Cinderella’s big score

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Oh, it’s on! It’s really on.

Direct from Madison Square Garden and beamed to bars, lounges, frat houses and spring-break squats all across the country, a Big 5 team officially kicked off March Madness with is wildly entertaining finish.

Already Villanova has the country abuzz and we haven’t yet even hit the Ides. Chalk that up to one of those ubiquitous March buzzer-beaters. Though instead of the Big Dance, this one came in the Big East Tournament that saved the Wildcats from blowing a big, first-half lead and put them back into position to get a top three seed.

For now.

Still, it’s that time. Chaos, mayhem… madness!

That’s the thing about college hoops this time of year – you never know when that high water moment is going to occur. Seasons, hell, careers are made this time of year. Besides, only a handful of teams have a realistic shot at advancing past the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The other might as well whoop it up now.

Or should they?

Continue reading this story…

Fearsome foursome

Furyk & TigerCertainly the Masters isn’t what it used to be. The course has changed in order to reign in the game of one particular player and there is absolutely no way the proletariat will ever be admitted past the giant hedges and steely gates that separates Augusta National from all the chain stores, strip malls and sprawl that surrounds it.

The fact is Augusta National and the Masters is mainstream elitism on full display. I suppose folks can take that for what it’s worth, but they sure do know how to put on a good golf tournament down there. Better yet, Masters weekend could be the most properly hyped sporting event out there. Based on the TV ratings the NCAA Tournament doesn’t quite pack them in any more. Perhaps that’s because of the ridiculously tired and hokey “One Shining Moment” malarkey. Come on already, they’re pro athletes… enough with the fairy tales. The TV networks can save those tired old bits for the Olympics lest the protests and attention to China’s human-rights violations make advertisers squirm.

News, apparently, is a product too.

Anyway, Along with the Kentucky Derby, which one can attend and not even see a damned horse, the Masters is a must-watch event.

At least it is here. Hey, clearly I’m prone to hyperbole.

Nevertheless, a big sporting event demands bold predictions. Actually, how bold will it be to pick the best golfer in the world, or a guy who grew up in your wife’s neighborhood to win the biggest golf tournament in the world?

Nope, not bold at all.

Enough blathering. Here’s my prediction for the top foursome at this year’s Masters:

  • Tiger Woods – yeah, going out on a limb there.
  • Jim Furyk – what’s bigger… hitting a 20-footer at the buzzer to beat Lebanon to win the Section 1 title game for Manheim Township, or another Top 5 finish at the Masters?

Hey, at the time it was a pretty clutch shot…

  • Ernie Els – He’s won three majors (U.S. Open twice; British Open), but has finished second at the Masters twice in 2000 and 2004. Maybe he’s ready to breakthrough.
  • Padraig Harrington – the Irishman is the defending Open champ and has three Top 10 finishes in the last eight major tournaments. Then again, he’s also missed the cut in three of the last eight majors, too.

***
The London Marathon also takes place this weekend. Here’s a prediction: Ryan Hall will become the first American-born runner to break 2:08.

Hall, of course, won last November’s marathon Olympic Trials in New York City and is coached by former Villanova standout, Terrence Mahon.

(Not so) tough as nails

Lenny DykstraIt’s kind of fun to see Lenny Dykstra turning up everywhere as the veritable media dynamo that he has become. By now, most folks have caught the new Lenny on HBO’s Real Sports talking about his career as a day trader with Bernie Goldberg.

There Lenny was again in the pages of The New Yorker (yes, The New Yorker), discussing his latest venture called The Players Club, which is a magazine aimed at professional athletes on how they can better invest their high incomes so that they don’t squander it all before their playing days end.

Dykstra says it will be “the world’s best magazine” and throws around such superlatives about nearly everything he has purchased as if he were out for revenge or if he had somehow been shortchanged somewhere along the line. His car, a German Maybach, is “the best car.” He bought a Gulfstream plane because, “it’s the best in the world and there isn’t even a close second.”

It doesn’t stop with the big things, either. He raves about a door in his $17 million house purchased from Wayne Gretzky, as well as about the house itself and the weather in Southern California. It’s all the best and more than mirrors Dykstra’s style as a player that was, needless to say, all about him and “look at me.” Oh sure, Dykstra wanted to win and all of that. But given a choice between running into a fence and injuring himself or remaining healthy and on the field, Dykstra always went for the short-term glory.

