March Madness is Around the Corner!

The Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament is just around the corner.  What does that mean?  March Madness will take over our lives again.  It is a great time of year!  Many people do not get interested in March Madness until the tournament starts.  I think that is a big mistake because the two weeks leading up to the tourney are the conference tournaments.  The conference tournaments are the last hope for many teams to get into the final tournament and that can create that sense of “do or die”.  Let’s take a look at the top teams in the country and see who might be able to make a run at winning it all.  We can also see if the experts think any underdogs can emerge and make a run at the title.  We can also take a look at who might be left on the outside looking in, aka, the bubble teams.

Here is a great look at the teams competing for the at-large selections into the tournament.  The most important part of this is the bubble teams or teams with work left to do.  Those teams are running out of time.  There are only a handful of conference games left plus the conference tournament to make their mark.  Here are a few interesting items I noticed in this article.  It seems that the Big Ten might only get 4 teams in the tourney.  All 4 will highly seeded, but only 4.  Penn St. and Nebraska have “work” to do to get in.  The Big 12 only has three “locks” which is another low number.  There are a few more teams that can make it if they impress in the coming weeks.

Joe Lunardi, from ESPN, has been releasing his version of the bracket for years now.  It is always a pretty good look at who will and won’t make it.  He has a pretty good success rate when guessing the teams, but there are always a few that slip through.  His current version looks like this.  The most important or interesting part of his bracket are the bottom teams.  We know Duke is in the tournament this year, but is Syracuse?  His last four in are Syracuse, Louisville, St. Bonaventure, and USC.  If that prediction holds up, it will be heartbreaking for the last four teams out.  They are UCLA, Texas, Penn St, and Washington.  Every year a team on the bubble makes a decent run at the end of the season and I am sure this year will be no different.  Will it be your team?

The Final Four is being held in San Antonio on March 31st and the final game will be April 2nd.  What teams have a legitimate shot at winning?  According to this article, there are only twelve teams that are capable of winning the National Championship.  There are 8 more teams listed in the article, but they each have some sort of flaw that will keep them from winning it all.  I am not an expert, but I have watched enough basketball this year to know that I don’t have the feeling of a truly dominant team this year.  I would not be surprised if the top teams get knocked out early and a few sleepers make it to the Final Four.

No matter what teams make the tourney it will be must watch TV.  No matter what teams advance in the tourney it will be must watch TV.  Even if your favorite team gets knocked out early or your bracket gets “busted”, it will be must watch TV.  Do you get the hint?  March Madness is a great event and it should be watched with your family and friends.  You can make some great memories along the way.

—Victor Mandalawi

 

Pitchers and Catchers!

To many people, the phrase “pitchers and catchers report” is a great thing.  It means that MLB pitchers and catchers are to report to Spring Training for their respective teams.  According to this list, every team has uttered this phrase! For me, the term means more than just pitchers and catchers reporting.  It also means that the positional players will be right behind.  After a few short weeks, spring training games will start being played.  Of course, ultimately, it means the MLB season will begin in 6 weeks or so.  It also means that anyone living in a colder climate is getting close to spring and warmer weather!  Let’s take a look at what has happened in the off season and what the outlook is for the season.  Is it too early to predict the World Series champ?

The MLB off season is typically referred to as the “hot stove”.  The name is based on the visual image of baseball fans gathering around a stove to warm themselves during the colder winter months. I am sure there are other explanations as well.  The hot stove should be renamed the luke warm stove this year.  The offseason has been somewhat uneventful.  Many of the premier free agents are still unsigned.  This is a trend in MLB that has been happening in recent years.  I am sure it is very unnerving for the players to be this close to the season and not know what team they will be on.  It also has to be a rough way for teams to plan their season.  I would have thought that a team budget for the season would be set this close to the season.  Clearly, it is the decision of the teams to do this but some would say this is the way to combat the escalating free agent contracts the players have been earning.

Here are a few premier free agents that have not signed JD Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Jake Arrieta.  Here is a nice tracker from MLB, it will help you see who has changed placed via free agency and who might still be available. There have been a few major deals to take place so far.  The Cubs have signed Yu Darvish to a long term deal.  The Angels were able to convince Japanese phenom, Shohei Ohtani, to sign with them and the Yankees pulled off a major trade with the Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton.  Those deals will certainly strengthen their respective teams.

Currently, Vegas odds have the Yankees as the favorite to win the World Series.  They are followed closely by the Indians, Astros, Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals.  Vegas does not always pick the best team because they have to change odds based on the number of bets coming in on a team.  However, they are really good at what they do and it is a safe bet that most of these teams will be in the mix.  Baseball always has a team that plays well above expectations, who could that darkhorse be this year?

As of this moment I am not worried about the winner of the 2018 World Series.  I can save that concern for a later date.  Afterall, there are still quite a few big time players still available on the market.  Signing a player like that can really alter the landscape.  I am just thrilled to hear the phrase “pitchers and catchers” reporting.  It symbolizes a fresh start for baseball and gives you the feeling that Spring is just around the corner!

