Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sportz' 2017 Year In Sports


This has been an odd year for the Sportz Assassin's favorite teams. There's been some of sports best moments and some of its worst. This isn't me coming at sports as a whole but from where my teams did this year.

TAR HEELS WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

I am 42 years old and I take my Heels' losses much better than I did when I was younger. Sure, I still get pretty disgusted when we lose to Duke but I don't shy away from the world as I did when I was in, say, high school.

But I can honestly say that I've never been as nervous for the Heels' wins as I have been this year. To have the 2016 season end on that Kris Jenkins three at the buzzer was honestly a shock to the system. This team had been on its Redemption tour all season but this team felt different. In 1993, I felt Carolina had the squad to end Duke's run on national titles. It felt like a team that wasn't flashy but extremely talented and experienced. In 2005 when Carolina won the championship, this was a very talented team that ... after the Matt Doherty era ... I was just excited that we were back in the running for a title. We won that one and I gave my wife the biggest hug. In 2009, I had taken every day off from work that the tournament was on because I knew the Tar Heels were going to win the whole thing. They blasted through the tournament and it felt more like validation than anything.

To tell the truth, I've had the same feeling in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2012 when UNC didn't win it all.

This team had a different feel. It wasn't as talented as the 1993, 2005 or 2009 team (not to mention the 1982 team that I was much too young to remember much about). They were good, sure, but lost arguably its two best and most reliable players in Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Joel Berry looked like he could become the leader, but he wasn't the point guard that Raymond Felton or Ty Lawson was. Justin Jackson hadn't put it all together yet. Guys like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks were streaky at best and since they were seniors it seemed as if they wouldn't be much more than that. We love Theo Pinson but he's always hurt. Tony Bradley and Seventh Woods were nice freshman but neither had the look of taking on too much in their first season.

There were some nice wins during the season ... and even that shootout loss to Kentucky ... to make you feel like this team was going places. But then there were losses to Indiana and Georgia Tech and Miami and that horrible offensive performance against Virginia to make you think they'll throw up a stinker in the tournament and get beat. UNC would end up winning the ACC regular season crown and would beat Duke on senior night which is always icing on the cake ... but all that went out the window when less than a week later Carolina gave up a big lead and Duke spectacularly spanked them in the ACC tournament semis.

Still got that No. 1 seed but they were wobbly. Blew out Texas Southern but Berry got hurt. Then Carolina trailed Arkansas late and I remember saying to my wife that "this team spent all year talking about redemption and they're gonna lose in the second round to freakin' Arkansas. But a 12-0 run to end the game got UNC through. After blowing out Butler, UNC looked like they had Kentucky on the ropes. Kentucky would take the lead and what looked like control of the game until another 12-0 run got the lead back for the Heels. Kentucky would tie the game at 73 on a tough three by Malik Monk when ... well ... Luke Maye.

That was a great day for this Heels fan who moved to Kentucky nearly two decades ago. Great day indeed. My wife was coming home and busted through the door right after Maye hit that shot screaming in joy. She hates Kentucky more than I do, so she may have had a better day.

Then the Final Four. After doing everything they could to blow the game against Oregon, two key offensive boards on free throws sealed the deal. Then came the choppy win over Gonzaga in the championship game. That game was a microcosm of the Heels' season and especially their tournament run. It was never pretty but the team pull out all the stops late when it was time to win. They made the big shots, the big defensive plays and just the right moves to eek out their sixth championship.

I looked at my wife and hugged her. She asked if I was going to cry and I told her I was just so happy for those kids. To have last season end like that and to avenge it ... it's unbelievable.  In the NCAA Tournament that just never happens, especially in the era of one and dones. 

What a season.

TAR HEELS FOOTBALL LAYS AN EGG

I won't go into much detail with the Heels' football season, but it was ugly. If not for the win over Pittsburgh late in the season, this team wouldn't have won a game over any team of note this year. Heck, a kinda close loss to Miami was the best moment of the season until the Pitt game.

The team lost a ton of talent from the 2016 and didn't really replace it. Hopefully this is more of a misstep than a trend.

REDSKINS STAY REDSKIN-Y

Life in the NFC East is weird, You honestly don't know what you're gonna get. If you forced me to bet my house on who'd win the East before the season, I would've put it on the Giants. Yep, the Giants who are now 2-13 as the season ends. My point. You just don't know how the Redskins would look this year.

And they looked ... well ... Redskins-y.  Right now they are 7-8 heading into their finally against the aforementioned G-men. There's been some nice wins (at the Rams, at the Seahawks, blowing apart the Raiders) and some tough losses (the choke job against the Saints comes to mind).  You cannot figure this team out but that Saints loss (they were up 15 with three minutes left by lost in overtime) where they could've been 5-5 after was a killer. After beating the Giants on Thanksgiving, the Redskins looked dead against the Cowboys and they air went out of the balloon.

