So, I was sitting downstairs in the entertainment room with the TV on. A flat screen like so many other spoiled people. But we’re a family. So, we take turns watching and share.
I was mostly locked in on the Cubs epic banner raising ceremony 108 years in the making. Rain delayed the game about an hour at Wrigley Field. Once it got going, boy was it something to behold. I’m not a Cubs fan. I’m not from Chicago and have never been there. But watching the festivities along with the nice scenery at one of the oldest ballparks, I concluded I need to get to Wrigley. Bookmark that.
My favorite part was following the awesome player introductions for both the Dodgers and Cubs in an NLCS rematch, seeing all-time Cubs greats Fergie Jenkins, Billy Dee Williams and Ryne Sandberg help raise not one banner but two. They first did a banner for 1908. The last one before they came back to defeat the Indians from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series in 2016. Then as every great sports movie soundtrack played including favorite themes from Rudy and The Natural, up went the 2016 World Championship banner by the ivy on ESPN. Wow.
Maybe it’s the historian in me. When it comes down to it, I appreciate the history of sports. Seeing the Cubs finally get to do a banner raising was one of the coolest moments. I can only put it on par with the Rangers finally raising the Stanley Cup banner honoring ’93-94 after waiting 54 years for their fourth championship. Think about this. That is half as long as Cubs fans waited. That defines crazy and explains the fandom. They have a great team capable of repeating. We’ll get into that another time.
What’s great is that you had Anthony Rizzo marching out the World Championship trophy as the Cubs all came down the stairs following the ceremony in from the outfield. It was really well done. Even more appropriately, Wayne Messmer performed an unreal edition of the star spangled banner. He used to be a regular at Blackhawks games along with the White Sox and Bears. To hear Dad tell it, there was no one better than Messmer when it came to our national anthem. I had never seen him perform live. But watched classic videos on You Tube. My favorite current anthem singers are John Amirante and Jim Cornelison. Amirante used to do O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner frequently at MSG before being phased out. He’s 82. Cornelison replaced Messmer at Hawks games. He is terrific.
If there is one more thing I loved, it was the organ playing during the intros. It really gave it an old school feel. The organ is something that isn’t used enough at games. I have always enjoyed it. Now, arenas and stadiums blast music through the sound system as if it’s some deejay event or concert. It’s a game. The organ has a nice touch. It’s soothing and whispers to you that a good event is coming, building anticipation.
As for the game, eventually it was played. The Cubs won 3-2 over the Dodgers on Rizzo’s walk off single in the home half of the ninth plating Jon Jay. His first run batted in of the season was a clutch two out game-winner. What you’d expect from one of the National League’s best players. He finished in the top four for MVP last year. An award won by teammate Kris Bryant, whose double plated the game’s first run off Alex Wood.
The Cubs scratched out an unearned run too due to an E9 from Yasiel Puig. Chicago ace Jon Lester’s RBI fielder’s choice put them ahead 2-0. But the Dodgers were able to come back late. Corey Seager’s RBI double scored Joc Pederson in the sixth. They would tie it in the eighth with an unearned run due to an E6 from Addison Russell. Two of the game’s best teams combined for five errors.
Seager is an emerging star who won NL Rookie Of The Year and finished third for MVP. He’s a unique talent at short with great bat speed and terrific instincts. He’s everything Pederson isn’t. I would know. I drafted Joc in the first year of my Franchise League in the minors before trading him and then getting him back and keeping him. I keep thinking he’ll figure it out. But he still can’t hit lefties batting way down in the lineup when he starts. He also had a key at bat with the bases loaded and nobody out against Justin Grimm. Pederson let Grimm off the hook missing his pitch on a 3-2 count with a weak pop up to short right which prevented a run from scoring. He should’ve crushed it. Instead, Grimm escaped a bases loaded no out jam getting Carl Edwards, Jr. off the hook when he induced an inning ending 4-6-3 double play.
While Pederson remains an unfinished product, leave it to me to not insert Michael Pineda on the one day he pitched up to his talent. On Yankees Opening Day at Yankee Stadium in the home opener, Pineda was the story taking a perfect game into the seventh inning. Yankee killer Evan Longoria broke it up with a double down the left field line. Pineda was brilliant pitching into the eighth inning allowing only one earned run on a solo shot from Logan Morrison while fanning 11. That is the kind of quality outing that can get Yankee fans on his side. It’s about finding consistent. The talent is there. Let’s hope this gives him the confidence boost he needs.
