This is it, This is March

April 2, 2013

What does it mean for something to be “the best”? Quite simply, it has to be better than all of the competition. Seems easy enough, but deciding the best way to determine a champion for any sport or league, now that’s splitting hairs for us sports fanatics. If you’re a huge baseball fan you might favor the World Series (like myself); a big hockey fan might favor the Stanley Cup Playoffs or an NFL fan might prefer the NFL playoffs, but the thing is, March Madness is the pinnacle; March Madness is it. Even though baseball is my favorite sport, if I had to decide between watching the MLB playoffs and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, I would choose the Tournament without hesitation. There is no doubting that it’s special, but why? Why does the NCAA Tournament appeal to the biggest baseball, football, soccer and hockey fans? Why does it appeal to the people who don’t know the difference between a fumble and a thimble, a basket or a brisket, a bullpen or a ballpoint pen?

Because, like a murder mystery, it’s extremely unpredictable. March Madness is the most exciting event in all of sports because ANYTHING can happen. I mean anything. Florida Gulf Coast University went to the Sweet Sixteen? Wichita State is in the Final Four? Do you know where Florida Gulf Coast is (don’t say “Dunk City”)? It’s in Fort Myers (for those of you who were wondering.)

There is a reason that the president picks a bracket and ESPN shows a segment on it. There is a reason that even the weakest sports fans fill out bracket sheets  (and these fans’ brackets are usually the ones end up best). There is a reason that a DePaul professer projected there was a 1 in 9,000,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s one in nine quintillion, 18 zeros) chance of having a perfect bracket. That is why March is special, it’s unpredictable, it’s your team, the upset and your pick; anything can happen.

Anything you say? Anything can happen? Surely some things are impossible, right? No. (Well yes, a sixteenth seed has never beaten a one seed in the men’s tournament, but aside from that, anything can happen.) Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown this year and reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Florida. Nine-seed Witchita State knocked off number-one-seed Gonzaga before reaching the Final Four. Fourteen-seed Harvard knocked off three-seed New Mexico. Davidson lost to Marquette on the final shot, and then Marquette reached the Elite Eight. No team that makes it to the tournament can be taken lightly.

My bracket’s busted, your bracket’s busted, everyone’s bracket is busted. Not only because of these colossal upsets, but because of the four versus one upsets, the four-five upsets, all of the little upsets that ruin brackets every year. Although the Final Four lineup is not crazy (aside from Wichita State), who out there picked the Final Four correctly? Say aye! No one? Louisville wasn’t a shocker, and one might have picked Michigan to make it, or Syracuse. But both, all three, all four? Extremely doubtful.

Then there’s the tendency to choose “your team” to make some noise in the Tournament. This again decreases your chances in your bracket. Your biased opinions usually come back to bite you. But with a 68 team field, “your team” has a good chance of making it into the Tourney. Even if they are a hopeless 16-seed, the dance is the dance (and not long from now I bet that hopeless team will knock off a one-seed). Wichita State fans were glad they made it into the tournament, and they would have been happy to just beat Pitt  — low-expectations indeed. Then, once they won a game, they were satisfied. Smart fans knew that they were soon going to be out, but all hopeful fans still had hope. All of those fans knew that they were lying to themselves, yet they hung on to their hope.

Wichita State then played number-one seed Gonzaga. And as the game went along, Wichita State players realized it was possible. They prayed they would pull it out; then that prayer turned into a prayer that they wouldn’t choke. Then with ten-seconds left they slapped themselves, made sure it wasn’t a dream, checked the scoreboard, and celebrated. Their thoughts were all about that moment and they weren’t thinking at all about their next game, but when the next game arrived, Wichita State players began to realize that they could go all the way. This time they were playing 13-seeded La Salle. They were favored, and they won. They were now one-win away from the Final Four. “They had a great run,” most fans thought as they headed into their game versus two-seeded Ohio State. Then, Wichita State dominated. Crushed ’em. Ohio State clawed back at the end leaving the Wichita State faithful on the edge of their seats, but Wichita State held on for the victory. Wichita State had earned a spot in the Final Four. Yes, I said it. Reread if you have to. This is the part where the Wichita State fan finishes telling his friends about his awesome dream. When he wakes up. When someone says, “April Fools!” But no, this is reality, or should I say this is Madness, March Madness.