They have a chance to get to 8-8 and possibly tie the Cowboys for 2nd place in the division but what does the future hold? The season has had this overlying cloud of Kirk Cousins' future. Does his future tie in to Jay Gruden (who I want to remain as head coach)? What about anyone else on the team? Injuries just decimated this team and the overhauled receiving corps never worked out (Jordan Reed never plays, Terrelle Pryor was a bust).  There is a nice foundation and this team has won 9, 8 and 7 or 8 games in the last three seasons.  In a rollercoaster NFC East, that's not too shabby. I could be better but it could be worse.

I hope the offseason is about building and not tearing down.

LAKERS BALL

The Lakers story is like a movie saga -- what's the payoff gonna look like? This is the worst era in Lakers history but, like all Laker fans, I'm looking at 2018 to be the year it kinda turns around.

Basically, will any free agents take this money and get us back to where we feel we deserve to be?

It's a huge question and a huge if. As a Laker fan, you are accustomed to things working out your way. Kareem fell into our lap. Magic fell into our lap. Shaq left Orlando for the Lakers. Dealing for the draft rights to Kobe. Even the Pau Gasol trade was a coup. Well, it's all gone wrong since. The bad Dwight Howard and Steve Nash trades. Seeing an old Kobe fire up 40 shots a game alongside a motley crew of teammates. Watching summers go by as no big names decide to come to Los Angeles. The strange feeling when the best we could do was throwing money at Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in 2016.

There are some nice young players. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kuzma, Nance, Clarkston, Randle just to name a few. Still, the team is losing and the hopes of landing one of the biggest fish in the league next summer seemingly fades by the day.

History scares me. Not Lakers history, which all L.A. fans cling to as the hope this quickly turns around, but league history. The Celtics seemingly always were good from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Then a nearly two decade stretch where they stunk. Same for the Bulls who languished for years after Michael Jordan retired only to have a sip of success for a moment until Derrick Rose became broken. In a league where super teams pop up all the time, it's getting harder to build a team piece by piece to become a contender. You're either a contender or a team that's wasting time.

Which brings me to Lonzo Ball.  I really like him and think he's going to be a big part of the Lakers' future success.  His dad needs to calm down a bit and the expectations are overblown. But he's one of the best rebounding guards in the league and near the top in assists so that's a good start to a career. If he can get his head on straight and just do his job and develop, he'll be fine and will be a huge chip to bringing a max star (or two) to the Lakers.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Sportz Assassin's 2018 College Football Playoff

While I love the College Football Playoff over the BCS, the Bowl Alliance and anything else we had, I still wish there more teams involved.

Go ahead and debate why my dream wouldn't work or would be logistically horrible but do it elsewhere.  This is a magical place where unicorns dance in the clouds with gummy bears jumping from here and there. I'd like a 12-team playoff where the champions of the Power 5 each get in as well as the highest ranked non-power conference champ gets in. The other six slots go to at-large teams that we determine by using those CFP rankings.  And we also use those rankings to seed the schools. My only caveat is to not have teams from the same conference play in the first round.

The first two rounds are played on campus. I like that because it (a) is a lot to ask fans to travel to three or four neutral sites to watch games plus it is a reward for finishing with a top seeding. The semifinals could use those rotating bowl games with the title game being bid on like they currently do.

In fact, if the teams wanted to do so, you could use the other New Year's Six games to host the teams that lost in the first two rounds. Since the Rose and Sugar Bowl host the semifinals this year, they get the losers of the first round next year. The Orange and Cotton Bowls (which host the semis next year) host the losers of the second round this year.  Then the Peach and Fiesta Bowls host the first round losers this year and the second round losers next year.

So, here is my playoff teams, according to my eligibility requirements: 

1-Clemson (ACC Champion)
2-Oklahoma (Big 12 Champion)
3-Georgia (SEC Champion)
4-Alabama
5-Ohio State (Big Ten Champion)
6-Wisconsin
7-Auburn
8-USC (Pac 12 Champion)
9-Penn State
10-Miami
11-Washington
12-UCF (highest ranked Group of Five champion)

The first round would go as such with a full Saturday slate of games. Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama would get byes.

12-UCF at 5-Ohio State (12pm)
11-Washington at 6-Wisconsin (4pm)
10-Miami at 7-Auburn (4pm)
9-Penn State at 8-USC (8pm)

The losers of these games would then be picked for the Peach and Fiesta Bowls. The following week, here would be the matchups:

Auburn/Miami at 2-Oklahoma (12pm)
Wisconsin/Washington at 3-Georgia (4pm)
USC/Penn State at 1-Clemson (4pm)
Ohio State/UCF at 4-Alabama (8pm)

The losers of those games will go to the Cotton and Orange Bowls. The following week would be the semifinals (at the Rose and Sugar Bowl) with the championship a week later at a neutral site.

