Hooray for the big underdogs Loyola Chicago

As sports fans, we love sports teams who overachieve. There is a major feel good sports story going on that has pretty much captured the hearts of many fans in this country. How many people actually had Loyola Chicago going to the final four in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? If you did, you are almost guaranteed to win your office pool and I have to take my hat off to you for making such a brave pick. This tournament is known for so-called “Cinderella teams” and I cannot recall a team in the history of the tournament more deserving of that title than this team which pretty much came out of nowhere to shock the nation.

College basketball has had a rough year with talk of scandals hovering over the sport. Many of these scandals involve the big named schools such as Arizona and Louisville. Corruption and big money is threatening to ruin the sport. I have long been a critic of big-time college basketball. It is nothing but an ever-increasing battle between schools to get the top recruits in the land so schools get more revenue added to their coffers. Players attend these big name schools for one year then bolt for the NBA. In the process, they never attend class. The whole system is a joke! The term “student athletes” doesn’t apply to many of the players.

Just when I lost faith in the sport, along comes a team like Loyal of Chicago. They did not play in some ritzy conference like the Pac 12, ACC, Big East or Big Ten. Instead they play in some little known conference called the Missouri Valley Conference. I don’t know of many networks who are knocking down the doors to televise games from that conference. Furthermore, many of the conference’s players are not known for serious blue chip talent. Not to say that some players will end up in the NBA, but a top-notch high school All American will hardly be swayed to play at Northern Iowa or Loyola of Chicago. That is why it is so refreshing to see these small and little known conferences have this type of success. They are the little guys of college basketball and we sports fans love the little or forgotten guys of the sport.

Programs like Loyal of Chicago are what college basketball should be all about. A majority of their players will not play in the NBA after graduating. They play like a TEAM with a bunch of guys who not seeking to impress a bunch of NBA scouts. How can you not root for a team like them? I will be rooting hard for Loyal Chicago to win the championship even though it means my bracket will be further busted. They represent a fresh of breathe air in the troubled sport of college basketball. Go Ramblers!


A few thoughts on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

About 19 days ago, 68 teams started what is a late winter, early spring tradition in this country. Today, only 2 teams remain for a shot at winning the national men’s collegiate division 1 basketball championship. The finalists for tomorrow night’s championship game should come as no surprise to anyone. Both North Carolina and Gonzaga are extremely talented teams who are number one seeds in their regions. It should be a very entertaining and fascinating match up. As is my tradition, I have a few thoughts on what I have seen for the past 3 weeks.

1) The bracket buster team of the tournament.  So how many of you geniuses had South Carolina going to the final four? If you did, you are extremely lucky. South Carolina is the classic team that gets hot at just the right time. Their upset of Duke really busted a number of brackets including yours truly.

2) Biggest upset of the tournament. Wisconsin beating Villanova probably was the biggest one in my opinion. The South Carolina upset of Duke ranks a close second and let’s not forget Oregon’s upset of Kansas in one of the region finals. Kansas was a very hot team and it was extremely surprising to see Oregon pull that one off.

3) Best game of the tournament. There were 2 games that really stood out in my mind. The East semi-final game between Wisconsin and Florida was a classic had a couple of memorable shots at the end of regulation and overtime. The game between Kentucky and North Carolina won by Carolina at the buzzer ranks up there too. Both games will be talked about for years to come and were very delightful to watch.

4) Best performance of the tournament.  De’Aaron Fox’s performance against UCLA is the winner. If I were a pro scout, I would keep a close eye on this kid. He is going to be a good one.

5) Most memorable scenes of the tournament. Nearly every tournament has some scene or happening that defines that year’s tournament. For example, Jimmy V running around looking to hug someone after NC State dramatically won the title in 1983. Or the aftermath of Christian Laetnner’s miracle catch and shot in 1992 against Kentucky. For me, it was seeing shots of many players openingly crying after losing and getting eliminated from the tournament. I was extremely touched when I saw the video of Fox hugging his teammate and crying after they got dramatically ousted by Kentucky. These kids put their hearts and souls into the game for several months, then suddenly, their seasons and sometimes college careers are over in a second.

