Phillies Prepare for Wild Card Run.

Charlie Reacts to a Successful Double Switch.

Charlie Reacts to a Successful Double Switch.

I’ve always said that hockey season officially starts the day after the Super Bowl.  I think I’m adding to that today.  Baseball starts the day after your bracket blows up.  When I picked Indiana to make a run I was looking at the talent on their team and ignoring the Crean factor.  When I saw Indiana struggle with Temple, I knew it was only a matter of time before I continued my 0-for my lifetime bracket streak.  Syracuse put me out of my misery quickly last night.  It was a pretty disappointing late night of basketball.  But, that’s all right, because the Phillies are kicking off their On-Deck series today, a little money grab before heading to Atlanta to start the actual season.  

It’s been an up and down spring for the Phillies.  A lot of real positive signs mixed in with some familiar concerns.  Considering most baseball seasons start with hope, I think the Phillies have the full attention of their fans, though that sellout streak loyalty is probably a bit more tenuous.  Should we start with the good news or the bad?  I’ll butter you up first…

What the Phillies Have Going for Them:

1.  Cole Hamels.  The fact that Hamels is now clearly the ace of this staff is probably a good and a bad thing, but his presence should be a stabilizing force for this team, much like it was last season.  Durable and still in his prime Cole makes the Phillies favorites most times he takes the mound and that will include Opening Day in Atlanta.  I’d expect another fringe Cy Young candidate season from Hamels.  

2.  Health of Utley and Howard.  Ryan Howard was a shell of himself last year and Chase Utley hadn’t gone through Spring Training since 2010.  With both of them healthy and properly prepared for the season it’s likely we’ll see a return to more “typical” numbers.  I’m expecting a good year out of Utley and if Howard can get some protection in the lineup and remain as selective he’s been this spring, then he’ll be back among the league leaders in home runs.  

3.  Back End of the Bullpen.  Even with all the struggles the Phillies had last year you could point to faulty bullpen work as what really killed their chances.  The Phillies were terrible in the 8th inning and the addition of Mike Adams should help in that regard.  I expect Papelbon to have another solid year and when the Phillies get to the 8th with a lead this year they should be much better off than they were in 2012.  

4.  Ben Revere in Center.  I’m not sure yet how Revere’s going to hit, though he appears to have a bit more pop than advertised.  Not home run pop, but move the ball out of the infield pop.  More importantly, Revere should anchor the defense in centerfield and maybe people will finally realize that Shane Victorino wasn’t all that great out there.  Revere will be under pressure to cover up some deficiencies in the corner spots and I think he’ll be up to the task.  

5. Dom Brown becomes an everyday player.  Brown has had a huge spring, and appears confident and comfortable.  The yo-yo Brown has been on the last few years certainly eroded his progress, but this latest fresh start seems to have made a difference.  I don’t think he’s a star, but he should be able to reasonably hold down left field and he looks a lot less lost defensively.  

What Could Hold the Phillies Back:

1.  Roy Halladay and the Halladay Domino Effect.  Halladay went 4 and 2/3 yesterday over 90-some pitches and pronounced himself ready for game 2 in Atlanta.  If you asked me a week ago, I would have said I was fairly sure Halladay would be on the DL by May.  Have I backed off that?  I’m not sure, but I’m expecting a rough year for Roy and I wouldn’t be surprised if it started in Atlanta.  If Halladay is hurt, or isn’t on form, it presses Kendrick, Lannan and possibly a 6th starter into more significant roles.  The rotation could go from a strength to a weakness.  

2.  Michael Young.  I’m not a Michael Young fan at this point in his career.  I think he’s going to wear down over the course of a season, be a burden on defense and show little power.  His approach, and “professionalism” are probably still intact, but Young is on the downside of his career.  People say, oh if he hits 15 homers (a stretch) and knocks in 75–I’d take that.  Well, you forget how bad that will look stretched over 162 games.  Third base remains a weakness on this team.  

3.  Middle Relief.  Stutes is a gasoline can (unfortunate, because I liked the guy), the other young guys (DeFratus/Aumont/Diekman) have potential but aren’t proven, Durbin’s best days are behind him and Bastardo has always run hot and cold.  If the rotation is weakened, this year’s 7th inning could be last year’s 8th.  

4.  The Bench.  Another consistent problem.  When Ruiz comes back the bench is going to be something like: Kratz, Mayberry, Galvis, Frandsen and Nix?  Yeah, that’s terrible.  

