A Sweet Sixteen For Baseball Season.

Enjoy Your Last 18 Cliff Lee Starts.

Enjoy Your Last 18 Cliff Lee Starts.

Baseball season has started.  The Dodgers have a jumpstart on the NL West that could be insurmountable.  But, for the other 28 teams in the league, we’re getting in those last reps and roster trimmings before the big day.  For traditionalists like myself, Opening Day will always be Monday.  Anything less is uncivilized.

To get the season underway, while the Phillies are still in a virtual tie for 1st place, I thought I’d do a Sweet 16 for the baseball season.  A melding of what would have been about 20 posts back in the Glory Days:

Bryce Harper Region:  Phenom Obsessions…

Baseball is brutal on prospects.  Back in the 90s when I was an unofficial scout in the Eastern League I saw a bunch of guys who looked like they were going to be great MLB players.  I had Todd Walker pegged for Chase Utley’s offensive career about 8 years before anyone had ever heard of Chase.  Guy hit .340 in AAA.  Ranked the 7th best prospect in baseball.  Ended up with a “nice” career, but never hit more than 17 homers in the majors.  Anyway, here are four guys to save your fantasy season in the middle of the summer:

1.  Archie Bradley–SP, Arizona Diamondbacks.  With Patrick Corbin out for the year the back of the Diamondbacks’ rotation is a bit up in the air.  Bradley isn’t on the Major League roster yet, so he’s not the short-term solution, but if the rotation is lacking come summer, Bradley could provide a big boost ala Gerrit Cole to the Pirates in 2013.  A traditional right-handed power arm without the questions and quirks of Trevor Bauer.

2.  George Springer–OF, Houston Astros.  Shouldn’t the Astros have some prospects by now?  After years of trading away players and winning 58 games?  The answer is yes!  They do have some.  Springer should be the first to arrive, a beast who almost went 40/40 in the minors last year.  Also watch out for top pick from 2013, Mark Appel.  Should quickly move into Houston’s rotation once he’s fully healthy and gets a bit of seasoning.

3.  Gregory Polanco (no relation to Placido)–OF, Pittsburgh Pirates.  Let’s keep this rolling, Pittsburgh.  They’ll have a lot to live up to after last season and if they find themselves struggling to score runs again, a mid-season promotion of Polanco could provide a needed spark.  He’s the RF of the future, it’s just a question of when he arrives.

4. Noah Syndergaard–SP, New York Mets.  The last of the Big-3 (Harvey, Wheeler) to arrive should live up to those high standards.  Another huge arm, Syndergaard could get off to a strong start with his fastball alone.  Expect a Wheeler-like timeline for Syndergaard as the Mets likely won’t be in serious contention in the NL East.

Phillies Region–How Bad is it Going to Be?

1. Maybe not QUITE as bad as some people think.  Trashing the Phillies has become so chic that if you listen to the national media and the “rival scouts’ you’d probably think they’re going to win 60 games.  So, based on that, it might be a little better than you’re expecting.  Assuming Hamels does come back by May, the starting pitching should have them in enough games to linger around .500.  The offense will be terrible, though,  and in a tough division they’ll steadily lose ground.  Enough that…

2. Cliff Lee will be traded.  Lee, unlike Jimmy Rollins, is pure mercenary.  Anyone who would come back to Philly the way he did is clearly pitching just for a ring.  There’s no shame in that, just don’t be surprised when Lee is ALL ABOARD for a trade to a contender come summer.  And, really, the Phillies owe him that much after jerking him around and then letting the team fall apart around him.  Enjoy his last starts, when he’s on the guy is truly a master and probably will always be better liked in Philadelphia than Cole Hamels, because you know, Californians just don’t get it like Cliff.

3. The Biggest Offensive Problems Will Be:  Rollins, Howard, Brown.  On the flip side of this coin, I’d expect decent seasons out of Revere, Marlon Byrd and a freshly medicated Carlos Ruiz.  But, Howard has not fixed any of his bad habits, Rollins will show only flashes and play to stay off the DL (so his option vests) and Brown’s freezing cold spring is one of the biggest red flags I’ve seen in a while.

4. Cross Your Fingers for Maikel Franco.  The Phillies big power prospect didn’t amaze anyone this spring, but the fan base is going to need someone to believe in for the future.  Franco is the best bet, despite everyone wishing Jessie Biddle into a front-end starter.  And, if he can play 3rd all the better, because Cody Asche isn’t happening.  Sorry.