So let's act as chalk happens and the higher seeded teams win each game.  Here is how it would look:

WEEK 1
UCF at Ohio State
Washington at Wisconsin
Miami at Auburn
Penn State at USC

WEEK 2
USC at Clemson
Auburn at Oklahoma
Wisconsin at Georgia
Ohio State at Alabama

WEEK 3
Alabama vs Clemson (Sugar)
Georgia vs Oklahoma (Rose)
Miami vs Penn State (Peach)
Washington vs UCF (Fiesta)
Ohio State vs Auburn (Orange)
USC vs Wisconsin (Cotton)

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Clemson vs Oklahoma

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Let's Add Teams To The NFL And Right Some Wrongs


What if you could be the commissioner of the NFL and could just wave your hand to get what you wanted done?

That's the premise I'm using for what I'd love to do to the NFL involving franchises. The franchises have been in a mess over the past couple of years and I'd like to fix it. Does it live in the realm of reality? Nope. But I'd like to see it.

I'd also like to see the NFL add eight more teams. Yes. Eight. More. Teams. You'd think that the NFL would be able to support a 40-team league if the NHL can support 31 teams. There's plenty of players and plenty of owners lining up to buy in. Plus the NFL is desperately trying to grow the game internationally so we can cover that as well.

CURRENT FRANCHISES

First thing is first. Let's get the current roster of teams squared away. The Chargers need to head back to San Diego after this disastrous attempt in Los Angeles. The city doesn't want them and frankly doesn't need them. Get them back to San Diego and do everything you can to make it work. Beg.

Oh, and the Oakland Raiders? You stay in Oakland. I know the Raiders have had a bad time with their stadium issues for 30 years but this team belongs in that town. Make it work. Whether you totally renovate their current stadium when the A's get their new digs or you build something that both teams could share or you have them play in Santa Clara with the Niners, make it happen.

The Rams will get to stay in Los Angeles.

EXPANSION FRANCHISES

So here we go:

London. Just get it over with already. I'm not a big fan of it but if the NFL is hell bent on playing three or more games in London every year then go ahead and put a team there. The logistics are tough, sure, but they can't be much more difficult than six teams having to adjust to it already. Putting a team in the UK would mean eight teams would be inconvenienced each year. So do it.

The NFL would enjoy being able to televise that extra game at 9:00 am ET, meaning for eight weeks a year they could own an entire day to football. Keep attempts to help the road teams with scheduling byes around those London trips and help the London team by scheduling longer American road trips. More on this later.

Las Vegas.  The Raiders don't get to go there, but Vegas gets its team. Since the NHL opened up a jar to the Vegas area, the NFL seems like a great fit. Not only will the city get its own team with its own brand, but fans from visiting teams would love to take roadies out to Sin City to enjoy a good time.

Portland. The Pacific Northwest deserves a second team and Portland is the city that should house it. The city has been on the shortlist of possible MLB expansion and one of the cities that could host a relocated NHL team.

San Antonio. If Florida can house three teams and Los Angeles can have two then why can't football-crazed Texas have a third team? The Alamodome is set for some upgrades and the city has been the "threat city" when other franchises try to ransom a stadium out of their current homes. And, sorry, but I want to name this franchise the Oilers. They should be able to have the name and get those colors and uniforms back. It's a great NFL brand that died when the franchise moved to Nashville and became the Titans and when the expansion Houston franchise decided to become the Texans. San Antonio Oilers!

Mexico City. If we are going to put a team in London then why not in Mexico City? Mexico has a ton of football fans and the support would be there. Now, would the corporate dollars be there? That's a tougher question but Mexican fans both in Mexico and United States would support the team. Road trips (and the altitude) could be tough but it would fit time-zone wise. And if we are going to force some east coast teams to be in a division with London, then put some west coast teams in with Mexico City.

Toronto. Yes, another international city. Frankly, it is odd that Toronto doesn't have an NFL team yet. The most American of Canadian cities and one that has hosted regular season games already. Toronto has teams in the NBA, MLB and NHL so they would fit in well in the NFL.

St. Louis. Third time a charm? Look, the city supported two of the worst NFL franchises ever. The Cardinals were so bad for so long that it almost was a relief when the team left for Phoenix. And other than those Greatest Show On Turf years which came out of nowhere, the Rams were absolutely horrible before and after. Yet they had support. Hopefully they can build a franchise from the group up that is theirs. And hopefully this one can have sustained success.

Oklahoma City. The NBA has been a rousing success, so could the NFL be far behind? OKC has an interesting dynamic as the state is huge on football but Oklahoma City isn't the hub of it. Meaning, while the two big college football programs would still get love, having a pro team in Oklahoma City could combine the fanbases like they do in other NFL cities that have a huge college presence nearby.