Bottom Line:  87 Wins

I think the health of the lineup and the addition of Mike Adams make the Phillies a better team than they were last year, but remember for much of the season they were a good bit below .500 before rallying at the end.  The NL East is top heavy, and there is some real depth in the National League, so piling up wins against lesser opponents (a Phillies dynasty hallmark) might not be as easy as it once was.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, though, the Phillies should be in contention, though I don’t see how they compete with Washington for the division.  And, while Atlanta has a suspect rotation and now a banged up setup man, if you believe in the Phillies’ spring offensive numbers, then Atlanta’s should be terrifying:  The Braves clubbed 49 homers and averaged almost 6 runs per game this spring.  

Other MLB Predictions:  

National League Playoff Teams:  Washington, Cincinnati, San Francisco Atlanta* and Milwaukee*

American League Playoff Teams:  Tampa Bay, Detroit, Anaheim, Toronto* and Texas*

World Series Prediction:  Anaheim over Cincinnati

NL MVP:  Joey Votto

NL Cy Young:  Clayton Kershaw

AL MVP:  Evan Longoria (Since I finally got Cabrera right last year)

AL Cy Young: Josh Johnson

***\

Enjoy Opening Day, everyone.  It’s a better holiday than Easter–that’s for sure.  

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.  

 

Put Out Your Bracket Fire with the Mailbag.

Is There Anything Left on the 3-PT Registry?

Is There Anything Left on the 3-PT Registry?

As I write this I’m not out of my NCAA Pool yet.  I don’t think.  No disasters.  Did I think about putting Wisconsin in the Final Four?  SURE.  But, I held off because even someone who doesn’t watch college basketball knows that Wisconsin can play terrible at any time, plus they were going against fabled gunner, Marshall Henderson.  Hend0 went 3-12 from downtown on Friday.  Shooters gotta shoot.  The benchmark to any pool is surviving through Sunday with your Final Four intact.  If you don’t have that–you’re just rationalizing your failure.  I understand this as well as anyone.  WELL, if I get 6 of 8 and then 3 of 4 and I have the winner?  NOPE.  You’re out.  As an aside, I’ve got to say well done to the Philly teams (LaSalle and Temple).  I’m happiest for the real fans of those schools (especially LaSalle) and also for the fringe like me that vicariously jump on anytime they win a game.  Big Five pride!  So, that’s enough basketball, how about some more pressing topics in the mailbag?

Q:  My soon to be husband and I are pretty well set for “stuff.”  We’ve thought about not registering for gifts anywhere (fingers crossed for a cash explosion) but he had the idea to register at Total Wine.  Not formally, but you know what I mean.  Is it OK to have our wedding guests stock our bar for the first year of our marriage?  Jaqueline Daniels, Newark, DE.  

A:  For those not in the know, or those lucky enough to live somewhere where liquor sales aren’t ruled with an iron fist, Total Wine is a BOOZE EMPORIUM.  Exhaustive selection of wine, spirits and beer and all at bargain basement Delaware prices.  It’s quite a place.  Now, I’ve never really participated in a wedding registry.  I’ve never registered and I don’t buy off the registry.  When I’m flush, you get cash.  When I’m not–you get well-written sentiment and a hearty thanks for the meal.  I imagine some people get very ENTHUSED about the registry gifts.  “Where’s that last place setting…..YES!”  For me, it would kind of defeat the purpose of presents, but then again–so does cash.  I think the rules of registry are becoming a bit blurred these days.  You can register for your honeymoon, which feels a bit awkward to me (two person jacuzzi tub’s on Aunt Gretel) and who knows what else people are fleecing their guests for.  I’d like to register for the down payment on a Buick–cool?  I think Total Wine is an inspired idea.  It’d be a great chance to get those liquors that you don’t use everyday.  You could build an adult bar and there would be price points for everyone.  If this doesn’t happen, it should probably start–immediately.  If I don’t register at Hershey Park I may steal this idea.  

Q: What’s the more annoying left turn maneuver, the preemptive left as soon as the light turns green, or the never-ending left where people just keep running the light and dare you to do something?  Vi Olation, Fort Myers, FL.