The Awards Region: 

1. AL MVP: Mike Trout.  For several years I picked Miguel Cabrera, backing him until he won and now that he’s taken back-t0-back MVPs, it’s time for Trout to leave him behind.  There is absolutely no innovation in this pick, but sometimes things are inevitable.  Trout dominated this spring, showing more power and plate discipline.  He’s just better than everyone else right now.  Picking anyone else would be uninformed.

2. NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki.  The NL race is wide-open.  Bryce Harper is a popular pick, but still could be a year away from fully reaching his potential.  It’ll be tough for Andrew McCutchen to repeat and guys like Goldschmidt and Votto are held back by playing 1st base.  Maybe this is the year Tulo stays healthy for 155 games.

3. AL Cy Young: Chris Sale.  I was set to pick Yu Darvish, but picking a guy who starts the year on the DL feels a bit dicey.  If the White Sox can play a bit better as a team, Sale should move to the front of the discussion for the Cy Young.  He’s a legitimate lefty ace and finished 5th in the voting last season.

4. NL Cy Young: Cliff Lee.  It’s tough to go against Clayton Kershaw, who is clearly the best pitcher in baseball, but the NL has a lot of top candidates.  Strasburg, Zimmerman, Greinke, hell I’d watch out for Michael Wacha.  But, for some reason I’m picking Lee who I think will carry the Phillies and then could possibly be moved to a contender to put them over the top.  That contender would have to be in the NL, but I’ll take my chances to look like a genius when it happens.

The Playoffs Region:  

1. Surprise Playoff Team: Seattle.  I was tempted to pick Kansas City, because I’ve gotten 1,000 words into this without mentioning my beloved Royals, but I don’t want to put that on them.  Seattle has enough pitching that a little offensive boost could go a long way.  No pressure, Cano, but seriously, this is on you–turn the whole lineup around.

2. Biggest Flop: Oakland.  Things always feel tenuous for the A’s.  Everything has to go right.  The young pitchers have to stay healthy.  I think this is a year they face some challenges and can’t overcome the odds–again.

3. Your World Series Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers.

***

My 16th Nugget is obviously going to be Sweet 16 LOCKS.  Because even if I can’t fill out a pool for horsebleep, those 1st round pick were kinda nice, no?

Tennessee (+2.5) over Michigan.  Line seems a bit low.  What happened to that big, dopey white guy that was finishing in transition for Michigan in the tourney last year?  Mitch McGary or something?  Is he hurt? Alive?  Playing in Greece?  Vols outright.

Baylor (+3.5) over Wisconsin.  It’s the year of the damn dog.  Haven’t you been listening?  Outright again.  Wisconsin scores MAYBE 43 points.

Arizona (-8) over San Diego St.  All I heard about SD State was how tough they were on D, and how they gave Arizona a game last time.  That had me expecting 4.5 points or thereabouts.  This makes it feel like a Wildcats blowout.

A Mail Clutch.

In Honor of the Tournament.

In Honor of the Tournament.

So I recently got an iPhone.  To anyone who knows me that may come as a bit of a shock.  Never has a device had such a fierce opponent.  The iPhone rates as only slightly less sinister than a Kindle.  I’ve been using a Blackberry for a long time.  This has given off a different impression at different times.  There was about forty seconds there, don’t pin me down on a year, where it was OK to have a Blackberry.  Blackberry messenger was kind of cool, wasn’t it? WASN’T IT?  And free.  You could carry a Blackberry and not be a total tech-idiot.  I think.  Of course, those days are long gone and now if you have a Blackberry you are old, or it was issued to you by your employer.  I came very, very close to getting the Blackberry Q10.  Great price point, familiar look, but I figured if Blackberry still exists as a company in a couple of years maybe I can switch back.  For now, I’ll put in some work on my selfie game.  As soon as someone teaches me how to use the phone.

I know one thing.  When I go in for my next phone I won’t get treated like a prehistoric species.  Hopefully the employee won’t look at me like my cellphone has a rotary dial.  I wanted to stand there and defend my Blackberry, but it’s failure was the only reason I was in the store.  Or was it my failure?  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

On the eve of the NCAA Basketball tournament, a raucous cultural event, I thought I’d empty out the mailbag.  You know how these messages pile up…

Q: Can you explain to me why some people get so excited to see what I’d call pretty common birds? I know people who spot a cardinal and start dancing around like a flamingo has just swooped onto their deck.  Robin Crow, Exton, PA.  