The Yankees had plenty of offense. Aaron Judge went yard for the second straight day for home run number two, driving a hanging curve into left field 10 rows back. With Gary Sanchez officially sidelined a month, the Bronx Bombers need Judge to produce along with Greg Bird, who should be good to go in a couple of days. For now, quality backup catcher Austin Romine is starting with prospect Kyle Higashioka up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Down two starters on the infield with shortstop Didi Gregorius also missing April, the Yanks have gotten nice contributions from 24-year old utility man Ronald Torreyes. He’s filled in admirably at short while hitting a home run and driving in eight to lead the team.
For now, skipper Joe Girardi has gone back to the 1-2 of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the order. They’re both off to good starts with Gardner swiping two more bases to hike his total to five while scoring two runs. Ellsbury is hitting .348 with a homer and two RBI’s. Matt Holliday, who recently became a member of the 2,000 hit club, had a pair of hits and his fifth RBI. So far, so good for the proven veteran. Starlin Castro went yard for the first time parking one to right center. One of three long balls the Yanks hit. Chase Headley got the other for number two. With two straight wins, the Yanks are 3-5 and at least can cool off some of the panic from the April Mattahs crowd.
The Mets won in Philadelphia 4-3. Jay Bruce continues to swing a hot bat going deep twice. That included the go-ahead game-winning two-run bomb for his fourth dinger. Remember all that talk about them dumping him in the off-season. Sometimes, the best moves are the ones you don’t make. Even though Terry Collins must fit Michael Conforto into the lineup when he can. Jacob de Grom got a no decision despite grinding out six innings while allowing two earned with two walks and three strikeouts. Addison Reed earned his second save in two nights pitching around a solo home run from Brock Stassi in the Phils’ ninth.
Among the notables, Bryce Harper went 4-for-4 with with two runs and three RBI’s along with six total bases in a Nationals’ 14-6 win over the Cardinals. Stephen Drew had three hits and four RBI’s. Seriously. Khris Davis is up to four homers already as Oakland shutout Kansas City 2-0. Wil Myers became just the second Padre to hit for the cycle highlighting a 5-3 win over the Rockies. He hit his third home run and is up to seven RBI’s.
As the Cubs and Dodgers moved at a snails pace, I flipped on MTV Classic between breaks to catch Metal Mayhem. Just your classic hour of cheesy and classy metal videos full of electric guitar shredding, drum beats and edgy lyrics. I still can’t believe they mixed in Suicidal Tendencies in a weird video where the lead singer talked in gibberish like a pre-Henry Rollins. It had its moments. A throwback Guns N’ Roses live concert from 1988 with the original band performing a stirring rendition of “Welcome To The Jungle.”
There also was the underrated “Fallen Angel” from Poison along with “Youth Gone Wild” from Skid Row in their debut album with Sebastian Bach screaming his lungs out. I had never seen this one from Twisted Sister before. It was released as a single in 1987. It’s called “Hot Love” featuring Dee Snider’s hot wife Suzette:
What would a Metal Mayhem be without an appearance from Diamond Dave? You betcha! David Lee Roth when he went solo after a bad break up with Van Halen. It’s Yankee Rose. A hilarious satirical look at immigration in the intro along with stereotypes. Imagine if this video aired now. The ridiculous overreaction it would get. Music shouldn’t be censored. That whole thing with Tipper Gore and Snider testifying in court was crap.
Anyway, you get all these crazy characters in a convenience store with an immigrant behind the register. Then David Lee Roth recites the classic line:
“I’ll take a bottle of anything and a glazed donut to go!”
Of course, the scene shifts to Diamond Dave on stage shouting, “Whoa!!!!! She’s beautiful!” What a comedian he was. Great presence. He had fun. Eddie Van Halen didn’t. Remember that reunion disaster as presenters at the VMA’s? Here is the song from Mr. Roth:
This is what makes my good friend Brian one of the true classics when it comes to sports fandom. Unhinged in our Facebook chat room this morning:
Brian No. This time retirement is meant.
