Behind the Mic: Dead Pool

I am the Sports Director at RCN.  RCN has only one Sports Director.  I am their guru of sports, right?

The RCN Fun Committee (notice the word “Fun”) runs an NCAA pool every year.  There is no money involved.  Anyone can enter and the prizes are donated by the company and are minimal.  In other words, it’s “for entertainment purposes only.”

One would think the Sports Director would have the inside track to victory or, at the very least, a top three spot or a top ten spot.  Or a place with the word “top” in it.  One would think that, right?

There are 63 games played in the tournament.  I already know that I will only get 35 right or 56% correct (I rounded up).  You see, I only have North Carolina in the Final Four and I have them losing that game.  My pool is over – Kaput!  Who would have guessed that Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Oregon would be in the semifinals?  Gonzaga and South Carolina have never been there and Oregon only once before even I was born.

Before Sunday’s games, I was trailing sixteen other fellow workers.  That’s not so bad, I guess.  Okay, Mr. Sports Director, it’s VERY bad!

To make matters worse, I have an arch–enemy in the pool.  Let’s call her Laura because that’s her name.  She takes great pleasure in challenging me and is not shy about rubbing it in when she is ahead.  She beat me last year and was quite obnoxious about predicting that she would do it again this year.  I considered last year a fluke.  She did not. And she took any opportunity to announce to everyone that she had embarrassed the Sports Director.  I was determined not to let that happen again.

I guess I was not determined enough.  Not only is she beating me, Laura is currently beating everyone.  She is in FIRST PLACE!  Out of 38 players, she has the lead!  Now, she may not win (she has Kansas to win the Championship), but she will certainly beat me and beat me badly.  I cannot earn another point with the three games that are yet to be played.  I have Duke and Kansas winning the semifinals.  Since their uniforms are washed and stored away for another year, that will not happen.  In fact, I can only go down; I cannot go up.

So Laura will beat me again!  Do you know how hard that is to type?

So for those of you who think that Sports Director is, obviously, a misnomer for me, then I can guarantee you that so is “Fun Committee” and “for entertainment purposes only”.  You see, again this year, I have had neither fun, nor entertainment.  Now if the company would just form an Embarrassment Committee, I would be the first to sign up.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team won the PIAA State Championship! It was their first state championship in girls’ basketball.  They thumped Villa Marie -Erie 46-27 and finished the season with a 30-2 record.  They won all five of their state games with double-digit wins.  They were dominating.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.
  2. In the ESPN MLB power rankings, they have the Phillies as #24 out of thirty teams. They also picked them last in the NL East.  This doesn’t offer up much hope for the season.
  3. Speaking of Philadelphia desperation, the Flyers are six points behind for a wild card berth in the NHL and there are three other teams ahead of them. The Sixers, well, are the Sixers – no playoffs again this year.
  4. It appears that the Oakland Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas. 24 votes were needed as I write this and the league office said the result will be “positive”.  I bet (no pun intended) legal gambling across the country on NFL games will soon follow.
  5. The Giant Center held all 12 boys’ and girls’ PIAA championship games this past week. The highlight was the Reading-Pine Richland AAAAAA game. 9, 531 fans filled the Center, as Reading won their first state title in school history 64-60.  Reading has played basketball for 118 years; has won over 2000 games, but they had never won a state title.  Until now.

 

Behind the Mic: Thrill; Agony

From 1961-1998, I regularly would watch The Wide World of Sports on ABC.  Jim McKay was the host and the show’s introductory video and catchphrase was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.  Those words were spoken over a celebration of a great win followed by a ski jumper severely crashing during a competition.  The pictures and the phrase became ingrained into the psyche of every regular viewer.

That phrase came back to me this past week while broadcasting the two Emmaus state basketball games.

Let’s start with the “thrill of victory”.  Emmaus had beaten Cheltenham 68-67 the previous Saturday to advance to the PIAA State second round.  They were the only AAAAAA boys’ team left from the Lehigh Valley because both Allen and Parkland had already been beaten.  The irony of their participation is that up until this year when the PIAA added six classifications, Emmaus would not have even gotten into the state playoffs.  With the additional classes, four teams were eligible and Emmaus was the fourth.

That set up a one day snow-delayed matchup with the Harrisburg Cougars, the #1 team out of a very strong District 3 at Reading High School.  Harrisburg had beaten Reading in their District playoffs and they were now considered the favorite to make it to the state championship game.  In a thrilling game with a nail-biting finish, Emmaus won 64-61 and, for the first time in school history, would move on to play in the state quarterfinals.  They would be part of, in NCAA March Madness lingo, the Elite Eight!  The celebration that followed was the definition of “the thrill of victory”.