A:  I’m not what you would call a bird guy.  Any bird with size, or thick legs will send me heading for the hills.  If you want me to stay off your property, lose the Beware of Dog sign and install a turkey.  You’ll never see me again.  That said, I do KIND OF know what you are talking about.  When I was a youth I would occasionally see a hummingbird at my Grandmother’s house.  Now, hummingbirds are probably a bit more intriguing than your basic cardinal, but we’d completely SH*T OUR PANTS over these hummingbirds.  I also remember occasionally getting out the binoculars at home to try to spot something exotic like an oriole in a tree 80 yards across the yard.  I don’t think I’d do that now, but I probably have pointed out a cardinal to someone in the last 12 months.  What can I say? It’s a conversation starter.  You say cardinal, they say where…and things just go from there.  People also feel a sense of importance from things that take up residence in their yard.  Squirrels?  VILE RODENTS.  But, a nest of cardinals?  Noble bird in a noble yard.  

Q:  On a scale of 0 to Brian Urlacher, how poorly is this Jimmy Rollins thing going to end in Philadelphia, and are the Phillies as bad as they look in Spring Training?  

A: The Phillies are the popular pick among “Unnamed MLB Scouts” to be the biggest disappointment in the league.  The two main refrains from Spring Training are always, “best shape of his career,” and “has completely lost it.”  The Phillies have a lot of guys in that second category starting with Rollins and including Howard, Papelbon and possibly even Chase Utley.  Considering the Phillies weren’t good last year, that Cole Hamels will be the DL, and there is still a roster spot for John Mayberry Jr., I’d prepare myself for a very long summer.  The best-case scenario the front office has been blowing smoke about isn’t going to happen.  They’ll struggle to hit, the starting pitching is thin and the bullpen remains a question mark.  Seventy-five wins feels like a ceiling.  As for Rollins, he simply doesn’t mesh with Ryne Sandberg’s vision of what a veteran leader should be.  Sandberg is not a players manager, to a possible extreme that looks like it might alienate him with veterans.  Remember, this is a Hall of Famer who spent 6 years managing (successfully) in the Minors and couldn’t get a big league job.  There had to be some kind of red flag, and I think that red flag was, “The players are going to hate this guy.”  The thing is, it doesn’t matter who wins the stare down, Rollins or Sandberg, the team is going to be bad either way.  It’s just a matter of who stays, and for how long.  

Q: How do you pack your toothbrush?  Do you have a little case for it, or are you like me and just assume your toothbrush is protected against all and any germs and just throw that thing wherever in the suitcase?  Whitey Chicklets, Harrisburg, PA.

A: Tough one.  Sometimes we think things just don’t get dirty.  If I only use my towel to dry off when I’m clean….NO. Or, that sponge is in soapy water several times a week…I’d eat off that SUMBITCH.  Probably not.  Does toothpaste serve as some type of Purell?  Or boiling water?  Probably not.  When I was a kid I’d wrap my toothbrush in tissues and pack it that way.  I assume I was told to do this by my mother, and it sounds dumb, but you keep your toothbrush away from your dirty undies and you also don’t have to use one of those cases.  The cases by the way can become cesspools in their own right.  You have to be diligent about cleaning the case, and really who has the time for that?  Anyone who has ever opened up a kid’s retainer case knows what I’m talking about here.  Maybe the answer is just buying a new toothbrush every time you go away, or bumming one from the hotel.  Cost you a few bucks, but think about the load off your mind.  

Q: Despite the fact that you’ve watched 0 college basketball games this year, I still respect you as one of the top-10,000 sports handicappers in Chester County.  Where are my first round winners? 

A:  I thought you’d never ask!  I’m doing dogs this year for Round one  TWO.  Bet early and heavy….

University Milwaukee Wisconsin (+16.5) over Villanova.  I’ve got a real bad feeling about this Villanova team. Anecdotally, I’ve heard about their balance.  To me this means they don’t have any really good players, which is what the tournament is all about–along with draining tons of threes.  I also, never, ever trust Jay Wright or a Jay Wright team with a big spread.  I’ll take Jay’s suit (-$3,500) over the coach of  UMW, but on the court, take the points.

Harvard (+3) over Cincinnati.  Harvard being a 12 seed means they must actually be decent and not just the token Ivy team.  I think the lines in these 12/5 matchups are starting to reflect the perceived trend of upsets, but this seems especially low.  If Nick Van Exel’s shot is off, the Bearcats will struggle.  Let’s go nerds.

Providence (+4) over North Carolina.  I assume that UNC is still a massive public team, and Providence has never been anything close, not even when Rick Pitino was running down the housewives the Rhode Island.  If I were a UNC fan, which I’m not (Rule of Rick Fox), I’d be kinda, sorta worried the Tar Heels might go ahead and lose this game outright.  Roy does not have enough All-Americans this year.

North Dakota State (+3.5) over Oklahoma.  Is this a hockey game?  Where did this line come from.  ND State might blow the Sooners out.