Brian Sanborn left the conversation.
How to explain the legend of Brian David? Unpredictable. At any moment, he can erupt for no reason. Our chat focuses mostly on sports with some politics mixed in by future President JPG. A young fiery yet misguided lad who was overwhelmingly supportive on Trump. But now has turned because Mr. Trump actually has feelings on other human beings. 😛
Brian is a long suffering Buffalo sports fan. I’ve known him for over two decades. Since the depths of the basement meeting at St. John’s University on the Staten Island campus for three hour sleepless lectures from Professor Bernheim on the safety and protection of sports. He is the biggest Bills and Sabres fan I know followed by Rob “Retirement” Davis, who supports Two Bills Mafia but resides in the mean streets of Clifton, New Jersey and is now a long suffering Devils fan full of tanks. A trend started by Chris Wassel.
When it comes down to it, Brian is the biggest advocate of retirements. How much has he ‘retired’? Probably over 100. But he always returns with a vengeance with war usually waged for me, Derek “Flex” Felix. Led by JPBenedict- a former Chicagoan who turned on hometown Bears and Bulls even supporting any team LeBron played on (that’s low even for me)- BlueJayPG finally saw the Cubs win a World Series. It only took 108 years. Mr. Giagnorio was alive for only 31. So, 2016 was special. Yet he still complains about the Cubs overpaying for Aroldis Chapman due to top prospect Gleyber Torres coming to the Yankees as part of the big rebuild last summer.
Then there is the wildcard Colin “Vanwarinator” Cannaday. A die hard Atlanta Braves and Falcons fan, he had his heart crushed by the Falcons in the Super Bowl. One which I still can’t believe. How they blew a 28-3 lead to the Patriots still boggles my mind. What was even more shocking is how calm Colin was when it was over saying:
“It’s who the Falcons are.”
I don’t know about all that. But obviously, he has a bigger heart than me. We all have our quirks. Me with Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, clueless and senile Knicks President Phil “The Will” Jackson and Giants GM Jerry Reese. Needless to say, I have been accused of treason by John Giagnorio. The fearless and emotional leader of Team Benedict. JayPG has spread his practice of turncoatism to students Brian David, Retirement Rawb and Colin.
Maybe you’re thinking what’s the point of this post. Well, it’s about time I provided the true characters of our chat. People I am proud to call friends despite all the shit we talk. It’s all good. Friends who have been part of my shows on Hard Hits Network and part of Wassel’s over on the airwaves of Blog Talk Radio. One day, Hard Hits shall return. When it does, you’ll be the first to know.
There’s so much going on. Already panicked callers of the Yankees and Mets due to one week of baseball in a 162-game season. Like I always say:
April Baseball MATTAHS!!!!!
You’d think these people would get real. But when you have Benny from the Bronx still calling in about precious NFL and Ira as well about the Jets, you know things aren’t normal in NYC. WFAN is in need of a makeover. Once Mike Francesa leaves, they’re gonna become even worse. Ever since Imus was wrongfully terminated due to overreaction from social activists over a poorly timed joke that didn’t make him racist, it’s become a toilet of awful radio led by Boomer & Carton. Two of the biggest imbeciles to ever team up and replace Imus. They are unlistenable. Wait till Joe and Evan take over for Francesa. What will that senile clown Phil Schmucknick do then with his recycled column in the Post?
So I heard Bill Madden is back with the News. Shocking. But only in a special Friday column as he releases another book. He is a better interview than writer. We know he still hates the Yankees and is old school when it comes to Cooperstown. I guess Mike Lupica needed his old buddy back. The day they no longer write for that biased rag will be too soon.
Congrats to Sergio Garcia on winning The Masters. His first PGA major slam title at the age of 37. Kinda felt for Justin Rose after that playoff.
The Knicks season is finally almost over. Counting down to the NBA Lottery live during the Conference Finals on ABC. Praying for Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox. If not, then Malik Monk.
When Carmelo Anthony is freed from jail this summer, I hope he winds up playing great basketball in the final part of his career. He never complained once about how poorly run the franchise is. All he’s done is play and take plenty of body contact and play through injuries. Not what Melo envisioned. Maybe he’ll get to team with CP3 and Blake and Deandre with the Clippers.