6) Predictions for the championship game. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina match up very well against each other and it is very difficult to say who has the advantage, but I just think North Carolina has a certain hunger to win after what happened last year. I think they will win in another close championship game.

A really great thing about college basketball

Many of us have probably torn up our brackets in shear disgust during the past few weeks. Or maybe pull out  your hair or what is left of it! Yes it is that time of year when many people face the enormously frustrating task of filling out your brackets for the NCAA college basketball tournament and seeing those picks go up in smoke. How many people actually have Florida playing against South Carolina for a regional final? Or Oregon, minus one of their better players, upsetting a hot Kansas team and advancing to the final four? Yes, this tournament has always been unpredictable and crazy, but it also speaks volumes of one of the great things about major college basketball and that is the word, parity.

As a huge sports fan, I cannot get enough of unpredictability and the unknown in sports. When many teams have a chance at winning the championship, I find it very exciting. When one team always dominates and wins every championship, that is very boring and I tend to lose interest in the league or sport. For example, I love the NBA. I would rather watch an NBA game than college game any day of the week. But how many teams in the NBA have a legitimate shot at winning the championship? It is almost a forgone conclusion that Cleveland and Golden State will probably play for the title this spring. Perhaps San Antonio may be in the mix but will we hear from a 3rd through 8th seed in each conference? In all likelihood, no. That is not the case with major college basketball. There are several teams who have a great chance of winning the national championship. I have not seen this much parity in college basketball in a long time. It what makes the sports, particularly come tournament time, that much more exciting.

The NFL has seen an increase in team parity in recent years and that makes a better league. A team like Carolina can go from a last place team to a Super Bowl contender in a short period of time. Parity gives hope to fans that their beloved teams will rise from the ashes and make a playoff run and that is a very healthy thing.

I know major college basketball at times can be a very over-hyped sport. There are a million games on television during the regular season. But nothing beats the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament. And a huge reason is the ever-increasing parity that has become big-time college basketball. Parity is great for any sports league and college basketball is a shining example of why. Except if you are having major anxiety attacks over your office pool bracket!

A few thoughts on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

If you are a huge college basketball fan, today is certainly a day to mark and circle on your calendar. It is final four day and 4 teams will battle it out tonight to determine who will play in Monday night’s championship game. Like most people, my bracket is totally shot so I can sit back and actually enjoy the games this year. Thanks to the efforts of Michigan St. and Kansas, I do not have to worry about winning that jackpot in our office pool. Anyways, I have to say that this has been one very enjoyable tournament. I just love this tournament because of the one and done element to it. No long drawn out best of 7 series which usually favors the better team. This tournament certainly had its share of drama and hopefully the final four games will continue that trend. I would like to share a few thoughts on the tournament so far and offer up some predictions on what might happen in the next few days.

1) MVP of the tourney – Buddy Hield. This is kind of a no-brainer.  Hield has had a fabulous year and has taken his game to a new level during the tournament. I am happy for the kid because he decided to come back for his senior year and that decision is during out to be a great one for him. His NBA stock has really risen in the past few weeks. I hope he has a fabulous final four.

2) Most impressive team so far – Villanova. I know how everyone is praising North Carolina, but in my mind, Villanova is the most impressive team that I have seen play in this tournament. I’m not saying that they will win the whole thing, but this team is very solid both on the offensive and defensive end of the court. In addition, they have a strong inside presence which matches up very well with North Carolina. I have to admit that I overlooked Villanova in making my picks. They are one good basketball team.

3) Biggest surprise of the tourney – Michigan State losing in round 1. Of all the teams that you might consider getting upset in the tourney, Michigan St. was at the bottom. It makes no sense at all! They were a hot team with a proven tournament coach and here they go down in flames in the first round, go figure!

4) Most memorable game – Northern Iowa vs. Texas A&M. In all my years of watching basketball, I have never seen a team come back from being down by double digits with less and minute left in the game. It was a shocking finish that will be talked about for years to come. One of the top 5 biggest collapses ever by a basketball team at any level.