DIVISION FORMAT

AFC EAST:  Buffalo, Miami, New England, NY Jets, Toronto
AFC SOUTH: Houston, Jacksonville, Mexico City, Oklahoma City, Tennessee
AFC NORTH: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh
AFC WEST: Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, Portland, San Diego

NFC EAST: Dallas, London, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington
NFC SOUTH: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, San Antonio, Tampa Bay
NFC NORTH: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, St. Louis
NFC WEST: Arizona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle

I tried not to move any teams out of their current division, but I did move one. The Indianapolis Colts aren't really entrenched in the AFC South both by rivalry or by geography. Plus, the Colts have moved from their longtime home to the AFC when the 1970 merger happened ... then moved out of the AFC East when the league realigned in 2002. Moving to the AFC North would work as they'd be closer geographically to their division foes (especially Cincinnati) and would have a rivalry of sorts with Baltimore, where the Colts called home for years.

So let's look at each division and the who, what and why.

NFC East added London. When we put this together, we have to figure out where London is going to go. You want the logistics to be the best it can be. The NFC East seemed like the best fit. For one, London was going to be in an East division. The NFC East has three teams that are tightly together geographically, so it would be more fair to send them to London each year than the AFC East. Sure, the Cowboys make this division even more widely spread, but each of the four teams are among the wealthiest in sports, play in world class cities and have the airports and fanbases that can make this happen.

AFC East added Toronto. Toronto should form a nice rivalry with the Bills and fits in nicely with the rest of the division. Since London went to the NFC East, the other eastern expansion team sits here.

AFC South added Mexico City and Oklahoma City. With the Colts moving to the AFC North, the AFC South gets two expansion teams. Makes sense since the makeup of the division is several younger franchises and/or NFL cities. Mexico City and Houston should form a decent rivalry, as they should with Oklahoma City.

NFC South added San Antonio. The main reason for this is that the NFC East and AFC South already had a Texas team so the NFC South seemed more like a fit for a new Lone Star squad. The NFC North gets St. Louis, who geographically fits with the teams already in the division. The city, via its first two NFL teams, is an NFC town.

Out west we put Portland in the AFC since the NFC West already has Seattle. That means the NFC West gets the new Raider-less Las Vegas team.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Do we need to change how we judge boxing matches?

I am 42 years old and grew up with those great boxing matches of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s and was born just as the era of great 1970s fighters. I loved boxing. Still love boxing. No matter how much it still tries to hurt me.

In the last few months, boxing continues to tempt me only to let me down. First was the Pacquiao-Horn fight which somehow ended with Horn winning a decision. Next came the spectacle of Mayweather-McGregor which was less about boxing as it was about showmanship. Then came the fight I really craved: Alvarez-GGG. While that was worth the wait and the fight I enjoyed, it ended with controversy as one judge somehow saw Alvarez win 10 rounds despite the other two judges combined only seeing him win 11.

There is also a less heralded controversy of the Burnett-Haskins fight that saw one judge mixing up which fighter was which and his scorecard was completely messed up.

It hurts. It hurts that the sport that I loved growing up trying so hard to shoot itself in the foot. The fact that I still get so hyped up heading into the mega-fight nights means it still has that kind of pull for me but the fact that it is still screwing me around means it hasn't learned how to act mature. Remember, I lived through bitten ears, fan man and grown men quitting at the beginning of bouts.

But it is judges like the ones in the Horn fight and Adalaide Byrd of the Alvarez-Golovkin bout that makes me cringe. So much so that there may be a need to change the way we score these things.

ROUND SCORING

Go back to the old days where there was no 10-point must system. If a fighter wins the round, then the round goes in his column. At the end of the fight, see who won more rounds. Simple? It keeps that point deduction after knockdowns off the board (do we really need that? I mean, isn't the fact you got knocked down a contributing factor to why you lost that round?) and makes the scoring simpler. It also keeps that oddity of a 10-10 round from happening.

The one drawback I see is if a point deduction is warranted. Say for low blows, head butts or any other fouls that happen during a fight.

OLYMPIC SCORING

The Olympics used a new scoring system similar to what professional boxing uses in the 10-point system. There, you have five judges who give the winner of each round 10 points and the round's "loser" can be given points in comparison to how they performed. For instance, a close round would be scored 10-9 with a round that was dominant by one fighter being, say, 10-7. Now, the catch is that each round a computer randomly selects three judges' cards to count.

In professional boxing, this would be changed up a little to accommodate a 12-round bout ... but would it really help? What if the computer randomly collects the data from the wayward judge instead of the impartial judge? Also, scoring a round 10-7 could really skew the scoring of a fight where an opponent may never recover, even if he actually does in the bout. It may not be as perfect as it seems, at least in a pro setting.

Maybe just have the five judges and keep all five scores. That way, a wayward scorecard doesn't drastically effect the outcome like it did last Saturday.

SCORE THE FIGHT, NOT THE ROUNDS

One out there way is to score the fight as the whole and not the rounds. For purists, this may not totally fly as judges are supposed to judge each round as its own entity without letting anything leading up to that round influencing their decision. Just because one fighter was pummeling the other in Round 5 doesn't mean a close Round 6 should go to the guy who has been previously in command.

