Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lexington Has Pull

From 1993 through 1998, the Kentucky Wildcats appeared in the Final Four exactly four times. A stretch that included two national championships ('96 & '98) and a runner-up ('97). Since the end of 1998, one of college basketballs most storied programs has seen as many Final Four weekends as Northern Iowa, Siena, and Utah State, none.

In the midst of a ten year decline, the university still has more pull than we think. Pull enough to be the main topic of conversation during the Sweet 16 weekend. Pull enough to gain interest from college basketballs top recruiter, John Calipari. Pull enough to have the University of Arizona put their coaching search on an abrupt hold.

With the firing of head coach Billy Gillispie after just two seasons in Lexington, the Wildcats just became story number one in college basketball. Reports issued Monday and late Sunday night have current Memphis head coach, John Calipari, slated to become the next head basketball coach at Kentucky. A 252-69 record while at Memphis (nine seasons), and seven Sweet 16 appearances, Calipari doesn't just have a resume, he has a hall of fame application. Calipari has delivered not just Memphis to the Final Four, but also the University of Massachusetts back in 1996. A recruiting mastermind, John Calipari is everything Kentucky could look for in a coach. He'll bring you players, banners, a graduation rate, and pride back to Lexington that they haven't experienced since the early days of Tubby Smith.

For John, this is not just a jump to a legendary school. In a sentence, this is a shot right across the bow of rival head coach, Rick Pitino. Just a day after Pitino publicly campaigns for the Kentucky job to be handed to his former players turned head coaches, Travis Ford and or John Pelfrey, John Calipari inquires and visits with officials in Lexington. For Pitino, I'm sure recruiting for the same athletes against the likes of his former players would have been better for him than recruiting against arguably the best recruiter in the nation. John Calipari brings that swagger into a program that has lost some of their own, John Calipari eases alumni, gets students fired up, and is one of the best living room coaches of all time. To lure a talent like him, it's clear, Lexington still has pull.

John Calipari is poised to become the highest paid coach in college basketball, as my buddy Roche pointed out, doesn't that title come with a coach whose actually won a National Championship? The answer: He's a couple Derrick Rose missed free throws away from having one, and that is good enough for me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Not So Fast: Detroit Welcomes . . .

We had the hole puncher on the ticket, the Louisville Cardinals would be the 3rd Big East Conference team headed to Detroit and the Final Four. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Tom Izzo and the Spartans of our plans. Michigan State came out and shut down the Big East regular season and conference tournament champions by holding them under 60 points for the first time since February 12th. With that, Detroit will be invaded by the fans of the green & white from East Lansing, and the Final Four is set.

The 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four Preview:

North Carolina Tar Heels (32-4) Carolina has hit their stride. The South Regional champions entered the tournament well rested after their early round exit in the ACC Tournament. All questions regarding the injury that had hampered point guard Ty Lawson, seem to have been answered. After sitting out Carolina's first round game, Lawson has stormed back to average 20 points a game while going 7 of 11 from behind the arc over their next three wins. Between Lawson, Danny Green, and of course Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels are the most experienced and well groomed team remaining in the Final Four. Their most impressive win in the Tournament was the victory that got them to Detroit. Against Oklahoma, the Tar Heels were able to hang with Oklahoma and Blake Griffin on the glass, they shot nearly 94% from the charity stripe, and 51% from the floor. On a night when their premier talent Tyler Hansbrough scored just eight points, Lawson and Green chipped in for a combined 37 points including 4 three balls. Roy Williams' veteran squad is returning to their second straight Final Four and looking to reach the championship game for the first time since their schools 2005 National Championship season. Tournament Resume: (16) Radford, (8) Louisiana State, (4) Gonzaga, and (2) Oklahoma.

Connecticut Huskies (31-4) The chips are falling directly into place for Jim Calhoun to return to the championship game for the first time since his 2004 National Championship. After out rebounding the Missouri Tigers by 19 boards, and getting a huge contribution off the bench from super-freshman, Kemba Walker, the Huskies arrive in Detroit poised to bring another championship back to Storrs. Calhoun's squad adds a different element than the other remaining teams, scoring depth. The Huskies have had a new leading scorer in each of their previous four tournament games. In round 1, forward Stanley Robinson scored 24 points to lead all scorers, shooting 11-17 from the floor. In round 2, guard A.J. Price nailed four three pointers en route to a 27-point performance. Round 3 saw the Huskies have four starters score in double figures lead by senior guard Craig Austrie and his 17 points. Finally in an exciting Elite Eight game, the Bronx native Kemba Walker, shot 7 of 9 from the floor scoring 25 points. The kicker? We haven't even mentioned the Huskies powerful front court. 7-3 center, Hasheem Thabeet has recorded 45 rebounds thus far and senior forward, Jeff Adrien has recored 40 rebounds to go along with 14 ppg average. The Huskies are more than solid off the bench and can score from all angles, widely considered the tournaments most talented team. Tournament Resume: (16) Chattanooga, (9) Texas A&M, (5) Purdue, and (3) Missouri.

Villanova Wildcats (30-7) The team that arrives in Detroit fresh off a Scottie Reynolds last second game winner, sure isn't the same team that was down ten to the Patriot League champion American Eagles heading into the half of their first round game. No, these Wildcats haven't looked back since that half of basketball. Jay Wright's squad is averaging 81 points a game in this tournament and their spreading those points around. Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham dominated inside against American in the second half of game 1. Round 2, the Villanova bench outscored UCLA 29-12 led by the two Corey's, Stokes and Fisher, a game that saw Villanova finish with six players in double figures. 'Nova came out and routed a certain ACC powerhouse in the round of sixteen, a balanced attack from guards Reynolds and Reggie Redding sent that powerhouse home early. Villanova's first appearance in the Final Four since 1985 should be a memorable one. They've got an underrated big man in Dante Cunningham, who is coming off a 6 of 11 shooting night while facing Pitt big man, DeJuan Blair. Seniors Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark fly under the radar while they've both had fantastic tournament runs. Of course, fan favorite Scottie Reynolds is the motor of this offense and can play with any guard left in this tournament. The East Regional champs are here for a reason. Tournament Resume: (14) American, (6) UCLA, (2) Duke, and (1) Pittsburgh.

Michigan State Spartans (30-6) Still think the Big 10 is soft? With the Road to the Final Four leading to Detroit, it's clear that Michigan State is by far and away the home team. The Spartans have had the best and hardest weekend of any of the Final Four teams. After knocking off the defending National Champions, Izzo and Co. knocked off the #1 overall seed. Head coach Tom Izzo has his team playing great defense. After Southern California stud, Taj Gibson scored 24 points in round 1, Michigan State held him to 3 points in round 2. The State defense forced Kansas into 19 turnovers in the sweet 16. Finally, after 13 straight games scoring over 60 points, the Louisville offense was shut down by Michigan State, allowing them to score just 52 points, only 25 in the second half. With the victory over Louisville one thing stood out more than any other, a 6-10 center named Goran Suton. Suton presents difficulties inside for opponents, in the tourney he's transformed into something more. 19 points and 10 boards against Louisville, 20 points and 9 boards against Kansas, and another double-double in round 1. Suton gives Michigan State that "x" factor they'll need to finish off their run. This Tom Izzo lead team may not have the players of his previous Final Four teams, but they are just as effective and with the hoards of screaming green & white fans that will show up at Ford Field, they'll be tough to beat. Tournament Resume:(15) Robert Morris, (10) Southern California,(3) Kansas, and (1) Louisville.

It's My Call:

Michigan State v. Connecticut Goran Suton doesn't present exactly what DeJuan Blair did to Hasheem Thabeet, but he does cause problems inside. UConn didn't want to play Michigan State, in my opinion they match up better with Louisville and already beat them once this season. There is something to be said about playing a team you know you can beat and your familiar with. Tom Izzo has more than one Final Four under his belt, he'll have his guys ready to play Connecticut. If UConn still had Jerome Dyson, I'd say they may present too many obstacles for this Michigan State team, but A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson will have to show up like they have all tournament to prevent State from advancing. This Connecticut team has played great as of late. Winner: Connecticut. I expect Jeff Adrien and Kemba Walker to show up big for UConn on Saturday.

Villanova v. North Carolina Villanova is well coached, their tough, and they play disciplined, unfortunately that may not be enough to stop North Carolina. The Tar Heels go ten players deep and still put the hurt on second seeded Oklahoma with Tyler Hansbrough only playing a minimal role. Danny Green and Wayne Ellington are good shooting guards who can make their own shot, Villanova will struggle to put bodies on them. Ty Lawson's defense is too good for Scottie Reynolds. As much as I hate to eliminate my sleeper pick, they've had a good run and I'd truly be stunned if they had enough left in the tank to topple Carolina. Winner: Carolina

Either way this Saturday's games are sure to be promising, and the prospect of seeing a Carolina v. Connecticut showdown on Championship Monday, would be flat out great.