5) Television coverage – I like Charles Barkley and the crew on TNT NBA telecasts and wish they would stay there. I very much wish that Turner Sports would stay out of this tournament and let ESPN cover the games. They telecast a million college basketball games during the regular season and have some of the best and brightest analysts. Furthermore, they have about what? 5 different channels to televise the games on. Wouldn’t you rather have Jay Bilas on during the halftime show than Charles Barkley? No offense to Sir Charles, but the likes of Bilas, Dick Vitale and Jay Williams have been watching and commentating on the college game all year. They could give us better insight.

6) Bold predictions- To be honest with you, I would love to have Syracuse win the tournament.  That would really screw up many office pools around country! However, I am picking Villanova and North Carolina to reach the championship game with Nova cutting down the nets on Monday night.

I want to wish the players and fans of those teams still involved the best of luck. I wish this tournament would last another 2 weeks; it has been a lot of fun.


Hooray for the unheralded teams

One of things that I really love about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is having some Cinderella team come up of nowhere and do extremely well. It seems to happen every year. There is always some low seeded team who suddenly becomes the darlings of the tournament and busts everyone’s bracket. This year is no exception; teams such as S.F. Austin and especially Middle Tennessee shocked the world on Friday with their opening round upsets. Middle Tennessee? I didn’t even realize that they were a division 1 school for crying out loud!

When you think about college basketball, schools like Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Kansas always come to mind. These programs are the cream of the crop in college hoops. Year in and year out, they always get the much-advertised blue chip talent among high school seniors. In fact, you could make an argument in saying that around 10 schools in the country hold a monopoly on the best talent in the country. The remaining programs or schools are pretty much left with a bunch of scraps. So it is wonderful to see some much unheralded program with a bunch of guys who were overlooked in recruiting and who actually stuck it out for 4 years achieve success in the tournament? I think it is extremely wonderful! In fact, I could care less if my bracket, which it already has this year, explodes. I love when a small conference school does well in the tournament. I always find myself cheering for the so-called little schools in the tournament.

Many of these teams represent what college basketball and sports in general should be all about. The players on these teams actually stick around for 4 years. Only a handful of the players at these unheralded small schools will actually make it to the NBA. The college game is their top of the mountain top. Making it to the tournament, not the NBA, is their dream as a player. Now contrast that with your typical elite prima donna college superstar who plays for Duke. It is all about one and done, baby as Dick Vitale might say. Do you think that many of these elite players are concerned about staying 4 years and winning multiple NCAA championships? Of course not! They are just using that year of so as a stepping stone to the pro game. Why should they even attend class at all? It is a complete joke!

College sports should be about student athletes going to school, pursuing a degree and playing sports for 4 years. That is why it is always refreshing to see less heralded teams garner some much overdue attention in this tournament. How can you not cheer for them?

The dullness of college basketball

Every March, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament captures center stage of the sports world. It is arguably the biggest sporting event in this country besides the Super Bowl. 68 teams compete for the chance to cut down the nets after the championship game. Given that the tournament is so popular, you would think that college basketball is in fine shape and no changes should be made to the collegiate game. As a basketball fan, I could not disagree more. The collegiate brand of basketball is going downhill and some much-needed changes are needed, and in a hurry!

Before I go any further, let me say that there are many positive things about college basketball. The tournament games produce some of the most thrilling and memorable moments in sports history. The atmosphere at a big major college basketball game is second to none with the students, band and cheerleaders. It is far more enjoyable atmosphere than sitting in some NBA arena watching a bunch of millionaires play a meaningless regular season game. But any advantage the college game may have over the NBA stops there. When the actual game starts, the level of play is almost becoming unwatchable.

I have to say that most fans will probably agree with me in saying that pace and scoring are important factors in determining how entertaining a game really is. More and more college games are becoming nothing more than low scoring, foul fested, delay driven pieces of crap. Who wants to watch some game that ends up 55-50? Good defense? I say baloney to that!! It has more to do with some team running a tightly structured offense with no run and gun at all and poor shooting and lots of turnovers. Of those 55 points, 1/2 probably come from free throws. In addition, the games last an eternity will all the television timeouts. On top of that, a team is award 5 timeouts per game and many coaches will save their timeouts under the last few minutes. Watching the few minutes of a college basketball game is about as painful as going to a dentist to have a root canal job done! There is absolutely no flow to the game at all!!

