NCAA

The best extended weekend of the sports year has come and gone and we must now wait a calendar year for the madness of March to grip us again.

Every year, there are busted brackets and Cinderella stories and last second buzzer beaters. And each year, we act as if we’ve never seen this before.

Syracuse has played a 2-3 zone defense with trapping tendencies for decades. As a fan of the old Big East, I would watch the Orange at least twice a year and the same strategy that’s won in the past works today.

A forward at the hi-post is the ultimate solution; forcing the back line to react to his shot and causing the top guards to look in. This allows shooters to roam and quick passes leads to open shots.

However, despite the prolific scoring capabilities of Arizona State, TCU and Michigan State; they all fell prey to the allure of the 2-3. Passing around the top of the zone, allowing the shot clock to become the 6th defender; then hoisting up a long 3-pointer.

Coached by Tom Izzo, I believed the Spartans would be prepared. Jaren Jackson is a 6-11 highly-recruited freshman that I falsely assumed would live at the hi-post.

Instead Izzo turned to Ben Carter, a 6-9 graduate student who finished with 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists. His numbers weren’t as telling as the team stat showing they had 29 offensive rebounds and just 17 actual shots made.

Whether made or not, all shots at the end of they game should be defended. But with the lone exception of Michigan’s game-winner to beat Houston, everyone else seemed to get an open look.

With all the upsets Sunday, the South regional bracket becomes the first of its kind since the NCAA began inviting 64 teams to the Big Dance. The lack of a top seed means Kentucky is favored to reach the Final Four.

But that’s exactly why it could be even harder since all the pressure that wasn’t on them is now squarely painted on their collective backs. A young team that bonded together after a four-game losing streak.

Wildcats coach John Calipari shared that Monday on PTI. He also made a great point. In a bracket full of the winners of proverbial ‘upsets’, those teams are very likely playing their best basketball of the season. Plus, they’ve got nothing to lose and that’s the truth.

 

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PTI

I watch Pardon The Interruption like my forefathers would watch the 6 p.m. nightly news. I was with it from the very beginning in October of 2001 when I was working in Missouri. It served as a connection to those I left in the East and the West.

The show is still on today because the format was revolutionary with its simplicity, taking what was already done and doing it so well that the industry was forced to adjust and mimic.

It was copied openly by Fox Sports and modestly by countless other sports networks. But while the style was important, the banter between Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon is what puts it over the top.


Monday, Sept. 27, 2010 — Washington, D.C. — ABC Bureau Studios — The debut of Pardon the Interruption in high definition with co-hosts Tony Kornheiser (l) and Michael Wilbon

It’s two respected journalists debating a specific topic intelligently and with passion with a clock ticking down in the background. The two argued as natural friends do, a key to it that seemingly hasn’t been understood, hence the problem.

See, when you argue with a friend, you tend to not hold back. But you still respect the person across from you, so regardless what is said in the moment you’re still friends afterwards. A true friend knows the lines you can and can’t cross.

That is essentially what is wrong with most of the versions of the show. A structured argument with numerous topics is what you get, but when missing the ‘between friends’  part things eventually don’t work.

Things haven’t necessary worked for many of the attempts, but it does work to some extent. And work makes money. It’s the root of all evil and what polutted the 6 p.m. nightly news a generation ago.

In the mid-1950s there was an emphatic shift in network advertising to firms manufacturing small-ticket consumer … television sponsorship was useful not for corporate identification, but solely for product advertising.

Sole sponsors like General Motors and Texaco slowly went away and the pursuit of more cash led to more sponsors and a realization that the network news division could be looked to make just as much money as the entertainment division.

Or maybe it was just that the men and women that used to provide the news were ‘trusted’. Walter Cronkite was considered the most trusted man in America for a good 10-15 years starting in the 1960s. And for 20 years, the Big 3 trotted out Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather.

