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The Madness is Upon Us!

It’s that time of the year once again. The weather is getting a little warmer (allegedly), St. Patrick’s Day is in our rear view mirror, next thing on the checklist is for Spring to come. But in between all of that, March Madness is here! Tomorrow, the first day 2nd Round begins. The 64 team field will quickly drop 48 of those teams in a matter of 96 hours, and one of them could be yours!

So before all the Madness begins, here is a quick guide to get you going, Region by Region.

Let’s start out West, where my favorite team has been given a number 1 seed for the first time under Coach Sean Miller. This Arizona team is talented, but will the loss of Brandon Ashley hurt them in the long run? We all know March Madness is a wonderful time, but all it does year end and year out is disappoint the fans of 67 teams. Arizona got a favorable draw, potentially facing Gonzaga/Oklahoma State in the 2nd Round 3rd Round of the tournament and then potentially San Diego State in the Sweet 16 (whom they have already beaten this season in San Diego). The potential rematch between these 2 would be in Anaheim, which normally would be a pseudo-home game for San Diego, but many Arizona alumni reside in Southern California, so you can’t help but pick the Wildcats in this scenario. In the bottom half of this bracket, you see a bunch of over-seeded teams as well as under-seeded teams. Somehow Bo Ryan’s Buzzcuts managed a 2 seed, even though they finished the season 10-7 and a #12 ranking. Look for this team to get upset early in the tournament by a hungrier, grittier lower seed. This Bo Ryan team is good, but they are not a typical defensive stopper as they have been in the past, and potentially facing teams like Oregon, Baylor or Creighton on the way to the Elite Eight should pose for some problems. Ultimately, I have Creighton meeting with Arizona in the Elite Eight, with Arizona coming out of this bracket. Their defense is too good, and they will make just enough shots to get by. Plus, Arizona has the size and skill in the front court to matchup with the bigs of Creighton, even Doug McDermott. Look for Arizona to make it to Arlington, Texas.

 

Moving across the country, we have Wichita State leading the way in the Midwest bracket with their 34-0 record. But that is honestly where the fun is going to end for this “Cinderella” story. Hard to call them a Cinderella story considering they went to the Final Four last year and this year have proceeded to go 34-0 to silence the critics. But to shut up all the haters across the country, they would have to go on a remarkable run to make it back to the Final Four, doable, but unlikely. The first test will come against either Kentucky or Kansas State, both very talented teams but also VERY inconsistent and underachieved this season. After a potentially grueling 2nd Round 3rd Round game, they have to deal with the likes of St. Louis/NC State or Louisville who was vastly under-seeded. Funny what one year can do for 2 different teams. Louisville knocked out Wichita State last year in the final four, and since then their paths have been very different. The Shockers have shocked the nation by winning 34 straight, while the Louisville Cardinal won the National title, but then suffered through an up and down season since then. They won the competitive Big East American Athletic Conference, but somehow managed only a 4 seed in the toughest bracket. But don’t sleep on the Manhattan Jaspers, Louisville’s first opponent. They are a tough, and talented team who could easily challenged the Cardinal in the first game. Down in the lower half of the bracket, the heavyweights are sitting and waiting. We start with the UMass vs. Play-In Game of Iowa vs. Tennessee. Regardless of who wins this game, I am picking them to beat the Minutemen despite their lower seed and so-so seasons. Iowa was a powerhouse most of the season before losing 6 out of their last 7 games. If they can get it together and win the first game, look for them to make life hard for UMass who hasn’t played a tournament game in a while. On the other hand, Tennessee could easily play their way to a win over Iowa and then UMass, based on the way they ended their season. They played mostly inconsistent ball the 2nd half of the season before getting it together in the SEC tournament, only to lose to overall top seed Florida. Next in the bracket is a no brainer. Duke will cruise by Mercer, with Jabari Parker showing everyone why he will be a future NBA star. I’m looking back at the careers of current NBA stars back in college and 2 players will come to mind for comparisons. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant had a monster season at Texas, but was subject to a 19 point blowout in the 2nd round of the tournament. The comparison with Kyrie Irving may be a stretch, but with Irving, Duke was a talented team, but just could not get over that hump and were beaten by a hungrier team. I feel like Parker will have the same fate and like the aforementioned, he will bolt for the NBA despite a less than stellar tournament run. I do see Duke reaching the Sweet 16, but their run will stop there. Why? The Michigan Wolverines. Even though they played Duke earlier this season, even with Mitch McGary, they were nowhere near the team that they are today. I just think in a rematch, on a neutral court, with Michigan playing better basketball, the Wolverines will advance to play Louisville for the right to go to the Final Four. Oh wait, another rematch of last year’s Final Four? But this time, it’s a rematch of the National Title Game. Advantage Louisville, but only slightly. This game is a complete toss-up, but don’t be surprised if the Canadian superstar Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III come up huge and lead the Wolverines to back to back Final Fours.

