athletes Mike Kammerer and Jim Vaughn my teammates. It was interesting after having announced their games for RCN over the last several years and seeing them develop into wonderfully gifted adults. The players I face on the Sacred Heart team each spring include athletes that I’ll see a couple years from now playing for the varsity teams. Hopefully, they might even be writing their names in the Central Catholic history books! A recent player I played “against” in this game was current Viking star Jean-Lee Baez, who you could tell in 8th grade was going to be a great talent on the Lehigh Valley basketball scene.

Overall, it’s a fun day for everyone involved and I’m truly honored to have been able to play in most of the 18 games that have been held each spring. If only other school districts could come together and celebrate people’s unique talents, while at the same time bonding together for a common goal — even if it’s just to pummel a bunch of (mostly) out-of-shape and past their prime “celebrities” (that’s me again) in a game of hoops.

Giving Real Prognosticators Their Due – The SportsTalk Shop – March 22nd

With the madness getting underway and all the variations people have in taking their best guesses at bracketology, I think it’s appropriate and to give some real prognosticators credit where credit is due!

In March, there’s countless hours of sports programming and planning and studying and educated guessing for the NCAA tournament. People love to pick teams in the “Field of 68” and there’s all sorts of ways you can play your picks (none of them for any financial rewards, of course), but there’s all sorts of ways that the “experts” can accurately tell us how we should play the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet each year, my non-sports family and friends around me come up with new ways of “strategically” putting forth their college basketball playoff picks. Among them, is choosing teams with uniform or logo colors they like, picking animal-related mascots to beat non-animal mascots (or, if two animals, picking the cuter animal), or even picking teams because the team name reminds them of their favorite cartoon characters. I’ve heard just about every possible way you could pick teams in the NCAA tourney, and every time I hear one more ridiculous than years past … that person usually come closer than many experts in ending up with the correct teams.

I recently had an example a bit closer to home on our own “RCN SportsTalk” show. Our weekly poll question a few shows ago dealt with picking the District XI 4A Girls & Boys champions. Pocono Mountain-West Girls were the #1 ranked team, yet the unanimous selection was Nazareth. This wasn’t a surprise since the Eagles have a loyal fan base and, even though they didn’t have as good a record as the Panthers, Nazareth played some very strong teams this year.

The other part of the poll was on the men’s side, where our audience (with three exceptions), unanimously picked Parkland to beat Freedom. While Parkland was a very strong team, on paper the match-up seemed to favor the Patriots. Joe Stellato, who has done a tremendous job as Freedom’s head coach, has become a Lehigh Valley sports fan’s favorite and I couldn’t find a person who didn’t WANT him to win a title. In the previous three matches, Parkland had one two, but by small margins, and it appeared that Freedom had some things working against them in the two losses and were at full strength for the district title game. Most of our guest panelists on our district preview show — all very knowledgeable basketball minds — had picked Freedom as well. It seems on paper, that the Patriots were the team to get the nod…and yet our audience disagreed.

But there’s more! I always have said that we have a very intelligent audience, but the “SportsTalk” viewers outdid themselves not just with the Parkland pick—but with the
score as well! When I looked back at some of our pollsters’ predictions, I saw the following insights:

  • Andy W.’s (from Nazareth) prediction 55-45
  • Shannon Z.’s (from Catty) prediction 60-50
  • Aaron’s (no town given) prediction 64-50.
  • The final score? Parkland 65, Freedom 50.

And the game didn’t seem close at all as Parkland jumped out to a big second quarter lead, and never looked back. I, and a number of us on the on-air staff, were shocked at how easily the Trojans appeared to win…but our audience never had a doubt, and I salute the great response we received and tip my cap that so many of you nailed both predictions.

We ask for the audience’s thoughts, questions, comments and poll predictions each week on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and would welcome you to participate at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We also invite you to tune in every Thursday, live at 6pm on RCN-TV, to talk sports & participate in those poll questions on our program.

One additional note regarding “William’s” comments replying to my most recent post—we will be providing HS baseball coverage on our “SportsTalk” show (the snow and school’s closings the past few days precluded us from going out to two local schools this past week) through interviews of local coaches and players. RCN-TV will also be providing coverage of baseball playoff games. Thanks for your comment and I will pass along your request for more full-game baseball coverage to the appropriate persons

Behind the Mic – February 26th

“The Thrill of Victory; The Agony of Defeat”

Ever since Jim McKay immortalized those words on the introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, those eight words have perfectly described so many sporting events. They were the perfect words again on Friday night at around 9:10 PM. Let me explain:

The Wilson Warriors were playing the Salisbury Falcons in a high school PIAA District XI quarterfinal game. This is the only round where the loser sees their season come to an end. Win this one and you are guaranteed two more; win one of those and you enter the state basketball tournament.