NEXT MONDAY: CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Keep It Great Eight

I wanted to wait till the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament was finalized before I released Keep It Real Friday: The Tourney Chronicles. The fans requested, so I'm running with it.

HAVE AT IT!

The Big East is for real, and including me, we've all underestimated how good these teams really are. Louisville, Pittsburgh, Villanova, and Connecticut, all from the Big East, make up 50% of the teams in the Elite Eight. Also, there's a great chance that 75% of the Final Four will also come from the Big East. I don't think we can recall a year where one conference so dominated the NCAA Tournament. Louisville knocked out the final Pac-10 team in the tourney, Arizona, in a 39-point blowout last night. Connecticut has won three games by an average of 33 points. After a 20-point dismantling of UCLA in round 2, the Villanova Wildcats followed that up with a 23-point win over ACC tournament champion, Duke. While not as impressive as their counterparts, Pittsburgh's Sam Young has averaged 23 ppg in the Panthers three tournament wins. For a conference that has long seen disasters in the NCAA Tournament, 2009 is rewriting the record books. Between Louisville's Terrance Williams, and the previously mentioned Sam Young of Pittsburgh, the Big East has the best teams and the best players in this tournament. KEEP IT REAL! Your tourney champ is coming from the Big East.

I can't say it enough, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin is BY FAR the best player in the country, and he deserves any postseason award that designates someone with that title, period. 30 points and 14 boards per game in the tournament. Oklahoma is winning by an average of 17 points per game, and doing it on the back of Blake Griffin. I'm going to do it, because someone needs to; In the words of Denzel Washington from Training Day "Tyler Hansbrough ain't got sh*t on Blake Griffin." Griffin flat out scores more and pulls down more boards than Hansbrough, by far. The Sooner power forward averages six more rebounds a game than Hansbrough. On the offensive end, Blake Griffin has had four more 30+ point games than Hansbrough, including a 40-point game. Not to mention that the Sooners played in a better conference this year than Hansbrough. Yes, that's right, the Big 12 was superior to the ACC this season. The Big 12 came within seconds of placing three teams inside the Elite Eight, and still have two teams in. Given the play of Oklahoma State, Missouri, Kansas, and of course Oklahoma, the Big 12 has more ammunition than the top heavy ACC. Luckily for us, we'll get to see Hansbrough v. Griffin tomorrow night. Stay Tuned and KEEP IT REAL!

Four #1's, Two #2's, and Two #3's . . ALL CHALK This is what the Elite Eight and Final Four were meant to be. Eight teams playing for four spots, all come from major conferences, tournament juggernauts, this is exciting. KEEP IT REAL! Leave the Cinderella's back at home where they belong. No Tom Brennan, no Cleveland State, and no George Mason. We have Rick Pitino v. Tom Izzo, Sam Young v. Scottie Reynolds, previously noted Griffin v. Hansbrough, the Big East v. Big 12 in the West Region, hide the women and children, this is big time college hoops. It was cute to see everybody's bracket get busted when Wake Forest gets punched out by Cleveland State, but look what Louisville just did to Arizona, did you want to see Cleveland State go down like that? The highly touted and over-hyped, Duke Blue Devils got ran out of Boston faster than the British on Thursday night. Gonzaga got sent packing before their suitcases were unpacked. Chalk, Chalk, and more Chalk! In the Final Four we want to see the best games possible. That means recruiting violating, head coach dominating, super-star freshman having, fierce programs. Connecticut, Louisville, Carolina, Oklahoma, let's get it on. KEEP IT REAL!

Destiny, is a new champion. With Tom Izzo and the Spartans dispatching of the 2008 National Champion Jayhawks in the final seconds of Friday nights game, it's a fact, we'll have a new title game. The Kansas Jayhawks followed the Memphis Tigers to an early trip home with their loss in the round of 16. But this is good for college basketball for a multitude of reasons, I'm keeping it to two: (1) As noted before, Mizzou moving on gives us validation of which conference is number two behind the Big East. The play of these Big 12 teams in the Tournament was impressive, the game that a young OSU team gave Pittsburgh was more than we could have asked for. Mizzou running Memphis off the court, and the domination displayed by Oklahoma, it's evident the Big 12 is pretty good. (2) Tom Izzo, doesn't need me to say it, but he's a top three coach in this country, nuff said. How many times are we going to watch Tom Izzo coach a team, with zero NBA players on it, deep into the tourney? Even if this team goes down to Louisville on Sunday, Tom Izzo has said something to everyone here. In case your wondering, the best coaches in the country are as follows: Rick Pitino, John Calipari, and Tom Izzo. KEEP IT REAL!

MY FINAL FOUR: While the rest of my bracket hasn't exactly panned out, I was heavy on chalk and picked Villanova, Carolina, and Louisville to all meet in the Final Four. Memphis was of course my other Final Four squad, but there out now. Connecticut will replace them and there you have it. Because I choose Carolina in the beginning I'm sticking with them, but I could see them losing to the Sooners. Pittsburgh v. 'Nova is a toss up, the Panthers haven't played a complete game in this tournament, but they have won three straight. I like 'Nova and they are my tournament sleeper, so I'm sticking with them. Connecticut is focused, they have way more talent than every team in this tournament, and turns out they just didn't match up against Pittsburgh in the regular season. Finally, Louisville is just filthy. The lapse against Siena is behind them, and they'll be in the Final Four. KEEP IT REAL!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Man, The Myth, The Sock

Flat out kids, Curt Schilling is and forever will be, one of a kind. Yes, he was an Oriole, Astro, Phillie, and Diamondback, but in your heart of hearts, and in mine, Curtis Montague Schilling, is and forever will be, a Red Sox.

The tears pouring from our adult eyes, Aaron Boone's arms raised, Wake's head staring at the ground, that's where we were, pre-Curt Schilling. Post-Curt Schilling, we are a 2x World Series winning, swagger having, one of a few model franchises in professional sports. Oh, how times have changed.

Curt Schilling is everything we want in New England. You can tell yourself he isn't, you can also say he wasn't "that" impressive, but at some point, you've go to start being honest with yourself. We are glass half empty, opinion having, outspoken, Irish-Americans. Minus the blarney, that's what Curt is. The 3x World Series Champion is as advertised. He told you he was coming to Boston to break a curse, done and done. He told you he'd shut up 55,000 screaming New Yorkers, done and done. No disrespect, but Christ, he even co-hosted on WEEI's The Big Show, he got Belichick like respect on a Patriots ball-washing show, no one gets that. We love this guy, through and through.

My favorite New England athletes go something like this: (I'm 26, keep it in mind)

Pedro Martinez, the '99 post-season, in relief Martinez strikes out eight batters in six innings, holding the Indians hitless. Chills run down my spine just thinking about it.

Paul Pierce, forget the '08 season and Banner 17, I sat balcony seats watching Paul drop 19 in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the '02 Eastern Conference Finals. Respect.

Matt Ryan, the Boston College Senior invades Blacksburg, Virginia and comes out with one of the greatest comeback victories the Eagles have ever seen. Drops back-to-back touchdown passes on the Virginia Tech secondary, in the pouring rain, when all is left for not.

You know what none of them did? Call it. That's what Curt Schilling did, that's why he belongs in the pantheon.

Brass balls, that's what it takes to break into the New England sports scene, telling us your here to break an 86-year old curse. As our eyes rolled, little did we know, he meant it. In 2004, Curt Schilling broke into our world, scratch that, he smashed into it. Schill would go 21-6 that season, third most wins of any season in his career. No win that season would be more remembered than his 7-inning, 4-strikeout performance, in New York City, New York, on October 19th, 2004. Shutting down the Yankees, giving us a game 7, and in his words, shutting up 55,000 New Yorkers. Schilling gutted out seven innings on a bum ankle, and he did it for us, not for his legacy, not for the Boston Red Sox, but for us, and our 86-year curse, again, not the Red Sox curse, their fans. That is the most important part we forget, none of our beloved athletes come out and play the way they do if not for us, that's a fact.

So what if Curt talks more than any other of the athletes we love, why didn't we ever feel that way toward Manny? He didn't give us what Curt gave us. Why didn't we ever truly attach ourselves to Nomar Garciaparra? He didn't give you want you wanted. He wasn't controversy, he wasn't crass, he wasn't hardened, he didn't show that New England, "F*ck you, I'm better than everyone" attitude, that we truly want. Nomar, Pedro, Manny, did they ever tell you what they thought about Roger and Barry? Nomar, Pedro, and Manny, any of them ever tell you who they were voting for? We may not agree with Curt, but at least he gives you what you want, a voice.

Furthermore, are you going to really deny that he and not Pedro was what we needed? Petey was Petey, fantastic, but he needed more to win a title, well more is Curt, and Curt is more. Curt Schilling was the perfect guy to usher in this new type of Boston Baseball. Gone is the "whoa is me attitude" and the "pathetic loser" tag. Now, Boston Baseball is considered to be an arrogant, cocky, ring wearing, MVP rocking, helluva baseball club. That is what we can thank Curt for. Congratulations on a fantastic career Schill, and thanks for the rings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Sweet It Is . . .