I can’t think of a more pampered star than LeBron. He’s a top five all-time great player. But man. Does he bitch and moan a lot. The latest during a game the Cavs were outscored 44-18 by the Hawks in a one-point overtime loss Sunday. He whined about a jump ball that led to Atlanta forcing extras. Mr. James is a terrific player who will go down as one of the most complete in NBA history. But the antics and diving is nauseating. So is his complaints when his team loses a couple. I never saw that from Larry, Magic or MJ. You think Bill Russell complained like him? Ha. Patrick Ewing should have. But he did the best with what he had for the Knicks during the 90’s when they were relevant.
The game has changed. Not for the better. Kudos to Russell Westchuck on breaking Oscar’s NBA season record for triple doubles with number 42 which included a buzzer beater. He’s still never seen a shot he didn’t like. OKC is only 12 games over .500. He’ll probably edge James “Ballhog” Harden for MVP. Both have the ball a ton. So, they are gonna put up ridiculous numbers. Westbrook averaging a triple double and Harden close to it with the Rockets, who will take on the Thunder in the first round.
I still say Kawhi Leonard is more complete than either and should get more votes along with King James. Neither will. It’s a award all about gaudy stats. No matter how many turnovers either averaged along with their assists, points and rebounds, it’s either Russell or Harden who will win.
Tell me how Isaiah Thomas doesn’t mean as much to his team. He only leads them in scoring every game he plays. The Celtics are too perimeter oriented to seriously contend. The Cavs served notice on Wednesday by routing them. John Wall is every bit as valuable to the Wizards, who have the only chance to give the Cavs a series in the East due to their mix of great guard play and size. A Washington vs Cleveland Conference Final would be a potential great match-up.
As for the Warriors, they finally got back Durant. Now, he can rejoin the mouthpiece, Steph Curry, Dray Green and Klay Thompson. Golden State clinched the best record again and will have home court throughout. They look like locks to come out of the West. If it is the Warriors and Cavaliers again for a third straight NBA Finals, that never happened between the Celtics and Lakers when I grew up during the 80’s. That would be interesting.
Early baseball thoughts:
Francisco Lindor will be in the mix for AL MVP. He’s got three dingers and plays an electrifying short for the Indians.
I guess all those Mariners preseason picks might be wrong. I bought in sorta. Oops. Well, I do believe the wildcard is coming from that division. But it’s probably gonna be Texas and Houston even though I don’t love the Astros’ staff. Keep an eye on Dallas Keuchel, who is back in form.
When Gary Sanchez is out longer than two weeks for the biceps strain, then I’ll be concerned. Good bounce back win for the Yankees today after the bullpen blew two to the Orioles, who can rake with anyone. And that pen is elite. Nice to see Starlin the Darlin’ come through with a clutch two strike base knock. How about Ronald Torreyes? Why didn’t I have him in my fantasy lineup again? Only 24 and is tied with 7 RBI’s for the AL lead.
I also thought the Braves would be improved. They’re 1-5 so far. Double oops. When Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon has your best outing so far, that’s not a ringing endorsement. Plus it came in his return against the light hitting Mets. In their latest defeat, the pig pen gave it up to the Pirates with one of the best young outfielders, Starling Marte hitting the game-winning two-run home run for a walk off. At least Freddie Freeman went yard twice and Dansby Swanson jacked one. Atlanta should hit. But their staff and relief is scary bad. They have two 40-plus year old pitchers in Bartolo and R.A. Dickey. And Jim Johnson cannot close anymore. Is it too late to bring back Bobby Cox?!?!?!?!
Arizona is off to a very good start. Greinke looking for a bounce back. Plus a healthy A.J. Pollock patrolling center should be a boost to a lineup featuring Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb. They have some young arms in the pen but old man Rodney closes. That has to change at some point.
Yasiel Puig has three homers already including a pair in a recent Dodgers win. Motivation? If he stays focused and on the field, he could be a steal for someone. Right now, that would be Richie’s Baseball Stars in my league. He paid only 13 bucks.