So what can be done to make college basketball more enjoyable to watch. For starters, I want to see a 25 second clock be put into play. More possessions should equal more scoring. Nothing drives me crazy more than seeing some team slow the pace of the game down and hold the ball. Something has to be down about the constant fouling at the end of the game that turns the game into nothing more than a free throw shooting contest. I just want to scream at my television when some coach instructs his players to foul when down by 10 points with 20 seconds left. Hey coach, it’s time to raise the white flag!! And finally, there should be a 2 timeout limit for each team in the last 3 minutes of a game. A typical game might have as many as 18 timeouts in all counting the media breaks at each 4 minute mark. That is totally ridiculous!! It totally takes away from the flow of the game.

I hope some of the big wigs of college basketball will sit down after the season ends and try to implement some much needed rule changes to make the games more enjoyable to watch and create more flow to the games. This sports fan has seen enough! Limiting the number of seemingly endless stoppages and finding ways to increase the scoring per game will do wonders to make college basketball a much better game to watch.

A few random thoughts on the NCCA hoops tourney

It seemed liked a long time ago, but just 3 weeks ago, 68 teams were selected to participate in arguably the biggest sporting event in this country besides the Super Bowl. Now, just 4 teams are left. The tournament so far has been nothing short of spectacular; several of the games have gone down to the wire and just one top seeded team remains alive. Most people had Florida going to the final four and many had Wisconsin, but UConn and Kentucky? If you picked all 4 of these teams to reach the final four, I take my hat off to you. I need your luck the next time I go buy a powerball ticket. You will be sitting pretty good in your office pool with just a few of those teams remaining. I have watched a lot of the action and have come up with a few observations about the tournament.

1. Best game- 2 games really stand out in my mind; the Wichita State, Kentucky game was unforgettable, but my favorite was the Michigan, Kentucky game last Sunday. Both teams went back and forth with the lead and in the end, it took a great shot by Kentucky player to win the game. It was a shame that either team had to lose. One of the best college basketball games of not only the tournament, but of the whole season as well.

2. Most memorable moment- Near the end of the Kansas, Dayton game, it appeared that Kansas was going to lose and get bounced out of the tournament. The television camera panned in on some of the Kansas fans and their expressions said it all. Many had long and sad faces, but the one shot that really caught my attention was the close up of a young Kansas fan, perhaps only 8 years old. The tears were flowing down his cheeks. It was really amazing to see such passion from such a young fan! That shot really illustrates the passion that fans have for their teams in this tournament. There is nothing worse than losing a tournament game when your team is heavily favorite. It will be a long off-season for those Kansas fans and especially that young boy.

3. Great television coverage- It was just a few years that only one network carried any of the games. That changed with multiple networks now carrying the games. If some game is a blowout, you can always change channels and be entertained by another game. The variety was outstanding. Whoever came up with this idea needs to be commended! A tournament this big deserves to have better television coverage and that definitely happened this year. The studio analysts were pretty good as well, providing you can put up with Charles Barkley for a few minutes!

4. Bracket Buster award-  I give this award to 2 teams, Dayton and UConn. The moans and groans that you may have heard last Sunday was when UConn upset Michigan St. to go to the final four. About half of all people with a bracket including this blogger, had Michigan St. advancing to the final four. I even had Michigan St. winning the whole tournament! My bracket is crumpled up in some waste basket ready to be burned!

5. Freshmen Myth-  There is always this myth about not picking a team with a bunch of freshman to advance very far. I think Kentucky has pretty much shattered that myth. Freshmen are no longer freshman at the end of the year. Kentucky really grew up this year and look at where they are now! Any team regardless of age can go a long way if they have the right mix of talent and coaching.

I fully expect Florida and Kentucky to end up meeting in the finals on Monday night, but any of the teams could easily walk away with the trophy on Monday night. The parity in college basketball is at an all time high and that is why this tournament has been such a special one. I look for more exciting games and moments to come in this final four. Good luck to all the teams and their fans. I would love to be in your shoes.