Ah, how we forget. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness, is the preeminent sports showcase in this country. Not the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the Stanley Cup Playoffs, March Madness gives you everything those do, and much more. The 2009 version, hasn't disappointed. The tourney is just four days old and it's given us everything we've asked for:

Tough break, sorry you had to leave so early. To the Oklahoma State Cowboys and the Siena Saints. Two programs who had monster round 1 victories, against Tennessee and Ohio State respectively, only to be knocked out by the top dog in round 2. First up, Siena, many may think it isn't an upset, I'm one of those many, even with that said, anytime you can send the Buckeyes back to Columbus after a double-overtime thriller, I'm all in. The regular season MAAC champions, led by double-doubles from both forwards Ryan Rossiter and Alex Franklin, stunned the Buckeye faithful in round one. A three-pointer from guard Ronald Moore dropped the Buckeyes in the second overtime. After their round one victory, the Saints gave Louisville a scare that had the top seeded Cardinals on the ropes. Junior guard, Edwin Ubiles had his second straight 20+ point game of the tourney. The Siena defense pressured Pitino's squad into 17 turnovers. Unfortunately, 4-year veteran, Terrance Williams of Louisville was too much for the Saints, finishing with 24 points and 15 rebounds. Hats off to the Saints, almost knocking off the top overall seed is good enough. Next, Travis Ford and his Oklahoma State Cowboys. 49-49 heading into the half, the Cowboys had the Sweet 16 in their sights and they'd have to knock off the East Regions top seed, Pittsburgh, to do so. However, the team that finished 5th in the Big 12 during the regular season didn't have enough to overcome Pittsburgh's super senior, Sam Young. Young went 12 of 20 from the field and scored 32 points to carry the Panthers into the Sweet 16. The smaller Cowboy squad couldn't stop the bigs of Pittsburgh and ended up losing 84-76. But today, we should recognize not only the Saints of Siena but also the Cowboys of Oklahoma State, after watching UConn tear through Texas A&M in the second round, these teams came out and took #1 seeds to the brink.

While we're mentioning them, how 'bout those Huskies? Two games into the tournament, Connecticut is winning by an average of 41 points per game. Did I mention their down a junior guard, Jerome Dyson, who was averaging 13 points and 5 boards a game before he went down with a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee? On Saturday afternoon, UConn made Texas A&M, a 24-win team, look like they belonged playing high school ball. Forward, Jeff Adrien and guard, A.J. Price turned in 50 points, 13 rebounds, and 9 assists, all while shooting 19 for 32 from the floor. All that talk about UConn being the most likely #1 to fall, is out the door as fast as it came in. Their head coach, Jim Calhoun, having medical problems, what medical problems? Allow me to put it this way; I fear for the safety of the Purdue Boilermakers. Junior 7-footer, Hasheem Thabeet, will be on four days rest after only playing 20 minutes in Saturday afternoons game. Even still, the Huskies still out rebounded Texas A&M by 14 rebounds. Anyone who watched that Huskie team play Saturday arrived at the same sentiment, whoa!

Under the radar, lie the Oklahoma Sooners. They have the best player in the country, Blake Griffin, and don't give me any of that Tyler Hansbrough garbage. As quiet as we are on Griffin, we are on the Sooners. Two wins into the tourney and Blake Griffin has scored 61 points to go along with his 30 rebounds, all the while going 25 of 32 from the field. Maybe we haven't been paying attention to the Sooners after victories against Morgan State and the Wolverines of Michigan, but if he continues on this pace, he'll do it going through 'Cuse, and then you'll pay attention. This is the same team and superstar that upstaged Stephen Curry's 44 point performance, by pulling down 20+ boards to go with his 25 points back in November. The same American University team that gave Villanova all they could handle, lost to Blake Griffin's Sooners by 29 points earlier this season, Griffin threw down a healthy 24 and 18. The Oklahoma Sooners had 8+ wins against tournament teams during their regular season, Griffin averaged 23 and 15 a night, this isn't a team to be fooled with. I'd be careful if I was wearing Orange.

Maryland and UCLA, that was fun. After managing their way out of the first round, both the Terrapins and Bruins had no idea what lay in store for them. Last years runners-up, the Memphis Tigers, jumped out to a 20-point lead by halftime over the Terrapins. Jay Wright's Villanova squad pushed a 13-point halftime lead to a 20-point win over UCLA. That's all she wrote for Ben Howland and Gary Willams. It's about time the rest of the country jump on board with Memphis. If there was ever a coach to play the "their against us" card, it's John Calipari, if there was ever a team that would play that card better than anyone else, it's the Memphis Tigers. The Tigers had five players scoring in double digits, including super freshman guard, Tyreke Evans, who dropped 19 points on an over matched Greivis Vasquez. Monster duo, Dozier and Taggert, turned in 31 points and 18 rebounds. Do not sleep on the Memphis Tigers, they are as advertised. As for Villanova, you know about Pitt, UConn, Louisville, and 'Cuse, don't forget about 'Nova, it's a warning sign. The team with no "true" big man, 'Nova, out rebounded UCLA by 13 boards, including 21 from Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson. The Wildcat bench outscored UCLA's bench to the tune of 29-12, led by guard Corey Stokes, who was 4 of 9 from behind the arc. Not even the refs will be able to save Duke from Villanova when they arrive in Boston for the East Regional.

Does Arizona still not deserve to be in The Tourney? The Arizona Wildcats would put a hurting on St. Mary's, so all of the St. Mary's cheering section, including you Dick Vitale, clam it. The team that beat fellow Sweet 16 teams, Gonzaga and Kansas, back in December, is back. 'Zona laid the wood to #5 seed Utah in the first round, 84-71. Then followed that performance up with a 14-victory that sent Cleveland State right back where they belong, in Ohio. Let's remove the #12 from Arizona, because they are not a #12 seed, Western Kentucky and Northern Iowa were #12 seeds, not Arizona. Sure, losing 4 of 5 heading into the selection show doesn't help your campaign. However, in 2009 this Arizona Wildcat team beat the tournament likes of Southern California, UCLA, Washington, Gonzaga, and Kansas, take that St. Mary's. Between Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, and electric guard, Nic Wise, would you be all that shocked if they knocked off Louisville? Wise has gone for 20+ in each of the last two games, Jordan Hill is averaging 11 boards a game, these Wildcats are just as dangerous as Siena was for the top seeded Louisville. KNOW THAT!

Finally, so you know the dogs I have in these fights.

Admittedly, I had OSU upsetting Pitt. 'Nova will reach the Final Four. The refs and Ty Lawson are too much for Gonzaga and Oklahoma. Connecticut is very good, but they can have lapses, yes, Purdue. Memphis is far too good not to be part of the round of four. Rock Chalk . . Louisville over Kansas.

And you were impressed by a Santonio Holmes' catch, and the Phillies ace, Cole Hamels, Puhhhhlease.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On My Signal: Unleash K.I.R.F.

Keep It Real Friday, The Tourney Chronicles. I think I could copyright that. Maybe have a celebrity do the voice over or maybe just the coming attractions guy from the movie theater. Which brings me to another tangent; Is the coming attractions guy or C.A.G. as he's being dubbed, the same guy who announces nude dancers at a less than classy strip club? How do you get that gig? Back to the column, sorry about that, just a little something to ponder.

Day 1: In the Books

President Obama went soft on us; All chalk. He's got more important things to be concerned about, so we'll let it slide. Anywho, (I hate when people say that) Day 1 was as advertised, good but not great. As always, I've got some talking points and because this is "Keep It Real Friday: The Tourney Chronicles" I'm going to tear into a few things, one bite at a time.

Why the 16 seeds? Really, how necessary are they? Would the world be any different if we just gave the #1's a first round bye? East Tennessee State, Radford, Chattanooga, and Morehead State are the four #16 seeds in this tournament. The #16 seed has ever beaten a #1, and that won't change this year. Already, Radford was downed by North Carolina to the tune of a 43-point blowout. Chattanooga got roughed up by UConn, the result, was a 56-point loss. Carolina was playing without their star point guard, Ty Lawson, and Connecticut was without all-world coach, Jim Calhoun. Still, they destroy these two schools short handed. Here's my problem with the "Sixteenth Seed," while it'd be amazing and certainly stunning if they ever upended the #1 seed, how would that be fair to anyone? Sixty to seventy percent of fans have Connecticut and Carolina reaching the Final Four, their tournament brackets would be smashed. Connecticut and Carolina battle to a combined record of 55-8, while playing in the Big East and ACC respectively. Chattanooga and Radford had a combined 27 losses playing in the Southern Confernce and Big South. If one of these teams won, and the battle of the regular season that UConn and Carolina played, was all for nothing? That'd be sad. Give them a ticket to the NIT and all due respect to these programs, but in the words of the mean kid on the bus from Forrest Gump "Can't Sit Here," KEEP IT REAL!