Some do feel that judges should judge the fight at the end and just declare one the victor. What if Byrd scored the Alvarez-Golovkin fight 115-113 for Alvarez instead of 118-110? Even though the result would be the same (a draw) her scorecard wouldn't be as criticized. You can't tell me there weren't many people who may have felt that Alvarez won 7 rounds of that fight. Hell, that's just one more round than what one judge scored (114-114) and two more than the other (113-115). So what if it was Byrd saying that Alvarez won instead of the score? A bit better. It would also force the judge who scored it a draw to pick a winner instead of a tie.

Of course, this could also fall under corruption as there would be no guide to why a judge felt someone one a fight. Even with Byrd's ridiculous scorecard, she must have felt that Alvarez was clearly dominating all those rounds and we see that. With just a vote for Alvarez, we may never know how she saw the fight.

MAKE THE SCORING TRANSPARENT

This idea gets a lot of run. I mean, what if at the end of an NBA game, we finally decide to count up all the points the teams scored and finally tell them who had more? Dumb, right? So why do we do it in boxing? Why don't fighters know where the fight is at as it is being scored.

Take the Pacquaio-Horn fight. There is no way that Manny felt he was trailing on any scorecard heading into the last couple of rounds. So the fighter did what most would have done: play defensively and make sure he did nothing stupid to get knocked out. Even Alvarez, who perceived he was trailing late in his fight with GGG, started upping the desperation factor late in the fight and it paid off as it caused a draw. If Pacquaio knew there was behind on the scorecard then he may have fought those final rounds differently.  Maybe have the scoring revealed after every round; maybe after every other round; maybe after rounds 4 and 8. But have something that we all can look at and know where everyone stands.

Now, you can say it could cause an opposite effect. What if a fighter looks up and knows he's up big going into the final rounds? Would he just dodge the fight and run away from any action to keep from a knock out? Would the end of fights become dull and turn into garbage time and just running out the clock like we see in football or basketball? Maybe, but it would also make the trailing fighter more aware of his place in a fight during the bout and act accordingly. If he is trailing in the middle rounds, would a fighter step up his game to even it up? It could go any way but it certainly couldn't make for worse fights than what we have now.

And the other intended consequence is it holds judges accountable during the fight ... sort of. If, as we are watching, we are seeing rogue scoring than it forces us to take notice and certainly would the fighters. It wouldn't give us the "what the hell" shock it did on Saturday. If Golovkin even had an inkling of Byrd's scorecard, he would have attempted to close out the fight a bit stronger than he did and we have avoided this mess.

My biggest drawback of this is I wouldn't want the other judges to influence one judges card. Meaning, I wouldn't like it if a judge was legitimately scoring the fight objectively but looks up, sees their card isn't like the other two judges and starts to lean it back to a popular opinion rather than what they were seeing. Like I said, if Byrd really thought Alvarez won, I can't really lambaste her. It was the actual score that people don't understand.

LET THE VIEWERS DECIDE

Well, seeing how that works on things more important than a boxing match, I rather not.

Most people will rather things stay the same either by habit or just because it may be the best. To some, it is all about the judges and a corrupt or inept judge will damage the scoring one way or another no matter what system is used. Maybe the best way is to create one school of thought for judges and really reward those great judges to these top level fights. Even so, Byrd had judged over 100 title fights so it wasn't like this was her first rodeo on this stage. Maybe there just is no way to truly get this right.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Elite 8


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: North Carolina vs Kentucky. Two blue bloods.  Both worthy of not only getting to the Final Four but winning a national championship.  The Tar Heels owned the first half but Kentucky kept it close enough.  In the second half, Kentucky took the game over and let by five late.  But just as they did last week, Carolina went on a 12-0 run to take back the lead.  Malik Monk did everything he could to get Kentucky back ... including hitting that three to tie the game 73-73.  But Theo Pinson ran down the court, tossed it to Luke Maye and he hit one of the biggest shots in the tournament.

UPSET OF THE DAY: Oregon vs Kansas.  Through three rounds, Kansas looked like the best team of the tournament and the favorite to cut down the nets.  But then their shots just wouldn't fall against Oregon and the ones that looked good were blocked by Bell.  Kansas against goes home early while Oregon heads to their first Final Four since the first Final Four.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: West Coast. The ACC, SEC and Pac 12 have had teams in the Final Four before.  But it has been 60 years since the WCC has gotten to the party.  Congrats to that league.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: SEC. Yeah, that is a bit harsh since the SEC has had a very solid ... albeit unexpectedly so ... tournament.  But, in the Elite 8 both Kentucky and Florida (the conference's two top teams) went down before the final weekend.  Still, nothing to hang their head over.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Gonzaga vs Xavier. Look, Xavier barely made it into the tournament after a bad ending to the regular season.  Their magic just ran out against a very, very, very good Gonzaga team.  I was hoping that they'd be able to perform at a high level again but it just wasn't in the cards.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Gonzaga.  Fellow No. 1 seed North Carolina won on a shot in the final second while No. 1 Kansas was beaten by Oregon.  The Zags looked really good against the Musketeers.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: First timers. Funny that North Carolina made it to their record 20th Final Four the same season that Gonzaga and South Carolina are making their first Final Four appearances and Oregon is making their first one since 1939 (which there wasn't technically a Final Four).  