But that theory flies in the face of the mission behind his The Players Club. As he said in The New Yorker:

“I’m forty-four, with a lot of mileage, dude. A lot of mileage.” The chaw is gone, and he hasn’t had a drink in years. “When the market opens at six o’clock in the morning out here, I mean, dude, you got to be up,” he says. “You get to a point in your life where, yeah, I loved baseball, but baseball’s a small part. I’m going to build something that can change the fucking outcome of people’s lives.”

Yes, because helping multi-millionaires from separating themselves from their money is soooooo altruistic.

Anyway, in addition to Real Sports and The New Yorker, Dykstra’s name has also appeared in a story in which an accounting firm is suing him for $110,000 for money owed for accounting and tax work.

Then Dykstra’s name showed up a handful of times in The Mitchell Report, which didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Yet, the Mitchell Report and Dykstra’s physical health is the one issue that seemed to be glossed over during the HBO profile and the magazine story. With Goldberg, Dykstra’s speech was somewhat slurred, a point exemplified in Ben McGrath’s story:

His hands tremble, his back hurts, and his speech, like that of an insomniac or a stroke victim, lags slightly behind his mind. He winks without obvious intent. In his playing days, he had a term for people like this: fossils. Nothing about his physical presence any longer suggests nails, and sometimes, as if in joking recognition of this softening, he answers the phone by saying, “Thumbtacks.”

But that’s it. Dykstra’s health, just like the depth and true worth of his financial portfolio are taken at face value. In fact, the only nuance presented in either story came from Dykstra’s personality. There, Dykstra appears to be in 1993 form.

***
Floyd LandisMeanwhile, the final stop on Floyd Landis’ appeal hearing has planted itself in New York City where the case enters its third day. Landis and the USADA will present cases today and tomorrow before wrapping it all up on Monday. Then they will wait for the panel of three arbitrators with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to make a decision, which will come sometime during the calendar year… probably.

Nevertheless, there has been very little in the way of rumblings from the USADA or Landis camps, which is quite the opposite from last May’s hearing. Plus, Floyd likes to talk and hasn’t said anything to anyone.

But for a preview of the proceedings in NYC, here’s a story from ESPN’s Bonnie D. Ford.

***
I don’t like to brag[1], but I went 14-for-16 in the first day of NCAA tournament selections. I tripped up on the UNLV-Kent State and West Virginia-Arizona games.

Still, it’s not too bad for someone convinced that the tournament is nothing more than a lot of hot air until the second weekend begins.

***
Ted LeoFinally, in an interesting development, arena rock stalwarts Pearl Jam announced that they will take Ted Leo and his Pharmacists out with them for the first part of their U.S. tour, which opens in Camden, N.J. on June 19. Certainly such a decision means that Pearl Jam aims to bust their collective asses during the six dates in which Teddy Rock Star opens up the shows. After all, if Eddie Vedder and the gang give just the slightest of inches, Ted + Rx will own them.

Fortunately for the Pearl Jammers, work ethic has never been an issue. That means it will be an action-packed six shows for all involved.

Jun 19 — Camden, N.J. — Susquehanna Bank Center
Jun 22 — Washington, D.C. — Verizon Center

Jun 24 — New York, N.Y. – Madison Square Garden
Jun 25 — New York, N.Y. – Madison Square Garden

Jun 27 — Hartford, Conn. — Dodge Amphitheater
Jun 30 — Mansfield, Mass. — Tweeter Center

The always interesting Kings of Leon will take over the opening duties after Ted Leo leaves the tour.

More: Ted Leo covers Rush on WFMU


[1] Uh, yeah I do.

Don’t believe the hype

HoyasQuick question:

What’s more overhyped, the Super Bowl or the NCAA Tournament?

The easy answer is the NCAA Tournament, and here’s why. It’s because the Super Bowl doesn’t mask what it is – a three-ring spectacle of celebrity and entertainment with a football game in the center ring. Hell, sometimes people even go to the Super Bowl to watch a football game, but if they don’t there are still plenty of things to do.

Seriously, does Hugh Hefner show up at the Super Bowl every year because he’s interested in football?

The NCAA Tournament, meanwhile, paints itself as the egalitarian of college sports championships, which is kind of true but not really. Sure, the selection committee lines up all the teams based on some sort of secret formula and allows them to settle it on the court. In that sense the NCAA Tournament is cool, and, of course, it generates those ubiquitous brackets that used to infiltrate every office copier this time of year before such things as copier machines and paper became anachronisms. Now, every so-called “bracket challenge” or whichever cliché gets tossed around like the equally cliché office hoops know-it-all with multiple brackets in all of the pools, is online.

The Internet, believe it or not, turned the NCAA Tournament bracket into cultural wallpaper.