Wilson was enjoying one of their greatest years in Warrior history. They finished the regular season 21-1 having lost their third game of the year in overtime. They then reeled off 20 consecutive wins, a school record. Among those victories were 3 wins over the same Salisbury team they would face on Friday. The Warriors won the three previous match-ups rather easily – 58-43; 63-50; 48-36, the latter just 10 days earlier in the Colonial League semi-finals. Wilson then played for the Colonial League championship against Bangor, a team they had also beaten during the regular season. Wilson lost the game and the championship in overtime (yes, that’s right). The bad news, no championship; the good news, their season was not over.

One week later was the fourth Salisbury game, do or die this time. It was a good game from the very start. Salisbury led 17-9 after one; 30-27 at the half; and Wilson led 42-39 after three. Wilson was able to tie the game in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter at 50-50. The overtime was a tense affair with Wilson finally taking the lead 55-54 with 3 seconds to go. Wilson’s coach, Bob Frankenfield, a 32-year veteran, walked over to Salisbury’s coach, Jason Weaver, and said, “No matter what happens, Weave, this has been a great game. Unbelievable.” He would not know how perfectly his final word would describe the final 3 seconds. Salisbury’s Dan Reichenbach caught the inbounds pass at midcourt, turned, took two dribbles and fired up a jump shot from 35 feet away. Only the buzzer kept the absolutely silent crowd from hearing the swish of the basketball cleanly passing through the nylon net. Salisbury – 57, Wilson- 55! In overtime! Salisbury’s fans stormed the court to celebrate “the thrill of victory”. They would play a minimum of two more games.

For Wilson, the season was over. The Warriors won 87% of their games; 22 games, 20 in a row, and had very little to show for it. They lost just 3 games all year – every loss was in overtime. One foul shot made, one jump shot defended, one whistle not blown and they may have been undefeated. Instead, they did not win a League championship; they could not win a District championship; and they would not compete in the state playoffs.

A great season for sure, but on this past Friday night, there would be no “thrill of victory”, but, most certainly there was “the agony of defeat.”


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Remember the Tony Johnson story from last week? His father came in from California to watch his son, Lafayette’s point guard, LIVE at Lafayette for the first time all year. Tony hit the game-winning shot against first-place Bucknell! Well, last Wednesday, Lafayette traveled to Holy Cross to play the Crusaders. Lafayette never led in the game until, you guessed it, Tony Johnson hit a three-point shot to win the game with 1.3 seconds on the clock. His father stayed in town to watch Sunday’s Lafayette-Lehigh game. Tony Johnson had a career-high 29 points in that one and the Leopards knocked off second-place Lehigh for the second time. What a week for a son and his father.
  2. I watched the Lafayette-Lehigh game at the Kirby Sports Center yesterday and was just as interested in all the production people running around for CBS College Sports. I understand they put a great product on the air, but ours is pretty good considering we have 1/3 the staff and 1/10 the equipment. It took 7 people surrounding the announcers just for the pre-game.
  3. If I were an Academy member, I would have been hard-pressed to pick the Best Picture. I saw Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Lincoln. They were all outstanding as I am sure Life of Pi, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild were. When the movies are as diverse as these were, how do you pick a best ONE?
  4. The Academy awards show bored me. Daniel Day-Lewis had the best acceptance speech when he said he was signed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was signed for Lincoln and they decided to swap roles.
  5. It’s championship week on RCN Sports. AAAA, AAA, AA, and A District champions in both the boys and the girls classifications. And then on to states. March Madness starts Friday!

The SportsTalk Shop – February 19th

BOYS & GIRLS DISTRICT PREVIEWS

Last week we talked about the teams that made or just missed qualifying for the LVC and Colonial League HS Boys’ Basketball Playoffs (see our February 11th entry). Today we look at some of the Boys’ and Girls’ District XI pairing match-ups, and also “update” some of the team’s information based on last week’s events.