A:  The left turn arrow is such a roller coaster of emotion.  You love it when you are making the left, but waiting for it when you want to go straight through the intersection?  It’s like TIME STOPS.  Someone once said to me that driving would be a lot easier if there were no left turns, and that’s true, but then of course…never mind.  To set the record straight, both of these scenarios have caused me to lose my temper in the car.  The quick left in front of you isn’t really dangerous, what are you going to do, floor it immediately?  It’s just so arrogant.  It’s like the other driver is saying, hold on a moment while I go ahead.  I’m more important than you.  That bothers me.  If I even have to hesitate for .1 second that person is going to get a sarcastic go-ahead wave or a one-handed WTF?  But, the continued left after the green arrow has gone away is definitely more annoying.  It can be dangerous, because once you have the green you kind of assume the other guys are going to stop, but it can also lead to the clogged intersection.  One time I’m sitting in traffic and the left turners just kept coming right into the middle of the intersection. I’m looking at green and can’t move an inch.  The last time this happened to me, I left the road rage to the guy in front of me.  I actually thought he might just plow into the intersection and leave the rest to chance.  

Q: I heard something on the radio the other day about toast.  Bear with me.  The question is, with so much technology in this world, why does it still take so long to make toast, and why doesn’t said toast ever come out how you want it?  Chris P. Corners, Marshfield, MO.

A: If you could microwave toast that would increase the importance of that appliance tenfold, but to me it seems like bread just doesn’t want to be toasted.  Have you ever seen an antique toaster?  It’s quite a contraption.  And I’m sure it didn’t work.  There are countless problems with toast, most notably you need even heat and it takes a while for any type of oven (toaster or otherwise) to heat up.  That first minute your toast is in the toaster oven?  Pretty much NOTHING is happening.  You don’t just put a cake in the oven, you preheat, but that’s cake.  Toast is rushed, it’s ghetto.  It should be much easier to make, but the same rules of ovens apply.  An actual toaster probably does a bit of a better job, but toasters are cheap.  When you pay 8 bucks, you get 8 bucks worth of toasting quality.  This isn’t to say that expensive toasters work well–because they don’t either, really.  I think the best way to make toast is under constant monitoring (with a flip) in a toaster oven.  You don’t have to worry about bread size or a rogue coil being super hot and burning the horsebleep out of one corner.  This takes incredible patience, though, and a bit of a time commitment.  No one wants to do this.  IT’S JUST TOAST.  So, we settle.  That’s the bottom line.  Society, as a whole, has accepted this mediocre toast situation.  Everyone is still out there buying the cheap, ineffective toasters.  It’s a bit like setting out to get a tan, I think.  Do you want to make the full commitment, the SPF, the slow and steady process, or are you OK with a nice foundation burn?  When it comes to toast, people love that foundation burn.  

Q:  Since Tiger Woods has found new love (obviously the real key to his golf game), what would you think if a relative of yours started dating Tiger?  Mortified, or psyched for the Masters badges?  Tinsley Vonn, Denver, CO

A:  We’re talking female relative?  That’s a tough one.  I think most guys have that one friend (or more) that they love, but would never want their sister, or even their 9th cousin to date.  You’ve seen too much of their repertoire, so to speak.  It’s funny that guys can exclude, “how he treats his girlfriends,” from friendship criteria.  I’m sure girls do this as well.  But, Tiger seems like an extreme case of this phenomenon.  His checkered history is right there to read on the internet.  Guy is an allegedly recovering, alleged sex addict.  WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!  But, as far as Tiger’s potential as a “guy friend?”  It’s high.  Forget Masters badges, Tiger could take you to play Augusta National.  Throw in free Nike stuff for life, access to all kinds of golf courses, professional golfers, a substantial pile of money, Tiger’s reputation as a decent guy’s guy and it’s quite a tempting scenario.  The flip side of the coin is just too rough, though.  Do you want your relative to be the butt of constant text message and Perkins jokes?  Would you want them plastered all over the internet in creepy, posed photographs?  I believe in Tiger’s golf game, but I also think he might run his marriage total to three or four over the years.  I’d vote to keep my family out of it.  

Q:  Pretty significant argument going here.  A friend of mine consistently tries to order, ‘extra steak,’ on his cheesesteak, even if the place doesn’t offer it on the menu.  He claims that cheesesteaks are notorious for “skimping” and he wants a full meal.  I say he’s doing a dangerous dance and is likely just messing up “the ratio.”  Please advise.  Whitney Whizz, Ardmore, PA.