Ok, I lied, One Favorite: Oregon (-5) over BYU.  I’ve got a little Oregon sleeper vibe going and BYU stinks.  I promise.

***

NCAA POOL INFO:

If anyone is looking for a last second pool entry, the stragglers and downtrodden among you–feel free to join the 3 Putt Territory Group at ESPN.  The name of the group is 3 Putt Territory and the password is danish–all lowercase. There are no prizes, but that only increases your chances to WIN.  That, and the fact that there are about 10 people playing.  ENJOY THE TOURNAMENT.

The Chico’s Bail Bonds Bracket Challenge.

Nice Bracket.

Nice Bracket.

Unfortunately, I was runner-up to Quicken Loans when Warren Buffett was choosing a partner for his Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, so I can’t offer up 10 figures to anyone, but if you want to sign up for a bunch of spam from the asshat who owns the Cavs–go ahead.  No one is stopping you.  I’m sure you’ll still be alive for that billion well into Thrusday afternoon.  At least.

It is amazing how much people love games of chance, and don’t kid yourself–that is what the NCAA pool is regardless of how much college basketball you know or watch.  We’re talking about a month long scratch ticket here. Speaking of which, I have now on multiple occasions seen a group of guys hanging around the scratch ticket machine at a grocery store during the lunch hour.  They appear to be employed, otherwise mostly functional members of society, and yet there they are standing around watching each other do scratch-offs.  Is this a social activity now?  I need to know if anyone else has witnessed something like this.

Back to the bracket.  My darkest confession:  I haven’t watched a college basketball game all year.  What can I tell you?  When you go to a school with a storied basketball tradition like F&M, and you are used to sellout crowds at the G*Rob Center, sitting on your couch watching Michigan (yawn) play Wisconsin (puke) doesn’t get your blood pumping.  You haven’t experienced basketball pandemonium until you’ve seen a white guy throw down a delicate dunk on a breakaway against Swarthmore.  That will send the student section into hysterics.  I once lost a flip-flop during such a scrum.

So, if I haven’t watched a single game all year, how am I going to fill out my bracket?  How will I guarantee I get upwards of 20 of the first 32 games correct?  I spent most of the day trying to figure that out myself and I came up with the following list of guidelines.  Rules for the uneducated…

1.  Protect Your References.  Even if you haven’t watched a minute of basketball, you can distract people with random knowledge.  For example, in those dreaded 8/9 matchups you must play to your strength.  I will take #8 Colorado over #9 Pitt, because if someone asks me about Colorado, I can say, “How many did Chauncey Billups have?” At which point hopefully the person moves onto another topic without me looking like a fool.  The only person I know who went to Pitt is Dan Marino.

Beautiful Hair.

Beautiful Hair.

2.  Be Aware of Zealots.  At this point in my life I just want to watch the games, maybe see a couple of buzzer beaters–the usual.  I don’t need any added stress.  So, if I live with a die-hard fan of some school, or the guy next to me at work has shaved Arizona’s logo into the back of his head, I’m going to pick that team to win a few games.  Path of least resistance.  You’re cheering for your own well-being.

3.  Ask the Biggest College Basketball Fan You Know Who They Have–Then Eliminate That Team.  I guarantee you that every serious fan out there has already filled out at least eleven versions of their bracket.  Sh*t is crossed out.  They hear a podcast from the equipment manager at VCU and suddenly that CHANGES EVERYTHING.  It’s not that they don’t know what they are talking about, it’s that no one is good at doing this.  NO ONE.

4. Hard No to Wichita State.  In 1976, Bobby Knight browbeat his Hoosiers to a perfect 32-0 record and won the national championship.  Quinn Buckner was on that team.  Yes, that odd man you see on television actually played basketball.  But, in the almost four decades since, no other team has pulled off this feat.  And, if UNLV couldn’t do it, I’ll be god-damned if I watch Wichita State go undefeated.  I’ll take Louisville in a laugher.

5. Be Provincial.  It’s far more acceptable to adopt college basketball teams than say an NFL team.  You probably don’t see many Browns fans racehorse down to Cincy to bask in the glow of a Bengals playoff weekend, but I think you can pull this off for the NCAA tournament.  If you can get to a bar that will be packed with a certain team’s fans you should go ahead and get in the mix.  Then someone says, “Oh, did you go to _____?”  No, but I have them in my pool!  If you don’t live near any team that is in the dance, I suggest heading to Omaha.  Might as well get that trip to Nebraska off the bucket list during Doug McDermott’s swan song.

So, there you have it.  Please let me know how well this works for you and kindly pass along a 10% “tribute” from your winnings.