That set up a return trip to Reading for Emmaus as they would take on the Carlisle Thundering Herd for a place in the state semi-finals.  Harrisburg had beaten Carlisle twice and they were in the same district as the Cougars.  They entered the playoffs as the #5 team in District 3.  Emmaus certainly could enter this game knowing they were every bit as good as their opponent.  And they were.

Emmaus led by six at the end of one period and by ten at the half.  They still led by ten with just 3:05 to go in the game.  But… Carlisle waged a comeback.  Emmaus still could clinch the win as they led 62-59 with 7.9 seconds to go.  Emmaus’ all-time leading scorer, David Kachelries, a 76% free-throw shooter, went to the line to shoot one free throw (he had made his first six of the game, but missed his previous three).  Make it and the Hornets are in the state semi-final; miss it and the Herd still needed to make a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.  He missed and Ben Milligan made a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 62.  “Thrill” and “agony” by anyone would be delayed.

Emmaus needed three free throws on one trip to the foul line by David’s twin brother, Matt Kachelries, to send the game into a second overtime.  He calmly went to the foul line and made all three.  The first overtime ended 69-69.

But the second overtime period ended with Carlisle controlling the scoreboard and the Thundering Herd galloped to a 78-74 win.  The Emmaus season was over.  The Kachelries twins had scored an amazing 57 points in the game and that was still not enough.

David ended his career with 1,910 points and Matt finished with 1,027.  Matt had missed two-thirds of his sophomore year due to injury or his total would have been much higher.  Emmaus finished with one their greatest and most memorable seasons ever.

None of that mattered though at @ 6:30pm on Saturday night as the Green Hornets and Coach Steve Yoder walked off the floor in Reading.  Much like the skier in the Wide World of Sports intro, they were severely suffering from “the agony of defeat”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team is the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley. As I write this, they are preparing to play Gwyned Mercy in the PIAA semifinals.  A win would get them into the state championship game.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.  Go Hawks!!
  2. How are you doing on your NCAA bracket? I assume many of you had Villanova and Duke to go far into the tournament and even winning it all.  I had Duke making it to the Final Four.  I still have Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina alive to make the Final Four.  I heard a lot of moans and groans this past weekend.
  3. It is hard to imagine that the next Eastern Pennsylvania Conference basketball season could match this one. Losing so many stars like Sam Iorio, Kevin Wagner, the Kachelries twins, Tyrese Martin, Talek Williams, etc. will be hard to duplicate for a very long time.
  4. He gets a mention every week – Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman of Central Catholic is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Muhhammad starts and plays as many minutes as anyone for Michigan.  He scored 16 against Oklahoma State and some vital points down the stretch against Louisville as his team moved on to the Sweet Sixteen.
  5. My usual reaction at the end of the basketball season is how fast winter flew by. Except this year, the season has come to a close and winter continues to rear its ugly head.  C’mon!  What’s a golfer to do?

Behind the Mic: Bracketology

Northwestern is in!  For the first time in school history, the Wildcats are in the NCAA tournament after winning 23 games this season.  Can they win their first game ever when they take on Vanderbilt in Round One?

Before we get to that, there are more important things to consider – which of the 68 teams will win their bracket and move on to the Final Four?

WEST
Gonzaga (32-1) was given the top seed in this bracket.  There are many who believe that, despite their 29 straight wins before a loss to BYU, top seed was only possible because they played a weak schedule.  With that said, they have beaten the #2 team in this section – Arizona.  Gonzaga has never made it to the Final Four.  And… they will not make it again.  They will lose to Arizona in the Regional final.

And, by the way, Northwestern will lose to Vanderbilt in the first round.

MIDWEST
Kansas (28-4) is #1 in this region and the committee selected them #2 overall in the tournament.  They were the Big 12 champions.  I like the way Michigan played in the Big 10 tournament and they have local favorite Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman.  I like Michigan to beat Oklahoma State in their first-round game, but then they run into Louisville and their season will end.  Louisville will play Kansas in the Regional final.  Kansas is a potential national champion and will win this region.

SOUTH
After winning the ACC tournament championship, many expected Duke to garner this top spot.  Instead it went to North Carolina (27-7), a team that Duke beat two out of three times.  Time will tell if this was a wise decision by the committee.  It is probably their most questionable top seed.  It appears that UCLA or Kentucky would be their biggest challenge and that can only happen in the Regional final.  UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is certainly one of, if not the best, freshman in the country.  So I like UCLA vs North Carolina in the final.  North Carolina wins.