A:  I think I’ve covered cheesesteak construction pretty extensively over the years, but for the benefit of new readers, the most important parts of a cheesesteak are #1–roll,  #2–cheese/meat ratio, and #3–overall meat quality and flavor.  You can eat filet cheesesteaks all you want, but that choice meat doesn’t make it a better sandwich than your typical rib eye.  You paid 13 dollars and maybe it was good, but if it wasn’t on the proper roll, or if it was mis-cheesed then you’ve made a very big mistake.  My basic thoughts on extra meat are it’s an option to do at some place that doesn’t make a great cheesesteak.  If you are getting an average product, at least pack that thing with beef.  I’ve found the extra meat is never properly cheesed and you end up with a loose, crumbly layer of meat on top of the sandwich.  It falls out, it doesn’t taste as good, and it gives you an idea of what a plain steak sandwich might taste like.  My god, who would EVER order that?  Inevitably, the best bite is next to last one when you’ve worked your way into the base of the roll where the cheese tends to gather.  Finally you get what you’re looking for, but this is what a good cheesesteak can do on every bite.  Is John’s in Frazer great because of the bread, or because “Chris” is a master cheese ratio man?  Toss-up.  When I order a cheesesteak, I’m looking for a distinct taste and experience.  I’m not expecting the Carnegie Deli.  I’m going to side with Whit on this one.  

Q:  What takes more athleticism, dunking a basketball or quickly recalibrating the shower temperature after a flush, or similar incident without burning yourself or suffering an embarrassing injury?  John Commode, Omaha, NE.

A:  I can’t dunk a basketball, but I feel like both of these require great instincts.  You just do what comes natural.  My shower doesn’t have a problem with flushed toilets, but the temperature shoots around in all directions on a whim.  The hot and cold faucets are MOSTLY DECORATIVE.  When I feel that first scalding drop of water it’s a calculated process.  Divert the shower head, duck and lean around the stream, adjust the faucet and then ESCAPE to the safety of the back of the shower.  All this happens in a split second and while you are compromised by your own nudity.  Assuming you are in your own shower and not the one at sleepover camp where everyone is in swimming trunks.  Everyone has that concern about the shower fall in the back of their heads.  So humiliating.  I say all this, because I do understand your question.  But, like I said, I cannot dunk a basketball.  I’m not even sure if I can fan the bottom of the net at this point.  The move in the shower is a SKILL that requires precision, like shooting billiards.  The dunk is still more athletic.  

 

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.

Everything You Need to Know About the Tournament (From Someone Who Doesn’t Watch College Basketball)

Just, No.

Just, No.

I used to watch college basketball.  Closely.  Perhaps you remember my list of hated and loved players from a few years back.  There were a lot of random names on that puppy.  I developed relationships with teams and players.  This year?  I feel like my exposure has been limited to seeing the #1 team lose on Sportscenter once or twice a week.  Indiana, Duke, Michigan, Louisville, all these teams got to the top and then they’d promptly lose.  Usually to a lesser conference opponent, mostly in ugly fashion.  Hell, Villanova, my part-time bandwagon knocked off three top-5 teams this year.  Spoiler alert: Villanova’s terrible.  A high ranking this year has just been a license to lose.  Speaking of a license to lose, you probably aren’t going to win your NCAA pool.  It’s just too wide open.  Here are some mistakes I’ll probably make, you can try to avoid them.  

1.  Don’t pick Gonzaga.  Gonzaga has so much going against them.  They’re the #1 team in the country.  They are a former Cinderella, but worst of all?  They’ve finally earned the respect of the pundits.  Whenever you hear someone in the Jay Bilas species utter, “Absolutely, Gonzaga can win a National Championship,” you just cross them off your list.  Gonzaga last made the Elite Eight in 1999.  They’ve made the sweet 16 just twice in the last eleven years.  They could lose in the 2nd round, and if they don’t they’re definitely losing in the Sweet 16.  

2.  Don’t pick the team that’s randomly good, AKA, don’t pick Miami.  Remember when Iowa St had Marcus Fizer and they were a #2 seed?  I could be mixing Iowa St. teams, but the point is, people got enamored with picking Iowa St.  Oooh, that’s different.  They forgot they were picking Iowa St.  Is Iowa St. going to make the Final Four?  Of course not.  Just like Missouri last year and now Miami this year.  Teams have to be prepared to handle a top seed.  Miami isn’t.  