It's still weird to me that Gonzaga is actually a tournament staple. Yes, I get the Yankees in the baseball postseason every year. I get the Spurs as a title contender in the NBA, every year. How in the world has Gonzaga joined those ranks, in college basketball? Syracuse and Jim Boeheim miss NCAA tournaments from time to time, but Gonzaga, every year they are in the tournament. Now I've been known to hate a few guys who play for the Bulldogs of Gonzaga, most notably, Adam Morrison and Richie Frahm, however, when looking through my 2009 bracket, I'm forced to pick Gonzaga, but not to upset a team, they are a number four seed, in fact, they have the best record of any of the four seeds. To make it worse, I have to cheer for them to somehow knock off North Carolina, how does this happen? How does a team that went from tourney darlings turn into tourney staples? Luckily, the Bulldogs won their first round game against none other than, Akron. Here's my message to schools like Western Kentucky, who won again last night against a big name school in the tourney, you can be Gonzaga someday. You Western Kentucky, you can cheer for a potential player of the year who will undoubtedly be the only professional hoops player that smokes butts regularly. How can anyone cheer for Gonzaga now? KEEP IT REAL! I liked the bulldogs alot more when they were bumping off top seeds.

I'm making a ruling right now. Seven v. Ten and Eight v. Nine, those aren't upsets if the high seeds win, they just aren't upsets. Maryland beats California, not an upset, they are Maryland, who play in the ACC, against Duke, Carolina, and Wake Forest, probably better than we think. Michigan beating Clemson, not an upset. Clemson has only three more wins than Michigan and they both play in power conferences that put multiple teams into the tourney every year. Texas A&M, a Big 12 team, that goes against Kansas, Texas, and Blake Griffin, several times this year, bumping off the Cougars of BYU, not an upset. In all reality, these are the best games your going to see in the first round. Boston College playing Southern California, great game tonight. Oklahoma State and Tennessee squaring off, great game. Ohio State and Siena, very intriguing. Going forward, CBS needs to make sure thsoe games are on in the prime spots, while I liked almost having my throat ripped out by watching American give 'Nova a game, all I really wanted was for CBS to leave (10)Michigan v. (7)Clemson on the big screen. KEEP IT REAL! I LOVE THIS SH*T! (sorry, I get out of control this time of year.)

Depending on time, we'll attempt to put out a mini-version of K.I.R.F. every day of the NCAA tournament. Excluding days where my paying job interferes. As always, KEEP IT REAL!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Before The Madness: Mock 'It Up

This is my first attempt at drilling all 32 NFL teams down to a first round pick. Before the Patriots pillage the Carolina Panthers for Julius Peppers and before the Broncos end up with Chris Simms starting quarterback, I'm going for it . . .keep up!

The 2009 LynchyRightNow NFL Mock Draft

1. Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Georgia - The Denver Broncos and first year head coach, Josh McDaniels aren't crazy enough to attempt Jay Cutler to Detroit for the #1 overall. For starters, it just isn't good business. McDaniels wanted Cassel because he provided stability, familiarity with the offense, and a safety net for his first head job. Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez would provide NONE of that for Denver. With that aside, Stafford fills the biggest void in Detroit. Next to employment for unemployed automakers in Detroit, the city needs a franchise type quarterback more than anything else. Matt Stafford, you don't have to be Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco, you just can't be David Carr or Alex Smith. Good Luck.

2. St. Louis Rams Jason Smith, Offensive Tackle, Baylor Everyone from Mel Kiper to Todd McShay believe that Smith is the consensus best tackle in this draft class, a deep tackle draft class. I'm on board with them. The Rams need to get better on both the defensive line and offensive line, with Orlando Pace being out in St. Louis, it's clear where they are going to sure up first. In '07 the Rams drafted nose tackle Adam Carriker, and '08 defensive end Chris Long, they will not be drafting a defensive lineman for the third straight year, even with former Giant defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnulo, taking over in St. Louis.

3. Kansas City Chiefs Aaron Curry, Linebacker, Wake Forest This is the no brainer of the top five. After Scott Pioli poached both Cardinal coordinators to take over the Kansas City coaching staff, and traded for Matt Cassel, I am completely sold on this team being the Falcons/Dolphins/Ravens of 2009. He brings in former Cardinal offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, gives him the head job and then rewards him with former Patriot quarterback, Matt Cassel. Now that former Cardinal defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, is on board as the defensive coordinator, he gets Aaron Curry to lead his defense. Oh, and he's got 3x Super Bowl Champion linebacker, Mike Vrabel, there to play tutor to the young dominant Wake Forest linebacker. Not a bad start for Pioli, only two months into the job.

4. Seattle Seahawks Mike Crabtree, Wide Receiver, Texas Tech Believe it or not, the Seahawks aren't in rebuilding mode. Yes, even despite their dismal Seneca Wallace laced 2008 season. (Sorry to bang on Seneca, but come on) Newly signed, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, is the insurance policy on any injury that remains tied to the foot of Michael Crabtree. I think that Jim Mora Jr. believes he can win and win now. You move forward with Hasselbeck, grab Crabtree and combined with Houshmanzadeh, that offense becomes dangerous for the first time since the days of Shaun Alexander being a dominate back in the league. As far as B.J. Raji coming off the board at #4, don't count on it. The Seahawks just inked Colin Cole, a 330 lb. defensive tackle, that's exactly what the Boston College Eagle, B.J. Raji is.

5. Cleveland Browns Brian Orakpo, Defensive End, Texas The Browns have some problems, and when I say problems, I mean about 50 of them. I don't understand trading Kellen Winslow, one of their quarterbacks needs to be moved, and their top receiver can't catch the football consistently, not to mention their running back isn't getting any younger. With all that surrounding their offense, the Browns need to improve on a terrible defense. They were ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed per game and tied for 30th in the league for sacks at only 17. Draft Orakpo, he's a 6'3", 260 lb. end, I think that would improve on the pass rush and hopefully improve on that sack total.

6. Cincinnati Bengals Eugene Monroe, Offensive Tackle, Virginia Let it be known, the Bengals have no other options here. You've got to fill holes with this pick, and they need to protect Carson Palmer, he's turned into a full blown punching bag at this point. If Marvin Lewis wants to salvage any of his head coaching career, draft Monroe and keep Palmer off the ground. This means dumping Levi Jones.

7. Oakland Raiders B.J. Raji, Defensive Tackle, Boston College No one's stock has risen higher since the end of the college football regular season. Raji made himself millions of dollars at the Senior Bowl. Established himself as the only lock at defensive tackle during the combine, and continued to impress at his pro day on Chestnut Hill. To put it bluntly, the rest of the world woke up to what Boston College fans have known for more than a year. This kid is a dynamic run stuffer, had he not sat out the 2007 season due to academic reasons, you could make the argument that Boston College captures the Orange Bowl. Anyway, he's a good fit for the Raiders, while he doesn't provide the flash that McFadden and Russell provided, even Al Davis has to know how impressive he's been leading up to the draft.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars Mark Sanchez, Quarterback, Southern California I've fought this theory. The theory that Mark Sanchez could learn anything or that you'd want him to learn anything under the likes of David Garrard. I think the Jaguars were foolish to hand a giant question mark $20 million dollars in guaranteed money last June. In '06 the Jaguar quarterback played in 11 games, threw 10 TD's, recorded 9 INT's, and had a passer rating of 80.5, followed by an '07 season where he threw 18 TD's, only 3 INT's, and had a passer rating of 102.2, now that is a giant leap in a short amount of of time, right? Maybe give it another season before you lace him up with guaranteed money, no? Well now you have a quarterback, in his first full season as a starter throwing 15 TD's and 13 INT's, with a passer rating of 81.7, that's more like the '06 Garrard, am I wrong? He's average, he's 31, he needs to be replaced. Sanchez has personality, he's exciting, and if you want to save your job, Jack Del Rio, invest in Mark Sanchez.

9. Green Bay Packers Everette Brown, Defensive End, Florida State Raji gone, Orakpo gone, and they need more on defense than just Aaron Kampman. I've had Everette Brown all over this draft board, I think he might be somewhat undersized and I don't LOVE many defensive ends/outside linebackers from the ACC, ACC football is smaller and faster, these players need time to impact in the NFL (Julius Peppers being the exception) However, he's the best available for what they need, so you take him.

10. San Francisco 49ers Andre Smith, Offensive Tackle, Alabama Why not here? If things go according to my mock draft, Mark Sanchez would be gone. The big thing on Smith was that he's lazy, immature, and he needed the fiery Nick Saban to reach his potential at 'Bama. Enter Mike Singletary, can you pick anyone this side of Bill Parcells that is more fiery than Mike Singletary? That is your answer to Andre Smith. The massive offensive tackle could be an anchor on your offensive line. I was the first to say I loved this guy, he was big and could throw down with everyone, you saw how much his team struggled playing without him in the bowl game he got suspended for. However, he's got talent and you can't teach natural talent. This is the team that needs to be in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, this is the team that needs to land a quarterback who wants to spread it out and put up some points. Mike Singletary go out and get Jay Cutler and draft Andre Smith, I'm telling you it's a good plan. Then again, I have no credentials above NFL fan.

