Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On the Road Again

In between more trips halfway across the country this week, I thought I would pop in with some general thoughts swirling around my brain while I have some internet downtime courtesy of free airport wireless from Boingo! So what's happened since last I checked in here?

The Tournament. Damn. What an incredible run this time around, quite possibly the best March Madness in history if you're a fan of upsets and of the Little Guy. Everyone said there were no great teams this year, but by the time the tournament actually came around, I think it was pretty clear that Ohio State and Kansas at least were a cut ahead of the rest, with Duke pretty much right on their heels behind them. And yet somehow, the whole "no great teams this year" ended up proving out, as we have an amazing 11-seeded VCU in the Final Four, joined by 8th seeded Butler to accompany #4 Kentucky and #3 UConn. It's the highest sum of the four Final Four seeds in NCAA tournament history, and Saturday afternoon's VCU-Butler matchup will be the highest sum of two teams matching up in the Final Four in tournament history as well. It's the first time we've had no #1 seeds into the Final Four in a decade, and the first time with no #1 or #2 seeds in tournament history. Suffice it to say, these are four teams as befitting of the "there are no great teams this year" mantra as any collection you could find.

This Butler story is simply amazing. There are just no other words to describe a guy out of that tiny school, that unknown basketball program, and that weakass heretofore disrespected conference and make it to the Final Four. Twice. Consecutively. What Brad Stevens has done this year cannot be put into words, but go read my post about him last year if you want to know what I already thought of this guy's coaching skills after last season's run. Stevens' career has been on the upswing for years, and this latest run of back to back Final Fours could be just the beginning for who has got to be thought of at this point as America's best college basketball coach.

And enough with the talk about the Big East. The Committee hopefully learned something this year about parity, as they allowed in 11 teams that beat the crap out of each other for three months in to the big dance from the Big East, surpassing the Big East's own record of 8 teams into the NCAA Tournament back in 2008. I'm all for allowing in all the teams that deserved it, but frankly I did not think Marquette did quite enough to get in, and I though the way Villanova ended the season -- including losing in the first round of the Big East tournament to lowly South Florida to cap a horrible second-half slide to their year -- also made them prime ground to be bumped out for a more worthy squad. I mean, the Big East deserved to break that record this year, but they probably should have had just 9, or at most 10 teams in. Crushing the all-time record like that, and allowing in 11 of 16 teams in a conference as a result, was I think kind of a mistake. But don't be one of those clowns who points to the Big East only getting two teams into the Sweet Sixteen. That's just bogus. Number one, nobody ever said that inviting a team into the Big Dance means they are going to win the tournament, or win four games, or win two games. It is and ever was only a way of rewarding a team for a good season, and in that sense the committee let in who they thought deserved to be let in. They let the Ivy League winner into the Big Dance every year...does that mean they think Princeton has a legitimate shot at taking the whole shebang down? Of course not. So just because a lot of the Big East teams didn't last long, that really is not actually related at all to whether they deserved their bids.

Frankly, I think most of the pretty much bad Big East teams lost early, and that is just the way it should be. I mean, I just said up there that I probably would not have let in Marquette or maybe even Nova, but those decisions are defensible to me, and the fact that Nova, Georgetown and Louisville all got crushed early did not surprise me much. I profited from my expecting that in my pools, in fact. Same thing with Pitt and Notre Dame, who paying close attention to the Big East this year led me to have fairly low expectations for come tournament time. The thing with the Big East this year is that, while quite probably the deepest conference in college basketball history, it really was not in my view the best conference in college basketball history. Not by a longshot, really. I don't even think this year's Big East crop was quite as good overall as a couple of years ago, when Villanova and Pittsburgh had that amazing late-tournament showdown. That year, the Big East had about eight teams ranked in the Top 25 all season long, which was sort of like this year although maybe not quite as deep. But that year, the conference also had arguably three of the top four teams in the country in Nova, Pitt and UConn. We were looking at a conference with legitimately five of the ten best teams in the land all concentrated in it, and three or four tournament-worthy teams to boot as well. That was a crazy strong conference in my view. This year's Big East was crazy, crazy deep -- the conference's 9th place team in UConn is very close to winning the national title right now -- but at the top, the small handful of very best teams in the country at no point included anyone from the Big East, all season long. The closest anyone in the conference has come to being one of the country's best is right now, with UConn, who with Kemba Walker is playing as scary as anyone in the sport, but it's the first time all year. The Big East may have had 8 or 9 ranked teams through most of the 2011 season, but very rarely did we have anyone ranked in the top three or four, and not at all more than one at any point. And with soft Pitt and Notre Dame teams at the top of the conference by the time the seedings for the Big Dance were handed out, I did not pick either of those teams to make a deep run. The deepest I had any Big East team going this year was UConn, based on the way they played and the way Kemba Walker stepped up in the Big East tournament, although I did not pick any Big East teams to make this year's Final Four. Which makes perfect sense to me, and certainly does not mean that these teams did not deserve to be in the Big Dance to begin with, but I never thought the conference had a top-5 team in it all year, albeit having several teams in the 5-25 range on the national rankings.