Nevertheless, every year at this time the NCAA, CBS and its corporate sponsors trot out the notion of the mythical Cinderella turning up at the last minute to be the babe of the ball and steal the show. CBS touts upsets and defines its coverage with a dizzying array of highlights and cut-ins at venues around the country in order to capture the faux notion that something in line with Chaminade knocking off No. 1 ranked Virginia in a tiny gym near the beach in Oahu. Instead, these “upsets” come from teams that play in the so-called “mid-major” conferences.

Typically, these mid major teams run out of upsets by the second weekend of the tournament. That’s when the big basketball factories reclaim the tournament and follow the proper path assigned them by the selection committee. After all, CBS wants ratings for its tournament and knows that the alums and fans from Duke, North Carolina and Kansas tune in at numbers than the handful of folks that follow the basketball program at George Mason or Butler.

But occasionally a team like George Mason breaks through to the Final Four, which isn’t as surprising as it sounds. Sure, George Mason plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which slips through the cracks of the coverage bestowed on the big programs of the ACC or Big East, but the CAA isn’t anything to sneeze at.

For one thing, painting George Mason and teams of its ilk as mighty little underdogs fighting against the monoliths is wrong. Mason isn’t a David in the battle against Goliath, nor is it a mom-and-pop shop slaying Wal-Mart before it gets crushed and the organic nature of a downtown is destroyed. Actually, the mid majors are just that – mid majors. They are like the regional chain with shops across the region that takes a chunk out of Wal-Mart’s market share. Sure, more people shop at Wal-Mart or Target or Starbucks, but that isn’t putting Giant or Acme out of business.

Still, there are true underdogs in the NCAA Tournament. Those teams are from the Ivy League and they have no shot. None.

There, I said it.

What’s the point of having those teams in the “Big Dance” when all we get to read about come March is how no Ivy League school has won a tournament game since Princeton beat UNLV in 1998 or how Princeton upset UCLA in 1996 or almost beat No. 1 Georgetown and Patrick Ewing way back when.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that Penn made it to the Final Four, and I think I know the reason why. Ready? Get in really close so you can hear this…

BECAUSE IT WAS NEARLY 30 YEARS AGO!

Here are some handy dandy facts from an New York Times story published last year about Ivy League schools in the NCAA Tournament:

But in the eight seasons since Princeton beat the Rebels, Ivy teams have lost by an average of 14 points and haven’t been seeded high than No. 11. That doesn’t bode well for Penn.

And:

Here are the results of the Ivy’s [nine]-game N.C.A.A. losing streak:

2007
No. 3 Texas A&M 68
No. 14 Penn 52

2006
No. 2 Texas 60
No. 15 Penn 52

2005
No.4 Boston College 85
No. 13 Penn 65

2004
No. 3 Texas 66
No. 14 Princeton 49

2003
No. 6 Oklahoma State 77
No. 11 Penn 63

2002
No. 6 California 82
No. 11 Penn 75

2001
No. 2 North Carolina 70
No. 15 Princeton 48

2000
No. 4 Illinois 68
No. 13 Penn 58

1999
No. 6 Florida 75
No. 11 Penn 61

Just once I’d like to see Penn – or Cornell this season (or any other Ivy League school ) – tell the NCAA Tournament, “thanks, but no thanks. We’re not going to travel across the country to be a first-round hors d’oeuvres for a potential national title contender. We’re going to take our chances in the NIT where we have a chance to win. We don’t need to play the No. 3 seed and lose so everyone can call us ‘scrappy or laud us for being student-athletes.'”

Yeah, I know this probably isn’t a popular sentiment, but I can’t understand the logic of a team going to a tournament that it has no chance of not just winning, but also being competitive. Sure, Cornell could get lucky and win a game this year, but the thing about the NCAA Tournament is that those No. 13, 14 and 15 seeds don’t last too long after the first upset. In fact, I’d like my odds of winning the Powerball over Cornell’s (or Princeton, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Penn or Dartmouth… not Harvard – they have it all figured out) chances to win two games in an NCAA Tournament.

So, yes, Cinderella exists in the Big Dance. It’s just that come Friday night she’s at home by herself again.

***
Anyway, I filled out a bracket on the CSN.com web site’s “Bracket Challenge!” and just like last year I consulted a mathematician/statistician in order to crunch the numbers.

The picks: Memphis vs. Kansas in the championship with the Jayhawks winning it all.

Nope, I can’t name a single player on either team. That’s why it was so difficult for me to go against Georgetown since it’s hard to bet against a team that has John Thompson and Patrick Ewing. If only the Hoyas could get David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax… look out!