11. Buffalo Bills Larry English, Defensive End, Northern Illinois First mentioned by Mike Lombardi on The BS Report, why wouldn't you trade this pick and Trent Edwards for Jay Cutler? Why wouldn't Buffalo do it and why wouldn't Denver do it? Denver would have Trent Edwards and the draft rights to the #11 & #12 pick. Terrell Owens, Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, Jay Cutler . . . I'm down with that. Anyways, back to English. Larry English is a quick hybrid defensive end / outside linebacker, he'd fit great in Buffalo and if your looking to do something other than add the cancer known as Terrell Owens to your locker room, how about improving a defense with only 24 sacks last season.

12. Denver Broncos Tyson Jackson, Defensive End, Louisiana State Come on Josh, how bad could you screw up the draft after what you've just done with free agency? Take the best fit for your defense, that would be Jackson. Furthermore, I love the Brian Dawkins signing to add to that defense that was putrid last year. Walter Football, Mel Kiper, and Todd McShay all like this pick, that is good enough for me.

13. Washington Redskins Michael Oher, Offensive Tackle, Mississippi I'm going to assume they've corrected their defensive line issues by adding $41 million dollar man Albert Haynesworth, now correct the very old offensive line. I've already got Jason Smith in St. Louis, Eugene Monroe in Cincy, Andre Smith in San Francisco, so Washington gets the guy whose left. Oher is part of a very top heavy offensive line class, no pun intended, and I believe he's accurately the least hyped among the group.

14. New Orleans Saints Knowshon Moreno, Running Back, Georgia In effect he replaces an aging and oft-injured Deuce McAllister. Moreno adds another element to an offense that is already pretty good. How much more bad luck can the Saints make signing and drafting defensive guys? No way with all the questions surrounding Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis do they go ahead and gamble.

15. Houston Texans Brian Cushing, Linebacker, Southern California Here they go, the first of the Trojan linebackers drafted in the first round. Cushing adds to a defense that is already solid. By all accounts, Brian Cushing is as advertised. The ability to play outside really intrigues the Texans, they need someone either an outside linebacker or defensive end to compliment Super Mario Williams.

16. San Diego Chargers Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Ohio State The Chargers need help over the top and Jenkins fits that mold, he doesn't have the speed it takes to play corner in the NFL, or at least that is what every report on him says. If Jenkins can fall right into San Diego's lap you could argue they did more to get better on defense than many teams. Merriman returning and Jenkins over the top. I like the Chargers ability to play better defensively in 2009.

17. New York Jets Chris Wells, Running Back, Ohio State New head coach, Rex Ryan, doesn't strike me as the type to "mess around." With Thomas Jones skipping out on offseason workouts due to increasing unhappiness with his contract, and the simple fact that the Jets have done very little to improve their quarterback situation, Chris Wells strikes me as their guy. Wells is a tough, fast, running back who is used to playing in monster stadiums with millions of fans surrounding him. Chris Wells is New York.

18. Chicago Bears Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wide Receiver, Maryland Heyward-Bey is an unpolished big time ACC receiver. He's got blazing speed and impressed Bears scouts to the extent that they believe their #1 need is a receiver. May I remind them that Kyle Orton is playing quarterback? Heyward-Bey gives them a legit shot at having a #1 type wide out in a couple seasons.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Josh Freeman, Quarterback, Kansas State Pencil it in, heck, pen it in. Bucs head coach, Raheem Morris is very familiar with Freeman, he was at Kansas State when Freeman was a freshman. They didn't land Jay Cutler so all signs point to Josh Freeman. On a sidenote, you have to wonder who was convincing Boomer Sooner, Sam Bradford, to come back for his senior season. He is far better than Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman, he would have been the #1 overall, he's already got a Heisman, and there is no guarantee he will win a National Title. Anyway, Freeman is a big quarterback and they've already re-signed Mark Clayton and Antonio Bryant, again, all signs point to Freeman.

20. Detroit Lions (from Dallas)William Beatty, Offensive Tackle, Connecticut First you add the quarterback, Matthew Stafford, then you add an offensive tackle to protect him, enter Huskie, William Beatty. Very impressive at the combine, he's a safe pick for the Lions. This is just the first step in a very long rebuilding process, wait, were they ever built?

21. Philadelphia Eagles Robert Ayers, Defensive End, Tennessee Fits Jim Johnson's defense to a T. Aters defines work out wonder and has done alot to impress the NFL since the college football season ended. Andy Reid would love to draft a running back, but Moreno and Wells are gone, furthermore, if you think he is going to give into the demands of Donovan McNabb, your crazy.

22. Minnesota Vikings Vontae Davis, Cornerback, Illinois Davis has questions surrounding him, hustle, motivation, etc. Not a good place for the Illinois corner, Minnesota doesn't exactly get you excited about football. However, they do need help at corner given the age of Winfield and Davis can play right away.

23. New England Patriots Rey Maualuga, Linebacker, Southern California This seems like a lock if he is available. The Patriots have the ability to add yet another top of the pile linebacker. Maualuga is all that and more. The Patriots benefit greatly from injury questions surrounding Maualuga, the teams drafting ahead of them can't afford to take a flyer on an injury, the Patriots can afford to do that. The days of Bruschi and Vrabel are over . .Enter Rey Maualuga and 2008 Defensive ROY, Jerod Mayo.

24. Atlanta Falcons Aaron Maybin, Defensive End, Penn. State While I once thought that if Brandon Pettigrew still remained available the Falcons would add him to the arsenal of Matt Ryan. However, since both Michael Boley and Keith Brooking have left the Falcons via free agency, they have more pressing defensive needs. Mike Smith knows how to get the best out of players who lack discipline, I'd say that would be Aaron Maybin who needed another year of college but he's very valuable. He can play that 3-4 defense and fits in Atlanta.

25. Miami Dolphins Clay Matthews, Linebacker, Southern California If Matthews is the last of the Trojan 1st round caliber linebackers, you can bet The Tuna grabs him at #25. Matthews takes pressure off of Joey Porter and fits in the 3-4 perfectly. The guy walked on at one of the best schools in the country that recruits only the top players, now he's a top 30 pick in the NFL draft. If this isn't a Bill Parcells guy, I don't know what is.

26. Baltimore Ravens Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver, North Carolina Derrick Mason is 35-years old, despite what he managed to do in the '08 postseason, the Ravens need to get younger at receiver. Hakeem Nicks is a big, flashy, powerful wide out, exactly what Joe Flacco needs. While the Ravens could look to replace some holes on defense, what they really need to do is sure up weapons for Flacco so that offense can flourish.

27. Indianapolis Colts Peria Jerry, Defensive Tackle, Ole' Miss While I would love to see the Colts select the "other" defensive tackle from Boston College, Ron Brace, Peria Jerry is the best available defensive tackle at this pick. The defense that managed only two sacks from that position in 2008 needs a serious upgrade, the speed Jerry provides would fix that. Sidenote: I wouldn't be shocked if Percy Harvin was on the Colts come May.

28. Philadelphia Eagles (from Carolina)Brandon Pettigrew, Tight End, Oklahoma State Pettigrew replaces L.J. Smith, and adds an all around pass catching, blocking tight end to the Eagles offense. The Eagles won't draft a running back in the first round, they'll still be available in the later rounds. This pick should calm Donovan F. McNabb.

29. New York Giants Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver, Florida Imagine the depth Percy Harvin gives the Giants, not to mention the versatility. The Giants would love to find a replacement for the touches that Derrick Ward got in the backfield and also a receiver that can handle the touches and attention that Plaxico used to get. While small in statue, you could argue that Harvin is the most dynamic offensive player in this draft.

30. Tennessee Titans Darius Butler, Corner Back, Connecticut I liked D.J. Moore here, played his college ball in Tennessee and the Titans need help at corner but Butler is the clear best corner left in the draft. Butler is quick and fits a Titan defense that is aging at the position and has a need for a fast break up the play corner.

31. Arizona Cardinals LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Pittsburgh Replace the "Edge" because no one buys the James & Hightower show any longer. LeSean McCoy doesn't come with the fan fare of Moreno and Wells, but he'll do for the Cardinals. McCoy was a 1,000 yard rusher in two Big East seasons and is good catching the ball out of the backfield, he works great in the Cardinal system.

32. Pittsburgh Steelers D.J. Moore, Corner Back, Vanderbilt A number of cornerbacks could be drafted here, if Darius Butler is still on the board and Moore is off, the Steelers would do that. Wake Forest corner Alphonso Smith is also an option for the defending champs who just lost Bryant McFadden in free agency. The Steelers just need to add depth with this draft, this pick does that.

