Down to Four!

There are four teams remaining in the Men’s NCAA basketball Tournament.  They are usually referred to as the “Final Four”.  64 teams entered the tourney and only 4 remain.  60 games have been played and only 3 remain.  As I have mentioned in the last two posts, there is plenty of drama and there are plenty of story lines to follow.  That has not changed with only 4 teams remaining.  There are 2 #1 seeds left, a #3, and a #7.  It is not surprising that a number 1 seed makes it, but it might shock a few this time around.  Lets take a look at each team that is left.

We can start with the least surprising team, North Carolina.  They were the #1 seed in the South bracket.  Winning was not surprising, but the drama in the game against Kentucky was “edge of your seat” stuff.  North Carolina held a decent lead in the final minutes, but Kentucky managed to hit a few 3 pointers to close the gap and the final 3 pointer tied the game with roughly 7 seconds left.  North Carolina did not call a timeout and they dribbled right up the court and dished for a wide open jump shot…It went in with .3 seconds left and the game was all but over.  By the way, the next morning, this happened.  Sometimes it is easy to forget they are student athletes, good for him!

Another number one seed to make the Final Four are the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It should not be a surprise that a number one seed makes it, but it is considering I am discussing the “mid-major” powerhouse.  This is their first trip after having plenty of really solid teams and opportunities in the past.  Gonzaga advanced to the final 4 by winning a close game against West Virginia and then blowing out Xavier.  Quite frankly, it should not be a surprise they are here. They have only lost one game all year and they rose to the #1 ranking in the country at one point this season.  There is no reason they can’t win it all.

The number 3 seed Oregon Ducks advanced to the final four by squeaking past the Michigan Wolverines and then handling a really good Kansas team.  They had some really outstanding efforts by Dorsey and Bell.  Bell was a one man wrecking crew in the paint.  Oregon had a great regular season and could or should have been seeded higher.  However, one of their better players was injured in the conference tournament.  Most thought that would really hurt their chances of doing any damage in the tourney.  It looks like “most” people were wrong.  They have a good shot at winning it all.

Finally, our last team in the Final Four is the South Carolina Gamecocks.  This is their first trip to the Final Four and they certainly earned it.  They knocked off Baylor and Florida to get in.  Not too mention they beat Duke earlier in the tourney.  They play an extremely physical brand of basketball with outstanding defense.  Many would argue they have taken on the personality of their coach, Frank Martin.  He is about as intense as it gets!  They certainly have a shot to win it all if they continue to play like they have.

So there are three games remaining, I know there are favorites to win each game.  However, I would not be surprised is any one of the 4 teams came out on top.  It takes a ton of hard work to get here and just a little more to win it all.  There is only one winner and by late Monday, we will know who it is.  By the way, 25 years ago today a guy named Jordan hit this shot to win it all for North Carolina.

 

–Victor Mandalawi

Sweet Sixteen!

Last week I wrote about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  The first round was played on Thursday and Friday. The second round was played on Saturday and Sunday.  I thought there would be major upsets and plenty of stories to come from the tournament.  Trust me, it is not hard to predict upsets and story lines.  They happen every year.  I wanted to touch on the upsets and what teams are still left.  I also wanted to see if any good stories would appear.

Sixteen teams are left standing after the first 2 rounds.  The NCAA takes a couple of days off before the 3rd and 4th rounds commence.  After this weekend, we will have four teams left standing. You will always have a few surprises and this year is no different.  The East region has lost the top 2 teams in the region.  The West region has an 11 seed that advanced.  The Midwest has a 7 seed that advanced and the South region is “chalk”.  Chalk is a term that means the top seeds have all advanced, like they should have based on their seeds. Even though 3 of the regions have upsets, I do not think they are that major.  The upset in the West region is courtesy of the 11 seed Xavier.  Seems like a “Cinderella”, but they were ranked preseason #7 in the country so some people thought they would be good this year.  They have had some injuries and they seem to have figured out how to play without their injured players.  The 7 seed in the Midwest region is seen as an upset, but that team is Michigan.  They finished the regular season on a roll, were in a minor plane crash, and won the Big Ten tournament. They carried that momentum over to the tourney.  I do not think they are Cinderella because they are not a small school with no expectations.  The East region lost #1 Villanova and #2 Duke.  Villanova lost to a very accomplished Wisconsin team. Duke lost to South Carolina.  In my opinion that is the closest team to a Cinderella that the tourney has left, even though their seed does not say that.