As for the Big 5 teams… let’s just say the odds don’t look good. I’m going 0-3, but then again, what do I know?

Brave new world

John DalyIf you’re like me you are a shade under 6-foot-1; about 160 pounds; live in Lancaster with a wife and two kids; like to drink coffee and run a lot; and spend about 13 hours a day on your laptop. I suppose the last one of that long list is an occupational hazard of working in the Internets business. Until they move the Internets to another medium, I’m going to remain handcuffed to this machine I have (literally) on my lap.

Still, even if I didn’t work on web sites and the like, I’m not sure if it would limit my participation in things World Wide Web-related. Frankly, everything is on the web nowadays and it doesn’t look like that fact is going to change any time soon. Look, I take crap all the time about being a web writer as if that’s any different than other types of writers. Either no one wants to hear it or no one is listening, but the fact is everyone writes for the web now. Book it… or code it with the proper HTML codes, please.

Anyway, I believe that advancements in technology should make things like newspapers and television better. I also believe that advancements in technology should heighten our level of discourse in these here United States, but I don’t think I’m smart enough to know if any of this stuff is true. I do know that newspapers should just stop printing paper versions already. Seriously, just stop… it’s cluttering up the Starbucks and waiting rooms across the country. Someone has to pick that stuff up, stack it in a pile and put it in the proper recycling receptacle.

So stop with the paper already.

Another fact to be is that television seems to be headed to the same neighborhood where newspapers live right now. One hand washes the other or something like that. Besides, people like portability, they like to talk about things like WiFi and they like being able to be connected anywhere at any time. That means if I want to watch, oh let’s say something like The Wire, a Major League Baseball game or the NCAA Tournament, I don’t have to sit on the couch in front of the teevee like Jaba the Hut. Instead I can reach into my backpack, whip out the ol’ HP and dial it up even if I’m negotiating myself through cross-town traffic.

Yes, it’s a brave new world we’re living in, folks.

How brave? So brave that newspapers, radio and TV stations are dabbling in exclusive content just for its web viewers. Actually, it’s gotten to the point where media outlets have to put its programming on the web, too, thus broadening the reach beyond it small locality. World Wide Web… get it? Actually, Major League Baseball has (read the next few words as if you were Scotty[1] from Star Trek) embraced the technology to the point where its entire Extra Innings package is available on the web via video and audio.

Yeah, that’s old news. MLB seemed to be waaay out in front when it came to the so-called “new media.” Actually, they are so out in front on the web and whatnot that the development of its own cable TV network seems kind of quaint these days.

“Oh, how cute. Baseball is going to start its own channel. That’s nice… can I get it on my iPhone?”

But check this out: the NCAA and CBS are putting every game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament online.  Yep, that’s right… all of ‘em. That means if you’re like me and stuck with your nose in a laptop all day, you don’t have to sit in front of a television to watch another one of those ubiquitous last-second “look-ins” that personify the coverage of the Tournament. You know, if there isn’t an upset or a buzzer-beater it didn’t really happen…

Until now.

So just to be different I might search out a first-round game where a No. 4 seed beats a No. 13 seed by 15 points. Let’s hope the walk-on sitting at the end of the bench gets in for the last minute.

***
Famous actor/comedian Billy Crystal signed one of those celebrity deals to be a player for the Yankees for a couple of days during spring training. You know, kind of like fantasy camp for the guys with the real cache.

Meanwhile, the Phillies countered with human car wreck/professional golfer, John Daly. Looks like the Yankees win again, though from the correct angle Daly almost looks like Brett Myers from the chin down.

Billy Crystal just looks like Billy Crystal in a Yankees shirt.


[1] Scotty was a Scotsman… go figure.

Six is better than five

Adam EatonMeanwhile, Johan Santana pitched well against the Red Sox yesterday. His line: 4 IP, 4 K’s, 2 hits, no runs.

For sure, the sports world is ready to explode with action in the next few weeks. Actually, the world sports scene will be packed with HUGE events until the end of the Olympics in Beijing where athletes will battle pollution worse than Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles combined.

Call them “The Iron Lung Games.”

Nevertheless, the faux dramatics of the NCAA College Basketball Selection Show kicks it all off next Sunday. They stretch that tournament out for most of March so they can weed out all of those low-seeded teams that pulled off those early-round upsets. I guess that’s the proper way to do things because the better teams usually win, though it seems as if interest wanes after all the upsets stop and the TV network stops that rapid-fire coverage of showing 19 games ending all at once.

