March Madness: 2008 NCAA Tournament Picks

•March 18, 2008 • 2 Comments

ncaa.jpgTime for my annual March Madness picks.  This year, I’m proud to say that my hometown of Omaha will be hosting first and second round games. 

Without further ado, here are my predictions:

First Round Upsets:

Arkansas over Indiana, Winthrop over Washington St., Kent St. over UNLV, Siena over Vanderbilt, Davidson over Gonzaga, Temple over Michigan St., St. Mary’s over Miami, Texas A&M over BYU

Sweet Sixteen:

North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, Butler, Kansas, Clemson, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Texas, UCLA, Drake, Xavier, Duke

Elite Eight:

North Carolina, Butler, Kansas, Wisconsin, Memphis, Texas, UCLA, Xavier

Final Four:

North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, UCLA

Championship Game:

Kansas vs. UCLA

National Champion:

Kansas Jayhawks

There’s too much in Kansas’ favor this year: a senior-laden team with lots of tournament experience who won’t be overlooking any lower-seeded opponents (due to some bad experiences in 2005 and 2006).  Not to mention that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the last time KU won a national championship (1988).  And Danny Manning, the star player from that championship team, is an assistant coach.  If talent, leadership, experience and momentum have anything to do with determining national champions, then Kansas is the team to beat.

I just hope I haven’t jinxed them.

Let the madness begin.

BCS Bummer

•January 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

bcs.jpgBefore I begin, let me first offer a disclaimer: 

I’m a supporter of the BCS.  I think it’s the reason college football has the most interesting regular season in all of sports. I think it’s the best solution for keeping the bowl system intact while crowning a national champion at the same time (with the exception of a “plus one” format, which is hopefully the next evolution of the system). And I think the BCS almost always gives us the best championship game between the best two teams based on a whole season’s body of work. 

Is the system perfect? No. Does it always get it right? No. But, in my humble opinion, the conversation it generates among sports enthusiasts every fall/winter is healthy — and a big reason why college football’s popularity has surged over the past few years.

Even so, I’ll be the first to admit that the BCS has been a major disappointment this year. Not because the system gave us the wrong teams for the national championship game — I believe that Ohio State and LSU are the two most deserving teams for that game (although, I would like to see what USC and Georgia would do if given a shot) . In fact, I believe the system worked the way it was designed to (with the exception of Missouri being left out of the mix…clearly a mistake). 

The BCS is a disappointment this year because, for the first time ever, it gave us a slate of games that can be described as anticlimactic at best – especially coming on the heels of one of the most exciting regular seasons in recent history. Week-in and week-out, we watched thrilling upsets, memorable finishes and oustanding performances. The logical conclusion is that such a season would finish with a mouth-watering slate of bowl games…and up until yesterday afternoon, that’s exactly what we had. Michigan’s thriller against Florida, Texas Tech’s last second upset of Virginia, Purdue’s last second field goal against Central Michigan, etc.

But then came the BCS games.  First, a USC dismantling of Illinois, followed by a Georgia demolishing of Hawaii.  Tonight, we will watch Oklahoma and West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl, followed by Thursday’s matchup featuring Kansas and Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.  Both of those BCS games have the potential to be as uninspiring as the first two. If yesterday was any indication of what is to come, then wake me up when it’s over. 

How disappointing for the BCS — the system that is supposed to give us the main course of the bowl season, not the leftovers. At least Monday’s game will produce an intriguing matchup of LSU and Ohio State. Until then, I’m afraid I’ll continue to be bummed with the BCS — an unfortunate finish to an unbelievable season.

Baseball Midseason Update

•July 26, 2007 • 1 Comment

pudge.jpgWe’re just past the halfway point in the 2007 MLB season, so I figured it’s time for me to start blogging again.  Sorry to those of you who have visited the site over the past few months — I’ve been a slacker.

Now on to my predictions for the second half of the season:

NL East: As expected, this division has been dominated by the Mets, with the Braves and Phils not far behind.  I don’t expect any major shakeups down the stretch. One interesting development to keep your eye on: the pending return of Pedro Martinez.  If Pedro is able to come off the DL, that will give the Mets’ rotation a huge boost, making them the favorite for the NL pennant.  Even if Pedro doesn’t return, I’m still predicting New York will clinch the East.

My prediction: New York clinches, followed by Atlanta, Philadelphia, Florida and Washington.

NL Central: True to form, the Cubs disappointed in the first half, giving new meaning to the term “underachievers.”  Never before had expectations been so high in the Windy City for their lovable losers, but then again, that’s part of the curse.  And then there’s Milwaukee — easily the surprise of the season thus far.  The Brewers are talented, but young. I don’t think they’ll have enough experience to sustain their hot pace through September.

My prediction: Cubs miraculously live up to their hype in the second half and clinch, followed by Milwaukee, Houston, St. Louis, Cincinatti and Pittsburgh.

