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: Some NCAA Tournament Observations

 

1. When you look at the brackets, wouldn’t you think ONE TEAM from last year’s Final Four would make this year’s Final Four? Last year saw Wichita State, Michigan, Syracuse, and Louisville make it. None are there this year. Hmm…

2. Is there any player who has carried his team to the Final Four better than Shabazz Napier? UConn was ranked #21 in the final regular season AP poll and now they are in the top four. Napier has had games of 24, 25, 19, and 25 points. The last time Florida lost (UConn’s semifinal opponent) was on December 2 when they were beaten at the buzzer by … Shabazz Napier. Hmm…

3. #1, #7, #2, and #8 in the Final Four. That adds up to 18 – the same number as the Final Four last year – #1-Louisville, #4-Michigan, #4-Syracuse and #9-Wichita State. I see a pattern here for future bracket picks, if I could only figure out which teams add up to 18. Hmm…

4. Florida (36-2), the only #1 seed left, has won 30 games in a row. Their two losses were to Wisconsin and UConn. Both of those teams also remain. Might they be able to avenge BOTH defeats? Hmm…

5. Did you remember that Connecticut was barred from the tournament last year by the NCAA, despite having won 20 games? They were penalized for not keeping an Academic Progress Rate the previous four years. It was introduced because the NCAA was concerned that athletes were graduating unprepared for life. Hmm…

6. Do you know why the #1 seed and formerly undefeated Wichita State basketball team is nicknamed the Shockers? I can hear your guesses now – all centering around the word “shock”. Nope. It was a term given to them in the early 1900’s because most of the football players in the off-season worked as wheat shockers. The mascot is actually a funny looking bundle of wheat. Hmm…

7. Does it appear to you, as it does to many, that the officials call too much early in a game and progressively call less to almost nothing as the game winds down? Isn’t a call a call no matter when it appears in a game? And speaking of that, should it really take five minutes staring at a television monitor to make a call? Officials make split-second calls all the time. Shouldn’t one or two looks at a replay decide for them? Hmm…

8. Do you know who the Oregon Webfoots are? They were the first team to win the NCAA tournament back in 1939. Many of the players then went on to fight in World War II against Hitler and the Nazis. Hmm…

9. Did you know that Kentucky’s #8 seed is the lowest that a John Calipari-coached team ever received? He is coaching in his 14th tournament and is in the Final Four. Who has the last laugh now? Hmm…

10. Which coaches in this year’s tournament were the best players? Well, UConn’s Kevin Ollie has to be in the top three along with Johnny Dawkins (Stanford) and Danny Manning (Tulsa). Ollie played on three NCAA Tournament teams and played for 11 different teams in the NBA until he was 37. Who said great players can’t coach? Hmm…

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Although none of my other Final Four picks made it to the semifinals, I did pick Florida to win it all. If they do win, head coach Billy Donovan would become the sixth coach to win at least three championships – John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, and Bob Knight are the others.

2. By the way, Billy Donovan makes an average of $3.7 million a year and his contract runs through the 2018-19 season.

3. Mavericks’ owner and “The Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban thinks the NFL is trying to take over every night on television and he thinks they will eventually implode in 10 years. He said, “I’m just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they are getting hoggy. Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.” I have a feeling he may be right.

4. Rest assured the Eagles will now take a wide receiver in the draft now that DeSean Jackson is gone. Since Jackson’s money was not guaranteed, the Eagles also save $6.75 million against this year’s salary cap. The burning question now is, knowing the background of Jackson’s release, where will he end up? Pundits are suggesting he just go to the Oakland Raiders. He’ll fit right in.

5. This first week of baseball will give us an indication of how bad the Phillies are or how good they just might be. They play three games against the Rangers and three games against the Cubs. Neither opponent is expected to contend, but then again, are the Phillies?

 

Behind the Mic: Thank You, VIA

On March 26, 2014, I will be inducted into the Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame. I certainly have plenty of people to thank for this honor and I would like to share some of those sentiments with you.

First, I wish to thank the VIA Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame Committee for this wonderful honor. Ironically, I always hoped that if I could not play my way into the Hall of Fame, I could certainly talk my way in. And that has happened.