Wooooo; That was tough. Thank you for checking out my 2009 NFL Mock Draft; Someday when I'm writing for the World Wide Leader you can think about this day, cause I won't be haha. Thanks folks.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Breaking Down The Bracket

Knock, Knock
Who's There?

MARCH MADNESS BABYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Go Away Dicky V!

Now that I've gotten that out of my system . . I'm breaking down the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, and the Women's.

Ladies First

UConn destroys everybody, We hate Gino Auriemma even more than we used to, and that's all I have to say about the Women's Tourney. No disrespect.

TO THE MEN!

Three Big East monsters, and Tobacco Road's finest. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Louisville, and North Carolina are the four 2009 number one seeds. A couple thoughts regarding these seeds:

(1) The 31-3, Conference USA Champion, Memphis Tigers, aren't a #1 seed. North Carolina exited the ACC tournament earlier than expected, and questions surround the health of guard Ty Lawson. Connecticut also exited the Big East tournament earlier than expected, their down Jerome Dyson and won't be getting him back. What did John Calipari's Memphis Tigers do? Win each of the last 25 games they played, which included a 25-point victory against a 20 win Tulsa squad in their conference tournament championship game. It's okay though, the selection committee is making a point to Memphis; Win the tough out of conference games you scheduled, or move to a power conference. If Memphis gets knocked out early, the committee is justified, if they go deep and knock off a #1, they'll earn respect.

(2) Louisville forced the committee to make them The #1 seed in the entire tournament. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Carolina all got bounced from their conference tournaments early. Louisville rolled up Providence, Villanova, and Syracuse all by ten points or more en route to becoming the Big East Tournament Champs. Rick Pitino has the Cardinals ready for a deep run and hopefully a national title. If Carolina had won the ACC tourney, you can bet it wouldn't have mattered if Louisville beat every team by 30 points, they'd have given the top honor to Carolina. Luckily for my blood pressure, that didn't happen and Carolina disappointed their legions of misguided fans, Thank You. As the #1 overall, Louisville has the easiest of roads to the Final Four. The only sleepers in their Midwest Region are a very good Michigan State team who shows vulnerability and a West Virginia program that they beat in Morgantown just recently.

Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky are #12 seeds, not Arizona and Wisconsin. Two of the four number twelves play in big time conferences that sent 10 additional teams into the field of sixty-four. So, when one of these teams knock off a #5 seed, don't be shocked. Arizona has wins against Gonzaga a #4 seed, Kansas a #3 seed, UCLA a #6 seed, USC a #10 seed, and Washington a #4 seed. While they are a 19-13 team that were definitely on the bubble, that resume is impressive and a victory against the five seed, Utah, wouldn't be an upset. Wisconsin on the other hand has a very tough Florida State team awaiting them, but they've been preparing for this with their rigorous Big 10 schedule. The Badgers beat Michigan a #10 seed, Illinois a #5 seed, Ohio State a #8 seed, and while Penn State isn't in the tourney, it's because they have two losses to none other than the those Badgers that there out. When the ACC tourney runners-up, the Seminoles, drop their tourney opener to Wisconsin, remember, Wisconsin isn't REALLY a #12 seed.

There is something missing here. It's Davidson and sensational guard, Stephen Curry. The Southern Conference Champion Wildcats finished the regular season 26-7. They were got bumped off in their conference tournament and lost the automatic bid they would have received if they'd won. That bid went to Chattanooga, who Davidson defeated twice in the regular season by an average of around 13 points, and who will be promptly stomped on by UConn in the first round. Davidson played Duke, Oklahoma, Purdue, NC State, West Virginia, and Butler. So I'm going to feel safe in saying, they were challenged. Furthermore, you know what one of the major problems in college hoops is? Consistency. You can't identify with the players because each year they leave earlier and earlier. Well my friends, we had Steph Curry coming back for another season, and the same guy who we loved watching in 2008, led his team to 25+ wins and averaged nearly 29 points a night in the '09 regular season. For one year, I could have been okay with one of those schools from a power conference being left off in favor of a guy and a team we know and loved from the season before. This tournament needed Steph Curry and the Davidson Wildcats.

Unlucky #7's. Cal draws Maryland, Clemson draws Michigan, Boston College draws USC, and Texas draws Minnesota. It is very possible that those #10's could whack every one of the #7's they drew. Maryland is a inconsistent, but dangerous. Beat the Tar Heels but lost to Morgan State, get my point? Clemson meets a Michigan team that is coming off recent wins against tournament teams Purdue and Minnesota, they scare some teams. Boston College is going into the eyes of March after taking Duke to the wire in the ACC tourney. The young Eagles that knocked off Carolina, Duke, and Florida State in the regular season draw a USC team hot off a 5-game winning streak that resulted in the PAC-10 tourney champs. Lastly, the Texas Longhorns will be playing Tubby Smith and his Golden Gophers that dropped #1 seeded Louisville back in December. If you forced my hand to pick which of those sevens would survive, I'd be forced to put California and Clemson into the next round. Yep, I'm picking against my Boston College Eagles, and I don't want to discuss it any more.

I loved Xavier last year, they didn't lose till field went from eight to four. This year, the team I see sneaking up on people is also a #3 seed. Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats. Wright and his Wildcats finished off the final 13 games of the season 11-2. That 11-2 mark includes wins against Pittsburgh, Providence, and Marquette. Throughout this season they've lost several very close games including a 1-point loss to Louisville, 2-point loss to Georgetown, and a 6-point loss in Storrs, Connecticut back in late January. Led by Junior guard, Scottie Reynolds (16 ppg and 4 apg) and 6'8" Senior forward, Dante Cunningham (16 ppg and 7 rpg) Villanova has veteran leadership which always does well in this tournament. Villanova opens up with Patriot League Champs, American University, and would be aiming at a possible matchup with Duke if the Blue Devils can survive. I'll be in attendance for a Duke v. Nova matchup in the East Region at TD Banknorth Garden, and let me tell you, I hate Duke. Look for Jay Wright to take his program deep in 2009.

Quick Notes:

I love former UMass head coach, Travis Ford, leading Oklahoma State into the 2009 NCAA Tournament. However, expecting them to knock off Pittsburgh in the second game of the tourney is too much to ask.

Don't be stunned when the Big East drops a few first round games. Syracuse played their butt off in the Big East Tourney, they may be spent. As much as I love Marquette, they are different without former coach and current Hoosier, Tom Crean.

Portland State upsetting Xavier wouldn't shock me. On that note, neither would Akron dropping Gonzaga in the first round and Cleveland State giving a shock to Wake Forest. Not all the chalk will advance.

Don't sleep on Bob Huggins and West Virginia, I've seen that team play and I would love to see them advance to play a Michigan State or drop a Kansas in the second round.

The Final Four

Louisville - Pitino has the team to get them there, they are deadly.
Memphis - Just wait and see.
Villanova - Stuns Pittsburgh in Boston.
North Carolina - Look at the South Region; Please.

. . . . . . Louisville in a 15-point romp over North Carolina

Friday, March 13, 2009

Keep It Real Friday . . The 13th

Not alot going on this week . . . my Boston Celtics are laying low with Rondo and Garnett on the mend. The NCAA tournament is about to begin, so were going through sports rather quickly this week.

KEEP IT REAL!

To be fair . . Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, needs to CLAM IT! Manny Ramirez is a Dodger, everyone knows what happened last summer, this is 2009, nearly a month away from the opener, time to move on. Please, don't get me wrong, I'm the same guy who stuck up for Pedro when he threw a 100-year old Don Zimmer to the ground, but when Jon Papelbon is releasing statements about "Manny being a cancer last summer" in Esquire magazine, I get a tad touchy. If you think he's disrupting the clubhouse and you don't step in, what does that say about you? Furthermore, where were these comments as it was going on? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I didn't hear anyone from Jason Varitek to Josh Beckett saying a word publicly. It's over and done with, the player who helped bring more championships to the Boston Red Sox than Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Carlton Fisk, combined, kissed any shot of his number being retired alongside theirs, goodbye. The kicker, he did it all for less than $1 million dollars. Keep It Real Jon! Let's close the book on this one.

The World Baseball Classic is not a bad idea. Like most things in this country, it's just poorly planned. For the past week or so I've been catching innings here and there of the WBC. I've watched Canada play, Venezuela, U.S.A., Puerto Rico, Netherlands, Dominican Republic, among others. Yet, I've arrived at one conclusion: This thing has legs. It'll take some time before it gets to World Cup level, and I acknowledge that it may never be at that level, but it's just as fun. I have a few suggestions for Major League Baseball, what Bud Selig & Co. can do to change up what they've developed:

(1) No competing with spring training, it's just not smart and it's not fair to your loyal fans who have traveled to places like Fort Myers to see David Ortiz whack a couple homers in the sun and they end up catching Jeff Bailey batting fourth.