Then there’s my team: Harvard. “Harvard.” When you read the word, Harvard, what do you think? (Whatever you think, I know it’s not basketball.) Well, I’m a huge Harvard Basketball fan (I missed only two home games during the 2012-13 season) and they had a great year. (For their standards at least.) They won the Ivy League title and went to the dance. Successful season, enough said. We’re satisfied. We can go home now. Then on Selection Sunday, Harvard Basketball received an expected tough draw. Harvard fans hoped they would upset a tough New Mexico team; heck, we hoped the broadcasters would mention them on TV. Then they did. I’m paraphrasing, but ESPN broadcaster Doug Gottlieb said, “Look at this New Mexico-Harvard matchup….” Harvard fans watching the selection show were on the edge of their seats to hear about a potential upset “… because I like New Mexico goin’ to the Final Four!” Great. Just great. Then Greg Anthony added, “You’re right, Doug, that New Mexico team is one  that could give Ohio State troubles out of that region.” Well guess what — they didn’t. Harvard didn’t give them that chance.

I remember watching the game. I was in a ratty hotel room. My family and I were on our way back from vacation. We were staying in an airport hotel and we had a 5:00 am flight, requiring a 3:00 am wake up. Well the obvious plan was to go to bed early, get a good rest, sleep on the plane and be done with it. But there was a catch. Harvard had the late game that night: 9:57 pm EST. Just our luck. I knew some way, somehow I needed to see the game. Lights were out by 8:30 pm, but my dad stayed up to watch and he agreed to wake me up for the second half. He shook me awake at 11:00 pm. I groggily walked to the bathroom, then while slipping on a clean shirt, I realized something: it was not time to catch our flight, the Harvard game was on!

I rushed into the other room. My dad gave me the rundown: “Harvard has been winning the whole game and it looks like we have a shot.” A shot. Even then it was just a shot, but it was all we needed to wake ourselves up and get pumped. We had to keep it down, because we were in a room filled with three sleeping kids, and a few hours earlier, my mom had strictly forbidden my dad from waking me up.

New Mexico and Harvard traded blows for much of the second half. With every Harvard basket, we high-fived as quietly as possible. We chatted silently about the game and Harvard, and then by the five-minute mark, all three kids were awake, sitting up in bed asking questions about the game, even cheering loudly occasionally. This resulted in a resounding, “SHHHHH!!” The moment when New Mexico called a timeout in the final few minutes was when I knew; it wasn’t over, but I knew Harvard had more than just a shot. This was it. We were electric, or about electric as you can be at half-past 12. Then there was a minute left, Harvard hit a shot! YES! Now they had much more than just “a shot;” now we were going to win.

When then the final buzzer sounded, freshman point guard Siyani Chambers jumped for joy and slammed the ball on the ground. He was ecstatic. Though just a freshman, he was the team leader. He was all-Ivy first team and Ivy League rookie of the year. This was the second time I had ever seen him smile (the first being when he posed for a picture with my sisters). They had done it. We hugged and cheered (not worrying about disturbing others as the people in the hotel room above us were partying). I walked back to the other room and whispered to my mom that Harvard had won. She was happy too (being the Harvard grad in the family). She whispered, “Really? That’s awesome!” I climbed into to bed and was awoken two hours later.Five hours of sleep, one amazing upset, so worth it!

That is why March Madness is the pinnacle. Because of the fans, the brackets and the upsets. Because all sports fans are fans of March Madness. Even people who can’t tell a basket from a bracelet are fans of March Madness.That is what makes March special. That is why March Madness continues to excite people around the world every year.