It only took Mark Melancon eight days to record his first save for Dad’s Giants. After blowing his first opportunity by giving up four straight two out hits on Opening Day in The Desert, he finally got a save for only the Giants’ second win. Their lineup will hit. Especially with speedster and ex-Yank and Baby Bomber Eduardo Nunez at the hot corner. But after MadBum and El Cueto, it gets dicey.
At least Melancon is reunited with former Staten Island Yankee teammate George Kontos. Did You Know? they teamed up to win the Baby Bombers a NY-Penn League championship in ’06? I covered it. Kontos started and Melancon closed. Francisco Cervelli was also on that team.
Hockey is finally over. The playoffs start this week. For the Rangers, they get the Canadiens. I’ll have more on that first round series on New York Puck. They’re not favorite. We’ll see if Lundqvist can match Price in net and the Blueshirts can deal with the Habs balance and annoying grit and peskiness.
I’ll end by saying much respect to Sergeant Conor McDonald. It definitely isn’t easy to fill Dad’s big shoes. But I loved his passionate speech with father Steven proudly watching from above with love. It was tough seeing his wife Patti-Ann cry as the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award was presented to Mats Zuccarello.
The McDonald Family is all class and the epitome of what it means to represent this city. I got emotional watching it. Their Dad is sorely missed. He fought for 30 years after being shot in the line of duty by a criminal he eventually forgave even though he spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair due to becoming paralyzed with a spinal cord injury. Look at how they carry themselves the next time you have a bad moment or feel sorry for yourselves.
I go back and forth on this. Sometimes, I don’t like what I see. But I am the one responsible for it. I can use my anxiety and depression as a crutch. But I’m not gonna. I don’t believe in making excuses. It’s not who I am or how I define myself.
So, here we are in this forever confusing winter. One of unusual and bizarre warmth and now one of icy cold temps and snow, slush and icicles everywhere in my town. Maybe the truth is this depresses me. Well, because it does. I hate the long winter. Truth be told, it hasn’t been bad. We got next to nothing for so long. But as soon as we get into March, it snows and then snows and sleets some more.
Every year, this is what happens here in New York City. Whether you live in Staten Island like me or the other four boroughs, it’s too confusing for words. If you were lucky, you didn’t get any snow or little like here. But lots of ice which makes it even more fun. If you live in certain parts of New Jersey, you got belted with over a foot of the white stuff. If you are from Connecticut or Boston, you’re buried with about two feet with more on the way in Massachusetts. It doesn’t sound like Long Island got hit too bad either.
Maybe when I go back on a normal schedule tomorrow with work and the gym, I’ll feel better. More like myself. I’ve just been bored lately. From the past Friday when the snow crud started. When I get into these ruts, they tend to stick around a while. But I’ll push myself out of it Wednesday and get myself back to who I truly am.
Hence why I went live on Facebook before an why I am writing in this space. Music helps. I was just listening to this cool song from The Girl Next Door.
Wasn’t Elisa Cuthbert breathtaking in it? Who wouldn’t drop everything for her in that movie? Now she’s married to Dion Phaneuf and that’s just boring. I know how that sounds but whatever became of her career? Jesus.
Do you ever stop to “Take A Picture?” I do. Whether it’s capturing a perfect sunset with daylight savings giving me more time if the sun makes an appearance. Or a fascinating photo of the moon or stars above or just one of mother nature. I love taking pictures. It’s fun just to shoot something once in a while. That’s what my Instagram’s for.
Normalcy is good. So, I’ll return to the real world and get back at it. Oh. And it won’t just be fun and games. But life. It’s what I need right now. Peace. ❤
On Sunday night, the Field of 68 was revealed for the upcoming NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Let the madness begin. The four 1 seeds weren’t a surprise. Defending champion Villanova is the number one overall seed in the East. Unfortunately, they got a raw deal with ACC champion Duke sent to their region as a 2 seed.
While that’s unfair, the crack committee gave Gonzaga the 1 seed out West. Pac 12 champ Arizona is the 2 seed. Notre Dame could play spoiler as a dangerous 5 seed. They’ll likely have to get by Jekyll & Hyde 4 seed West Virginia. If they do, a Sweet 16 match-up against Gonzaga is possible.