A few of the stories that have emerged are entertaining.  Here is a great one from the Gonzaga team.  I love the nicknames they got, “Shrek and Donkey”.  It is a great read and can give you a glimpse of what “Donkey” has had to deal with 5,000 miles from home. I have already mentioned the plane crash that the Michigan Wolverines survived.  A major story to me is the remaining match-ups.  We will have games this weekend that include two major programs in Kentucky and UCLA.  Xavier and Arizona playing each other is putting the coaches against each other.  Chris Mack was an assistant for Miller at Xavier and when Miller left, Mack got the job.  That will be a tough game for those two.  How about this, UCLA will have to beat Kentucky and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four!  That is brutal.

Regardless of the team you cheer for, you will be able to find a game that is interesting in the next few days.  If you are not able to, you are not a fan of college basketball.  Also, you should watch or pay attention just so you can follow your bracket.  I know you filled one out!

–Victor Mandalawi

 

March Madness!

Every year in March the NCAA holds the men’s basketball tournament.  Most people call it something different.  I have heard “the tourney”, “March madness”, and many other things.  It is a great tournament for many reasons.  I would think the one loss and out format is a huge factor.  I also think it is an extremely easy and user friendly event to gamble on.  I would think that a large percentage of the population fills out a bracket.  The tournament somehow manages to create so many memories for so many people.  Each year there seem to be “Cinderella” runs for teams and legends can be born.

Playing in a one and done tournament is extremely dramatic for players, coaches, and fans.  You can have one off night or even one player has an off night and you are out.  You might be a great team and you run into a bad match-up and you are out.  In professional sports you have a series.  Usually a best of 7 series decides the match-up.  In a seven game series your best players can have a couple of bad nights and you can still survive.  That is why game 7’s are always so dramatic, it turns into a one and down scenario just like the tourney.

Did you fill out a bracket?  Are you in a bracket pool?  Chances are you did!  The statistics speak for themselves.  It is estimated that 10.4 billion is wagered on the tournament, that is a huge number. What is really telling though is that only 3% is wagered legally.  That means there are just a few office pools.  It is estimated that there are 70 million brackets that are filled out.  That means plenty of people that know absolutely nothing about college basketball filled out a bracket.  I have heard stories how families fill one out and the winner does not do chores for the week.  Most of those are filled out with no poor intentions in mind, even though it is technically illegal to gamble.

There are so many great stories throughout the tournament. You will see guys you have never heard of play at high levels.  You will almost certainly see a team that is not expected to do well make a deep run and capture the attention of the country.  Here is a pretty good primer for anyone that may not know all that much about the sport. When I was younger I remember a game that featured “the shot“. You know it is big when it has it’s own Wiki page!  Here is a nice article and video of “the shot”.  Bryce Drew went on to play professional basketball, went back to Valpo to coach, and is now leading the Vanderbilt Commodores into the tournament.  Did the shot change his life?  It is certainly possible!

No matter what team you are cheering for I would think that the next 2 weeks will be fun for all.  So many things will happen that you are bound to have a few memories of the tournament.  Can you imagine being Kris Jenkins?  Many boys and girls dream about winning the championship on a last second shot, I would say he fulfilled his dream!  We can only hope that this year’s edition of “the tourney” is as memorable as last years.

 

 

Free Agency Begins!

NFL free agency begins at 4pm et on Thursday, March 9th.  Usually this means a few things.  There will be players that hit it big in free agency.  There will players that that earn less money than they felt they were worth.  There might even be players that take less than market value so they can go to a team they feel they have a chance to compete for a championship.  One of the the other parts of free agency are when teams start cutting their higher paid players that might not be performing up to their contract or they even release players to free up money to sign new free agents.  No matter what team you follow it is pretty much a given that they are going to make a few moves today, or at least be rumored to.