NL West:  Surprisingly, one of the more competitive divisions in baseball. Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies all turned in a solid first-half.  Yet, as usual, all the headlines belonged to the Giants and their slugger, Barry Bonds. Down the stretch, Bonds will break “the record,” but the Giants will finish last. 

My prediction: Arizona clinches, followed by Los Angeles, San Diego, Colorado and San Francisco.

AL East:  Whoa, did my eyes deceive me, or did the Yankees fall from their elite status to a middle-of-the-road franchise in a matter of months?  Nope — it was just some injuries and a slow start.  That has all changed and New York is back on track. Boston was the team to beat in the first half, but New York will pull their usual late-season surge. 

My prediction: New York clinches, followed by Boston, Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

AL Central: Still the best division in baseball. Cleveland started out strong, but has faded a little, making way for Detroit. Minnesota has had injury problems and won’t likely break out of their third place position. Chicago saw a major drop-off in hitting from the past two years. Kansas City started off like usual, but picked up momentum in June. For the first time in years, the Royals won’t finish in last.

My prediction: Detroit clinches, followed by Cleveland, Minnesota, Kansas City and Chicago.

AL West: Oakland started off strong, but faded. Seattle has been a surprise. But, the division belongs to Anaheim. The Angels are too talented to blow this one.

My prediction: Anaheim, followed by Seattle, Oakland and Texas.

Wild Cards:  Los Angeles and Boston.

Playoffs:  The NL will be represented by New York, Chicago, Arizona and Los Angeles.  The AL will be represented by New York, Detroit, Anaheim and Boston.

World Series:  Detroit Tigers vs. New York Mets.

Champion:  Detroit Tigers.

March Madness: 2007 NCAA Tournament Picks

•March 14, 2007 • 4 Comments

ncaa.jpgLet the madness begin.  Here are my predictions for the 2007 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

First Round Upsets:

Old Dominion over Butler, Winthrop over Notre Dame, Georgia Tech over UNLV, Oral Roberts over Washington St., Texas Tech over BC, Xavier over BYU, Creighton over Nevada

Sweet Sixteen:

Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Georgia Tech, Kansas, So. Illinois, Duke, UCLA, North Carolina, Texas, Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Ohio State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Creighton

Elite Eight:

Florida, Oregon, Kansas, UCLA, Texas, Georgetown, Ohio State, Texas A&M

Final Four:

Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, Texas A&M

Championship Game:

Kansas vs. Georgetown

National Champion:

Kansas Jayhawks

March Madness Begins Now

•February 28, 2007 • Leave a Comment

gmu.jpgThe NCAA tournament begins today.

Okay, not officially. But, for all practical purposes, conference tournaments are the beginning of March Madness. Right now, nearly every team in NCAA-Div. I men’s basketball has a chance to win a national championship (with the exception of a few leagues that exclude teams from their tournaments, as well as a few independent teams).  The road to the Final Four doesn’t start with the “play-in” game on March 13 — it starts with the fight for automatic bids that takes place in conferences across the country.

This week, as the stakes rise for the small guys fighting for a chance to be “Cinderella” at at this year’s dance, you will see players laying it all on the line.  Nowhere is this more true than in the small conferences, where automatic bids are often the only ticket — conferences like the Colonial Athletic Association, the Southern Conference and the West Coast Conference. 

This week, you will see guys diving for loose balls, sprinting up and down the court and playing “in-your-face” defense. You’ll see blood, sweat and tears. You’ll witness teams playing basketball the way it was meant to be played.

Bring it on.

But don’t think for a second that just because these conferences aren’t the big dogs, they won’t produce some intense, high quality matchups between teams that will have a legitimate shot at making a run in the tournament. After all, where do you think cinderella teams like last year’s George Mason come from?

Here’s a look at a few tournaments and teams to keep your eye on as the beauty of March Madness begins to unfold this week:

Missouri Valley Conference: Based on an earlier post, you might guess that I think this tournament will be the best one of the week.  You’re right. Also known as “Arch Madness,” the Valley tournament promises to be one heck of a ride. Yet again, Valley teams have proven that they belong on the same court as the big boys.  But after compiling an impressive nonconference resume, teams in the Valley have beaten each other up. This is probably one of the most solid leagues from top-to-bottom in the country, where any team can beat any other team on any given day.  Last year, the MVC tournament gave us Bradley, who played their way into the NCAA tournament by making the MVC Finals.  The Braves then proceeded to play their way into the Sweet 16.  This year, Southern Illinois is the only NCAA lock. But, there are three other teams with at-large aspirations (Creighton, Missouri State and Bradley) and a host of other teams with the potential to win the conference tournament.  Look for another exciting weekend in St. Louis.

Colonial Athletic Association: This is the conference that gave us George Mason in 2006 — one of the greatest NCAA cinderella stories of all time. At this year’s CAA tournament, look out for Drexel, Hofstra, Virigina Commonwealth and Old Dominion.  They all have tournament-caliber talent and solid resumes. But, only one (maybe two) will get to go to the dance. Think that’s a recipe for intensity?

