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: Play Ball!

Play ball!!  Those are the words that baseball fans heard this week when the 2016 season began on Sunday.  Hopes are always high as the new season begins.  Fans from Toronto, Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, LA, and New York hope their teams can repeat as Divisional champions.  Royals’ fans are hoping for a two-peat as Kansas City defends their World Series championship.  And Phillies fans are hoping for great improvement and a possible miracle on Broad Street.  This is how I think the divisions will go:

American League
West

  1. Houston – Wild card entry last year; lost to Kansas City in the playoffs; needed a closer and got the Phillies Ken Giles; will win division this year.
  2. Texas Rangers – Weak in the outfield and at starting pitching; could finish lower, but not higher.
  3. Seattle – Rookie manager; weak pitching rotation; almost a whole new roster.
  4. LA Angels – With Trout and Pujols, you would think they would be better, but pitching makes them “not so good”.
  5. Oakland – Play poor defense and bullpen is weak; lost 35 games by one run last year – turn those around and…

Central

  1. Kansas City – Defending champs; fundamentally they are terrific; offense and bullpen overcome an average starting rotation; will win division easily.
  2. Cleveland – Excellent rotation; little offense; no attendance = no money to get even better.
  3. Chicago – Poor offense; poor bullpen; poor rotation = poor season.
  4. Detroit – 74-87 last year, horrible bullpen, but team is better than last year with off-season deals.
  5. Minnesota – Manager Paul Molitor is their greatest asset; performed miracles with this team last year; not again.

East

  1. Toronto – First place last year; first place this year; best offensive unit in the AL overcomes any other weaknesses.
  2. Boston – “Big Papi’s” last year; might drive the Sox to emotional title, but pitching staff as a whole is very questionable.
  3. New York Yankees – Great bullpen (I mean “Great!”); aging lineup; this team could finish first or last depending on starters.
  4. Tampa Bay – No fan support, no money, no bullpen; starting rotation is pretty good and makes them better than the Orioles.
  5. Baltimore – Can score (hit 129 HR’s last year), but can’t keep other team from outscoring them.

Kansas City will win the American League pennant.

National League
West

  1. San Francisco – The Giants win in even-numbered years (what? – I read it somewhere); upgraded their pitching staff; need to upgrade their batting stats.
  2. LA Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw will win almost every five days and this team is solid in every way, but team chemistry is a problem (ask fired manager Don Mattingly).
  3. Arizona – Could win the division after acquiring two very good starters; bullpen is suspect for sure.
  4. San Diego – Will not contend; rebuilding after trying their best with deals last year.
  5. Colorado – Stadium helps them offensively, but seems to help the opponents even more. Among the worst teams in baseball.

Central

  1. Chicago – Joe Madden! Joe Madden!  No real weaknesses except their own history.  Last title in 1908.
  2. St. Louis – Great manager in Matheny; not as strong as last year when they won 100 games, but they always seem to be at or near the top.
  3. Pittsburgh – outstanding outfield both offensively and defensively; Melancon led majors in saves; happen to be in a very tough division.
  4. Milwaukee – While being weak to begin with, they got weaker in spring training when they lost their closer; pitching was bad anyway.
  5. Cincinnati – Had an all-rookie starting lineup for the last third of the 2015 season; still rebuilding; not good.

East

  1. NY Mets – Great pitching; same lineup as last year, except for Daniel Murphy; should win it again.
  2. Washington – With Bryce Harper and their pitching, they still find a way to lose (injuries); maybe first-year manager Dusty Baker can finally get them over the hump.
  3. Miami – Eighth manager (Don Mattingly) in last seven years and Barry Bonds as hitting coach makes one go “hmmm”; and still they will be better than the Phillies and the Braves.
  4. Philadelphia – Pete Mackanin will have the team playing hard, but the talent level is low ( except for Franco).
  5. Atlanta – Worst team last year in runs scored; won four more games than the Phillies last season; four less this year?