New blood.  It's nice.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Sweet 16, Day 2


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Florida vs Wisconsin. This wasn't supposed to be the best game.  I'm not saying that before the game but during the game.  Florida had a nice lead late and seemed to have this thing wrapped up.  But some late threes and a wild shot to tie the game got Wisconsin in the game and into overtime.  From there, it looked like Wisconsin had the game in the bag.  As Florida was grasping for anything, two huge plays the Gators made will be remembered for a long time:  Canyon Barry's block of a Wisconsin breakaway layup and Chris Chiozza's buzzer beating floater for three.  What a finish and the first overtime and buzzer beater of this tournament.

UPSET OF THE DAY: South Carolina vs Baylor.  How are the Gamecocks doing this?  Well, with one of the toughest defenses in the nation and the offensive strength of Sindarius Thonwell.  This team limped into the tournament and the program hadn't won an NCAA Tournament game in over 40 years.  Now they've won three in a row and are a win away from their first Final Four.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: SEC. The much maligned Southeastern Conference has three teams in the Elite 8.  Two of those teams won on Friday.  The SEC is the only conference with multiple teams still alive.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: Big Ten. The SEC, ACC, Pac 12, Big 12 and Big East still have teams in the tournament.  The Big Ten is the lone power conference that doesn't.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Kentucky vs UCLA. This is solely based on the hype.  This game was targeted all week long as special ... but UCLA and Lonzo Ball really didn't wow anyone.  Most of that was what Kentucky did to them but it wasn't a great sequel to the Bruins' regular season victory.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: South Carolina. Baylor was seemingly never in that game.  South Carolina smothered them.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Left vs Right. This isn't a political deal.  But the left part of the bracket and the right couldn't be any different.  On the right side of the bracket (the Midwest and South regions), you have Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.  Those are the three winningest programs in college basketball history.  They have 16 titles between them.  Oregon, who also resides on the right side, won the very first NCAA tournament.  On the left, Gonzaga and Xavier will play for their first Final Four appearance.  South Carolina will do the same against Florida.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Sweet 16, Day 1


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Gonzaga vs West Virginia. This game was awesome.  So physical with so many ebbs and flows.  West Virginia's defense looked so dominant at times that I felt that Gonzaga couldn't overcome it.  Then the Zags go on a run and I felt the 'Neers were wobbly.  Then it gets back and forth with a huge shot by the Bulldogs late.  The fact that West Virginia couldn't get that final shot up was both heartbreaking and fantastic.

UPSET OF THE DAY: Xavier vs Arizona.  This was a great game throughout but Arizona had an eight point lead with over three minutes left.  The irony of this game is, when tied, Xavier through a pass inside from the high post and scored at the basket while Arizona was hell-bent to take a three for the win instead of getting a shot at the basket.  Xavier had a six game losing skid at one point and will now be playing for a spot in the Final Four.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: West Coast. The Pac 12 and Big 12 split their games and Xavier repped the Big East.  But let's throw it up for the West Coast Conference's Gonzaga who hung tough and ultimately beat a West Virginia team that beat Kansas earlier in the year.  The WCC isn't the Big 12 but this Gonzaga team would do fine in that league or any other.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: Big Ten. Michigan's magical run ends in such a tough fashion while Purdue hung with Kansas before getting blown out.  Wisconsin is still alive in the East but the much maligned Big Ten shouldn't feel too bad about what they did in this tournament.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Kansas vs Purdue. Look, three of the games were absolute nail-biters and the Kansas-Purdue game was a 32-point spanking.  And even that game was good for a long while.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Kansas. They were up just 53-51 on Purdue.  Then closed on a 45-15 run.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Final shots. This tournament has been devoid of that game-winning buzzer beater that ended last year's tournament.  There have been close games and all but none of those shots.  Look at the three games that ended with those opportunities last night.  Arizona was down two, with the ball, settled for a three (albeit a good luck that nearly landed) and lost.  Michigan, down one, settled for a step-back three.  West Virginia had the ball for 30 seconds and kept firing threes to the point that they had to take a three pointer (they had plenty of time to get a two, foul and get the ball back) that eventually the didn't get off.

One of basketball's annoying trends is winning a game with a tough shot.  Why not a smart play?  Xavier was tied with Arizona with less than a minute left and got a shot right at the basket.  Why couldn't the bigger Arizona Wildcats do so to tie?  Oregon's winning bucket was also on a layup.  The point is that we don't need Kobe-esque fade away threes off of the wrong foot with four people guarding you to win these games.  Make the smart play.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Second Round, Day 2


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all four games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Kentucky vs Wichita State. There was smack talk and a lively crowd.  The game was back and forth with the outcome in doubt going to the final shot.  No, it wasn't the most eye-popping game on a day filled with some good games but it was fun.  The Wildcats' freshmen came to play and were huge in the final moments.

