Not quite ready to put an end to this particular round of blogcation. The timing with the NCAA tournament has been less than ideal, but the first week is kind of the glitzy/superficial portion of the tournament, isn’t it? The real nuts and bolts start this week with the Sweet Sixteen. Sure, it was a wild moment when Morehead State beat Louisville, but when that game ended, everyone knew Morehead State was still doomed to lose sooner rather than later. Now the focus will be on legitimate sleepers and the handful of teams that are still favored to win it all. I’ve got a few thoughts, and then some non-basketball items as well.
One thing that always amuses me about the tournament is how eager the media is to highlight an overwhelming favorite. They want a commanding number one team so badly they anoint any team that plays one good game, regardless of the competition. Erving is back? Duke is the favorite. They struggle? Ok, now OSU is clearly the dominate team. These teams are dominant until their next game. So, as good as the good teams look right now they could be one round away from looking ordinary, or finding their way to the wrong side of a buzzer-beater. The notion of a dominant team works well in a pregame special, but doesn’t pan out after the opening tip.
We’re also getting, on this topic, a bit of backlash on the notion of parity in college basketball. Everyone speaks to parity, but is it really there? I’ve heard a lot of people highlight the lack of evidence supporting the idea that upsets are more common than ever. There is some parity across the most upper level, but in the end the higher seeds still prevail most of the time. I think this is true and highlights the need to distinguish parity from simply not having a dominant team. We don’t know who is going to win, but that doesn’t mean everyone can win. What we’re really seeing is watered down talent and early NBA departures keeping the best programs from developing mini-dynasties like they used to. That’s not really parity is it?
Switching gears to the Phillies for a moment, there seems to be some parity in the competition for the final starting jobs at 2nd base and in right field. When I heard that Charlie Manuel was still looking for guys to step up, despite the solid springs a lot of role players were having, it showed me the Phils maybe aren’t confident with what they have. What do you want Francisco to do? Hit .400? Maybe this is just Charlie keeping the guys on their toes, but it sounds like a guy who is a little worried about putting someone with little track record into Jayson Werth’s slot in the order. I think that is understandable, but don’t make it sound like Mayberry, Francisco and a couple of the utility guys haven’t exceeded expectations this Spring. It sounds like Charlie would like to use Ross Gload. Gload has the best professional track record and it is starting to look like that is what Charlie is most comfortable with.
I imagine there is a bit of discomfort in Rich Dubee’s world these days. If Roy Halladay doesn’t have a good outing on Monday against Boston that will pretty much be two straight turns through the rotation without a decent start. Control seems to be the issue for Hamels, Oswalt and Lee. It’s getting late in March to still be fighting that problem. No matter what is made of the offense or Utley’s status so much of the year will come down to dominant starting pitching. How much will the Phils get and will they be able to do anything against it? The last 8 or 10 games the Phillies’ starters haven’t had that dominant look.
Last thing. In the continuing trend of the demise of American golf has been greatly exaggerated, there was a fresh American winner this weekend in Gary Woodland. Woodland is a bit like Dustin Johnson without the marketing campaign. He’s incredibly long, you’ll hear a ton about his athleticism, but what sets Woodland apart in my mind is he sounds fearless. Where Dustin just strikes me as a bit thick, when Woodland talks about his previous lack of success he says it wasn’t any kind of mental issue it was just he wasn’t playing golf the right way, he was and still is learning. It sounds cliche, but Woodland has only been playing seriously for about five or six years. He said he wasn’t worried about what would happen when he was in contention, he was more worried about getting his game to the point where he could contend on a regular basis. In other words, he trusts himself under the gun. It’s a better statement and frame of mind than anything I’ve ever heard from Dustin Johnson and refreshing in the face of the lay-up revolution. I’m way ahead of myself, but I think Woodland could emerge from the fog, here. He already has a win and a playoff loss this year, he’ll be able to play all the big events now, and he seems comfortable in the winner’s circle, which as odd as it sounds isn’t something you find all the time on the PGA Tour. Anyway, Gary Woodland, expect Masters sleeper talk.