 

From the group of death to by far one of the easiest groups, we look at the East Region. Top seed Virginia got its number 1 seed after doing exactly what Miami did the previous season, win the ACC outright and then the ACC Tournament. But as Miami found out last season, just by winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles, doest not mean you will make the Final Four. Although this Virginia team is talented, they will ultimately fall short of their goals. They should cruise to the Sweet 16 before ultimately losing to a Michigan State team destined for that Final Four run. This will keep Tom Izzo’s streak alive of every class he has coached making the Final Four. Shoot maybe I should have played basketball at Michigan State. In the lower half of the bracket, there are a lot of prospects for upsets. There could be Providence over North Carolina in the 6 vs. 11 matchup or even the NC Central over Iowa State matchup in the same city. Both favorites have been playing some inconsistent basketball as of late, but are talented enough to make the Elite Eight in the same regard. Look for UNC to get to the Elite Eight before losing to a Connecticut team that catches fire. One thing we all need to remember, these guys still have some champions on the squad remaining from Kemba’s magical run in 2011. Never count out champions, they know how to win a few games in the tournament. Final verdict, Michigan State is en route to Arlington.

 

Over in the South region, we come across top seeded Florida, their first time getting that since winning the National title 7 years ago. Florida faces the same prospect that Arizona has, a potential tough second round game with talented, but inconsistent teams who could piece together a few wins tin the tournament. Where would Colorado be with Spencer Dwindiddie? Or what if the wheels didn’t fall off for Pitt multiple times late in games? Tyler Ennis’ buzzer beater being the hardest to deal with. But none of it is real, so Florida should Steam roll to at least the Elite Eight before facing a tough opponent. I know UCLA won the Pac-12 tournament, but let’s get real. They aren’t legit yet, and I do have them in the Sweet 16, but they have no chance against Florida. In the bottom half of the region, I can finally rejoice. Ohio State is in a potential first round second round upset! But even if they do get out of that matchup with Dayton alive, they will most likely lose to a much better Syracuse team. But Syracuse themselves will be delaying the inevitable as they will lose to an ideally a Kansas team featuring ailing Joel Embiid. As we have learned with Mitch McGary of Michigan, bad backs for young players can be draft stock killers. So for Embiid’s sake, hope his back heals because his team Kansas is going to need him to get to the Final Four. Final verdict, this back heals and Kansas makes it to Texas.

 

Now the Final Four will definitely feature a couple of nice games. Michigan State vs. Kansas and Arizona facing Louisville. I can honestly say that any of these teams facing each other in the National title game would be amazing, but I hope its Arizona vs. Kansas. No need to try and persuade through stats and facts, just putting it out there, and hoping the gods respond. March Madness is a cruel mistress. Good luck and let the Madness begin!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             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Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, An Appreciation

Usain Bolt after winning the 100m Final. Probably the best picture of the Olympic Games.

After watching pure dominance once again this past weekend, the same thing we experience 4 years ago watching the Beijing Olympics, I have to wonder, is this generation producing the best athletes of all time?

Obviously with sports nutrition on the rise and medical technology on the rise, it’s only right that it would be. But how do you explain what Bolt and Phelps did in their respective sports.

Usain Bolt, after wowing everyone at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, put on another show last night in London. In probably his first meaningful race in 4 years, he showed up all the doubters and cruised to gold in the 100m final, becoming only the 2nd athlete ever to repeat in the event.

What I find to be the most impressive is the way he completed the feat. Since blowing away the competition in the 100m final in Beijing, Bolt has been through his ups and downs, including some lapses at the World Championships where he was upstaged by his countryman last year. But let’s remember one thing, he set the WORLD RECORD at the Olympics and didn’t even run the whole race, and then topped that record a year later at the World Championships in 2009. So what else does he have to prove? Just that he is number 1.