This year was crazy, but the craziness isn’t over. Stay tuned for more this weekend as Syracuse and Michigan square off and Wichita State and Louisville take the floor against one another. Then on Monday night a champ will be crowned. This why “March” is rarely used in a sentence without the word “madness” following it. This is it, this is March Madness, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Experience, Not Age

August 28, 2012

After a crushing defeat in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Miami Heat, the Celtics are looking to rebound and show the league they still have what it takes to make a title run. The Celtics had what most called a “solid” draft by picking Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo and Kris Joseph. Sullinger, a big man out of Ohio State, is solid in the paint, but he lacks size at 6′ 8″. Melo, a seven-footer, has had some off-the-court issues, but will add size to a small Celtics roster.

This brings up the first big offseason questions for the C’s. Can they survive against top teams with 6′ 11′ KG at center and 6′ 8′ power forward Brandon Bass manning the middle? Also, starting small forward Paul Pierce is only 6′ 7″. Compared to other top teams such as the Lakers, Bulls, and Heat, we’ll see how they size up.

The Lakers have a 6′ 11″ center in Dwight Howard and a 7′ power forward in Pau Gasol, plus they have exceptional guards (Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant) who can dish it to the low block and keep defenses honest with good three-point shooting.

Next, the Bulls. They are an interesting team in the paint, as they are even smaller than the Celtics. That said, Derrick Rose was still able to lead them to the NBA’s best regular season record in 2011-2012.

Finally, there’s the Heat. They have Chis Bosh manning the middle and a big bench as well. LeBron James can also rebound the ball exceptionally, and James and Wade can get to the basket with ease.

From left, Melo, Sullinger, Joseph

The next burning question for the Celtics is whether or not key additions can contribute and key losses can be adequately replaced. Acquisitions, such as Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and rookies Sullinger, Melo and Joseph, will surely help the team and play important roles. The Celtics will also get Jeff Green back from heart surgery. Lee and Terry will help replace Ray Allen after he signed with the rival Heat, and Green will play a big role as a backup to an aging Paul Pierce and he can also play power forward when needed. This versatility will definitely help an aging team. Sullinger has the potential to be great, but his ailing back let him slip down to number 21 in the draft. This is good news for the Celtics, because they were able to land him with that pick, but he also represents a big question mark heading into the 2012-13 season. Melo and Joseph, both out of Syracuse, have potential to contribute as role players off of the bench if they can stay on the court and earn their time.

Speaking of key acquisitions, another question surrounds whether players can play their roles and do what is best for the team. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee are shooting guards and Rondo and Avery Bradley could play together if necessary at the point. This means less time for other guards. Terry has been known to be a slight “ball hog” and he is certainly not the centerpiece of this team at the moment. Lee is expected to start over Terry, and Rondo over Bradley, but among the guards, only Rondo’s starting job is safe. The good thing about having all of these guards is, if Avery Bradley isn’t healthy, there are many fill-ins ready.

The final and most glaring question is whether or not age will finally catch up to Pierce and Garnett. Many said the glory days were over after the 2009-2010 season and the last two years were icing on the cake, but maybe, just maybe they have one (or two, or five) years left in them to make a serious playoff and title run. Time will tell, but we can only hope. I feel they have one more serious shot to silence the doubters.

Why Not Us?

August 27, 2012

When was the last time that a gymnast was bigger than our beloved Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics or Patriots? Well it’s August, and right now Aly Raisman’s our number one hero, Bobby V’s our worst enemy and the Red Sox aren’t just bad, they’re an embarrassment to the city of Boston to a Detroit Lions 0-16, ’62 Mets, bags over our heads level! Things are getting better, though. The Red Sox made a deal with the Dodgers on Saturday that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers for prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Jeremy Sands (as players to be named later), as well as prospects Allen Webster and Ivan DeJesus, and veteran first baseman James Loney, who is in the last year of his contract.

The Herald’s fitting headline…

Things have improved for the future and for the present. In the last four games, since Gonzalez left the lineup, the Red Sox are 3-1. This is a small sample, but also a good one.