3.  Don’t pick teams that can’t score.  For example, Georgetown.  Georgetown is 247th in the NCAA in points per game.  Did you know 247 schools played basketball?  Now you do.  Georgetown is 25-6, played great in a tough conference and deserves a 2-seed, but teams like this are ripe for an upset.  They play close games.  If another team gets hot, or god forbid Georgetown comes out cold and can’t knock down a shot?  Adios.  Defense doesn’t win NCAA championships.  

4.  Don’t pick Kentucky.  Seriously, don’t.  They didn’t make the field.  

5.  Don’t get carried away with your rooting interests.  If your brother is the 14th man on Indiana, OK, go ahead and put them in the Final Four, but otherwise you shouldn’t throw away your chances with loyalty.  Sure, it’s fun to say, “Well, anyone could win, so I’m taking La Salle!”  Go Explorers!  There is that brief moment of hilarity when you see La Salle listed as your champion, and then they get blown out in the 1st round.  Fun’s over.  You just became dead money.  For the Philly crowd, the local schools are going nowhere this year.  Nowhere.  

6. Respect the right coaches.  If you are going to pick teams by their coach, you need to know which coaches win regularly and which coaches win only when they have mind-boggling talent.  Roy Williams?  Talent only.  Coach Cal?  Lost his ability to coach when Nerlens blew out his knee.  Mark Few? Forgot how to coach.  If you are going to back a coach, make sure it’s someone like Tom Izzo, or Bo Ryan, or pardon me while I find the nearest vomit receptacle–Coach K.  

7. Don’t vary your pools too much.  Here’s a common scenario.  Someone says, “Well I’ve got Indiana in one, Duke in another, randomly have VCU in one, and then in my main one I’ve got Louisville.”  What is the most likely outcome?  Every single one of them loses.  My theory is, if you happen to get lucky enough to fill out a winning pool, wouldn’t it be nice to win them all?  That way, you’ve really earned some cushion to wait for the next time you fall ass backwards into some good fate.  

8. Don’t pick Duke, Michigan, Indiana or Ohio State.  This is my tentative Final Four.  So, you’re welcome.  Probably want to go to ESPN and see who Dick Vitale picked and cross those names out as well.  You’ll be on your way.  Congratulations on winning your pool.  

The Picks:  I’ll be picking games for the 1st round (against the spread) on Wednesday.  Everyone knows real sharps make their money on individual games.  So, look forward to that.  

The Pool:  We do have the 3PT Pool up and running again this year.  It’s free.  I encourage multiple entries and profane team names.  Maybe you’ll get a prize if you win, maybe you won’t.  But, if you are going to win one pool this year, it’ll probably be the free one.  If you win and I see you, I’ll buy you a beer.  Or, I think I have a sleeve of Titleist Professionals lying around.  To join (if you played last year, you should have gotten an email)….

If you didn’t get an email, go here.  

The Group ID is:72893

The Password is: stopit

If you are having any problems, let me know and I can send you an official invite.  But seriously, it’s simple, try to sort it out on your own.  

Because There’s No Saturday Delivery: The Mailbag.

Z.Jay69@gmail.com?

Z.Jay69@gmail.com?

Yesterday was Geno Smith’s pro day at West Virginia.  A pro day is essentially a beauty pageant for a top NFL prospect.  What I’ve never understood is why teams put so much stock into these performances.  You have QBs, running around without pads, throwing scripted routes to familiar receivers.  What about an NFL game is anything like that?  Would you go to a driving range and watch guys hit 5-irons to decide who you’d want to make a crucial 8-foot putt for you with 20,000 people ringing the 18th green at Augusta?  I understand there are certain throws that a QB has to be able to make, but hasn’t he made them over the course of his college career in game situations?  To me, QB pro days are just chances for NFL scouting guys to fall in love with players they’re dying to love on the players’ terms.  We’ll see if Geno Smith, now likely a high 1st round pick, can live up to his tantalizing performance from Thursday.  Anyway, a mailbag, which may or not be the blog’s equivalent of a pro day…

Q:  I’m sure you’ve noticed that a lot of people use their birth year or another significant date in their email addresses.  It’s not terribly creative, but what can you do?  My question is, what’s the protocol when you’re born, married, graduated in 1969?  Sean Carter, Brooklyn, NY.