UPSET OF THE DAY: South Carolina vs Duke.  While this game had upset written all over it, that doesn't make it any less shocking.  For some reason, Duke was looked at as some juggernaut of late, even though they ended up going just 6-4 in their last ten games ... and that includes that magical ACC tournament run.  It was easily a pro-Gamecocks crowd as the game was played in South Carolina and Tar Heel fans who stayed after their game cheered on against the Blue Devils.  South Carolina countered every typical Duke punch and a program that hasn't won a tournament game in over 40 years is now in the Sweet 16.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: SEC. I gave love to the Big Ten for bucking their critics so today I'll do so with the SEC.  I am usually one of those smacking on the SEC but, here they are with three teams in the Sweet 16.  Plus, Arkansas had North Carolina on the ropes before the Heels reeled off a 12-0 run to win.  We all know Kentucky's strength but South Carolina and Florida weren't taken as seriously and they proved their meddle by toppling ACC schools.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: ACC. One day after Florida State and Virginia get beat, the ACC sees both Louisville and Duke get upset and done before the Sweet 16.  That means the mighty ACC has just one team remaining in the tournament -- North Carolina.  Last year, the ACC dominated this tournament.  This year ... not so much.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Kansas vs Michigan State. Tom Izzo is the master of tournament upsets and the Spartans looked the part for about a half on Sunday.  But Josh Jackson looked like an NBA player among college guys and the Jayhawks blew out Michigan State in the second half.  With many of the games on Sunday in doubt in the final minutes, this one didn't live up to its brethren.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Kansas. Or should I say Josh Jackson.  Man that guy is good.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Freshmen. Last season we saw upperclassmen take back college basketball and was the narrative of the season.  It's been a good mix this year but Sunday we saw how talented this crop of freshmen is.  Kentucky's freshmen Fox, Monk and Adebayo all were huge late in securing their win over Wichita State.  Josh Jackson ... okay, you know how I feel about his performance.  UCLA's Lonzo Ball was the coolest cucumber in the gym as the Bruins finally wore out Cincinnati.  Even unheralded freshmen like South Carolina's Rakym Felder were big-time.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - Second Round, Day 1


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all four games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Purdue vs Iowa State. From start to finish, this game was intense.  Purdue did get a huge lead going but the Cyclones fought back to make this one of the best back and forth games in the tournament.  And ... boy ... that Biggie Swanigan.

UPSET OF THE DAY: Wisconsin vs Villanova.  Sure, Wisconsin wasn't a typical No. 8 seed but Villanova was the defending champ and the top overall seed.  Most people had the Wildcats at least to the Sweet 16 if not the Elite 8.  So to see them not playing past the first weekend is quite shocking.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: Big Ten. Just look at the teams who won above.  The conference has been so maligned this season that to see at least two in the Sweet 16 ... including arguably their two best teams ... is gratifying.  Wisconsin took down the biggest dawg on the block while Purdue earned a ton of respect.  Even Northwestern's controversial loss to Gonzaga was valiant.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: ACC. One day after Miami gets blown out, we see Florida State and Virginia look like they didn't even belong on the same court as Xavier or Florida, respectively.  Virginia had been struggling and faced a higher seed ... but to score just 39 points?  And Florida State was never in their game with Xavier.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Florida vs Virginia. Usually the No. 4 vs No. 5 game is competitive.  Not this one.  Virginia looked absolutely horrible and reverted back to a few weeks ago when they just couldn't score.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Xavier. Who are these guys?  Remember that Xavier couldn't beat anyone not named DePaul for, like, a month.  Now they just spank No. 3 Florida State.  In Orlando, no less.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Bad calls. Humans make mistakes and referees are humans.  Still, with all the replay at our disposal nowadays (I mean, refs have gone to the monitor to see exactly how many seconds were remaining in North Carolina's 39-point win over Texas Southern) you'd think they could verify an obvious goal tending.  That missed call along with the technical foul called on Northwestern coach Doug Collins really stole the good feeling from their game with Gonzaga.  It also robbed us of what could have been a great finish to possibly see another No. 1 seed go down.   

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - First Round, Day 2


Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all four games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Michigan vs Oklahoma State. Even brushing away all that the Wolverines have gone through in the last ten days, this was set up to be a great game to watch.  At this time in the tournament, it's rare to have to really solid offensive teams face off in what looked like an evenly matched contest.  And it was.  Both teams scored, the game was close and it came down to a final point (okay, a four-point lead was shaved at the buzzer by a three).  Michigan made 16 three-pointers to advance to play Louisville ... which should be a treat of its own.