Southern Conference:  Keep an eye on Davidson, Appalachian State and College of Charleston.  All had excellent seasons, but only one will get to go.

West Coast Conference: The home of Gonzaga. But, this year, the ‘Zags have some competition, most notably from Santa Clara. And guess who played at Santa Clara the last time they made a run in the NCAA tournament?  One Steve Nash — NBA MVP. 

Big South Conference: Winthrop has had an impressive season, winning 20 games and going undefeated in conference play. Should they happen to lose in the Big South tournament, they may have an outside shot at an at-large berth. But, obviously, they would rather go with the sure-fire automatic bid.

Atlantic Sun Conference: Two teams from the “Rocky Top” state could decide this one, as East Tennessee State will likely face their biggest challenge from Belmont University out of Nashville.

Here’s to March — enjoy the ride!

Spring Fever: Bring On Baseball

•February 15, 2007 • 3 Comments

Is it just me, or is anyone else ready for spring to get here? 

Good news came today when pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training in Major League Baseball –  the first sure sign that spring is on its way.

No more reading about contract deals, off-season moves, federal investigations, etc. We can finally start to talk about the 2007 baseball season and what will happen on the field.  And, in my opinion, it can’t get here soon enough.

There’s just something about spring, warmer weather, new life and baseball that renews my hope and perspective.

Here’s a short clip from one of my favorite movies to get you in the baseball mood (gives me chills every time I see it):

NFL Head Coach: Hardest Job in Sports?

•February 14, 2007 • 3 Comments

Marty SchottenheimerOn Monday, the San Diego Chargers fired head coach Marty Schottenheimer. The 4-year turnaround expert was fresh off his best season yet — a 14-2 campaign that included the placement of 15 players in the Pro Bowl and the NFL’s MVP in LaDanian Tomlinson.  However, the season was cut short earlier than most expected when the New England Patriots knocked off the Chargers in the second round of the playoffs.

It’s a familiar scenario for Schottenheimer, who has a reputation for successful regular seasons followed by choke jobs in the playoffs.  Even so, does that really merit termination?  It’d be one thing if the Chargers were on a decline or had a down season. But the best record in the NFL hardly qualifies as a “down season.”

Furthermore, why in the world did the Chargers wait until Feb. 12 to make that decision — a month after their season was over? 

Turns out that this decision was about more than just X’s and O’s.  Unfortunately for Schottenheimer, he has been dealing with a front office that was less than cordial.  Chargers GM A.J. Smith and Schottenheimer have butted heads ever since the coach arrived in San Diego. Apparently, after Schottenheimer allowed several of his assistant coaches to interview for and accept coaching positions elsewhere in the league, Smith and owner Dean Spanos decided they’d had enough.

If you ask me, it’s a dumb decision on their part.  Now they’re stuck with a head coaching vacancy and a mostly picked-over field of candidates. Not only that, but they interrupted the momentum of a coach who had assembled a Super Bowl-caliber team.  In my opinion, Schottenheimer is one of the best in the league.  With the exception of his playoff woes, he has had success everywhere he’s gone. 

In the end, irreconcilable differences ended the Schottenheimer era in San Diego. And a 14-2 coach is now unemployed.

Which brings me to my point: is there a harder job in sports today than NFL head coach?  Every year, we see situations like the one in San Diego. Coaches are asked to build winning franchises, but are given little or no time to do it. They are required to bring home a Super Bowl ring, but often aren’t given any say in the players they must work with.

The NFL is purposefully designed to create parity. That’s why it’s so rare to come across franchises like the Patriots that are so successful over several years.  That’s why you almost always see different teams in the Super Bowl year-in and year-out.  Granted, it makes things interesting and creates balance across the league. But, it’s torture for die-hard fans who have to watch their teams ride the roller coaster of success. And it’s even worse for head coaches who are destined to have up and down years, no matter how good they are as coaches. 

Finally, front offices in the NFL are way too involved. It’s like Bill Parcells’ famous quote likening an NFL coach to a chef who must cook a great meal, but has no say in the ingredients.  If a front office truly has confidence in its coach and demands success, they must be willing to let the coach do his job. 

Which is exactly what went wrong in San Diego. The front office overstepped their boundaries. They attempted to micro-manage a winning coach. And they got rid of a guy who had done nothing but bring them success.

I’m confident that Schottenheimer will end up with a good coaching job, if he’s interested. Another franchise will recognize the value he brings to the table.

But, if I were Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer or any other college head coach who was even remotely contemplating NFL openings, I’d be careful before taking the plunge.  In college, at least you have a say in who you recruit. And, for the most part, you aren’t dealing with the kind of egos you see in the NFL.  At the very least, you can be confident that your players aren’t making more money than you are. College players are more coachable and, as a result, college coaches have more influence over the success of their teams. 

Just ask Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban — I’m sure they’d tell you that NFL head coaching isn’t all it’s cracked-up to be.

 
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