—Victor Mandalawi

 

 

Close to the Stretch Run

Now that the NFL has completed their season, the NBA will begin to take more of the stage.  In my opinion, it is deservedly so.  The trade deadline passed yesterday and it was quite eventful.  The All-Star game is next weekend and it is always a fun weekend of events.  Most teams will have played 65-70% of their games by the time the All-Star game is completed.  That would mean that teams competing for playoff positioning will really start to rev up their engines.  Let’s take a look at the recent trades, the All-Star festivities, and the current standings.

The trade deadline was yesterday.  It ended up being quite a day for the NBA.  At least the NBA was in the news because of it.  This seems to have been the most eventful deadline day in recent memory.  Although, I am sure I said the same thing last and the year before!  Here is a great site that will give you all of the happenings of the day.  To be honest, the only deals I care about or think are important for this season include the Cavs.  They managed to pull off 3 trades of note.  This may be the reason I think the action was so great.  The Cavs managed to trade away Wade, Thomas, Frye, Rose, and Crowder.  They were able to replace those players with Hood, Nance, Clarkson, and George Hill.  They managed to get younger and more athletic with these deals.  As much as they were struggling, I think these moves were necessary.  They may not win it all, but they certainly were not going to as the roster was constructed before.

The All-Star game will be Sunday, Feb 18.   There are quite a few events that take place over the weekend.  There is a rising stars challenge, a dunk contest, a celebrity game, a skills challenge, and the three point contest.  I love to watch all of it, but I am really looking forward to the dunk contest.  I can remember the dunk contests from when I was younger.  Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins had their epic battle 30 years ago.  This year’s contest is shaping up to be a great event.  I am picking Dennis Smith to be the winner!

Once the All-Star game concludes, each team will have 25 games or so left in the season.  This will be the stretch run for teams competing for a playoff spot.  Positioning for the playoffs can be very important based on the match-ups involved for each team.  The current standings are here.  I do not expect many changes in the standings, I do not think the Cavs make a run at a higher seed in the Eastern Conference.  The standings may change in the Western Conference a little, but I think ultimately the conference will come down to the Warriors and Rockets.

The NBA is going to take center stage for the next couple of months.  They have a handful of events that allow for this.  Ultimately, the season will come down to the playoffs.  There will be a few match-ups that most fans are looking forward to.  I think a Cavs/Celtics series and the Warriors/Rockets series would be a great thing for the NBA.  I also think that any combination of those teams will provide an interesting series for the title.  Enjoy the All-Star game next weekend and then sit back and wait for the playoffs to begin.

 

—Victor Mandalawi

 

The 52nd Big Game!

About a month ago I wrote an article about the NFL playoffs being set.  Well, now the big game is about 2 days away.  My picks in the opening weekend were not necessarily spot on.  I would have picked the Patriots to make it through, as betting against Brady and Belichick does not make much sense.  I know the Eagles have had a nice year, but I would not have picked them to get here because of the QB situation.  Now that both teams are here, what will the game look like?  Who is being predicted to win?  Also, with the Super Bowl you get plenty of other happenings.  The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce new inductees the night before the game.  You also get the wild and wacky from the “media night”.

Let’s start with the media night.  Every year the media swells at the Super Bowl.  Journalists are at the game that would not normally be covering football.  You also get “comedians” and other people trying to make a name for themselves.  Here are a few moments that made their mark.  I enjoyed Willie McGinest asking to thumb wrestle Brady.  It was also great when Guillermo from Kimmel asked Belichick why the coach went to the bank, to get his quarter back. I also enjoyed hearing that if the Eagles win, Chris Long will have to get a tattoo of his coach’s portrait.  That wont be a good look!

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce on Saturday evening the 5 new members being inducted.  It is a pretty dramatic moment for the players and it is chronicled very well.  There are 15 finalists that include names like Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, and Terrell Owens.  Here is a great article discussing the likely inductees.  I would think Lewis and Moss will be in for sure and the others will be much more tightly debated.

Who will win this weekend? I can make a case for either team, but as mentioned before betting against Brady and Belichick is not a good idea.  Their track record speaks for itself.  Chris Berman, aka The Swami, thinks like I do and is picking the Patriots to win by 3 points.  Here are quite a few more “expert” picks from ESPN.  There were 57 total selections, only 11 heading the Eagles direction.  46 went with the Patriots.  Almost all of the predictions have the game ending with a tight score, only 7 picks went with a score being decided by 10 points or more.  It is pretty hard to make selection that is going to be a blowout.  Here are differing selections from two more “experts”.  These primates will surely be watching the game! Don’t we also want to know who Fiona the Hippo selected? Guessing the winner is a 50/50 chance, those are decent odds.

After all of the silliness of the week leading up to the game, a game will be played on Sunday.  One team will be champs and will always have their name in the record books.  You work an entire season and in some instances an entire career or life to get to this moment.  Seizing the opportunity is something every player will want to do.  The game is an awesome spectacle, so it should be pretty easy to watch. Even if you do not like football, you can always tune in for the commercials!

 

—Victor Mandalawi