***

Now, in regard to the annual Three Putt Territory Pool, which always crowns a worthy winner and then pays them out a heaping helping of pride, as I said:  No Warren Buffett–Yahoo! (Warren’s other partner) has really got me sour this year, because they required a phone number to reactivate the Three Putt Territory Pool.  If you think I’m going to allow Yahoo! to start sending me text messages, you are SORELY mistaken.  I’ll go completely off the grid before that happens.

So, this year, I’ll be using ESPN to score the pool.  If you played before, I will try to remember this in my brain device and send you an invitation.  If you did not, or you stumbled across this post by accident, feel free to use the following information to join my ESPN group.

Tournament Challenge Home Page.

Group Name: Three Putt Territory

Password: danish

*Use the Edit Bracket Function to Give Your Pool A Name That Will Make Me Chortle.

Good Luck.

What if the Pacers Win?

Remember When LeBron was The One Who Disappeared*?

Remember When LeBron was The One Who Disappeared*?

*Never Actually Disappeared. 

Could we get to the point where we feel sorry for LeBron?  Wasn’t it supposed to be EASIER than this?  The Big Three, the 2012 Title, the obscene 2nd half record this year–the NBA Playoffs was supposed to be a coronation.  Once Russell Westbrook went down and Derek Rose didn’t appear out of the fog on a white horse for Chicago this was supposed to be a done deal.  Maybe Miami would drop a game here or there–boredom–but go ahead and book that 2nd straight title.  Then, something strange happened.  Perhaps a more astute NBA eye could fill you in, but here’s my opinion–the rest of the Heat, the non-Lebrons–are terrible.  Just a putrid collection of slop that has some people wondering whether LeBron actually had more help back in Cleveland.  

I find myself watching this series with the Pacers out of hate.  I didn’t realize how easy the Heat were to hate until I actually watched them play.  They have Battier?  And Birdman?  And Juwan Howard rallying the bench?  That’s an uncanny collection of players that are easy to hate.  Hating on LeBron has become a waste of time for a number of reasons, but don’t overlook the target rich environment that is the Heat bench.  

Along with being easy to dislike, the Heat also don’t look that dominant.  They have stretches where they shoot the ball well and are able to pull away from Indiana, but this is the Pacers.  They’re a “nice” team.  Not exactly the dynasty Bulls.  I’ve never seen a team waste more possessions than Indiana, or at least not a team in a conference final.  Every other possession they have the shot clock is down at 3 seconds and they still have no plan.  They take awful 3s, they miss dunks and bunnies, Lance Stephenson can turn the ball over at any moment.  I watch the Pacers and I see a team that shouldn’t be good enough to stretch Miami out this much.  The collective will of all that talent should have prevailed by now.

But the talent is suddenly looking a little thin.  Wade looks a shell of himself and at times disinterested.  He’s MAYBE hinted that LeBron is touching the ball too much.  Chris Bosh has not been seen in the paint in this series.  Maybe he hoists up a three, maybe it occasionally goes in, but do not expect this 7-footer to get you a rebound.  Sure, Indiana “matches up well” against Miami, but that’s always been a euphemism for a team that doesn’t have a ton of talent and isn’t going to win the game/series.  

The Pacers definitely have a shot tonight.  They’ve played Miami even or better all year.  They could have already won four games in this series.  Roy Hibbert, despite his press conference improv issues, is a player the Heat have no answer for.  He’s bigger and more willing to play big than anyone the Heat has to offer.  If the Pacers shoot it well, if Stephenson is under control, if West can knock down some shots–this game may be out of Miami’s hands.  That in itself is hard to believe, but true.  The Heat had little hope in game six.  Miami could play pretty well and lose.  I never thought that would have been possible a few months ago.  

So, will the Pacers come through tonight?  Will they create the San Antonio/Indy finals that everyone is clamoring for?  I don’t think they’re going to pull it off.  Why?  The line.  Vegas.  The Heat are 6 to 7 point favorites and to me that just feels like a monster Heat line.  Feels like they’re going to pull it all together.  It makes no sense otherwise.  But, the Heat have been wounded.  The Spurs should be feeling pretty comfortable as they rest.  

 

Afford Better Easter Candy With These Winners.

Needs More Easter Grass

Needs More Easter Grass

It feels like it’s going to be another huge basketball weekend, but there are only 12 games total on the slate.  Compare that to 48 last week and we’re looking at exactly 1/4 of the hysteria.  Or, will these games be four times better than the ones from the first two rounds?  I’m leaning toward the latter scenario.  We’ve got marquee matchups and charismatic underdogs.  If you want to be surprised about what happens–don’t read on…

Thursday:  

Marquette (+5.5) vs. Miami

Who I’m Rooting For:  Marquette.  I’ve rooted for Miami exactly one time in my life.  Their football team lost to Nebraska, Penn State finished #2 in the polls, and I went back to hating.  I like certain players from Miami, but never the Hurricanes as a whole.  