(2) The players have to be in better form to play. The Asian teams and South American teams are playing year round, and the North American clubs like the U.S. and Canada have a distinct disadvantage. Permanently shorten the MLB regular season, only owners would argue, and allow the players to continue playing post the postseason. That solves problem #1 of when to play it? Finally,

(3) Promote the foreign players. We already know Jason Bay of Canada, and Jose Reyes of the Dominican, we don't know whose pitching for the Netherlands, we don't know who's playing shortstop for team Aussie. If this is going to be a World game you have to embrace the leagues around the world and the stars that play in them.

Anyway Bud, that's my push to get you to shut down the conference tourneys and flip on the WBC this weekend. What? Who isn't excited for Cuba v. Japan @ 4:00 on Sunday? Two of our former WWII enemies squaring off in a friendly game of baseball! I'm excited. KEEP IT REAL!

Hey! Dan Snyder . . Maybe you should have looked into what legal proceedings were looming for big time free agent defensive tackle, Albert Haynesworth, BEFORE HANDING HIM $41 MILLION DOLLARS IN GUARANTEED MONEY! Okay, maybe I'm overreacting, but what ever happened to the day where a guy waited till he played with you for a couple months before he faced criminal time? I miss that day. If you have no idea what I'm talking about: from the Boston Herald . . "Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been indicted on two misdemeanor traffic charges after a crash that seriously injured another driver in Nashville, Tenn." So I reiterate, what the hell are you giving a guy that kind of money for who has character issues? Adam Jones, Terrell Owens, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry, Cedric Benson . . the list goes on and on. I'm just tired of people with WAY more athletic talent than anyone I know, having an IQ similar to that of a 10 year old boy. Here's a thought: HIRE A 'FRIGGIN DRIVER. I know it's probably expensive but if you demand $41 million dollars . . . . I'm guessing you have money for it. KEEP IT REAL! The majority of millionaire athletes, are morons when it comes to staying out of trouble.

Check it out every Friday, sometimes in the morning (depending on the night before, what?!? I was up late watching the six overtime 'Cuse v. UConn game!) Sometimes in the late afternoon . . KEEP IT REAL!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The 1's Are In The Stable

We haven't written much about men's college basketball this year. In part because, well, how much do we really care about the regular season? However, that is neither here nor there, it's March, the conference tournaments are starting, and yep, Gonzaga has already punched their ticket.

On March 9th, the North Carolina Tar Heels currently sit at 27-3, which is good enough for a #1 ranking across the land. But wait, throughout this season spanning 17 weeks and 17 opportunities for a new #1, the Tar Heels aren't the only team that has spent time atop mountain. The AP has placed five different programs atop their top 25 since the beginning of the season. From Carolina, Duke, and Wake Forest to Connecticut and Pittsburgh, now back to Carolina, this season has been as exciting as any other in recent memory.

Before I release my Four #1 Seeds, pre-major conference tournament season, I have a disclaimer (or quick rant, whichever you prefer):

Disclaimer: I'm tired of ESPN and every other major sports outlet drinking the ACC kool-aid. From the Associated Press over ranking North Carolina after every win to ESPN and Dick Vitale slurping everything that comes out of Chapel Hill, I'm tired of this. Look, the Dukies and the Tar Heels have great coaches and great programs, you can't deny that, but in the '08-'09 regular season, one conference is heads and shoulders above any other; The Big East. Currently, Connecticut, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, all Big East Schools, are in the top 5 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. So when Pitt drops UConn for the second straight time, who was the current #1, and the Tar Heels beat a Duke team that was ranked #7, how do they jump to #1 over Pittsburgh? ACC bias. When Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough wins the 2008 Naismith, while Kansas State's Michael Beasley averages more points and more rebounds than the Tar Heel forward, someone should ask the question, how is that? ACC bias. So, when your reading my selections for the #1 seeds, I'm tossing Carolina right out of the mix, if you want to hear about the Tar Heels chances, head to ESPN.Com, but hurry, the line gets long for Tar Heel kool-aid.

To my selections . . . (just the #1's)

The Pittsburgh Panthers. Pitt should be the #1 team in the country right now, if I was picking, they would be. The current #2 in the Associated Press, is downright dangerous. Their 28-3 record headed into the vaunted Big East Tournament includes an undefeated record in their home gym. Each of their three losses are road losses to top flight programs, Louisville, Villanova, and well, okay, so the Providence Friars aren't top flight, but they are good. The Panthers boast monster road wins in Storrs, Connecticut and a 16-point rout of Georgetown when they were ranked #8 in the country. Between super-big man, DeJuan Blair, averaging 16 points and 12 boards a night, and of course forward Sam young whose leading the team in scoring and second on the team in rebounds, the Panthers have the most dominant front line in college hoops. Like other top programs, Carolina and Louisville, a deep run in their conference tourney isn't needed to make them a #1 seed, no question.

The Oklahoma Sooners. So, the Sooners struggle without Blake Griffin. The '08 Memphis Tigers would have struggled without Derrick Rose. Like those Tigers, the Sooners won't be playing without their superstar come tourney time. Oklahoma is the best team in the Big 12, and in my mind they are the best team west of the Mississippi. It wasn't till the Sooners played without Blake Griffin that they even hinted at struggling. (I'm excluding the loss in Arkansas, because everyone plays a clunker.) Pittsburgh against Providence, North Carolina against Boston College, you get the point. The 6'10" forward, Blake Griffin, averages 22 points and 14 boards a game. In a late November showdown at Purdue, the Sooners won their first road game of the season in overtime, Blake Griffin ripped down 21 rebounds and scored 18 points. Against 2008 tournament darlings, Davidson, and their super guard Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin led the Sooners to an early season victory scoring 25 points and 21 rebounds, on the same night that Stephen Curry led all scorers with 44 points. Blake Griffin will demand respect come tournament time, because of him, Oklahoma is a #1 seed.

The Louisville Cardinals. While I could see it happening, it won't. Three Big East schools are not getting top seeds, with that said, I'm putting Louisville in the top spot over Connecticut. If you fans in Storrs have a problem with that, you could have beaten Pittsburgh, but you didn't. Back to the point, Louisville and Rick Pitino are poised and they are flying under the radar. The regular season Big East Champs boast victories against SIX top #25 ranked teams. They've won at tourney bound Syracuse, Villanova, and West Virginia. By far one of the deepest teams in the country, Louisville has no player averaging more than 14 points a night but three players averaging over 11 points per game. Finishing their tough Big East schedule with only two losses and finishing the season 26-5 is pretty damn good for Rick Pitino's squad. Senior forward, Terrance Williams, plays big in big games; 26 points against UConn, 24 points and 16 boards against the Irish, and 20 points in Morgantown to clinch the Big East. Louisville seemed vulnerable early but came on strong to round out the season. They will lock up a #1 with a good stretch in the tourney.

......I told you Carolina wasn't getting slurped here.

Finally, The Memphis Tigers. Yes, I understand they have just two wins against the RPI Top 50. And yes, losses against Xavier and Syracuse hurt their bid, especially when they play in a weak conference. However, the 2008 runners-up haven't lost a contest since December 20th. They've defeated Tennessee at Knoxville, beaten Gonzaga in a tight one, and dropped a Cincinnati team when they were 10-3. The team which would lose Chris Douglas-Roberts, Joey Dorsey, and of course the #1 pick, Derrick Rose, returned to go 28-3 and more importantly 16-0 in Conference USA. The #2 team in C-USA, Tulsa, who finished the regular season 23-9 got dropped by 30 at the hands of Memphis just several weeks ago. Here's why I like Memphis as a #1: They are the Ohio State of college basketball, in the current system, wins are all that matter, it doesn't matter who they are against, it just matters that you have them. If Memphis plays in the Big East, maybe they have a slew of losses, but do you really want to be deprived of a John Calipari coached team in the Big Dance? After losing all those stars and without the big name school behind you, like Bill Self at Kansas, what Calipari has done is masterful. Freshman guard Tyreke Evans is awesome, he's averaged 17 points on the season and in their win at Cincy, Evans notched 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists, from a guy no one expected Coach Cal to be able to get anything out of. Memphis deserves a #1, especially more than North Carolina and ACC refs. BOOM!

. . . . The dance is coming, and I'm all jacked up!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Locked Up

Two championships since 2004, and they aren't done yet. That you can put in the bank. The one time perennial losers, are currently major league baseballs model franchise. You guessed it, I'm talking about the Boston Red Sox. American League runners-up in 2003 and 2008, World Series champions in 2004 and 2007, the Boston Red Sox have built an organization that can compete for a championship, every single season, no doubt about it.

With the announcement late Sunday night, that 25-year old left handed starter, Jon Lester, will be a Red Sox till at least 2013, it has become evident that the Red Sox have more than a plan in place. Since the 2008 postseason ended, with the Red Sox losing in a decisive game 7 of the ALCS, the Red Sox have begun locking down their young core of home grown talent, piece by irreplaceable piece.