UPSET OF THE DAY: USC vs SMU.  USC was getting drubbed in this ... just as they were against Providence in the First Four ... but made a huge comeback.  This was different.  A lot of people had SMU as a sleeper team going deep into the tournament while USC was a surprise to some to even get into this thing (sound familiar?).  Now the Trojans are heading into a showdown against Baylor and could find themselves in the Sweet 16.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: Pac 12. The Pac 12 saw Oregon, UCLA and USC all win.  Oregon and UCLA flexed their muscle (though the Bruins found themselves in a battle for the middle third of the game).  USC continues the trend of First Four teams winning in the tournament.  This is huge for a league that lost 5 of 7 first round games a year ago and are looking for their first Final Four team since 2008.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: Big East. Not the greatest day for the Big East.  Creighton was "upset" by Rhode Island in a game they really didn't look that into.  Marquette was in a spirited fight with South Carolina until the Gamecocks just ran 'em out of the gym.  Seton Hall played Arkansas down to the wire but a traveling call and controversial flagrant foul call ended their shot.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Michigan State vs Miami. Miami is better than this.  In a tournament where chalk really ruled, it is hard to explain how a No. 8 seed gets blown out by a No. 9 seed that easily.  The Hurricanes just didn't look good at all.  Michigan State just dominated this one.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: North Carolina. The top seeds UNC and Kansas really showed why they are among the favorites.  But the Tar Heels had no trouble with Texas Southern as they looked like they really wanted to get the taste of that Duke loss out of their mouths.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: The crowd. There are some that don't think it is fair that the big schools seemingly get favorable sites to play in and their fan base just dominates the crowd.  Sure, but its not a bad thing either.  Look at Friday in Indianapolis and Greenville.

Indianapolis saw lively crowds as Louisville and Kentucky were at those sites as you'd expect, but Northern Kentucky, Dayton and Wichita State also represented hard in Hoosierville.  The Dayton-Wichita game had such a lively crowd that it made a lumbering game so much more fun.  Same in Greenville where North Carolina and Duke fans saw their teams cruise to wins but the place came alive when South Carolina finally won its first tournament game since 1973.  

The fun will continue.  Think about the crowds for these games on Sunday:
-Duke vs South Carolina (Greenville, SC)
-North Carolina vs Arkansas (Greenville, SC)
-Kentucky vs Wichita State (Indianapolis)
-Louisville vs Michigan (Indianapolis)
-Kansas vs Michigan State (Tulsa)
-Baylor vs USC (Tulsa)
-UCLA vs Cincinnati (Sacramento)
-Oregon vs Rhode Island (Sacramento)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sportz' NCAA Tournament Recap - First Round, Day 1



Just a quick recap of what I saw in my Sportz Room -- filled with TVs that I can watch all four games going on at the same time.

GAME OF THE DAY: Northwestern vs Vanderbilt. That place was bananas as the Northwestern alumni converged on Salt Lake City to root on their Wildcats against a Vandy team that worked their way back to the tournament.  It was close all game long and, unfortunately, had a mistake by the Commodores sort of put an ick on it.  Vandy's Matthew Fisher-Davis fouled Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh on purpose with less than 15 seconds left ... even though the game was tied.  McIntosh drained both free throws and Northwestern advanced.

UPSET OF THE DAY: Middle Tennessee over Minnesota. On a day filled with chalk, Middle Tennessee's win over Minnesota has the be considered the biggest upset of the day.  It really wasn't surprising, however, since the Blue Raiders upset Michigan State in last year's tournament and Minnesota made quite the turnaround to get into this year's dance.

CONFERENCE OF THE DAY: Big East. The Big East went 3-0 today, with Villanova, Butler and Xavier all winning.  Nova had a bit of a struggle with The Mount before moving with Xavier providing an upset of Maryland.

CONFERENCE WITH A BAD DAY: Big Ten. No conference had a horrible day and the Big Ten should celebrate Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin winning but the two seed upsets happened on the conference's watch.  No. 5 Minnesota lost to No. 12 Middle Tennessee while No. 6 Maryland was upended by No. 11 Xavier.  

DUD OF THE DAY: Villanova vs Mount St. Mary's. It was close at the half ... but the defending champs ended up spanking The Mount in the second half.  Let's just say that it was a very good day of games.

DOMINANT PERFORMANCE OF THE DAY: Villanova. The top overall seed looked great in the second half against Mount St. Mary's.

UNDERLYING STORYLINE OF THE DAY: Boring. We always love to look to the NCAA Tournament to see those bracket busters and they just weren't there on Thursday.  Middle Tennessee and Xavier did pull upsets but they certainly weren't shockers.  

The games were really good, though.  There were a lot of competitive games that just didn't provide upsets.  Even Villanova and Gonzaga were challenged for a bit before flexing their muscles.  Only two games were decided by one possession so we didn't have much of a buzz-worthy moment.  Yet.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

*Maybe tomorrow will be better?