Getting away from the tournament for a minute, the Phillies are heading into the 2011 season with a major whimper, as second baseman Chase Utley sounds to me like he is going to be sidelined for a good couple of month at least with a still-ailing kneee, Brad Lidge is looking like he will start the season on the DL as well, and even star pitcher Roy Halladay took a beaning line drive off the bat of Manny Ramirez right in the back of the head the other day. To this Phillies fan, it feels like the year has slipped away before it even started, and with the problems this team had scoring runs in 2010 as it is, plus the loss of 100-rbi man Jayson Werth's bat from the starting lineup, and Utley likely not 100% if in there at all for a good half the season, things are not looking good for this team to make it back to the World Series anytime soon, even despite their vaunted pitching staff. You heard it here first -- this Phillies squad isn't going to score enough runs to be as great as everyone thinks they're going to be.

Oh and let's not forget Survivor Poker, which is winding to a close here as we have just three players left: smboatdrinks and veryjosie from the original Team Fish, and muchtim from the original Team Donkeys. Since I last checked in about the goings-on at Donkey Island, the Fish fulfilled their plan of banding together as soon as they had snatched the majority back from the Donkeys shortly after the merge, and summarily eliminated the remaining Donkeys player by player by player, until certain members of Team Fish pissed off their own ringleader with backstabbery and deceipt such that their own elimination became more important than finishing off the Donkeys. Thus, muchtim has managed to squeak his way in as the remaining Fish alliance of josie and boat have eliminated their own would-be mutineers in turtle and xkm over the past couple of games. Now on Wednesday, we all have a chance to really impact the outcome of Survivor Poker, because whoever wins immunity out of josie, boat and muchtim gets an automatic pass into the final two, and they get to pick which of the other two remaining players to bring along with them. I think it's a safe bet to assume at this point that the two surviving fish would vote for each other if either of them wins immunity on the day, but the really interesting thing would be if muchtim manages to pull off that feat. Who will muchtim choose to bring along with him to the final heads-up showdown? The person he has been secretly allied with for weeks? Or the person he has been secretly working against all the while? Or are those one and the same person? Wednesday should be good times at the Dank at 10pm ET on full tilt, and I definitely expect to be there along with a nice crowd of bloggers. Take a big chunk of the stack of any of muchtim, smboatdrinks or veryjosie on Wednesday night, and you will be personally influencing the overall outcome of the series in a meaningful way, so hopefully I will see you there for the festivities.

Assuming I am back home in New York by Wednesday night, that is.

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Blogger Josie said...

I wish you wouldn't muck up your survivor posts with all that basketball stuff. :)

I am sure Muhctim will choose to go with me. I mean he's so dedicated to me, right? But that is all hypothetical as I'm going to last longer than him and boat.

1:02 AM  
Blogger Bayne_S said...

Who will be the 1st to place a bounty on Jo C?

4:16 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

Awww Bayne, thanks for dropping the e from Jo C. You rock.

6:15 AM  
Blogger Brez said...

Wasn't it Oswalt that copped the beaning, not Halladay?

8:09 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Eh, what's the difference. Some Roy who is fucking awesome at pitching got beaned.

11:08 AM  

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