Since none of these moves are technically official, they are just from sources.  However, you can almost bet that they are on good authority.  One of those rumors is that the Bears are getting Mike Glennon.  It seems to be a very lucrative deal for Mike Glennon.  He has played a little in his career, but the Bucs drafted Winston to replace Glennon.  Now Glennon is getting 15 million a year.  Good for Glennon, take what you can get while you can.  The flip side of that signing will be that Jay Cutler is going to get released from the Bears. A team can’t afford to pay 2 Qb’s that much money.

Chris Long was drafted 2nd overall years ago.  He has made plenty of money in his career.  Last year he decided to sign for a short term, one year deal at under market value with the Patriots.  The thought was that he would get a chance to play for a contender as he had never played on a winning team.  He gambled by taking a short term deal, but it paid off.  He was able to play in and win the Super Bowl with the Patriots. He is now a free agent and will most likely sign somewhere and get more money than he made last year.

It has been thought for quite some time that Tony Romo will not be playing for the Cowboys next year. It is perceived to be Dak Prescott’s team now.  If that is true, why pay Romo so much money to sit the bench?  The Cowboys are trying to trade him, but the salary cap makes trading more difficult than it should be.  The thought now is that Romo would be going to Houston to replace Osweiler, who is being traded to the Browns. It seems like a game of revolving doors.

The NFL seems to get covered in their off-season more than any of the other major sports.  This is a really neat time of the year for NFL fans.  Teams and fans can look forward to free agency and then shortly after the draft.  There is hope that a few good signings and a few good picks can really turn the fortunes of your team.  It is also exciting that as I was writing this article, plenty of changes were happening.  So in a matter of an hour, the landscape of the NFL can change a little.  That can be pretty exciting!

 

 

The Insanity of Youth Sports!

I do not think you need to have a child involved in youth sports to have an idea that they are much different than they used to be.  They are different in many ways.  The players are better, they have better access to all facets of the games, and the competition is much more hasty.  I believe that the high voltage competition has led to much more violence in youth sports.  There are all types of violence including player/player, player/referee, and referee/coach.  I do not think player/player violence will ever stop.  Competition can cause players to get after each other from time to time. However, there is no way a referee or coach should be involved in any type of violence, especially in youth sports. By the way, I am not even mentioning the “craziness” of parents. I have picked a few episodes of this violence and we can take a look at them below.

All of this is old except for this nugget that recently came out.  I have watched this at least ten times. At first it is pretty funny.    However, I do not understand why a coach thinks it is acceptable to go onto the court and so forcefully reject a players shot.  I have never seen something like this in my life.  No matter how angry the coach is that the kid is going the wrong way, you can’t go onto the court like that.  He then proceeds to block his shot and cross his arms.  The whole thing is pretty weird.  I am glad he is wearing a shirt and tie to the game, but he certainly is not acting like a shirt and tie guy in this clip.

This incident is a couple of years old, but it still sticks in my mind. I remember thinking the players were crazy for doing this.  They should have been shut down immediately and even have criminal charges.  However, more information came out and it seems the players might have been coerced by an assistant coach.  Of course, a coach ordering a player to do this is ridiculous and against all sportsmanship.  Even if the coach does not order it, but he/she hints that something needs to be “done” to a referee is an issue.  Many players, especially youth players will do anything to get the attention of a coach or to please a coach.  I know they were old enough to not have done this, but ultimately they are still children and are very impressionable.

Here is another video that shows a youth game getting stopped for some reason.  Then the video shows the referee being assaulted by one of the coaches.  In no way is this acceptable.  If this were to happen on the street it would be considered a serious crime and I hope it was treated that way in this instance.

There are tons of examples that are on the internet.  This article could go on forever about these issues.  I am not quite sure when it became acceptable for this behavior to occur?  I would imagine that this happened 40 years ago, but it was a different time and people did not have smartphones at their disposal to record everything.  I just do not think that is was nearly as prevalent as it is now.  Whatever the cause may be, it needs to be corrected.  The irony in this is that youth sports are a great way for children to learn tons of life lessons. But when this stuff happens it basically erases any good that the game itself can infuse.