If there is a region that’s loaded, it’s the South. Led by top seed North Carolina, it also features the always talented Kentucky as a 2 seed and high scoring UCLA as a 3 seed. What a power bracket that is. Carolina has an easier road with potential second round opponent Seton Hall and Sweet 16 match-up Butler. Kentucky and UCLA look like they’ll lock up in a dream NCAA Sweet 16 showdown for a shot at the Elite 8. Only dangerous floater Wichita State can prevent it. Somehow, they are the 10 seed. Good luck to Dayton.
The Midwest features the top seeded Jayhawks of Kansas. A very talented team led by Player of The Year candidate Frank Mason III, they shouldn’t have a problem the first two rounds. If Iowa State makes the Sweet 16, they can challenge them. They have to deal with 12 seed Nevada. On the bottom half, Louisville is the 2 seed and Oregon is the 3 seed. Both are superb teams capable of making deep runs. That section features a good 6/11 match-up between Creighton and Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a team to watch. Featuring Staten Island’s own Hassan Martin from Curtis High School, they could push Oregon in the second round. But the Ducks should prevail and advance to the Sweet 16. Michigan enters red hot having won the Big Ten. They could be a sleeper who busts some brackets.
I can’t get past the fact that they stuck Duke in Villanova’s bracket. It seems cruel. Why put those two in the same region? If the Wildcats are the number one overall seed, shouldn’t they have gotten a weaker 2 seed? It makes no sense. A Duke vs Villanova Elite 8 match-up at MSG is great theatre. But it’s a shame that only one can come out of the East and make the Final 4. They underseeded Wisconsin sticking them in the 8/9 game against Virginia Tech. Expect the proven Badgers to test the Wildcats in the second round. There’s always at least one 12 over a 5 upset special. I don’t know where it will come from. But N.C. Wilmington should give Virginia a game. Baylor is the 3 seed. They’re good but could be knocked out in the second round by underrated 6 seed SMU. A team that doesn’t get enough credit.
So, whose bubble burst? For starters, Syracuse. Their RPI of 84 with bad losses to St. John’s, Georgetown and Connecticut was too much to overcome. Even though they posted three wins against top 10 opponents and won 10 games in the ACC, they were left out in the cold. Had they won one game in the ACC Tournament, it would’ve been enough to get in over USC, who’ll be in one of four play-in games when they take on Providence.
California also was left out along with Illinois State. Illinois State lost in the championship game in the Missouri Valley Conference to Wichita State. The Shockers beat them by 20. California posted two wins in the Pac 12 Tournament against Oregon State and Utah. But they fell short against Oregon in the semifinals losing by eight.
One of the best stories is Northwestern making the Big Dance for the first time in school history. They are coached by former Duke player and assistant coach Chris Collins. Northwestern will make history when they play Vanderbilt in a tough 8/9 game out West. It won’t be easy. But you know they’ll have fun and give it everything.
I would love to pick Seton Hall over North Carolina if the second round match-up comes down. The Pirates play strong defense and have the low post interior presence of Angel Delgado. They also boast budding junior Desi Rodriguez and explosive guards Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell. But Ralph Willard’s team will be hard pressed to stop Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks inside. Combine that with floor general Joel Berry II and it could prove too difficult. Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson round it out.
There’s so much to like about this tournament. The play-ins are Tuesday and Wednesday. Kansas State will battle Wake Forest with the winner advancing to a 6/11 game against Cincinnati down South. The other play-ins are North Carolina Central against UC Davis for the chance to be the first 16 to beat a 1 in the Midwest against Kansas. Basically, there’s a better chance of me landing in Mars. NEC winner Mount St. Mary’s battles the University of New Orleans for a chance at Villanova. Good luck.
It should be a great weekend coming up. The first weekend is the best part of the tournament. The action starts on Thursday with second round games wall to wall followed by more games Friday. Then comes Saturday and Sunday when we learn which teams are going to the Sweet 16. It’s fun filled and usually has your share of upsets, buzzer beaters and unsung heroes. Let’s go!
March Madness is upon us. Every year, it’s a hoop fans’ dream. College basketball takes center stage over every other sport. Yes. Including baseball even though my Keeper League gets going soon with a Minor League Draft. Then the real thing in April.