Class 4-A Boys

Whitehall is riding a momentum upswing after a last-second come-from-behind win over Allen and has really come together as a team at the perfect time.  I had talked earlier about how the Zephyrs had some very good individual athletes on the team, headlined by Tony Belluccci, but the team has strung together some impressive wins.  Stroudsburg is a challenging opponent and I expect this to be one of the best opening round games of the tournament.  Both of these teams are capable of beating their next round opponent Pocono Mountain West, who has experienced some tough losses to Lehigh Valley teams in the second half of the year, but still is the top ranked 4A team in the district.

The Easton/Allen matchup is the game RCN has selected to broadcast Wednesday, and is also an intriguing match-up.  Allen has the height advantage inside and every time you count them out, they’ve surprised us this year (including winning 4 of its last 6 in beating some of the top teams in the area to make the play-offs).  Easton has excellent guards in DeVante Queen, Xavier Jenkins & Company.  The Allen guards will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down, but if they can control the tempo and deny the Canaries’ ‘bigs,’ they look to have the advantage.

Parkland looks to bounce back from their LVC Championship loss and would love to cruise past East Stroudsburg-South and Bangor to get some revenge against league champion Liberty.   The Hurricanes looked like the dominant team we were expecting during the league play-offs, with 6 or 7 of their players capable of starting on most other team’s squads.  DeShawn Oyeniyi might have the dubious distinction of being the most pivotal player in the success of any state-bound team, yet not be a member of his all-league team (and there were justified mitigating circumstances).  Freedom was one of our panelist’s “dark horse” teams to watch on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and will play the winner of the Rovers/Canaries in the second round.  Congratulations again to the Slaters for their first league title in 25 years.  However, it’s going to be hard again for them to win a district play-off game as they will most probably open against the Trojans.

Class 3-A Boys

Gary Laubach made my day by reminding me that there will be three 3-A teams that qualify for the state playoffs this year.  This is great news for Wilson fans, who lost a tough game to Bangor in the Colonial League championship and may have a tough time beating Central Catholic in the semifinal round, as the Vikings looked to re-bound from their league semi-final loss to Liberty.  The Warriors, who have lost just two games this year, had opportunities late against the Slaters, but Jeremy Ringland hit a dramatic shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime for Bangor to win.  Salisbury, I think, has a very tough match-up in facing Wilson, who has beaten the Falcons three times in a row.  Matchup-wise, Salisbury needs to run to have success and would have an easier time being bracketed with a team like Tamaqua, Northern Lehigh or Lehighton.
The team to watch could be Bethlehem Catholic, who’s making its first appearance in districts in some time, after having to defeat Easton to qualify.  Matt Husek is a hidden talent and I think they are fully capable of winning their opening round contest versus Blue Mountain.  Plus, the Hawks have an interesting bracket path could lead to state qualification or even the championship game—a HUGE accomplishment for a nice guy in Mike Frew, who took over the program this year.

I haven’t seen Southern Lehigh this year, expect for watching their league-opening win over Wilson on RCN’s video-on-demand, but it’s Bob Shaffer and Kurt Zellner’s last run together.  Knowing those Spartans’ basketball players of the past, I wouldn’t be surprised and hope that they can put a run together for their coaches so we can see Bob & Kurt coach another game on RCN-TV.

Class 2-A & A Boys

I “think” things have worked out well for both Catty & Notre Dame so that they should make it to the championship game and subsequently earn a trip to States.  I have no idea about Williams Valley and North Schuylkill (no yet, anyway), but I talked in an earlier blog about the positives of both the Rough Riders and the Crusaders.  I’d love to see them advance and try to win a PIAA game.  We also talked quite a bit about Pius on the Feb. 14th edition of “SportsTalk” (check it out on VOD) and about their strengths and chances to advance in the postseason.
Class 4-A Girls

Nazareth looked impressive in defeating Parkland for a second time in three tries (they came within a point of sending the game they lost into overtime).  However, they have to get past a gritty Liberty, who is very well-coached.  Speaking of, how about the job Jeff Jacksits is doing once again at Northampton, who started the year off dreadfully, only to come back and make districts?  Don’t know how they’ll fare against Stroudsburg or Pocono Mountain West, but what a huge accomplishment it would be for the K-Kids to get to a semifinal game against defending district champ Bangor, one of a quartet of impressive Colonial League teams again this year.