Over 40 years ago, I was teaching English at Wilson High School when I received a call from Fred Anderson of radio station WEST asking me if I wanted to be his color analyst for high school basketball. I was on my way to help supervise a pep rally for the Nazareth-Wilson football game and I really could not talk to him. I promised to call him back. When the pep rally ended, I was on my way to call WEST back and accept the job. It sounded like something I would love to do and WEST was THE sports station in the Easton area. On my way to the high school office to make the call (no cell phones then), I stopped and checked my mailbox and there was a message that said while I was away, Bob Gehris of Twin-County Television had called and would I call him back.

Bob had been my sixth grade elementary school teacher and was someone I greatly respected. I decided I would call him before calling WEST. It turned out that Bob was doing play-by-play for local high school basketball games on cable television and wondered if I wanted to be his color analyst. Two calls within 30 minutes, both offering the same job! And it was a job I was thrilled to try. I asked Bob what the pay was and said I would get back to him shortly. I called Fred Anderson back and, after some discussion, I asked him what the pay was. WEST offered $7.50 a game and Twin-County was offering $15.00. Suffice it to say, I took the television job and have been doing it ever since!

In accepting this award, I feel a bit like a member of a basketball team, because this honor recognizes a team, not just me. Without good camera work, our product is not good. Without the proper replays, engineering, audio, and clear pictures, our product is not good. And certainly, without a good fellow announcer, our product is not good. Without the cooperation of school administration and coaches, the product is not good. So this is more of a team award recognizing those who put the entire package together and I am proud to have worked with this team for over 4500 broadcasts, about two-thirds of which were high school basketball games.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the people who have been a major part of my journey. First of all is the man who has been our director and the leader of our team for almost all of our sporting events, Rick Geho. Then there are my long-term sidekicks – the man who started it all – Bob Gehris. Next the man who sat alongside me for over thirty years doing basketball, baseball, and football games – Dick Tracy. And my current high school announcing team – fellow announcer, Tom Stoudt, and stats man extraordinaire, John “Beet” Bowman.

In 1996, I retired from teaching and became a full-time employee because of our new association with Lafayette College and the Lafayette Sports Network. We have been doing basketball and football with them ever since. The Lafayette guys deserve special mention – Scott Morse of LSN who is the Director of Athletic Communications and Promotions and I am happy to say a very good friend. My Lafayette cohorts – John Leone, Mike Joseph, and Dan Mowdy. And, of course, there is no job without the support of management and I certainly want to thank the vice president and general manager of RCN PA, Sanford Ames. Please accept my gratitude for your efforts, your camaraderie, and, most importantly, your friendship.

That takes me to my wife. Luba and I have been married for fifty years. Although, technically, if you subtract all the nights I have been away to do games, we probably have about twenty full years together! This job does not work if you do not have support at home. I have that! I can tell you that after doing all those games, I can count on one hand the nights I went out after a game. I always wanted to get home to my family and to my wife. I did not want to be anywhere else. She is certainly in my Hall of Fame.

In conclusion, when I was teaching, I used to tell my students that their happiness was dependent on getting the four A’s from the people who mattered most in their lives, their loved ones, their peers, and significant adults. The four A’s are: Attention, Affection, Approval, and Acceptance.

Attention – You want people to know who you are.
Affection – You want people to like you.
Approval – You want people to let you know that you do a good job.
Acceptance – You want people to welcome you into their circle.

This honor has filled me with the 4-A’s and for that I am very grateful, very humbled, and very happy.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The Morning Call this past Sunday had an article written by Keith Groller about Larry Miller of Catasauqua. Keith did a wonderful job recognizing both the basketball talent and idiosyncrasies of the player I considered the very best to ever play in the Lehigh Valley. By the way, that’s my quote in the headline. It is a good read. Check it out:
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-larry-miller-retrospective-20140322,0,3953032.story

2. Watching the NCAA playoffs and witnessing so many great players made me think about how many of them actually will become professionals. The NCAA stats say that of the 538,676 high school male basketball players, 17,984 will play college basketball – but only 46 will be drafted by the NBA. According to the NCAA, 3.3% of high school basketball players will play college basketball, 1.2% of them will play professional, and 0.03% of high school players will play professional basketball. It seems pretty obvious that education should be the most important concern for 99% of the athletes.

3. By the way, soccer offers the best chance to become a professional athlete. A whopping 0.09% of the 410,982 high school soccer players get to be pros.