Right now, the focus is on the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. Conference tournaments are wrapping up. Among the best were the epic between Notre Dame and Duke in the ACC Championship Game played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. A terrific back and forth game that had everything.
Duke became the first team to ever win four games in four days to take the ACC Tournament. More impressively, it was how they did it and who they beat in the last three rounds. They came back first to beat Louisville in the quarters. Then mounted an unreal comeback to stun North Carolina in the semis. A game that changed thanks to Roy Williams leaving starting guard Joel Berry II in with three fouls early in the second half. He picked up number four and that swung the momentum. By the time he got back in over 10 minutes later, it was too late.
The Blue Devils are stacked. While everyone talks about cheap but effective two guard Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and freshman future lottery pick Jayson Tatum are the best players on the team. Tatum and Kennard combined for 44 in a come from behind 93-83 win over their arch rival on Tobacco Road. So, what did Coach K’s team do for an encore? Only show more mental fortitude coming back against Mike Brey’s polished Notre Dame Fighting Irish 75-69.
Trailing throughout with Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson killing them inside and out with a game high 29 with nine rebounds, it looked they were finally out of gas with under 10 minutes left in the second half. The Irish were getting strong play also from V.J. Beacham, Matt Farrell and underrated guard Rex Pflueger. But the Blue Devils are never out of a game due to the game’s best coach. Mike Krzyzewski is so good at adjusting strategy.
Duke only goes about seven deep. But the talent and versatility they possess along with athleticism make them a legit candidate to win the national title. It didn’t happen right away for the preseason favorite. They struggled and finished fifth in the ACC. But with the development of Tatum combined with the strong outside shooting of Kennard and Allen, they are explosive. Tatum led them with 19 points and eight rebounds including a huge play in which he went coast to coast for a lay-in. He also went long for a put away off an in bounds finishing off a three-point play to end the game. Amile Jefferson did some good work inside scoring 14 on an efficient 7-of-8 shooting with three blocks. Matt Jones only had one basket but it was a money go-ahead trey off a nice set up in the final minute.
I am not a Blue Devils supporter. But I have the utmost respect for the program Coach K runs. I came away very impressed with Duke. The way they handled themselves in the face of adversity is what’s most impressive. They showed so much resiliency rallying against quality competition to pull out wins. They can score with anyone in the country. They’re well coached and execute. And they won’t miss free throws like what we saw with Arizona, who held off Oregon minus big shot blocker Chris Boucher to win the Pac 12 championship 83-80 in Las Vegas.
Speaking of the Pac 12, between the comical and always entertaining Bill Walton and ESPN sidekick Dave Pasch, they are so much fun. If you want laughs, then there’s no one better than Walton. He took on ESPN Bracketology ‘expert’ Joe Lunardi during the call when Mr. Looney Bin said Gonzaga is a 1 seed over the Arizona/Oregon winner. The exchange is priceless:
Walton must’ve used the Conference of Champions 100 times over the past 72 hours. It was pure comedy along with his classic tie dye Pac 12 t-shirts. One which quirky partner Pasch proudly sported during the final broadcast. Walton is so much fun. He doesn’t care about logic or statistical research. He cares about talent and players. No question the Pac 12 is a better conference than the West Coast Conference which the Zags dominated losing only once when BYU stunned them in Spokane 79-71 on Feb. 25. Otherwise, they’d be entering the NCAA Tournament a perfect 33-0. They ran through the WCC Tournament sweeping through Pacific, Santa Clara and St. Mary’s to finish the regular season 32-1.
It’s not like the Zags are pushovers. This is their best team. They placed five players in double digits and have quality wins over Iowa State and Arizona. It’s more a question is do they play enough quality opponents out of conference. The wins against the Cyclones and Wildcats came early as did a win over Florida. It’s not their fault they play in a weaker conference. They went out and beat who they were supposed to.
The question is is a 32-1 Gonzaga better than a 30-4 Arizona. That is a debate Walton was willing to have with Lunardi at least having the humor to have a UCLA football helmet present in studio as Walton was giving him the business. The Wildcats boast the uber talented Finnish four prospect Lauri Markkanen, who has a great touch from three and can score inside. He only took four shots making all four and didn’t shoot one three finishing with 11. Markkanen has shot up NBA Draft lists and probably will go in the top 10 assuming he leaves school.