Chicago will beat the Mets for the N L pennant.
Cubs win it all!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. As bad as my bracketing was this year, I did manage to pick the correct winners in the semifinals in last week’s blog – North Carolina and Villanova. As I write this on the National Championship morning and if “defense wins championships” then Villanova will win the 2016 NCAA Championship.
  2.  With North Carolina in the title game, it brought back memories of Catasauqua’s Larry Miller who I played against in the 1963 District championship game at the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena. He scored 42 points and we lost the game.  The following year, Larry scored 46 of his team’s 66 points while beating Steelton in the 1964 state playoffs.  He went on to play for Dean Smith and North Carolina and was the ACC’s Men’s Basketball Player of the Year in both 1967 and 1968 and was named as one of the fifty greatest players in ACC history.
  3.  I also remember back to April 1, 1985, when Villanova, under Rollie Massimino, beat Georgetown 66-64 in a big upset to win the NCAA National Championship. They were led by Ed Pinckney.  By the way, they beat North Carolina that year in the Southeast Regional final 56-44.
  4.  Bourjos, Hernandez, Herrera, Franco, Howard, Galvis, Rupp, and Goedel will be the Phillies position players to start the season. Bring a scorecard – remember, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard”.  This has never been more appropriate.
  5.  And, finally, the UConn women won their 74th consecutive game on Sunday destroying Oregon State 80-51 and will play Syracuse on Tuesday for the Women’s National Championship. A UConn win for Coach Geno Auriemma would be his 11th national championship and move him past UCLA’s John Wooden for the most all-time.  The two teams are meeting for the first time this year or last year and no team who hasn’t played them in the last two years has beaten them in the last decade!  No need to go out on a limb – UConn wins their 4th straight championship and their 75th straight game!!

Behind the Mic: Amusement Only?

“Amusement” is defined as, “the state or experience of finding something funny”; “the provision of enjoyment of entertainment”; “something that causes laughter or provides entertainment”.

RCN, like many companies I’m sure, runs an NCAA basketball bracket pool that is strictly “for amusement only”.  There is no fee to enter; there are no financial rewards, except for a modest gift certificate.  The REAL big prize, however, is owning the bragging rights that come with winning and, trust me, that is the best gift of all.

There is a little extra pressure that accompanies my selection because I am the Sports Director and expected to know what I am talking about (a mistake in their judgment, not mine).  And, when I handed in my pool, it certainly did not help when I bragged at our staff meeting that there was not much sense in anyone else entering the competition.  They would just be wasting their time.  The winning bracket had been filled out and handed in BY ME.

I also placed my selection in a “hermetically sealed envelope” (I have no idea what that means) so that no one could see my picks until the games actually began.  When asked which team I selected to win it all, I refused to answer or, even worse, offered up some obnoxious answer.

Now, truth be told, after last year’s results, my confidence level was way down.  I went into the Championship game needing only favored Wisconsin to knock off Duke and, as it should be, the championship of RCN Bracketology would be mine.  But Duke won!  Not Wisconsin! And I lost to Linda (not her real name – I wish I didn’t have to use my real name either) who made her picks based on uniform colors, nicknames, team mascot, the handsomeness of the coach, or some other nonsense.  Suffice it to say, she knew NOTHING about college basketball.  AND SHE WON!  (I hope I don’t sound bitter).

Linda (still not her real name) rubbed her victory in my face and just this past week offered to aid me with my picks this year and made sure others in the company knew she was willing to “help” me make my selections.  My response was not very nice and, as you can imagine, I could not wait to conquer this year’s bracket and put her in her place.

Until… Friday!  #15 Middle Tennessee State (who?) beat Michigan State 90-81!  You see, I picked Michigan State to win it all!  I did not pick them to lose in the FIRST ROUND, SECOND ROUND…!!  (Did I mention I am the Sports Director?).  And then, to make matters worse, Middle Tennessee State lost in the second round to Syracuse by 25 points!!