And then…

The vacuum was filled not by anchors but channels. Cable, the 24-hour ability suddenly extended away from just specific goods and services to public personal entertainment. And even with this, sports came first as ESPN launched September 7, 1979; CNN June 1, 1980.

That information was read at Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that provides general information on any topic. While it is free-format and open to the public, we all seemingly accept what it says to be true. The same would have once been the network news, but no more.

If no one trusts, then no one is willing to hear an opposing side. In business, you don’t trust the other person. But you do have some form of respect, otherwise you wouldn’t be doing business with them at all.

Kornheiser and Wilbon have that trust and we enjoy their arguments, regardless what they are talking about.

But they do get it right. Kornheiser says it right from the beginning; anyone can have a show. And since this format was successful, anyone can argue about anything and that will serve as entertainment. So news shows don’t just provide the news anymore.

They provide varying opinions about the news, arguing back and forth in short timed segments and move on to another topic. And while PTI is just 30 minutes, some networks have 24 hours they’re looking to fill.

And since there is no trust, there is no universally accepted base for everyone like Cronkite and the Big 3 provided. So instead of a solid wood block of information, you get Play-do that you can craft and create into whatever narrative you want.

And while there’s merit in saying you should always craft your own narrative, there is only one North Star. If you wake up thinking Beta Camelopardalis or Alpha Cephei is Polaris, then all your decisions are off-center and that’s the truth.

Madness

I’ve never truly followed the NBA, but I love watching basketball. When I was in high school, I served as the in-house anouncer for our varsity and it was an honor.

I was still playing at the time, if you could call it that. I recognized my lack of skills and just tried to hustle. I hustled my way into a radio booth in college, calling play by play for both the Terriers and Lady Terriers.

During this time, I was watching basketball and following college basketball. In North Jersey, you either rooted for St. John’s, Syracuse or Georgetown. Rutgers was never on that list until your classmates started attending class there.

Following college basketball was perfect. It started up at the end of baseball season and winded down around Spring Training. I really invested in Georgetown with Alonzo Mourning and doubled down with the arrival of Allen Iverson.

The return of John Thompson in the form of his son and the Final Four run with Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert. Yes, the flame outs and disappointing seasons were what they were, but that was never enough to not pay attention.

Until it wasn’t.

I’ve faded back some over the past few years and this year, I didn’t watch at all. There’s no longer a daily Sportscenter addiction, so I have remained functionally ignorant. And now it’s March.

Now is the time when anyone and everyone puts together a bracket using whatever strategy they deem in the moment. The beauty is within the frustration that Phil’s Mom can have as much success at this as Dick Vitale.

And since I’ve already admitted to not really paying attention, I’ve got three sure fire tips to fill out a March Madness Bracket you can be proud of.

1) Pick a style and stick with it. If you went to Wake Forest, believe the ACC is the best conference and foresee two if not three teams reaching the Final Four, don’t pick Miami to lose because you don’t believe they’re a ‘true’ ACC school. Same thing goes if you’re picking via mascots. So what is you don’t know what a Shocker is and how it would fare against a Wildcat; make a choice and stick with it because…

2) There are no do-overs. There are numerous outlets that want you to post your bracket with them. Thus, you have an opportunity to hedge your picks, selecting the 7 seed on one and the 10 seed in another. While this sounds like a good idea, in the end you’ll be upset if one bracket would have been better but for the one pick you hedged on. I know that from experience and from the Rule of Potential Inevitability; a phrase I just crafted that’s similar to Murphy’s Law. If you are counting on a certain pick, it’s sure to lose. Which leads to…

3) Win or lose, have fun. It’s known as madness for a reason. It’s not sane. Crazy is bound to happen, so the best thing to do is just enjoy three games, preferably with friends and a cold one and that’s the truth.

Dead Zone

I was recently referred to as a former sports writer and didn’t buck back. Granted, while I’m paid to write, per say, the only place where I can about sports is here and I haven’t.

So why not?