4. One of the scariest moments in my broadcasting career occurred on May 29, 2012 at Coca-Cola Park. Salisbury baseball pitcher, Nic Ampietro, was hit in the head by a batted ball. His teammate, Brad Vangeli, did a recent YouTube piece on the incident which includes our game footage and, more importantly, a happy ending. Check it out:

5. I picked Florida, Louisville, Arizona, and Villanova in the Final Four. Three are alive and one is done. I picked Florida and Arizona to meet in the championship game with Florida winning. Time will tell.

 

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 Final Four – Behind the Mic – April 2nd

Louisville vs Wichita State: Saturday, April 6, 6:09pm on CBS

The Cardinals of Louisville are the only team that almost everyone expected to be in the Final Four. In fact, everyone probably expects them to be in The National Championship game. They are the only #1 to survive the bracket-busting in this year of parity. They were in this position last year and lost to Kentucky, the eventual national champion. They are the best offensive team for sure. With Peyton Siva and Russ Smith on the floor and the emotional catalyst of winning for Kevin Ware (severe compound fracture vs Duke) in his home town, the Cardinals look unbeatable.

If you are inclined to root for the underdog, then Wichita State is your team. They were seeded #9. Their nickname is the Shockers; their conference, the Missouri Valley, has not been in the Final Four since 1979, when they were led by Larry Bird, and they did not even win their conference. They lost to Southern Illinois, Evansville, and Indiana State twice during the season. But, remember, they just beat #2 Ohio State. A win by the Shockers would rank as one of college basketball’s greatest upsets.

Michigan vs Syracuse: Saturday, April 6, 8:49pm on CBS

It may be hard to believe but Michigan has not been to the Final Four since 1993 (remember the Fab Five?). This Michigan team, however, has all the ingredients to win it all. Trey Burke (a player of the year candidate) runs the offense, Mitch McGary can dominate in the paint and Nik Stauskas was unconscious in the quarterfinal game hitting 6-6 from beyond the arc. They also dominated a very good Florida team. They are the final member from the Big Ten, in a year when most thought that conference would dominate the tournament. In today’s vernacular, “they represent” for their now maligned (overrated?) conference. The Big Ten domination was supposed to come from Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Indiana. They are all out. Only Michigan remains.

That leaves Syracuse. If defense wins championships, then this is your pick. The Syracuse 2-3 zone has been absolutely smothering. They held a final eight team, Marquette, to just 39 points and #1 Indiana to 50 points! When you look at the strength of this team, ironically, one talks more about the coach rather than the players. This is Jim Boeheim’s fourth trip to the semifinals, having won the national championship in 2003. He is a master game-planner and a defensive genius.

These are very interesting match-ups, to say the least.

My Picks:

Louisville definitely beats Wichita State.

Syracuse ends the Big Ten participation for this year.

Syracuse is the only team left that could beat Louisville. They will not. The Cardinals win the national Championship on Monday, April 8.

This will bring a smile to many a pool player! Finally a favorite wins when they are supposed to.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. The Wichita State research led me to Larry Bird. Did you remember that he originally was given a scholarship by Bob Knight and Indiana in 1974? He stayed for 24 days, overwhelmed by the size of the campus and the rather rude treatment by Indiana star, Kent Benson. He returned home to French Lick, Indiana, and got a job with the street department. After a year, he enrolled at Indiana State, averaged 30.3 points per game in three seasons, and led his team to a 33-1 record in his senior year, with the only loss coming to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the national championship game.
  2. Is it me? I really enjoy Charles Barkley, but he must feel like the luckiest guy in the world. He adds very little to the analysis of a game, butchers the English language, and doesn’t even seem all that interested. However, he has this look in his eyes and a smirk on his face that implies he knows he is putting something over on all of us, getting richer by the minute, and we will still like him. Worst of all, he is right!
  3. I went to the VIA All-Star Basketball Banquet this past week. Bill Walton was the guest speaker – no notes, great message, memorized lists, great delivery. I have attended many banquets over the years and have seen many guest speakers. He was one of the best!
  4. Baseball started this week. In most of the NL predictions, I have seen, the Giants, Cardinals, Reds, and Dodgers have been picked to make the playoffs. In the NL East, however, I have noticed a real split among prognosticators between the Nationals, the Braves, and the Phillies. No mention of the Mets! No mention of Miami. Nail biting time for Phillies fans!
  5. The AL East is even crazier! There are five teams and all either have great talent or great tradition behind them. The talent belongs to Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore; the tradition belongs to New York and Boston. Most sportswriters are picking…. Wait for it – Toronto!!

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.