EAST 
I saved the East for last.  Can Villanova (31-3) do it again?  They are good enough to do it and they are certainly battle-tested having played one of the toughest schedules in the nation.  If, as many believed, Duke should have been a #1, then Villanova may have the toughest road to the Final Four because Duke is #2 in this region.  And it should come down to these two outstanding teams.  I would rather see Villanova win, but I think Duke wins this game.

FINAL FOUR
                        Kansas vs North Carolina
                        Duke vs Arizona

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
                        Duke vs Kansas
 
NATIONAL CHAMPION
Kansas

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. It was certainly not the weekend that local basketball fans expected when our 15 boys’ and girls’ teams played in the first round of the PIAA basketball playoffs. Only four of our teams advanced into the second round of playoffs.  Northampton, Bethlehem Catholic, and Southern Lehigh girls moved on, but only the Emmaus boys won their game against Cheltenham by a 68-67 score.  It was shocking that the Allen boys, Bethlehem Catholic boys, and the Easton girls lost.  What is the adage – “That’s why you play the game.”
  2. If the local basketball players disappointed over the weekend, the District XI wrestlers did not – Lehigh Valley AAA wrestlers claimed four state titles, two runner-ups, and 18 total medals. Nazareth won the team title, had two state champions, and Coach Dave Crowell was named Coach of the Year for a record sixth time.  In AA, eight local wrestlers won medals.
  3. Parkland boys’ basketball lost to Archbishop Ryan on Saturday, indicating, once again, just how powerful the Philadelphia Catholic League teams are. Ryan was the #3 team out of District 12 and they were every bit as good as any team here in the Lehigh Valley.  They beat Parkland by 24 – enough said.
  4. The Bucknell men will face West Virginia in their opening round NCAA matchup in the West Region. Bucknell was seeded #13 and that’s impressive for the Patriot League. West Virginia is the best team in the nation at forcing turnovers, so this will not be a pleasant experience for the Bison.  But I will cheer them on and hope for the upset.
  5. One final note about the Allen Canaries – this team under Doug Snyder made basketball in Allentown meaningful and exciting again. No team had a more supportive fan base and their energy migrated out to other communities once basketball fans got to see them.  It was a great year ending in disappointment, but thanks for so many memorable individual plays and games.

Behind the Mic: Bracketology

 

Now that the high school season has come to a close with Central Catholic’s 60-50 loss to Neumann-Goretti on Friday night, it’s time to get serious about the NCAA Tournament. I know Monday, March 17, was St. Patrick’s Day and, also, the birthday of Benito Suarez, the five-time governor of Mexico from 1861-1872. I, unfortunately, will miss both festivities because the NCAA brackets are out! March Madness has officially begun. With the assumption that you would like a little help, I am offering “valuable” inside information on the teams that I consider to be the Top 12.

Top 4 Seeds:
1. Florida – They are healthy (and they weren’t early in the season). They haven’t lost since December 2. Early problems created end-of-season depth – that’s a good thing.
2. Wichita State – 34-0! Everyone is saying they haven’t played the best college basketball has to offer. But, the nucleus of this team barely lost to Louisville, the defending national champ, last year. They have not lost a game since.
3. Arizona – This is the best defensive team in the country. If defense wins championships, they have a shot; if offense does, they can’t make a shot!
4. Virginia – Their games are slow-paced and low scoring, but it has worked for them all year. They won a tough ACC regular season and the ACC tournament. If you want to go against the experts, this is not a bad pick.

The Best of the Rest:
5. Louisville – Defending champs; near the top in both offense AND defense; playing great ball going into the tournament. Could repeat!
6. Kansas – Is Joel Embiid (back problem) able to play? If yes, they could beat anybody; if no, probably not in the final four.
7. Iowa State – They won the Big 12 and could make it to the Final Four. I’m cheering for Villanova to beat them and for the Wildcats to get to the Elite Eight.
8. Villanova – They were upset by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. They will be rested; they win close games (4-0 in overtime); and have local product, Darren Hilliard. Go Wildcats!
9. Creighton – Villanova’s nemesis (they could only meet again in the national championship), they have the most prolific scorer in college basketball (3,000+ points) – Doug McDermott. Great players tend to carry their teams to great performances in the tournament.
10. Michigan State – Another team in the East bracket (Virginia, Iowa State, Villanova). When they want to play, they are among the very best.

Nostalgic Picks:
11. UCLA – Great offensive team; Steve Alford at the helm. But, can they beat Florida?
12. Kentucky – Their freshmen make plenty of mistakes and, also, plenty of great plays; whichever is the majority will determine their fate.