The truth is the NCAA Tournament lasts too long. What is it, six games to win it all? Shoot, they could do the entire thing in a weekend like a CYO Tournament where school kids played two or three games a day to get a trophy for the school’s trophy case.

Isn’t that what they play for in the NCAA Tournament?

They play The Masters, the biggest golf tournament in the world, in just four days the weekend following the NCAA Tournament. Sure, basketball is a little more athletic than golf, but everything is relative. If a person’s mind and body are programmed to play 18 holes of golf for four straight days, it’s kind of like running 18 miles… or something. Actually, let me explain it this way: I once played 18 holes at Pine Valley and didn’t even have to carry my own bag, but my feet were as sore after any of the 13 marathons I’ve run. Yeah, that even includes the ’98 Boston Marathon where my feet got all swole to the point that I couldn’t wear shoes for three days.

Oh, but the NCAA Tournament and The Masters are just the least of it in a busy-as-a-bee next 30 days. Major League Baseball kicks off its season in less than three weeks, the NHL and NBA playoffs start soon (I think), the NFL Draft is approaching and then the London and Boston Marathons, including the U.S. Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon, cap it all off.

Bill and HillaryThat’s a lot of stuff packed into a month and it could be even more if the Flyers and 76ers make it to the playoffs. Forget about the Pennsylvania Primary on April 22 that could decide on who(m) could lead our union for the next four years and the really important stuff like taxes and that stuff – there’s sports to follow. Besides, according to the ESPN.com story, sports people don’t really care that Hillary Clinton will be criss-crossing our Commonwealth for the next few weeks putting to practice the theories that a.) she will say and do anything to get elected, and/or b.) she will claim many cities in Pennsylvania to be “home,” further exemplifying theory A.

On the other side, Barry Obama seems pretty cool.

But frankly, even with the primary, the draft, Opening Day, the NFL and NFL playoffs, The Masters, the overhyped NCAA Tournament, Easter, Passover and St. Patrick’s Day and the accompanying parade of songs by The Pogues ready to blast off, the issue that has everyone worked into a lather is the status of the Phillies’ fifth starter.

You know, the guy who likely won’t appear in his first game until the second week of the season.

Frankly, give me The Pogues… or even something derivative like The Dropkick Murphy’s[1]. Let someone else wax on about the fifth starter.

The PoguesOK. The fifth starter… forget about it. No matter what anyone says, handicaps or conventional wisdom. Adam Eaton, and all that’s left of his $24.5 million salary, will continue to be the No. 5 starter until he no longer can be the No. 5 starter. No, that’s not some sort of cryptic hocus-pocus. It means that as long as there is nothing physically wrong with Eaton’s back, shoulder, mental or cardiovascular games, the Phillies will keep trotting him out there. They did the same thing last year even though Eaton went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA (glass half full: he was 7-3 on the road and shoved it up the Mets’ collective rears at Shea).

So unless Eaton’s arm or back falls off or he’s clubbed so badly that he’s reduced to sitting Indian-style on the mound with one shoe on and the other in his non-glove hand and beating himself on top of his head with the cleated end and the new-look, throwback jersey defaced with Sharpie scrawl with the word “dog” between “Eaton” and “21,” count on the veteran right-hander to keep taking the ball once every five days.

Or who knows… maybe Eaton will split starts with Kris Benson if he is recovered and ready to go come late April or early May. Perhaps the Phillies will go to a six-man rotation like the Red Sox did last September in preparation for the playoffs. Hey, with this Phillies club something like that could work.

Why not? Brett Myers is returning to the rotation after a year in the ‘pen followed by a career of inconsistent starting pitching; Cole Hamels has never pitched more than 183 innings in any season and has suffered an injury in every season going back to his high school days; Kyle Kendrick has turned in uglier numbers than Eaton this spring and probably would have started the 2008 season at Triple-A if he hadn’t been pressed into service last year; and then there is steady, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer who has seemingly turned in 200-plus innings every year going back to the Reagan Administration.

A six-man rotation? Sure, why not. Or maybe a modified six-man rotation with certain pitchers jumping up a day based on matchups or the importance of a particular game.

In other words, forget about the fifth guy… who will take the No. 6 spot?


[1] Apparently, The Dropkick Murphys and Ted Leo are playing in Dorchester at the IBEW Local 103 this Friday night. Talk about Irish… that’s more Irish than a Friday night with a bottle of Jameson and my Mick uncles and their bloodshot eyes. Everyone is welcome as long as they bring their own tin whistle, four-string and ride home.