Gonzalez and Beckett were clubhouse bombs, and the Boston Herald fittingly read, “Bums Away.” The Sox truly did lose a great player in Gonzalez, but they have now freed up money to spend on non-whining, non-injury-prone, non-golf playing superstars, and as the deal was completed the Sox dumped around $250 million in salaries and were secretly chuckling at the trade. The Red Sox would have simply given those players away, but instead they received good prospects and a short-term replacement. The Herald also reads, “Let the healing begin!” But most of us didn’t expect instant results. The real question is, can the Sox keep it up and possibly make an historic run to the playoffs and maybe even the World Series? It happened last year, as the Rays caught us in the Wild Card hunt after being eight games out at this point in the season, but maybe the tables have turned for this year and the Sox have enough Fenway magic left to show the doubters how the “new” Sox play ball!

The Red Sox of 2012: A Fan’s Take

April 7, 2012

The playoffs are about to start for the Bruins, and the Celtics are 15-8 after the all-star break and first in the Atlantic division. In those 23 games they have wins against the Knicks, Clippers and the Miami Heat. The Boston College Eagles are in the Division I Hockey Championship with a win against the Minnesota Gophers on Thursday. Well, the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl… UMass made it to the NIT final four… Oh, yeah and that Red Sox team, they started playing again. Didn’t they?

Yes, the Red Sox played the Tigers on Thursday and the Tigers were able to pull out the victory on a walk-off single down the third base line by Austin Jackson. It was a close game throughout and the Tigers were up 2-0 going into the top of the ninth inning. Closer José Valverde came in and the Sox rallied to tie it on a double by Ryan Sweeney.

Jon Lester pitched a gem, giving up one earned run and six hits in seven innings. Lester’s performance was good, but not good enough, as reigning AL Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander’s was better. Verlander gave up two hits and no runs in eight innings.

The Sox haven’t gotten much positive attention since the epic collapse of 2011. Injuries have been an issue for big key players like Carl Crawford and Andrew Bailey, and after the Sox loss on Thursday, even though it really means very little in a 162-game season, fans were reassured that they will be watching the Bruins instead of the Sox for the next month or so as they make a run for the Cup.

In my opinion, the Red Sox are underrated and possibly have the most talent in the Major Leagues. But talent doesn’t win championships. It’s the first step, but not the last piece to the puzzle. The Red Sox will have to combine talent with teamwork, chemistry and a good bullpen. The Sox have the pieces, they just need to fit them together, which I think could lead to a bounce-back year and another run to the World Series!

Here’s the Deal With Long Term Deals

April 3, 2012

Big money deals have been a theme in recent years. Some deals have been as long as ten years and worth over $25 million in a single year — that’s about 500 thousand dollars a week! That’s enough money to send 60 kids to Harvard for four years, buy a five bedroom mansion, and have five million left in the bank to, you know… spend. And you would get that for 10 years in a row! Now it’s great if you’re the one getting the money, but unless you are a Steinbrenner or John Henry, why the heck would you pay that?

So, the Reds signed slugger Joey Votto for ten years, until 2023. By then we will have time travel and flying cars! The top four salaries in the MLB were handed out by the Yankees. The MLB’s top five salaries are all higher than the top salary in the NFL as well as the top salary in the NHL.

Different sports, different markets. Okay, I get it, but in hockey the highest salary is 23 million dollars lower than in MLB, and that’s A LOT of mullah. Most would say the NFL has the biggest market, but the MLB has the richest and most willing owners.

Now if you’re going to give a guy that much money, it’s probably worth it… right? Worth a .255 batting average? Well, Carl Crawford was that and less last year and he is getting paid $142 million over seven years. Alex Rodriguez’s production is decreasing and he is getting paid $33 million a year! Votto’s great, but how about when he’s old and grey and still under contract? These big money deals are a risk, but needless to say, some of these players are worth the price of admission.