Because, to borrow a Stephen King book title, this is The Dead Zone. But instead of Christopher Walken with psychic abilities, it’s the section of the sporting season where little to nothing is happening and everyone is searching for stories.

The Winter Olympics came and went, as they always do. Once the NHL signed a contract with NBC Sports, they fell off the national radar, only to briefly reappear for the final rounds of the playoffs. Only hardcore NBA fans care about the Association before April and without a true dominate team and/or player, college basketball becomes a conference-specific sport that will be fascinating once the Madness begins…

But it hasn’t yet.

So what remains is the NFL Combine, which only receives the unnecessary attention it does because it’s placed within this Dead Zone and football has long passed baseball as the National Pastime. But sadly, this draft runs into a similar issue as college basketball.

There are a bunch of good players, some really good players, but none that anyone admits is a can’t miss prospect. For those that can remember back to January, the sport was once again dominated by Nick Saban’s Tuscaloosa turnstile, a mechanism that generates championships regardless of the circumstances.

So it’s easy to forget that a freshman quarterback came off the bench to start the third quarter and beat another freshman quarterback for the national title. In Overtime, no less. But I dare you to name five players from either team.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

If you can, you’re a college football die-hard and are eagerly anticipating spring practices. And when it comes to practicing in the spring, that’s exactly what I’m overly excited about.

Yes, I’m watching spring training baseball games. Not just watching, but have made it appointment viewing, planning my day around being in front of a mobile device for a 1:05 p.m. first pitch. I know I’m watching minor league players that may never reach Citi Field. Yes, starting pitchers are throwing 25-40 pitches at most and any slight injury can shelf someone for a couple of weeks since it won’t be a couple of weeks until they truly need to be ready.

But I’m still watching.

It beats thinking about the New York Giants and the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft. Thinking about the fact that while the world has decided they need a quarterback, none of the candidates seem worth it…with the exception of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. But it also seems like they could trade down and get him in the middle of the first round or later.

But why delve into the deep list of issues with my favorite NFL team, one that won’t start practicing for like six months when I’ve got six months of baseball to get prepared for…by watching them practice now.

I get to see guys like Zach Borenstein, a 27-year old with a career .283 average in the minor leagues that reminds me of Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and other barrel-chested sluggers that seem more suited to DH than anything else; a blight that’s been repeated time and time again by the Sandy Alderson regime.

This same regime has watched two of my favorite players come up with similar skill sets and let them go. Justin Turner was a journeyman minor leaguer, bouncing around organizations before joining the Mets for a cup of coffee in 2010. His versatility in the field earned him 117 games and his bat (30 doubles in 2011) kept him on the major league roster.

Two year later, he was signed as a free agent for $1 million dollars by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He rewarded them by batting .340.

Batting was the lone reason Daniel Murphy was in the League. His position has changed, starting in the outfield and moved to first base before it was decided that a .290 batter wasn’t good enough without being a home run threat. The team shifted him to second base where he continued to hit for a high average.

But in the absurd longing for a long ball hitter, Murphy wasn’t deemed valuable enough to keep. It will go down as one of the worse management decisions for a franchise that traded the pitcher nicknamed “The Franchise” for Doug FlynnSteve HendersonDan Norman and Pat Zachry.

So instead of thinking back, I think forward and wonder if Kevin Kaczmarski is the next high average/high on-base guy without an ideal position to get moved before his time. Is Brandon Nimmo’s smile and knack to get on base enough to keep him around, despite the gluttony of outfielders clogging Queens at the moment?

I would rather worry about these silly questions, questions that will be answered within the next couple of weeks, than think about who will win an award for movies I haven’t seen, songs I don’t like or a gun control policy that’s long been paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of the thousands that have come before, crying about the same injustice to the same deaf ears.

It’s an abrupt change of topic, but the answer is a simple one. Every American has three fundamental things to do during their time here: Pay your taxes, Vote and Die. The best way to affect change is to do number two and that’s the truth.

Run

Every key I stroke reminds me of my hatred for running.