In 1959, Chicago White Sox second baseman, Nellie Fox, won the American League MVP. Before 2008, a period stretching nearly 50 seasons, no other second baseman had won the award. Come 2008, Boston Red Sox second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, took home the American League MVP by leading the Red Sox into the postseason. Only one season after taking home the American League Rookie of the Year, Dustin Pedroia came back with an exceptional sophomore season in the big leagues. Pedroia, at 5'9", hit .326, drove in 83 runs, and clubbed 17 home runs this past season. The Boston Red Sox and general manager, Theo Epstein, rewarded the 25-year old Woodland, California native with a six-year contract that could keep him in Bean Town till 2015, paying him up to $40.5 million dollars. After what Epstein and Co. dealt with this past summer regarding super slugger, Manny Ramirez, the extension given to Pedroia is a clear move to make commitments to players who want nothing more than to win championships every single season.

The Red Sox didn't stop with locking down the 2008 American League MVP. Mid-January, the Red Sox returned to the table with the 2008 Hank Aaron Award winner, Kevin Youkilis. (The award is given to the leagues top offensive player) One could make the argument, and I'm that one, that Kevin Youkilis is the most important non-pitcher on the Boston Red Sox. Not only can Youkilis dominate at the plate, he's a gold glove first baseman and can also play exceptional defense across the diamond at third base, his original position when called up to the majors. From his first season in the majors in '04, Kevin Youkilis has improved his batting average every year. In 2008 alone, Youkilis hit .312, hit 29 homers, and drove in 115 Red Sox, good enough to finish third among AL MVP voting. The 29-year old is one of the best hitters in the major leagues. In his first three full seasons, Youkilis has recorded on average 159 hits per season. When evaluating Kevin Youkilis, ask yourself how many first baseman in the majors can bat anywhere from 2nd to 6th in the lineup, and at each place within the lineup give you what you need. With question marks surrounding an aging and injury prone Mike Lowell, the Red Sox place great value in having a first baseman that can play both sides of the infield without giving up a lick of defense. In mid-January they locked up that value for the next four seasons, possibly five at more than $40 million dollars.

On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox made a commitment to their left handed ace, Jon Lester. After defeating non-Hodgkins lymphoma during his rookie season, Jon Lester hasn't looked back. The Red Sox lefty is set to remain pitching at Fenway Park through possibly 2014, and based on what we've seen from him, it'll be a great four seasons. The Tacoma, Washington native who has already started a World Series clinching game and recorded a no-hitter, all before the age of 26, is one of the games most talented young pitchers. 2008 was a breakout season for Lester. He managed to record 16 wins and only 6 losses in 33 starts. Lester pitched two complete games and finished fourth in lowest earned run average among American League starters at 3.21, pretty impressive for kid just 59 starts into his major league career. Lester remains the Red Sox left-handed ace and combined with right hander Josh Beckett, gives the Red Sox one of the top one-two punches in the major leagues.

Based on this past offseason and the events of the past two days, the Boston Red Sox are securing the cornerstones of their franchise for the next five seasons. When the Red Sox eventually come to terms on an extension with 28-year old closer, Jonathan Papelbon, they'll have four home grown talents that have made their way through the Red Sox system and contributed to at least one championship and won't be leaving any time soon. When the Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, promised to turn the Sox into a scouting and player development machine, this is what he had in mind. There is how the Sox do business, and then how everyone else does.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keep It Real: NFL is King

The Major League baseball's Spring Training season is in full stride. Dozens of major leaguers are about to participate in the World Baseball Classic. NCAA basketball programs everywhere are preparing for March Madness and positioning themselves for bracket play. However, nearly five weeks since competitive play has ended in the NFL, football is still front and center in American sports. Since the NFL free agency season opened last week, NFL general managers from Seattle to Foxborough have been more active than Magic Johnson in the 80's. All due respect to the other sports, this is an all football edition of Keep It Real Friday: The NFL is King,

First Down: 75% of the moves made from the last week in February to the final week in April, are made with the NFL draft looming. The Kansas City Chiefs trading for Matt Cassel gives you at least one definite answer, they won't be drafting Mark Sanchez at #3. The Seattle Seahawks signing free agent wide out, T.J. Whoseyourmamma, makes you wonder if what was a given before the combine, the Seahawks drafting Michael Crabtree, is still a given now. The 49ers couldn't get Kurt Warner away from Arizona, possibly opening the door for one Mark Sanchez to be drafted at #10. The Patriots clear cap space by trading Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to only pick up an early second round draft choice, which won't cost them as much money. The Atlanta Falcons watch LB's Keith Brooking and Michael Boley sign free agent contracts with the Cowboys and Giants, now they are in the market for rookie linebackers. NFL general managers had their opportunity to find out what they liked and didn't like about the coming draft class then, they began moving. You sign free agents because you can't draft a replacement who will give you as much, you pick up draft picks because you have alot of holes to fill. Rarely are there moves made in early March that won't play a significant role come late April. KEEP IT REAL!

Second Down: The Patriots are just that much smarter than you. Deal with it. While their fans spent 3-days after the trade tearing their hair out and complaining that they didn't get enough in return, FOR THEIR BACK UP QUARTERBACK, Bill Belichick was sitting in a room twisting is make believe mustache and laughing at what he'd just done. Let me pitch this to you, say you drafted a quarterback, who'd never even started a college football game, in the 7th round of the draft, and several years later you could trade him for a high second round draft pick, would you do it? Don't answer, I'll do it for you, YES, YES, YES! Wait though, you didn't "just" get a second round pick, you managed to disrupt one of the most talented offenses in the AFC, the Denver Broncos, by floating it out there that you were interested in their 12th pick, you would trade Cassel if they dumped Pro Bowl QB, Jay Cutler to Tampa Bay and Tampa would give up picks as well. Two things: (1) this would never have happened, why would the Patriots want a 12th pick when they have to pay Vince Wilfork (2) Josh McDaniels, have you learned nothing watching the Belichick/Mangini feud? Now, the Broncos have to either keep Cutler and have him hold a grudge, or trade him off at a twenty five cents on the dollar, because everyone knows you have an issue. Scott Pioli knew this, deal done, Pats get what they wanted. KEEP IT REAL! He's just that much smarter than you.

Third Down: Really Jay Cutler? Your that stunned that the Broncos attempted to shop you around the NFL? Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning are the four quarterbacks in the NFL that remain untouchable, for now. What do they all have in common? THEY ALL ROCK CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS. Jay Cutler isn't a bad quarterback, he's got a giant arm, puts fans in seats, and sells jerseys, but he's 17-20 as a starter. Yes, the defense behind him is softer than pillows but he plays in the AFC West, yep that's right, he gets to play against Oakland and Kansas City twice a year. In his first two seasons as a starter, he threw 32 interceptions, does that sound like a quarterback who would work well in a Josh McDaniels system? McDaniels has worked with two quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Tom Brady, you know what defines guys like that? Consistency. Humbleness. Team Players. Have you seen any of those things from the cocky, risk taking, teammate calling out in public, Jay Cutler? No. So forgive Josh McDaniels if he wants to get his first head coaching job off the ground without having to worry about his quarterback taking shots that don't need to be made. If he had the opportunity to bring in Matt Cassel, he should do it. Jay Cutler isn't a championship winning quarterback who knows how to win, he's a 25-year old gunslinging Brett Favre Jr., please. Keep It Real!

Fourth Down: Terrell Owens, ahhhhh, did you think I would let Keep It Real Friday get away without mentioning T.O.? Here's a guy who kicked and screamed his way out of San Francisco, refused to play in Baltimore, and destroyed the Philadelphia locker room till they let him go. To Dallas. Most players would see the path they've trail blazed behind them and cool it, especially when playing in Dallas makes you one of the biggest athletes on the planet; see Tony Romo. Not Terrell Owens, oh no, Terrell is a lock for the Hall of Fame, that's a fact. However, when you look at Terrell's career, what impresses you? Where are the big wins? Where are the Michael Irvin like Super Bowl catches? Where is the teammate or coach who will introduce him to the members of the Hall of Fame? Those things are no where to be found, due to what he has done in his career, the bridges he has burned, and locker rooms he has destroyed, Terrell Owens is THE locker room cancer. No bones about it. I loved what T.O. brought to the field, he busted his hump, made some big plays, and could really play his position, but all that isn't worth it any longer, when you miss the playoffs and your team is as dysfunctional as the Cowboys have become, removing T.O. is the only way to at least make it seem like your attempting to right the ship. He'll end up on another team, that's for sure, but I'm just glad he isn't a Cowboy anymore. KEEP IT REAL! T.O. is T-Overrated.

. . . . .If you want more of LynchyRightNow.com , we'll give you NFL Mock Draft updates next week, possible destinations for Terrell Owens, and of course as always, KEEP IT REAL!