Bolt might be the first athlete I have ever seen to have the “On and Off” switch in his arsenal. He has the uncanny ability to turn it on in situations when he feels like it, and at other times can just coast by. Just look at last night’s race, he had lost to his countryman at the Jamaican Olympic trials a few months before. So what does he do? Comes out and  sets an Olympic record and becomes a back-to-back 100m Champion in the Olympics.

Next up for the Jamaican is the 200m. Another race he set the world record in at the Beijing Olympics. Once again same story as the 100m. There have been issues with his commitment, but hearing Bolt speak last night after winning the 100m, he seems like he is in the zone and ready to dominate.

Also, in another way to keep things interesting, Bolt decided to stop an interview to acknowledge the US national anthem, which Sanya Richards-Ross had just won. Dude is a class act for sure.

Over to Michael Phelps, who now has become the most decorated Olympian ever. Phelps the last 4 years has similarly gone through his peaks and valleys in the aftermath of having the single most dominating performance in a single Olympic games.

The thing about Phelps that has impressed me the most, is Phelps literally had not much more to swim for. Yes, he wanted to defend his Olympic titles and show everyone he was the greatest, but he wanted to prove to everyone that the drive was still there and that he was the best American swimmer. EVER.

Despite having Ryan Lochte, coming up in his shadow and sometimes even showing he was vulnerable, Phelps still managed to impress. He managed to earn 6 medals this Olympics, 4 golds and 2 silvers. Through all the controversy and all the hype surrounding Phelps and the expectations, Phelps was still able to impress. Becoming the first 3-time winner in the same event by winning the 200 individual medley at this Olympics. Which many people should realize, is probably the single most impressive feat he has accomplished in his career. Yes, this is the same man who won 18 Gold Medals (22 Overall) spanning over 3 Olympic games, but being able to come back 8 years after winning your first gold in the same event, is a pretty impressive feat, something we may never see again in the future.

Despite his dust-ups in the media, and the many who thought he just wasn’t motivated enough, especially when he didn’t medal in his first race. But Phelps still was able to turn it on, and medaled in his final six races, including golds to end his illustrious career.

So what’s next, who is gonna be the next in line? Not sure we will see 2 other athletes like them. Both confident and dominant, but also 2 different breeds. Bolt has his swagger and signature pose, while Phelps plays off the all-american image (Phelps is the Subway poster boy). I love the Summer Olympics, where some of the best personalities and talents come out, just unfortunate they only come around every 4 years.

Frustrations from the Other Side of the Bay

On what we all knew would be a rough month for the Oakland A’s, things seem to be taking a turn for the worst very very quickly. After starting the week with 2 straight victories at home over their division “rivals” the Angels, the madness of the 6 game losing streak began.

A costly error by Daric Barton led to the Twins beating Oakland in extra innings. The following day, Tyson Ross exits the game after only 7 pitches. The A’s lose 11-1 to the Twins, completing the 2 game sweep. Only 2 games, but losing it like this to the worst team in baseball, unacceptable. It later came to the surface where Tyson Ross and Brandon McCarthy would be going on the 15 day DL with minor injuries.

Coming into the series with the defending World Champs, weird to say this I know, the A’s were reeling. 3 starting pitchers on the DL, a shaky bullpen of late, and the worst being the lack of offensive production. The struggles weren’t going to get any easier with Oakland facing the likes of Vogelsong, Lincecum, and Sanchez respectively.

Friday night, after giving up a run in the first Trevor Cahill dominated the Giants. He only allowed one hit and one run through 6 innings, yet was lifted for a pinch hitter when Oakland had a run in scoring position with 2 outs in the 7th and the score tied 1-1. Now on this front, I more blame Bob Geren for poor managing rather than the A’s lack of offense. Cahill had been dominating the Giants, only allowing one hit and seemed to be getting stronger and stronger as the game went on. I understand that you it’s more important to get that run home, but the team’s strength is preventing runs more than scoring. Yes, Freddy Sanchez made an incrdedible play to save the run, but in that sequence, the A’s lost Hideki Matsui, Cahill and Conor Jackson in that sequence. Chalk that up to a fail on Bob Geren’s part, especially when he saw Jeremy Affeldt warming up in the bullpen. DOUBLE FAIL. The A’s ended up not scoring the rest of the game and Brian Fuentes ended up losing it in the 10th (surprise, surprise).