The Pick:  Miami.  Marquette has been surviving with last second buckets against middle (?) tier competition?  They’re not clicking well enough to beat Miami, who isn’t showing any signs of taking teams lightly.  Unless the Hurricanes get off the plane in fatigues, take The U.  

Arizona (+3.5) vs. Ohio State.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  Arizona.  I find myself occasionally coming back to Arizona, and now that the Chase Budinger era is officially over, I think I have to take the Wildcats over Ohio State, who is currently poisoned by their association with Evan Turner.  Philadelphia thanks you for that gift.  

The Pick:  Ohio State.  Arizona beat Belmont and Harvard.  No offense to those titans of the hardwood, but this is a massive step up in competition.  Assuming the Buckeyes don’t shoot 24%, this could get awfully ugly.  

Syracuse (+5.5) vs. Indiana.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  Derek Coleman/Billy Owens/Carmelo/Sherm Douglas  vs. Damon Bailey/Steve Alford/Calbert Cheaney/Alan Henderson.  Notice that I left of McNamara and Devendorf?  I pretend like they never went to Syracuse, and with no Bob Knight to root for, I’ll go Orange.  

The Pick:  Indiana.  Crean vs. Boeheim.  Gulp.  The Temple game summed up the fears about the Hoosiers.  The Owls were playing with Khalif Wyatt and four speed bumps and still should have won that game.  Indiana allegedly is one of the best teams in the country.  That carries them to at least one more ugly win.  

LaSalle (+4) vs. Wichita St.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  LaSalle.  I saw a LaSalle grad talking this week about LaSalle finally showing some life on the basketball court.  I guess they don’t teach alums that LaSalle was once the “East Coast UCLA,” has won a National title and produced two of the better players in the history of college basketball: Tom Gola and Lionel Simmons.  Personally, I haven’t been on the LaSalle wagon since that team with the L-Train that went 29-1 during the regular season.  

The Pick: Wichita St.  Considering I didn’t pick LaSalle to escape the 1st round, there is no way I would risk jinxing the Southwest Philly Floater.  

Friday:  

Oregon (+10) vs. Louisville.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  Oregon.  Rick Pitino is the worst.  Wouldn’t it be nice if college coaches who failed in the pros didn’t automatically go straight back to premier college jobs?  

The Pick:  Louisville.  I may have drastically underestimated Louisville.  They lost to Villanova during the regular season and I assumed they were just another #1 placeholder, but perhaps not.  Oregon has run out of spite, this is a huge line, all signs point to a blowout.  

Michigan (+2) vs. Kansas.

Who I’m Rooting For:  Michigan.  I can’t remember the last time I picked the final game correctly, but I used to do it with some regularity.  The game was so predictable in the 90s.  I had Michigan/UNC in 1993.  Still recovering from that one, but in my mind the Fab Five still exists.  

The Pick:  Michigan.  The Wolverines look good.  The line is a little low.  It’s time for a #1 seed to go down.  

Michigan St. (+2) vs. Duke.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  Duke.  No one, except people who go to Duke, roots for Duke.  But, what’s so great about Michigan State?  Aren’t they like Duke just a bit less successful?  Tom Izzo doesn’t look like enough like a rodent?  Mateen Cleaves was one court slap away from being Wojo.  

The Pick:  Duke.  I was worried about Duke when they were only favored by 5 points against Creighton, but that turned into a 16-point laugher.  Unless both Plumlees get big minutes, this should be an easy winner.  

Florida Gulf Coast (+13) vs. Florida.  

Who I’m Rooting For:  FGCU.  I’m finally going to get to see “Dunk City.”  Did I miss the show?  We’ll see.  

The Pick:  FGCU.  Still getting no respect.  I guess the general consensus is FGCU is going to eventually run out of steam.  Eventually someone will crack the code that Lipscomb used to beat them during the regular season.  With plenty of time to prepare–Florida is going to be ready.  But, FGCU is pretty athletic, they have a good point guard and you know they’re going to come out with plenty of confidence.  Should be able to keep it under a dozen.  

 

Pool Standings, Dunk City and Some Light to Moderate Gloating.