The Final Four and Why You Have to Play the Games!

April 1, 2012

By now your bracket is totally busted. Your final four team was bounced in the first round, your sleeper pick showed us all why they were a sleeper in the first place, and an elite few correctly predicted this year’s Final Four (the basketball gods were with them). Congratulations. The one team that many of us have seen coming is Kentucky. They were the number-one ranked team coming into the tournament and forward Anthony Davis won National Player of the Year honors. Two-seed Kansas beat two-seed Ohio State last night. Though these two made it to the Final Four, not all two-seeds were as fortunate.

Two second seeds went down in the first round as national super power Duke lost to to Lehigh. Yup, I said Lehigh, and yes, I said Duke. As in THE Duke Blue Devils coached by THE Coach K! And Missouri lost to Norfolk State. Do you even know where Norfolk State is? These two colossal upsets not only happened in the same tournament, but in the same day! Some may say Ohio State and Kansas got lucky, as they were the two “lucky” number-two seeds who not only survived the first round, but made it to the Final Four.

In the other National Semifinal, the in-state rivalry of Kentucky vs. Louisville was in full swing as Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s squad played against his former team. The schools are separated by 80 miles, but their rivalry seems to make them even closer. The Kentucky Wildcats were simply the better team and beat Louisville, 69-61. Louisville kept it close in the first half due to a seven to one offensive rebounding edge and even tied it, 49-49, at 9:13 in the second half with a Peyton Siva three-pointer. But it’s Kentucky who will go on to play Kansas for the National Championship.

Many fans picked Kentucky to make it this far, and a lot even picked Kansas, but no one predicted the excitement level and bracket-busting upsets that have happened, and I doubt anyone can accurately predict how the championship game will go. March Madness is coming to an end, but its most important game is still to come!

The Greatest Hockey Game I’ve Ever Witnessed: Part II

March 12, 2012

Last night in the ECAC quarterfinals, Harvard played Yale. It was a three game series and Yale had won the first game. Yale jumped out to a quick two-nothing lead. I’m usually not a big Harvard hockey fan, but sitting in the heart of the Yale section right next to the Yale bench, I wanted Harvard to win. Bad.

Like I said, Harvard was down by two. At this time I was about to burst. Tons of Yale fans cheering? I can’t stand it! Harvard wasn’t low on shots, but they were low on goals. Harvard clawed its way back into the game and eventually tied  it up. The intensity was undeniable, as when one Yale player got off the ice after a missed opportunity, he let out a couple of words I cannot repeat and punched the glass. Then Harvard scored an unexpected go-ahead goal in the third period.

Then, with a minute left and the goalie pulled for Yale, the Harvard goalie was pelted by a rain of shots. During a battle in front of the net, Yale was able to shove the puck through the goalie. GOAL! The Yale fans surrounding us were ecstatic. At this time I was convinced there were more Yale fans at the game than Harvard fans (the game was being played in Cambridge). The clock later expired and overtime followed.

The first OT was a stalemate as both sides peppered the keeper with intensity, but the score remained 3-3. Then, the second OT started and the shots came flooding back in on the respective goalies. At one point the Harvard net minder had a sequence of many incredible saves to keep the game tied. After a long and nerve wracking half of a period, Harvard went on the power-play, much to the Yale fans’ dismay, as shouts like “You happy now?” and “Let ’em play!” came from the Yale supporters aimed at the ref. In reality there were an equal amount of Yale and Harvard penalties.

During Harvard’s power-play there was a scrum in front of the net as both teams scrambled frantically for the puck. Then, out of nowhere, the puck spurted out from the pile. The Harvard defenseman, Dan Ford, skated in and BOOM! Game over! He scored on a slap shot right over the pile of bodies in front of the net. I went crazy as the Yale fans departed with dismay.

Harvard won the next day, 8-2, and advanced to the semifinals to play Cornell in Atlantic City on Friday night. I’m looking forward to Harvard making a run for the ECAC title!

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