Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Archive for March, 2008

How’s your bracket?

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 25, 2008

Have I mentioned how much I love the NCAA Tournament?  Have I also mentioned how it can be maddening, frustrating, and annoying while simultaneously entertaining and exhilarating?  That about sums up the first weekend of the tournament for me.  Of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament, I had only nine advancing to this point in the tournament.  How could I have thought that Clemson would make a run into the Elite Eight?  Turns out the ACC was more mediocre this year than I thought, with only North Carolina remaining in the field.  I clearly also overestimated the strength of the Big East, getting burned by Marquette, Pitt AND Georgetown, who I had going to the Final Four.  At least my championship matchup, North Carolina vs. Texas, is still intact. 

Despite my bitterness about my bracket, which is about as useful as kindling these days, it is impossible not enjoy a team like Davidson.  It is the Davidson Wildcats that are responsible for me losing a Final Four team (Georgetown).  I had heard through the grapevine that Davidson had a nice team, that they had played North Carolina and Duke close during the season, and that they were a team to watch.  I had them winning one game, which they did against fellow mid-major Gonzaga, but I didn’t think they would have a chance against the mighty Hoyas, arguably the best team from the Big East.  Perhaps my thinking might have been different had I gotten a chance to see Stephen Curry play this season.  For all the talk about sensational players around the country like Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough , Curry should rank right up there the way he played in Davidson’s two tournament games.  He lit Gonzaga up for 40 points, 30 in the second half, and then scored another 30 in the upset of the Hoyas.  An acquaintance of mine who happens to be a KU fan actually uttered, “I’d much rather play Wisconsin than Davidson if we happen to beat Villanova.  I don’t think we can stop Stephen Curry.”  Never mind that Davidson is a 10 seed from the mighty Southern Conference that has a loss to Western Michigan on its resume, although granted that was early in the season.  It’s a team like Davidson that makes the tournament a special event.

We also saw something we’ve never seen in the tournament before: A pair of 12 vs. 13 matchups in the second round.  This after Western Kentucky blew a 16 point lead against Drake, than rallied to win on a 38 foot buzzer beater that will no doubt go down in tournament annals.  Meanwhile, San Diego stunned 4-seed UConn in overtime, while 4-seed Vanderbilt got run out of the gym by Siena – SIENA!  Honestly, how many of you out there had Western Kentucky, San Diego and Siena all advancing past the first round?  I actually did pick a 13-4 upset, just turns out I picked the wrong one.  I thought I had something when Winthrop was tied at the half against Washington State, but than the Eagles scored a grand total of five points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and got blown out.  Oh, and then we almost saw another 15-2 upset, and had it not been for an errant inbounds pass, Belmont would have upset powerhouse Duke. 

This year I was fortunate in that I got to see some of the tournament in person this year, attending first and second round action at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  It was just my luck though that I didn’t see any buzzer beaters or fantastic finishes or crazy upsets.  No, I sat through five blowouts and one semi-competitive game that Drew Neitzel took over as Michigan State pulled away against Pitt.  The most excitement in the day of first round action on Thursday was about 20 of us huddled around a two inch cell phone screen trying to watch the end of the Belmont-Duke game.    That being said, it is still an amazing experience to be there.  The atmosphere of an NCAA Tournament is a unique, one of a kind sports experience.  In one fell swoop, you can feel exhilaration and frustration.  It is possible to enjoy the excitement of the games while at the same time bemoaning how worthless your bracket has become.  It doesn’t matter which teams are on the court, or even who ends up winning.  The NCAA Tournament is sports at its best because of the atmosphere surrounding the event and the intensity of the competition.  I can only hope that someday soon my Missouri Tigers will once again make an appearance in this event.  Five years is a long time without your favorite team being good enough to participate.  Oh well, there is always next year. 

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It’s Tourney Time!