Florida Golf Coast

Florida Golf Coast

I missed both Florida Gulf Coast wins.  I feel a little cheated, but I saw the Dunk City video, so I think I got the general idea of what the team is about.   Florida Gulf Coast is the team of the 1st week of the tournament, and that’s one of the compelling things about how this plays out in stages.  There’s a pretty good chance FGCU will be out by this weekend and we’ll slowly forget about them, but that won’t diminish the excitement of their two wins.  They took over the Wells Fargo Center and I think the adopted underdog is one of the few positives about games at a neutral site.  A few minutes into the game on Friday, and Georgetown might as well have had USSR on their jerseys.  

Speaking of which, how about the pool standings:  

1.  The Steubenville Gambler 51 points.  Only BK could be responsible for this team name, but 51 points through two rounds is awfully gaudy.  Fifty-Five points leads all of Yahoo’s 3 million+ brackets for perspective.  Best pick was Wichita State in Sweet 16.   Has slightly unconventional MSU/Kansas Final.  

2. Lawrence Moten 47 points.  “Poetry In,” had Oregon in the Sweet 16, a solid pick, and has Louisville and Miami meeting in the final.  

3. Jamie Moyer 45 points.  Moyer has a perfect Midwest Region, which is pretty amazing, and has Indiana topping Duke in the Final.  

4. Claire’s Champion Bracket 44 points.  The leader in the auto-name division has Louisville winning as well, but is the only one of the leaders to have lost a Final Four team (Gonzaga).  

5. Three Putt Territory 44 points.  I rarely do well in my own contest, but I’m hanging in there for now despite being down two Elite 8 teams.  Probably a 2nd or 3rd place ceiling.   

Several other teams are bunched right up behind the top-5, and overall it was a solid performance by the blog readers.  Clearly, I’m lording over a real wealth of basketball knowledge here.  Looking forward to seeing how this plays out and who will get bragging rights for the year…

***

Picks Against the Spread:

Grossy (0 college basketball games watched:  5-3

Big Dub (Jay Bilas Jr.):  4-6, but had Florida Gulf Coast

Wednesday or Thursday I’ll be back for some round 4* picks.

***

I think that’s about it for now.  I’m going to watch the end of Tiger vs. Rickie Monday finish.  I think flat brim is going to come up a bit short, which means Tiger will be back to #1 in the World.  Rory can stop worrying about his clubs, and start worrying about Tiger killing everyone again.  The question: Is Tiger putting better, or has he just memorized the greens at Bay Hill?  We’ll find out at Augusta.  Tiger is down to 3/1 and dropping.  Almost reminiscent of the days when Tiger was even money to win every major.  

For the rest of the week, depending on my time, I’ll be looking to squeeze in my MLB prospect obsession post, some type of Phillies/MLB preview, more basketball picks like I mentioned and perhaps another mailbag (scroll down if you missed the one from Saturday).  That seems a bit ambitious.  Prospect obsessions may get pushed to next week.  

 

Your Financial Guide to the 1st Round

The Gold Spike is a Little Rich for My Blood.

The Gold Spike is a Little Rich for My Blood.

I forgot one thing in my guide to the bracket.  Never go with Obama.  This isn’t political.  The President has a chalk addiction.  His sweet sixteen has all four #1s, all four #2s, all four #3s, three #4s and Wisconsin.  A five seed.  Careful out on that ledge, Barry.  This is a great way to fill out your bracket if you want to finish in the middle of the pack.  The President thinks it’s Indiana’s year, which means he’s clearly never seen Tom Crean coach a big game.  If you want, you can pick against the President at ESPN, and I’m sure three to seven million people will take their chances.  Free pools can get a bit addictive.  One of these years, you’re going to get the perfect bracket and win that million.  But until then, maybe you should fund your pool habit with some bets on individual games.

This is a huge Vegas weekend.  And, I can tell you first hand that the sports book here at Don Padre’s Mexican Cantina, Pawn and Video Poker is already starting to get a little crowded.  I can’t imagine what it’s like at the more trendy spots.  Along with being a heavily bet weekend, I imagine it must be the most ignorantly bet sporting event of the year as well.  When people decide to get wild and throw down a few bucks on the Super Bowl maybe they’ve at least seen Baltimore play a few downs, or they were on TV in the background at some point?  For the next four days people will be betting heavily on teams they couldn’t find on a map, let alone have seen play basketball.  And, I love that.  I really do.  Have I seen these teams play?  The more important question is, DOES IT MATTER?