A:  I haven’t created a new email address in a while, but it’s always a bit of a struggle.  How exciting was it when Gmail debuted and there was a chance you could get your actual name?  Damn, that could make you feel important.  Oh, my email address?  It’s just MY NAME at Gmail.  Let the significance of that waft over you.  It’s a bit like having had your grandpappy sail over on the Mayflower.  But, so few of us can get our names, and so there must be modifications.  The question is, what do you want these modifications to say about you?  I see a good number of email addresses and I ALWAYS draw some type of conclusion.  That’s just my way.  I saw an email the other day that was like, Scuzzzylax99…I’m serious.  There was an extra “z.”  Extra letters, especially z’s and x’s are HUGE red flags.  But, getting back to significant years, it is a common practice in email addresses.  Should people born in 1969 be excluded?  I like to be inclusive, but you’ve got to be aware of the general immaturity of society.  Think about how many people are sullying your birth year as they log into various websites of ill repute.  In the end, if I’m a ’69er–so to speak–I think I’ve got to use the full year.  ThreePuttTerritory1969@gmail.com.  Someone check the availability of that for me?  

Q:  Do you ever wish grocery stores were a little more honest with their meat packing?  Everyone knows the fat and the junk is shoved underneath the chicken breast, right?  Couldn’t we just be more honest about it?  Tuck Ribmeat, Houston, TX

A:  This practice doesn’t really bother me with chicken, but with steaks and pork chops it can be a real nightmare.  In an ideal world, your meat isn’t coming in a prepackaged container, but who has the money for that?  I can’t pay to have my meat grass fed, bottle nursed and hand-trimmed.  You’ve got to make certain sacrifices or sometimes you’re just in a time crunch.  There have been times when I’ve gotten a pork chop home from the store, turned it over and found  out it’s the ass end of the loin and there’s a huge vein of fat running through the thing.  It makes me SEE RED.  I want to take the offending piece of meat back to the store and slap someone in the face with it.  DOES THIS LOOK LIKE CENTER CUT?  So, with certain meats you must be very careful.  But, at the end of the day, I think we’ve come to a compromise with the grocery store butcher.  It’s a game, a little dance we do.  Do you really want your chicken packaged haphazardly?  Don’t you want to see those breasts front and center?  I think you do.  

Q: Ever wonder how much of a pain in the ass it would be to have long hair?  I can’t even begin to think about the agony it must cause.  Everyone who has long hair must think it looks better, right?  Surely there’s nothing practical about it.  Buzz Cutte, Dallas, TX.

A:  My hair is a little long right now–for me.  I’m not throwing it into a pony tail or french braid or anything.  Yesterday it was very windy.  I walked out to my car, was outside for a grand total of 45 seconds and my hair was all over the place.  It looked like I had just emerged from a cave after a two year hibernation.  I had to quickly piece it back together to try and look presentable.  Luckily for me, my hair kind of falls back into place, but if you have long hair can a stiff breeze ruin your whole look?  Does hairspray or some type of “product” work in this situation?  I keep my locks product free.  The last time I used anything was an ill-advised mousse phase in ~4th grade.  I like my hair luxurious, not the texture of raw pasta.  There are so many drawbacks to long hair where do you start?  I couldn’t deal with the heat.  I’d spend all summer saying, “GET  THIS SH*T OFF MY NECK!”  And, then drying it after a shower?  Another nightmare.  So, I really don’t think anyone has long hair for practical reasons.  It’s gotta be for the look.  And I think most of us probably appreciate a nice long hairstyle on someone from time to time.  We should be more grateful for their sacrifices.  

Q:  Would you rather have a good caddy, who’s a know-it-all and a bit of a prick, or just nice a kid to carry your bag around who’s mostly clueless?  Spalding Smails, Bushwood, IL

A:  Caddies are a bit of a mystery.  So few people who play golf get the experience of taking a caddy on a regular basis.  They are an upper class golf accessory.  And for people who get to take a caddy every once in a while, they often aren’t comfortable.  It’s another reminder that you are out of your comfort zone, or it’s one more pair of eyes on your hideous golf game.  You’ll often see golfers apologizing to their caddy if they are a guest at country club.  That’s an odd dynamic, right?  You’re paying the guy to do this job, but apologizing for not being JACK NICKLAUS out there.  Sorry, you had to rake six different spots in that same bunker–here’s an extra twenty.  But assuming you are comfortable and experienced with loopers, which of the above is the better scenario?  In my opinion all caddies are either good or bad, but that doesn’t mean you are going to have a good or bad experience.  Often times the better caddies are the bigger pricks, just because of the elite status they’ve gained in their little world.  They are used to good loops, good pay, and so if they get STUCK with your group, you could end up getting a little bit of attitude.  Of course, there places like Pine Valley, one of the best courses in the world, where the caddies are allegedly encouraged to be critical/sarcastic/generally unimpressed.  Apparently this is part of the experience.  For me, though, golf can be enough of a hassle just trying to hit the shots.  I don’t want to think about my caddy’s mood.  So, if I can’t have a good caddy who is also a good guy (they do exist), then I’d always take the happy idiot.  A couple of good reads isn’t worth four hours of attitude.  