Class 3-A
I was very impressed with Southern Lehigh again this year!  Madelene McDonald, Mady Campbell and their whole team are fundamentally sound, and I was awed by their basketball smarts and ability to drive and score/draw fouls … and then convert at the line.  Melann Amory is a very underrated player and Brianna Prince has very quick hands and is an excellent “undersized” post presence.
The Spartans will probably have to battle Northwestern for a third time in the 2nd round. The cliché mentions how tough it is to be a quality team three times, and the third battle will be an all-out war.  League MVP Sara Jones and her back court mates were not-too-happy about watching the final minutes of the championship from the sidelines, and they will be looking for revenge big-time.
On the other side of the bracket, you will see (once Bethlehem Catholic trumps Palmerton) another rematch between the Hawks and Central Catholic.  Both were upset in the league semi-finals and there’s still no indication that Janelle Robinson can make a remarkable recovery; however, Bethlehem Catholic still has LVC League MVP Kalista Walters and a very talented group of players that were the top girls team in the Valley during the regular season.  I keep hearing people saying Central is “down” this year (how good is their program in which 4 losses is considered “down” by some), but I think the inevitable meeting between these two teams in districts could be another barn-burner.

Class 2-A

One of my favorite teams from outside the area to cover is Pine Grove — not only do they always have an outstanding team (either the boys or the girls seemed to win a title every year), but they send me NCAA Division One-like information about their program.   Notre Dame Head Coach Josh Kopp is also one of the most prepared coaches in the Valley and his team that just fell sort of a Colonial League championship appearance this year.  This should make for an interesting District XI title game with Pine Grove.

Well … that’s my take on the District XI play-off picture.  Tell me where I made mistakes and where I’m completely off-base via email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com as we’ll be talking about the district basketball play-offs for the next couple weeks (the show airs live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV).  You can also post your comments here on our blog!  Best of luck to all the teams!

 

The SportsTalk Shop – January 15th

First of all, I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe holiday season.  There were certainly lots of things—sports related or not—going on in the Eastern Pennsylvania area over the holidays.  Among the surprises were some very impressive high school boys & girls basketball wins—and upsets—between Christmas & New Year’s Day.

 With the new calendar year, it’s customary to make “New Year’s” resolution. I usually try to make—and stick to—a few of them each year.  Among them, related to “RCN SportsTalk” are the following goals I have set for myself as the producer of the program:

1.    To be a little more diverse in the planning/scheduling of each “SportsTalk” show as we get deeper into the winter sports season. 

In the past, we would do shows during the winter sports season that were completely Basketball or Wrestling or even Super Bowl related.  I have had people come up to me at a basketball playoff game and ask “who’s going to be on the show this Thursday?”  When I answer with names not normally associated with basketball, the viewer might say something like, “well, maybe I’ll catch the show next week” or “well, I’ll give your trivia giveaway game a look, but I’m not really into listening about wrestling.”  I’m sure there’s grappling fans that feel the same way about HS hoops.  Therefore, as I plan some of the later shows for the winter season (closer to playoff time) I’m going to try to include guests that have backgrounds in several different areas. We can go in several different directions on some of our shows over the next few weeks—especially when it gets to post-season time. This makes the show much more difficult for the host to prepare and to moderate, but no one cares about that guy, right?

2.    To consistently have a trivia contest winner

In December, we had a record number of people guessing for our prize giveaways—yet didn’t have a winner during a few of our December shows.  It certainly makes for a more entertaining program when lots of people make educated guesses and we allwait the whole show to see what the correct answer is. However, I have to try to mix things up a bit more so that we don’t have too many people out in the cold (figuratively speaking, of course) when it comes to giving away an RCN On Demand certificate to watch the latest movie releases.

3.    Discuss some different sports here in the month of January

Before we get to the winter sports post-season I’m looking to change things up a bit.  Among our theme shows & things to watch for this month include:

+   Central Catholic Football Team (the last team standing in the Lehigh Valley)

+   HS Wrestling Head Coaches

+   Basketball Coaches/Teams

+   Local Media/Winter Sports Updates

+   More Giveaways & Local/National sports conversations

As always, I’m always looking for your suggestions & opinions on what we should do on our “RCN SportsTalk” show every Thursday live at 6pm so feel free to email me at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com with your thoughts and ideas for shows during the winter sports season.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank all the ‘well-wishers’ for the Christmas cards and nice comments to Joe Craig & me about the program.  We are very glad we have made the show entertaining & informative for you.  My favorite was the card with Joe’s & my images digitally edited to wear “Santa” hats. We had it on display during on our Year-In-Review episode – feel free to check that episode out on RCN On Demand!