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: Four Is Not Enough

If any college football fan doubts the wisdom of a four-team College Football Playoff system, this past weekend should eliminate those doubts.  The Selection Committee has no choice under the current system.  They can choose four and ONLY four.  The idea in the beginning was that conference champions would fill the four slots.  The only problem there is that there are five power conferences, but I’m sure the founders felt they could surely eliminate one of the champions.  But this year, the committee eliminated two – the Big 12 champions and the Big 10 champion.  The ACC will send Clemson; the Pac 12 will send Washington; and the SEC will send Alabama.  It is hard to argue with any of those choices.

Now we come to Ohio State.  Should they go or should the committee have chosen Penn State – the Big 10 champion?  I have no argument with Ohio State’s pedigree.  They lost only one game; they beat Michigan; they were ranked in the top three all year; and they beat Michigan.  That’s good enough for me.  EXCEPT….

Penn State won the Big 10 championship, while Ohio State did not play at all last week.  Penn State gave Ohio State their only loss of the year 24-21.  Penn State’s losses were to Pitt, which, by the way, beat Clemson and they lost to Michigan.  Both of those losses were on the road.  And if “playing well at the end of the year” means anything, Penn State has not lost since September.  They have won nine games in a row.  Ohio State lost to Penn State in October and Michigan lost two of their last three.

Winning a conference title is supposed to give the winning team a 13th data point.  Penn State earned that point; Ohio State did not.  Conference championships should matter.  For two teams, it did not.

As I said earlier, Ohio State, with only one loss should be in the mix for a national championship.  My fault with the system is four teams.  If you make it eight you add only one more week to the schedule and that should be palatable.  I know if you add eight, then nine and ten will feel shunned.  But eight gives you the five conference champions,   (the Big 12 will start playing one next year) and three “wild cards”.  A similar system works quite well for the NFL and six of those teams have gone on to win the Super Bowl.

So Penn State will play in the Rose Bowl against USC and that certainly is a justified reward for their season, but should they have been playing for a national championship?  What if you were on the committee – how would you have voted?

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I really started to watch Penn State because of Saquon Barkley, the former Whitehall Zephyr. Now I watch them because they are one of the most exciting and dramatic teams in college football.  Their win over Wisconsin, after being down by 21 points and being totally dominated early in the game, was nothing short of miraculous!
  2. The Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks played almost as well on Friday night against undefeated Imhotep Charter out of Philadelphia. Imhotep is the defending state champion and has won 28 games in a row.  No team stayed within 30 points of them this season.  Until they met the Hawks!  The Hawks lost 24-13 when Imhotep scored a TD late in the game. Beca was in it right up until the very end of the game and actually led at one point.  It was a great year for Coach Kyle Haas and the Beca football team.
  3. Notre Dame High School did not win a game two years ago. On Friday night, they played in the PIAA state semifinal game against undefeated Middletown.  The Crusaders lost that game, but their resurgence in the past two years has been amazing.
  4. The Eagles looked like a team that cannot make the playoffs this past Sunday. The Bengals just crushed them.  Maybe it’s not a good thing for the coach to say they are looking towards the future before the present is completed.  The Eagles took major steps in the wrong direction this past Sunday.
  5. High school basketball begins next week with Freedom-Allen and Liberty-Easton on Tuesday, December 13. We will have Liberty-Central and Saucon Valley-Wilson on Friday, December 16.  The wrestling season begins on Wednesday, December 14, with Liberty taking on Nazareth.

 

 Gary's Picks

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 12-3; Overall – 119-72-2 – 62%)
Week Fourteen

OAKLAND
PHILADELPHIA
MINNESOTA
DETROIT
CINCINNATI
ARIZONA
INDIANAPOLIS
DENVER
CAROLINA
PITTSBURGH
JETS
TAMPA BAY
ATLANTA
SEATTLE
DALLAS
NEW ENGLAND

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?

 

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!!