So as I sit here at my desk ripping up my copy of the NCAA bracket, I await the wrath of my fellow workers.  The worst response will most certainly come from Linda (I hope I never hear her real name again).  She has North Carolina and Kansas in the final and both are STILL ALIVE.  Geez!

So I can assure you, as far as I am concerned, this exercise is far from “for amusement only”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. It was nice to see Villanova get by the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And they did it with ease, beating Iowa 87-68, so that no last-second heroics were necessary.  It is their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2009.
  1. Temple and St. Joseph’s were not so fortunate. Temple lost in the first round 72-70 to Iowa on a last second put-back.  Replays showed the scorer pushed off to get the rebound and should have been whistled for a foul.  And St. Joseph’s put up a strong fight against #1 Oregon losing by five.  That game kept me up until 12:05 on Monday morning.  I find it hard to leave any game once I look in because almost all the games come down to the last few possessions.
  1. The team that beat Parkland and knocked them out of the PIAA AAAA Basketball championship in the quarterfinals won the state championship on Saturday night. Roman Catholic beat Alderdice 73-62 and repeated as state champion.  Alderdice was ranked #1 all year long and had only lost one game until Saturday.  So, Parkland lost to the best 73-60.  No shame there.
  1. Private schools continue to dominate both the boys’ and girls’ basketball championships in Pennsylvania. They won six of the eight titles this past weekend.  The complaints of an “unlevel playing field” will certainly continue.
  1. As I write this, the ‘76ers and the Flyers will not make the NBA or NHL playoffs. Do you believe that the ‘76ers have not won 10 games?  As of this Monday, they were 9-61.  Unbelievably bad!  The Flyers still have a chance.  Thank goodness for Villanova.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Colonials Rising

Without question one of the top turnaround success stories on the NCAA basketball court belongs to Head Coach Mike Lonergan and the George Washington men’s basketball program.

After a highly successful tenure at Vermont, Coach Lonergan’s Colonials posted back-to-back 20-plus win seasons for the first time since 2006-07 and have gotten off to an incredible start in the 2015-16 campaign.

After consecutive seasons of NCAA or NIT post-season entries, anyone thinking of a letdown this year has been sadly mistaken.

George Washington came out in mid-November and provided the nation with one of college basketball’s first big losses to a team ranked in the top 10, with a 73-68 win over Virginia.  The Cavaliers were the sixth-ranked team in the country at the time of that contest.  The Colonials continued their dominating performances by winning ten of its first 11 ball games (a perfect 8-0 at home), with many victories coming by a double-digit margin.

Moreover, Lonergan’s guidance has led to a resurgence among the Colonial fan base and an extra level of excitement to his team’s contests at the Smith Center.

We had the opportunity on “RCN SportsTalk” to talk with Coach Lonergan about his GW men’s basketball program, their previous years’ successes and about his team’s hot start to the current season.

Before coming to George Washington, Coach Lonergan had great success at Vermont. His teams compiled a .700 or better winning percentage in four of his last five seasons and qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2010 (overall record 25-10).

Before this season started, George Washington had two players, Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen, named to the All-Conference Second Team, with Garino also named to the A-10 All-Defense Team.  The Colonials also were picked by A-10 experts to finish in the top four spots in the league this winter.

Pre-season Atlantic-10 Poll

  1. Dayton (12 first place votes) – 352 total points
  2. Rhode Island (8) – 347
  3. Davidson (6) – 329
  4. Washington (1) – 285
  5. VCU – 277
  6. Richmond – 262
  7. Saint Joseph’s – 194
  8. Bonaventure – 177
  9. La Salle – 164
  10. Massachusetts – 142
  11. Duquesne – 113
  12. Saint Louis—96
  13. George Mason – 52
  14. Fordham — 45

The Colonials are looking to continue their current four-game winning streak through the holiday season, with some intriguing match-ups on the horizon.