See, the palm of my right hand has a scrap, one one would get when they’re falling to the ground and use their hands to prevent themselves from falling face first.

Obviously, that’s what happened to me this morning. Luckily, it happened at 5:15 a.m., so there was no one there to record the event and I wasn’t close enough to the restaurant parking lot to warrant an ambulance chasing attorney to be interested in representing me.

No, I just tripped attempting to lift my legs back onto the sidewalk that was blocked off due to construction. Construction! Construction that’s been going on for what feels like more than a month.

And for what exactly? What exactly are they constructing on the corner of a sidewalk behind a restaurant on a hidden road that few people know about and even less use?

I know they haven’t done anything because this construction has been an inpeedment in the route I’ve been running recently. I think it’s important, if you hate running, to have a good route.

I can’t run on a treadmill. I need nature and outside when I’m doing what I hate. Because when you’re outside, you can take knowledge in when something is coming up, like the end of the run.

When I was a college freshman, the route the Army ROTC soldiers made us run was basically up Commonwealth Ave from Kennmore Sqaure to the BU Bridge.

The summer before I went to college, I knew I was going to be running ROTC, so I started running around my home town. But honestly, I never found a good route. I was going up big hills early and didn’t take advantage of the park right in front of my house.

Either way, that version of me running lasted a semester. After that, I still ran, but there was something else sporting involved. A lot of sprints up and down the basketball court have to count for something right?

But distance running, running for the sake of running, I didn’t return to that until I reached Atlanta. Recently laid off and collecting unemployment are fun ways to spend time, but it leaves a lot of free time. I chose to spend some of that running.

That first route was a good one, but it lacked sidewalks. When you’re running, unless you’re on a trail or in a horror film, sidewalks are your feet’s best friends. OK, probably not, but it’s great to run not having to worry about a car coming fast behind you.

That was the big issue with my birthday 5K for a couple of years. I would leave the house and run to my daughter’s elementary school. It’s about a mile away and to complete the loops, you have to run down a busy two-lane road with no sidewalks.

The only saving grace was the time I choose to run; early in the morning means few people and even fewer cars on the road. But my new route doesn’t have that worry.

It’s a sidewalk dominated route, starting with a gradual decline before slowly rising in elevation before hitting a traffic-heavy street with commerce on either side of the road. There’s a construction sign blocking the sidewalk here as well, but there’s also grass to allow pedestrians to walk around.

Where the cones and sign and upheaved earth have destroyed the corner of the sidewalk behind the restauraant’s parking lot, there is no grass. There is only a street one must enter into, then return back over the curb to get back to the sidewalk.

I stand on my soap box and point to this blight for the mothers pushing their babies in strollers, diaper bag handing from the handles with a sippy cup and some snacks in a plastic bag in the cup holders by the brake.

She is just trying to get her baby outside to enjoy the day, enjoy nature and the commercial aspects of the main road moments from their townhome. All she wants is to provide for her child and give it something it can remember in its old age…

I’m also speaking for the guy who tripped over the curb and scrapped his palm, tearing skin off below his knee and upset that there wasn’t a band-aid big enough to cover the entire wound and that’s the truth.

Something To Do

It started with a conversation between co-workers that evolved to searching for something for men to do that didn’t require alcohol to exist. Women can go to a beauty salon and get a variety of things done. They can go to a spa, a yoga studio or just shopping.

While men obviously have all those options, it’s not a customary action. While I could go to the barber shop and sit around, it’s not something I would gather friends to go do.

Taking the alcohol out of the equation eliminates Norm, Cliff and the entire Cheers mentality; so bars, taverns, breweries, growlers and your local speakeasy are out. That includes night clubs too.

Pool halls would fit, but they have lost the luster of the 1950s and are relegated to a couple of tables near a bar. Bowling is another activity that can be done sans alcohol, but as a fan of The Big Lebowski, I know better.

