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: 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!!