Allonzo Trier is the emotional leader of Sean Miller’s Wildcats. He makes them go. A catalyst at both ends, Trier finished strong with 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists and hit on 10 of 11 from the charity stripe. He was money. Markkanen felt the pressure missing a pair of free throws late to give the Ducks a chance. He’s 84 percent from the line but went 3-of-6.
What makes Arizona tough is their size and athleticism. Chance Comache came off the bench for 10 hitting a key baseline jumper off a nice pass. Brooklyn’s Rawle Alkins contributed nine including a big trey from the key. A player St. John’s chased but didn’t land. Kadeem Allen had a strong night going 5-for-9 from the field with 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Miller has the ability to play eight which gives him enough options. They’ve been knocking on the door for a while. Maybe this is the year Arizona gets back to the Final Four.
As for Oregon, the Pac 12 regular season champs made it a game despite falling behind by as many as 14. They played scrappy and proved they are capable against anyone. Conference Player of The Year Dillon Brooks kept them in it during the first half with 16 of his 25 points. He certainly made a lot of big shots including three from downtown. It wasn’t until Tyler Dorsey, Jordan Bell and Dylan Ellis woke up in the second half that the Ducks chipped away at Arizona making it a game. Dorsey erupted for 23 including three triples but had a wild miss on a bad possession trailing by three that sealed their fate. Bell finished with a double double (16 and 10) and Ennis scored 12 to become the fourth Duck in double figures.
Ultimately, Arizona had enough of a cushion to hold on despite some nervous moments after misfiring from the line. Oregon showed a lot of grit without Boucher, whose loss was felt. That could impact their seed. They went 29-5 and deserve a 2 seed. But I could see them slipping to a 3 due to the committee. That would be a shame.
Villanova won the Big East Tournament at MSG pretty convincingly over Creighton 74-60. Led by tournament MVP Josh Hart’s 29 on 9-of-18 shooting including four treys and Jalen Brunson’s 17 points and five dimes, the defending champs will enter the tournament as the likely number one overall seed with a 31-3 record. The 31 victories are the most by a defending champ entering the Big Dance.
With Hart doing in Seton Hall in a two-point game they deserved to win with Jay Wright admitting such, he was even more dynamic along with Brunson, who slashed and dashed the Blue Jays while draining three treys on an efficient 5-for-7 from the field. Last year’s buzzer beater championship hero Kris Jenkins was better as expected scoring 14 including two from downtown on 6-of-13. The explosive and experienced trio combined for 60 of Villanova’s 74 or an identical amount to Creighton’s total of 60.
The Blue Jays were no match. Not even with freshman sensation Justin Patton, who did in Xavier in an electrifying semifinal won by daring teammate Marcus Foster. Patton was held to 10 points and five rebounds while fouling out. Foster had 13 and only made one three on five attempts. Cole Huff had 13.
The bottom line with Villanova is once they survived Seton Hall 55-53 in an old school drag it out Big East throwback, they weren’t gonna be denied. The Pirates showed a lot of fight. Angel Delgado had a clean look at a chippy but pushed it too hard watching as it went off the back iron and out. If he and former Lincoln star Desi Rodriguez are the focal points, that will open it up for sharpshooters Khadeen Carrington and Myles Powell to do some damage. They could be a tough out in the tournament. Hopefully, it’s not as an 8 or 9 seed.
Every conference tournament has been enjoyable. The Big Ten is tomorrow with Michigan probably having played itself in by making the championship game versus Wisconsin. But do they need one more win to secure their spot and burst the bubble of another team such as Syracuse, Wake Forest, California or Illinois State? We’ll see.
Kentucky is loaded and probably will beat Arkansas to win the SEC tournament. Led by the talented freshman class of future lottery picks De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, they’re a handful. Fox and Monk can take over games at any moment while local Newark product Isaiah Briscoe also must be accounted for. When it comes to March, John Calipari’s Wildcats are always a threat.
It really should be an interesting Selection Sunday. Does Syracuse have nine lives? Or will their bubble burst? They made the Final Four last year with a better team. They went 18-14 and lost to St. John’s. It should be fun.