Pay for your pools with the following:

THURSDAY:  

Southern (+21.5) over Gonzaga.  Early in the year, Gonzaga was killing teams.  They know how to win big, but the Southern Jaguars (they’re from Baton Rouge, not Jacksonville) are no pushover.  They beat Grambling by 39 this year and got into the tournament with a scintillating 45-44 win over Prairie View A&M.  What I’m getting at is that this line is too low.  Who knows something?  And, the real beauty here is that even if it’s a loser, it won’t be 35-10 until about 14 minutes in anyway, so you’ll feel good at the start, regardless.

St. Louis (-9) over New Mexico St.  St. Louis, despite losing Larry Hughes (a decade ago) is a really good team.  Jay Bilas might say they have good basketball players.  They’ve won 16 of 17 and play in a tough conference.  If they weren’t in a brutal region, more people might be picking them to sneak into the Final Four.  And in fact, they are 6/1 to make the Final Four despite being tucked in with Duke and Indiana.  INTERESTING.  You’d think the 3rd choice in the bracket should cruise past New Mexico St, who I assume is terrible.  Go Billikens!

New Mexico (-11) over Harvard.  Do not confuse New Mexico for New Mexico St.  New Mexico owns the state, so to speak.  This is more about Harvard, though.  Remember the charm of last year when the Crimson, home of the Winklevoss twins, made the field for the first time in 60+ years?  Such a feel good story.  Well, they’re back and no one is quite as excited, because the novelty has worn off and Harvard is a pedestrian 19-9.  One and done again for Harvard who can go back to writing equations and sh*t on the walls.

Butler (-3.5) over Bucknell.  When was the last time you saw a Bison in Lewisburg, PA?  I’ve got to say that PA schools have the worst nicknames.  It’s true, don’t try to fight me on it.  But getting back to Butler, Do you have the audacity to bet against Brad Stevens in the first round?  Bucknell lost to Penn State this year, which as usual, is a complete embarrassment.  Another Butler run–starts now.

Friday:  

Temple (+4.5) over NC State.  You might not know this, but I know Fran Dunphy personally.  I’ve cleaned his golf clubs.  I’ve dropped a “Hey, Coach,” on him.  He once gave me a Temple basketball hat that did not fit my gigantic head.  If I see Coach Dunph again (that’s what we call him, Dunph) I’ll be like, ever going to get out of the 1st round?  This is Temple’s sixth straight tournament, but they haven’t seen the round of 32 since 2001.  Feels like it’s time.

Duke (-17.5) over Albany (NY).  It’s always hilarious when Duke loses early.  Or late for that matter.  Last year was that unfortunate episode against Lehigh (Mountain Hawks–see) and now Duke finds themselves again as a #2 seed.  There’s no way, just no possible way Duke chokes again.  Albany was 9-7 in the American East.  They lost to Stony Brook (twice).  Their mascot looks like Scooby Doo.  No chance.

Minnesota (-3) over UCLA.  The Gophers are favored as the #11 seed.  That is all.

Pacific (+12) over Miami.  Miami is very good, but I feel like they’re totally enamored with themselves.  But, really, I’m not sure why this line isn’t higher.  Pacific’s leading scorer averages 11.4 per game.  Their leading rebounder–4.0.  How is that possible?  They don’t score a ton, or shoot it particularly well, it just seems like this line should be 16-20 points.  Unless Pacific gets a ton of national money I don’t know about.  ‘Canes come out cocky and flat (the motto of their athletic department) and survive a scare–by single digits.

Big Dub’s Picks:  I think Big Dub actually watches college basketball (aside from Bucknell, at least) so it’ll be interesting to see if that helps, or hurts his selections…

Bucknell +4 vs. Butler: Apparently Bucknell has a great post player. I honestly don’t know diddly about either team. The line seems shady and I’m following it.

St. Mary’s -1 vs. Memphis: An 11-seed is the favorite. Lock it up.

Oregon +2.5 vs. Oklahoma State: The Pokes aren’t as good as advertised. The entire year they somehow survived close game after close game. That’s not a style I can back in the tourney. Give me the hot team that was once ranked in the top 15 and now feels disrespected.

South Dakota St. +11 vs. Michigan: Wolverines shoot way too many threes. I’m gonna be against them every round. If and when they’re off I look like a genius. We all know I’m guessing though.

Belmont +4.5 vs. Arizona: I love the logo.

California +3 vs. UNLV:  Revenge spot.

Montana +12 vs. Syracuse:  The Orange are loaded with talent. I actually thought this was a Final Four team last week. The thing that worries me with laying a lot of points is when a team goes on a scoring drought. Syracuse does that with the worst of em.

 

NCAA Pool:

There’s still time to get in the pool.  Again, we want only the desperate and downtrodden.  The truly broken souls.  If you want to get in, IT’S FUN, go here please.  The Group ID is 72893 and the password is: stopit.