For the past century, the easy answer would be baseball. If you’re willing to watch semi-pro and minor league talent, there’s always a game going starting from February through August. But every year, more and more Americans are born with no love for the former ‘National Pasttime’.

Golf is loved by less, but has the proverbial leader in the club house with the driving range. The example of this in action is TopGolf, essentially a driving range with a scoring system, TVs and wait staff to deliver you food. They also can bring liquor, but it’s not necessary.

Either way, the intial issue still only has a couple of viable options. To this, I proposed changing out rolling or clubbing balls for cards and dominos.

It would require technology similar to the previously popular World Series of Poker broadcasts that allowed viewers to see the hands of the players. Obviously something would be needed to eliminate cheating, but part of the appeal is guests would be able to either play or watch.

During the past four NBA All-Star Weekend, Dwayne Wade and STANCE have hosted a Spades Tournament. But that’s a one-time event with celebrities and important people searching to be seen serving as exterior entertainment. My locations would require something else; whether that means using the tech for other games like dominos, VR video games or batting cages.

Of course it would have a kitchen and a bar, but you don’t need to drink to play or watch cards. You certainly don’t want to be drinking if you’re throwing an ax.

I’ll let that lat sentence sink in.

The essence of my idea is another location where men can gather without alcohol being the centerpiece. An ax throwing club would fit that formula.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the only ax throwing establishment in the greater Atlanta area. Bad Axe Throwing has also has locations in Toronto, Ottawa, San Francisco and Brooklyn to name a few.

There are broadcast network videos stating this has been a trend for at least a year. But needless to say, this speaks to a specific audience.

But I must admit, now I kinda want to throw an ax and that’s the truth.

Witness

I’m getting old and the world has changed. I feel it in the water, so I drink bottled as They do. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.

Much that once was is lost. For those who lived and remember the NFL in the 1980s are a dying breed. We get older every day and get one step closer. But the moments we recall are ancient history to those that follow.

And like any generation, we’re living and witnessing some of the greatest athletes of all time. Every generation gets athletes they are able to say, “My old guy is better than your young guy.”

I’m willing to wager those in Ancient Rome had a favorite gladiator, 14th century Mexican grandfathers spoke to their sons about a Ullamaliztli player they saw and we will talk about those we see now.

And we’ve seen some of the GOATs, or at least those in the conversation. Like Bonds. Like Federer. Like Serena.

Like LeBron?

With the Super Bowl over, I can focus completely on the New York Mets. College basketball is about to get interesting and I can put the NBA on the back burner until after Opening Day for the start of the playoffs on April 14.

But last week, the Cleveland Cavaliers traded people I can remember from last year’s playoffs for four guys I had never heard of. It was a great move for both the Cavs organization and the Los Angeles Lakers, the team LeBron is rumored to be going to next year.

It wasn’t a great move for Isiah Thomas. He was a Top 3 MVP player LAST YEAR and between an injury and ‘attitude’, he’ll be on his fourth team for way less than he thought he would get in the fall.

The 30 for 30 on him is going to be amazing. And there’s likely going to be a moment similar to watching Montell Jordan say he had to give up the Masters to “This Is How We Do It” on TV One’s Unsung.

But what LeBron is about to do is the action that ends any and all arguments. Whether you knew, cared or had never heard of; if LeBron James takes a brand new team with a bunch of parts and not only reaches his 8TH STRAIGHT FINALS but beats the Golden State Warriors, he goes past Jordan, Magic and Russell and it’s not disputable.

That’s the history I’m hoping for. That’s the kind of thing you want to recall, you want to remember and be able to say I was here or doing this when this happened.

Everyone has it for their favorite team. The time they did something. Sometimes it’s as cool as winning it all. For many, it’s not. I’m sure there’s a book about the Boston Red Sox and The Curse and all that, but there are Detroit Lions fans that have never seen a championship, so they remember Barry Sanders and what should have been.

But we’re all going to remember this when it happens and that’s the truth.