Upcoming Schedule

Dec. 22nd              at DePaul
Dec. 29th               at UCF
Jan. 3rd                  vs. Fordham*
Jan. 6th                  at Saint Louis*
Jan. 9th                  vs. Duquesne*
Jan. 12th              at UMass*
Jan. 15th                at Dayton*
Jan. 22nd               vs. Rhode Island*
*Atlantic-10 Conference games
All home games are played at the Smith Center

We hope that basketball fans check out the Colonials in action as they’ll look to have a number of exciting match-ups coming up over the next few months.  Also, keep checking back to the “SportsTalk Shop” and the “RCN SportsTalk” show for more great guests and insights on this winter’s NCAA basketball season.

Behind the Mic: “Final 4 – Q and A”

Remember last week how everyone was bemoaning the fact that they were doing so poorly in their office pool?  After this past weekend, I would think there would be less gnashing of teeth and more people still having a little bit of skin in the game.  After all the early upsets, three #1 seeds are still alive and a coach they call the “Master of March”, Tom Izzo of Michigan State, has his team playing in Indianapolis.  Michigan State last won a national championship in 2000 and Tom Izzo was the coach.

I have three teams still alive in our “for entertainment purposes only” office pool: Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke.  I picked #2 Virginia to be the other participant, but Michigan State beat them, too, along with the #3 and #4 seeds.  Here is the way I see the match-ups for Saturday in Indianapolis.

#7 Michigan State vs #1 Duke  –  6:09pm on CBS
Both Duke and Michigan State were in the 2010 Final Four. Ironically, the semifinals that year were also the held in Indianapolis.  Michigan State lost to Butler in the semis and Duke went on to win the national title 61-59.  These two teams played earlier in the season in November and Duke won the game by 10.  There is no question that Michigan State is the surprise team in the Final Four.  Even Coach Izzo said earlier he did not believe his team had the size and talent to compete for a national championship.  In Michigan State’s last final appearance in 2009 they lost to North Carolina.  Izzo has his team one game away again.  Despite his basketball acumen, he goes up against Mike Krzyzewski who has taken Duke to nine championship finals and has won four national championships.  I like Duke to win this game, but it will not be easy and it will not be by 10.
DUKE   66   MICHIGAN STATE  61

#1 Kentucky vs #1 Wisconsin
Believe it or not, there have only been three Final Four rematches in history and this is one of them.  Kentucky hit a three with six seconds on the clock last year that kept Wisconsin from their second national championship game.  This is a revenge game for sure.  Wisconsin’s stars, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, made it known that they did not go to the NBA just so they could get back to this position again.  Is this one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments?

Everyone knows that Kentucky is 38-0, two wins away from being the first undefeated team since Indiana’s run in 1976.  Kentucky’s John Calipari has a bit of a revenge factor of his own losing in last year’s final to Connecticut 60-54.  After winning it all in 2013, Calipari certainly wants Kentucky fans to put him in the same conversation as the great Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp who won four national championships.  I am awed by the size and the talent that Kentucky puts on the floor.  However, Notre Dame may have shown that they can be beaten losing by just two in the Midwest final.  The last two teams since 1976 to enter the Final Four undefeated were Indiana State (Larry Bird and company) and UNLV (Jerry Tarkanian) in 1991.  Both lost.  I firmly believe that Wisconsin has the talent and the motivation to win this game, but they won’t.

KENTUCKY  72   WISCONSIN  69

National Championship Game
KENTUCKY 73  DUKE 71

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
An NCAA Championship Quiz

  1. Ten consecutive titles were won by two teams that were known by initials that started with the letter U. Name the two teams.
  2. Since 2000, who is the only coach to win back-to-back championships?
  3. What former Lafayette head basketball coach won a national championship?
  4. Prior to John Calipari, who was the last Kentucky coach to win a national championship?
  5. Since 2000, what team has won the most national championships?