Saturday, Bob Geren put out a questionable lineup against one of the NL’s elite pitchers in Tim Lincecum. A lineup top to bottom with only 9 total homerun, yes 9. Most of those coming from Josh Willingham. So naturally when a team is struggling to score runs, and they are against one of the best in the game, its going to be tough to scratch out runs. The end result, Lincecum throws a shutout, making the A’s bats look silly in the process.

Sunday things seemed to be looking up. Going into the bottom of the 8th, Oakland led 4-2. But then more late game meltdowns by Oakland. First Nate Schierhotlz takes Grant Balfour out on a pop up that carried over the short right field porch at AT&T park, with a little help from the wind. Then, our “failure of the week,” Brian Fuentes goes 2 innings in the extra frames, only to give up the winning run to Darren Ford and the no-name Giants lineup.

Maybe I’m just a bitter A’s fan, but I think that the San Francisco Giants aren’t really that good of a team. Shown by this weekend, they seem to be a team who is average, with extraordinary pitching and just the right amount of luck in San Francisco. Shown by the A’s 9 straight losses in San Francisco. There is nothing to fear about this team but their talented rotation, which as far as I am concerned, the A’s have out-pitched this year so far.

Last night was rough, and by rough I mean season altering rough. The A’s managed only 1 run against the Angels, and managed to stay in the game until the bottom of the 8th. Why? Our pitching as always. The offense could not muster much, yet our pitching gave up 1 run. In that fateful 8th inning, Fuentes took the mound in the game again with the score tied late on the road. Once again, the same result would pan out, another loss for Fuentes, his 4th in the last week, dropping his record to 1-7 on the season. He has acounted for 24% of the Oakland losses this season. As an A’s fan this frustrates me, based on our pitching leads MLB in several categories or is at the top, yet we seem to lose games because of our pitching. Very confusing. Then Fuentes goes on to rip Bob Geren to the media. Really? Come on, just because your not doing your job means you need to put the blame on others. Yet I do feel for the guy, but before you air out your issues to the media, try and keep it in house. 6 losses in a row is tough, but when everyone in baseball knows the team is bickering, not a good look.

At some point something’s gotta give, whether its shaking up the roster with more offense through trades or through the farm system, we have to do something soon. Especially when this could be a year we could potentially make a run. We will see, this 6 game losing streak needs to end, and our team needs to unify. Maybe when the injuries stop, maybe we can get some momentum.

First the Decision, Now the Collapse!

What a game last night! The Orlando Magic went into American Airlines to face the Miami Heat and stole a win last night. Down 24 points in the 3rd Quarter on the road, the Magic went on a late 40-9 run over the span of 15 minutes and the aftermath was the 2nd largest comeback in franchise history and the 2nd time this season the Heat have failed to close out a game with a 20+ point lead. During this run, many of the Heat’s stars went into witness protection, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade being the main culprits. After scoring 47 points in the first half, 2 more than the Orland Magic as a team, Wade and James went 3 for 13 from the field in the second half including 0 for 4 and 0 for 2 by Wade and James respectively in the second half. Lebron James, who is soon to lose his moniker of King James if he doesn’t step it up son, failed to score a point, record an assist, or even grab a rebound in the 4th quarter. Dwight Howard, who finished with 14 points and 18 rebound, out rebounded the Heat himself in the fourth quarter 10-9.

What’s more interesting about this game is that Lebron James this week, sent out a tweet saying he was re-focused and was taking no prisoners and that he has no friends in war but his soldiers. Now I know Lebron wants to be the so-called villain these days, but using twitter to hype up the media about how he is ready for the second half is baloney. On top of that, the Heat’s performance in the second half makes me along with many other sports fans and realize that he can’t be the villain. Michael Jordan was a villain, he would go into Madison Square Garden to prove a point and would do everything in his power to make sure the Bulls came out with a victory. Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce are guys who are the same way, ice water running through their veins and that killer instinct. In his 7 plus years in the NBA, I can only find once instance where Lebron had that killer instinct and that was in the playoffs against the Pistons. If Lebron wants to be a true villain, he needs to quit messing around and make a statement on the court, not trough the media or any other outlet, but on the court, whether in the Regular Season or the Playoffs. If not soon, he is just going to be another one of those overrated, overhyped superstars who couldn’t get it done.

Complex Best of the 2000s…

Check this out. Brings back the old days. The decade in which i changed the most as a person and had some of the craziest things happen. Enjoy!

Bulls drop Celtics in Game 6 Triple Overtime thriller..