I would give you my picks, but then, I would lose the “for amusement only” office pool.
Actually, I haven’t filled out my pool yet and I am certainly skeptical of everything I have told you! Now, if I could only find a trusted source…

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Best high school team(s) I saw this year – Neumann-Goretti’s boys’ and girls’ teams; the talent level might have been even more impressive on the girls’ team (40-3 halftime lead in the quarterfinals!) than it was on the boys’ team. I will be shocked if both of these teams are not state champions.

2. Best player I saw this year – I am happy to say he came from the Lehigh Valley. I expected Miami-bound Ja’quan Newton to fill the spot, but no one was better this year than Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, finishing his career with a 30-point performance against Neumann-Goretti. I am truly looking forward to his college choice and I hope that he chooses a school that has great TV visibility in the East.

3. Best game I saw this year – Allen at Parkland (1/24/14): Parkland won in double overtime by an 82-74 score; there was lots of scoring and plenty of dramatic moments down the stretch. It was a great high school game.

4. Best pre-game conversation (and there were plenty) – Bill Stein, assistant coach at Liberty. I knew Bill was the former athletic director at Saint Peter’s University. I did not know he was an assistant coach at Georgetown University for 10 years under head coach John Thompson. He was there when they went on to win the National Championship. His most famous recruit was Patrick Ewing.

5. Best part of the job – Watching how efficiently and seriously the crew operates each and every night to bring you the best games, the best pictures and the best replays. And a special “Thanks for a great season” to Tom Stoudt, John Leone, and “Beet” Bowman – only they know how much fun we really have!

 

The Real March Madness – Behind the Mic – March 18th

The brackets are out!! Everyone starts the week with high expectations to be the best in their various investments into the various pools (for amusement only, of course). I have been invited to participate in nine and the list could still grow. After all, it’s only Monday. So I have started my research and I have come to the conclusion that research will most likely do me absolutely no good.

This was probably the most unpredictable college basketball season in recent history. First of all, a tell-tale sign that this is the “Year of the Whaaatt?” is that the defending national champions, the Kentucky Wildcats, are not even invited. Add to that, there were six teams that were #1 at some point during the season. So if you think you are knowledgeable about college hoops this year, you are probably going to be a loser. This will be the year of the upsets. If there was ever a time to actually get your wife, girlfriend, nerdy husband, or boyfriend involved in your selections, this is the year. If you happen to go that route, prepare yourself for the “I like their colors”, “Their nickname is cute”, “What state are they from?”, “I like teams that begin with B”, etc. I know for those of us who are purists, this kind of babble can make one wretch. But, mark my words; this year might be that year! You can wretch now while making your picks or wretch later when you are tearing up the sheets with your picks on them.

The #1’s are Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, and Gonzaga. My basketball brain tells me to go with Louisville. They are the hottest team right now, just won the Big East tournament, and seem to be in a very favorable bracket. So, should you pick them to win it all? Don’t do it!! Too obvious. This should not be the year to pick the favorite.

Of the #1’s, I kind of like Gonzaga. Their schedule made them a mystery team, but I find it fun to root for them in the post-season. The #2’s look strong – Duke, Miami, Ohio State, and Georgetown. But, can one of them go all the way? Flip a coin, throw a dart!

So, who do I like?

Midwest – Memphis as a sleeper, but I pick Louisville.

West – Still like Gonzaga; don’t like Ohio State; New Mexico has a shot.

South – Michigan led by Trey Burke; Georgetown, maybe.

East – Bucknell!! (Just seeing if you are still with me). It should be Indiana, but don’t count out Miami.

Do I have to pick a national champion? Wait until I call my wife.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I am beginning to get the sense that teams that know they are in the tournament don’t care much anymore about their conference championships. Plenty of #1 seeds did not make the tournament finals.
  2. I mentioned Bucknell, the Patriot League champion, up top, but how do I think they will really do? Mike Muscala is the best offensive and defensive player in the League. If he gets backcourt help, they can shock Butler. However, Butler already has beaten Indiana and Gonzaga. This is a very tough draw for the Bison.
  3. 40 years ago, Allentown Central Catholic became the first parochial state champions in the PIAA. They beat four undefeated teams in their last five games. It is really strange this year not seeing them in the state playoffs.
  4. As I write this, the Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks are the last Lehigh Valley team alive in the state playoffs. To me, they look like a state champion. They have size, speed, intensity, and, most importantly, talent. Go Hawks!!

PS – Don’t bother me until after April 6. I will be checking my NCAA pool! I want to see how my wife did.