 

ANSWERS:

  1. UCLA AND UTEP (1964-1973)
  2. Billy Donovan (Florida-2006 + 2007)
  3. Gary Williams (Maryland – 2002)
  4. Tubby Smith (1998)
  5. Connecticut (3)

 

Behind the Mic: Go, Villanova (Maybe…)

I would think any of us who covered the Darrun Hilliard era at Liberty High School became Wildcat fans the minute he accepted his scholarship at Villanova to play basketball there.  He has had a terrific career and is now looking forward to the start of the NCAA tournament after winning the Big East and getting a #1 seed in the East Region.  Darrun is the Wildcats leading scorer on a team where balanced scoring is the norm and defense is their greatest strength.  I have watched many of Darrun’s games throughout his career and the “I knew him when” thoughts constantly crept into my psyche.

But on Sunday at 6:20pm, he suddenly became the enemy.  His Villanova team was paired up in the NCAA bracket with #16 seed Lafayette!  The game is scheduled for Thursday, March 19, in Pittsburgh at 6:50pm.  For this one game, I will root against Darrun Hilliard and cheer on the underdog Lafayette Leopards.  I am not alone.

Imagine how Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon feels.  Fran played at Villanova under Jack Kraft, who died this past August at the age of 93.  The Villanova players remember Coach by wearing his initials on their uniforms.  Fran is a 1970 graduate.  He was the team co-captain for the 1969-70 Wildcat team that reached the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.  Fran averaged 13.1 points per game and still holds the record for assists in one game (16).  He is a true Philadelphia guy, having gone to St. Thomas More high school, being named to the Villanova Hall of Fame in 1992, and coaching at Monsignor Bonner High School and assisting under current Temple head coach Fran Dunphy at the University of Penn.  When you are in Fran’s company in Philadelphia, the stories flow and the fun is non-stop.

All of those good feelings will change for two hours on Thursday night.  This is Fran’s third trip to the NCAA tournament, having made the tournament in 1999 and 2000, losing to Miami, Fla. and Temple.  Lafayette will be a huge underdog again.  No #16 team has ever beaten a #1 team since the tournament began.  Then again, look what had to happen for Lafayette to even get to this game:

(1) Lafayette needed to beat Army in the last regular season game in order for Lafayette to qualify for a quarterfinal home game (they did);
(2) Holy Cross needed to upset Boston University in the final game played in the regular season in order for Lafayette to actually get a quarterfinal home game (they did);
(3) #4 seed Lafayette needed to beat #5 seed Boston University, a team that beat them by 14 at home in their previous match-up (they did);
(4) #6 American University needed to beat #3 seed Lehigh at Lehigh (they did);
(5) #4 seed Lafayette needed to upset #1 seed Bucknell at Bucknell, a feat NEVER accomplished before in the Patriot League semifinals (they did);
(6)  #6 American University needed to beat #2 Colgate in the following game for Lafayette to get a home championship game (they did);
(7) #4 Lafayette needed to beat #6 American after losing to them twice during the regular season for the Patriot League Championship (they did!)

Are they a team of destiny on Thursday night in Pittsburgh?  My head says, “No”.  My heart says, “Maybe”.  Go, Leopards!!

P.S. If Villanova wins, I will jump on the Wildcats wagon.  Go, Darrun!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I like Virginia, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Duke in the Final Four for the tournament. Kentucky beats Duke in the final.
  2. The Eastern Washington Eagles will upset Georgetown and be the lowest seed to go the deepest in the brackets.
  3. Look for my reports from Pittsburgh this week on goleopards.com.
  4. As I write this, District 12 out of Philadelphia is dominating the PIAA playoffs again in boys’ basketball. Out of the 16 teams remaining in the four classifications, District 12 has eight of them.  They do the same in football.  Time to investigate?
  5. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament. Don’t forget to get some sleep!

 

 

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!