Wow. This year has been one hell of a year for dramatic postseason games. The Bulls and Celtics have yet to let me down this series. Out of the first 5 games in this series we have had 3 overtime games with one being a double overtime thriller which the Bulls won at home. With the exception of game 3, every game has gone down to the wire. So naturally game 6 would have to be more of the same. Game 6 had everything. Rajon Rondo and Kirk Hinrich got physical in the first quarter with Rondo given a flagrant 2 foul. The Bulls blew a big lead late in the fourth quarter and then gave the Celtics a big lead which they came back from. It was epic. Regulation was intense and the 3 overtimes that we witnessed were even better. Key players on both teams fouled out which made a few unknowns step up, namely Joakim Noah, Brad Miller, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis.  Derrick Rose even punked Rajon Rondo at the end of the game with his block to seal the victory when everyone thought Rondo was going to hit a game winner. Boston threw some big punches in this game, i guess Chicago just had more in them. Derrick Rose is playing like a seasoned vet, Joakim Noah and Brad Miller are playing like elite big men, and Ben Gordon is shooting the lights out of the ball. Maybe Chicago can pull the upset. Its going to be tough though with Boston at home for game 7. Ray Allen coming off a Jordan-esqe performance with 51 points, Davis contributing a solid 23 points, Paul Pierce with 22 points and Rajon Rondo dishing out 19 assists. Boston just didnt get the bounces late in the game. Its so hard to overlook such insane stats. John Salmons dropping such an overlooked 35 points and with Derrick Rose with 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists as well as hitting clutch shot after shot. For sports fans this was one of the best games to watch and one of the best series i have had the privilege of watching. All i can hope for is that game 6 saturday doesnt disappoint.

ESPN.com’s Take

The Hangover 1.18.09

So we come into this new week wondering a few things, how are the Cardinals the NFC Champions and what happened to Joe Flacco? The Cardinals punched their ticket this afternoon with a convincing 32-25 Win over Philadelphia today in the NFC Championship game. Larry Fitzgerald today cemented himself as one of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL with his game-changing performance of 9 catches for 152 yards and 3 Touchdowns. Fitzgerald today proved that he alone could lead the Cardinals to yet another victory, and is in position to do so again next week should he put up another performance like the one today. In the other Championship game, the Steelers made Joe Flacco show his experience by forcing 3 interceptions, with one being returned for a touchdown along with his 13-30 passing for only 141 yards. Hey Joe, next time change your diaper before you go to the playoffs because today you really stunk it up. The Steelers won the game 23-14 and will be going to their 2nd super bowl in 4 years. So there we have it, 2 weeks from today Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals matching up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hmm, I can’t help but notice this has the feel of the World Series. One team nobody expected to be there opposing an opponent who most expected to get there. Well unlike baseball, I’m picking the upset. Cardinals should take this one, but not by much giving them their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Dang 66 years was too long.

So did anyone catch the Lebron James commercial. There had been a lot of hoopla and hype for the last few weeks about a big announcement on 1.18.09 and that we would have to brace ourselves. Well in case you didn’t catch it, here’s the video. 

Oh and maybe it’s just me, but I am getting the vibe that Peyton Manning and Lebron James are somewhat competing for the title of the most marketable athlete. I mean Lebron has that other State Farm commercial as well as his newest Nike Commercial. But, Peyton did have some very funny commercials with Mastercard. #1 #2 #3 and his very most recent #4. His appearance on Saturday Night Live was hilarious too. Check the videos here and here

In other news, the much anticipated film Notorious came out friday with much hype. Apparently this movie is a big hit with many people showing up at the box office to see it. So basically i must be one of the few hip-hop fans who isn’t in too much rush to go see this flick. Hmm, maybe i should check it out. 

On a very good note for all of us baseball fans, pitchers and catcher report to camp in just 24 days. Big news for all of us anticipating what is going to go down this season. yet there is one big problem, many big names stars such as Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn (to name a few) are still free agents. Along with these players still being free-agents, we have the 2nd installment of the World Baseball Classic this year and from the looks of it, the USA is in trouble. They lost Alex Rodriguez to the Dominican Republic and they seem to lack a lot of punch in their lineup that they had in 2006. Hey, my guess is we shock the world and make the Semifinals, whoo hoo!

This should be a good week, I make my return to Santa Barbara and get to enjoy one last week of doing nothing before school starts! Maybe this week some of those big name free agents get signed.