Q: You know how your pets know exactly when it’s time to eat.  To the exact minute?  I always feel for them when we change the clocks.  If humans only ate twice a day and we didn’t have any way to tell time, how close do you think we’d get to the same times every day?  Miss A. Meal, Purina, MO.  

A:  How good are our internal clocks?  I think they’re pretty good, and honestly I think they could be better.  Because we live in a world with alarms and clocks at our disposal it is easy to get pretty relaxed, but I find that I’m one of those people who wake up before their alarm goes off.  It’s annoying in the sense that I rarely maximize my sleep time, but I also very rarely oversleep.  When I come to a minute or two before my alarm is about to go off, that always creeps me out a bit and at the same time I feel very POWERFUL.  Could humans apply this power to their eating schedules?  It must be rough being a pet and having to rely on others for your food.  Hey, PSST, it’s 4 pm.  HEY, how about a little food over here?  Assuming we still were in charge of feeding ourselves, I think we’d probably be slaves to our schedule.  If you were done work and home at 7 pm every night, that’s probably when you’d eat regardless of whether you knew it was 7 pm or not.  If your schedule was less consistent, I guess you’d probably know when it was getting close to 7 pm–you’d get a little stomach rumble, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean you’d eat at that time.  My concise answer is that our guts could help us tell time if we didn’t have clocks, but most of us are probably still too busy to address that hunger at the same time every day.  

Q:  I saw that Seinfeld the other day where George wants to name his kid “Seven,” after Micky Mantle and then another couple steals the name for their own kid.  George, rightfully, is furious.  Do you think real life friends ever disown each other over baby names?  Bob Cobb, Newark, NJ

A:  Great episode.  And, really a fine moment for George.  He’s often so petty, and yet he offered them a second choice for a name, “Soda,” with no hesitation.  Everyone loves soda!  One of my favorite things to do with Seinfeld episodes is to look up the plots.  I HAVE ISSUES.  But, when you think of a Seinfeld episode you usually think of just one of the story lines.  That’s what I do, anyway.  In my memory, that whole episode is about the baby name.  That’s NEVER the case.  For example, this episode was also the one where Jerry’s girlfriend wore the same dress every date and Kramer fixed Elaine’s bad back in exchange for her “girl’s bike.”  Two classic subplots.  And, that’s why Seinfeld is the best sitcom ever.  By a thousand miles.  Getting back to the question, I’m sure this has happened.   People fight over anything.  The only question is, how often does this happen?  Is it prominent?  I have no personal experience, but I think if I had a baby name I liked I might sit on it.  People CANNOT be trusted.  Imagine being the person who thought up Michael?  The epiphany!  Then all of a sudden people are getting named Michael right and left.  Frustrating.  I think there has to be some type of unwritten rule, right?  You can’t name your kid the same name as your friend’s kid?  Unless you have valid familial reasons, or something?  It’s like a first come, first serve thing.  Seriously, say your friend has a 1-year old son named, oh I don’t know, Morty (sticking with the Seinfeld theme), is there any way you can call them up and say, “It’s a boy!  We’re going with Morty!”  That’s a clear violation.  OF SOMETHING.  And, I think the original Morty parents have a right to be pissed.  Whether they get over it or not, I guess that’s up to them.  

Q:  Are you going to have an NCAA pool this year, and how about a prize this year?  

A:  I will set up a pool, as is my custom.  For the stragglers, the downtrodden and the degenerate.  Bring me your tired and weary.  I’m not sure how much action it will get now that I’m semi-Retired.  We’ll see.  Will there be a prize?  We’ve always handed out pride as a trophy for the NCAA’s, but maybe I can think of something.  I’ll try to get the pool information up by Monday Morning at the latest and then I’ll harass people until tip-off next Thursday.  Can’t wait to lose two Final Four teams on day one (again).