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 18, 2008

One of my favorite times of the year is almost here, the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.  Will this finally be the year a 16 seed upsets a 1? (Personally I’m rooting for Portland State against Kansas – that would more than make up for Missouri’s mediocrity this season.).  I am sane enough to realize that the odds of that happening are about the equivalent of me winning the Powerball jackpot.  Oh wait, I never have.  The odds should be better that all four number one seeds will make the Final Four, especially with this year’s talented quartet of North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, and aforementioned Kansas.  Thing is, that’s not very likely either that all four teams will go through the bracket unscathed.  See, there has never been a year where all four number one seeds have reached the Final Four, not one.  That’s what makes this event a truly unique one on the sports calendar.  You never know who is going to get hot.  We’ve seen four 15 seeds win games against 2 seeds since 1990.  We’ve seen upsets over the years the likes of Weber State over North Carolina, Bradley over Kansas, Vermont over Syracuse, Virginia Commonwealth over Duke and Bucknell over Kansas (can you tell who I like to see go down?).  My Missouri Tigers made the Elite Eight in 2002 as a 12 seed.   George Mason of course made their spectacular run two years ago to reach the Final Four as an 11 seed.  Villanova won the national title as an 8 seed in 1985, I could go on and on.  The point is, between all the buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes and upsets, it makes it virtually impossible to predict how the tournament will go.  This makes winning a bracket challenge or office pool extremely difficult.  Chances are, the winner won’t have seen a single hoops game all year or will win because they confused George Mason with George Washington.  Perhaps their alma matter happened to get hot out of nowhere.  It just becomes harder and harder every year to win that office pool.

Some will have success with the mascot theory, picking games based on who’s mascot would be more likely to win an actual fight.  This worked well for those that rode the Florida Gators the past two seasons.  Some people try crazy ideas like inverse graduation rate, famous alumni, coin flip or some other such crazy exercise.  While there is no theory that will guarantee success, there are some simple actual basketball points that can at least prevent you from finishing last in your pool or getting embarrassed.

– Remember a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed, so Mississippi Valley State is not bumping off UCLA, let alone advancing to the sweet 16

– As mentioned above, all four number one seeds have never made the Final Four.  Fill out your bracket accordingly.

– Keep an eye out for teams that will be enjoying home cooking, playing close to home and in front of partisan crowds.  Last year UCLA defeated top seed Kansas in the regional final in large part because they were playing in California.  Syracuse took advantage of regional games in Albany when they won the national title in 2003 as a three seed.  North Carolina will be helped immensely this year by playing their first two games in Raleigh (less than 30 minutes from their home court, the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill) and two potential regional games in Charlotte, where they just won the ACC Tournament.  Sure, they have a bracket with tough foes in Tennessee, Louisville and Notre Dame, but the hometown feeling is a huge advantage.  UCLA will play its first two games in nearby Anaheim before potentially heading to Phoenix, which isn’t that far from LA.   Texas, should they get through their first two rounds in Little Rock, will get regional games in Houston, giving them a huge edge against the South’s top seed, Memphis.  How about South Alabama, a 10 seed getting to play in Birmingham against 7 seed Butler?  To a lesser degree, Kansas and Kansas State will benefit from playing first and second round games in Omaha, just a short drive from Kansas City.  Also, 10 seed Davidson will be much more comfortable in Raleigh than their first round opponent Gonzaga, which must travel cross country.

– Don’t get sucked into picking too many upsets.  Not all of the top seeds are going to go down.  Pick your upsets in spots, but remember that by and large the better teams will be advancing deep into the tournament.  It is especially important to remember that the odds of the national champ being anything other than a top three seed is highly unlikely.

– If your alma matter or favorite team is in the tournament, try to pick with your brain instead of your heart.  That being said, feel free to pick them a round farther than you normally would if they weren’t your favorite team.  It sure worked for George Mason alums two years ago.

– Don’t get swayed by tradition rich programs with poor seeds, such as Arizona (10) and Kentucky (11) in this year’s bracket.   If a traditional power is seeded double digits, they probably didn’t have a good year by their standards and may not be your best choice for an upset pick.

– Pay attention to how teams finished the season.  Pitt, a 4 seed, won the Big East Tournament after being seeded seventh in that bracket.  Clemson, a five seed, beat Duke in the ACC semis and played North Carolina tough in all three meetings this year.   Memphis earned its top seed in part by breezing through the Conference USA tournament.  You can argue all you want about their league not being strong, but their strong run at the end of league play gives indication they’ll be up for the challenge in the NCAA Tournament.

Just remember, there is no perfect formula for picking these games.  Something will happen that is completely unexpected, it is just not possible to tell what it will be.  Above all, this tournament is fun.  If Portland State does beat Kansas, I will be on cloud nine, even if I have Kansas picked to go deep in the tournament.  If your bracket goes down in flames, don’t worry, chances are everyone else in your office is experiencing the same thing.  If they’re not, the tournament is still fun to watch for its unpredictability and excitement.  For the record, my Final Four picks are North Carolina, Georgetown, Texas and UCLA, with the Tar Heels winning their second title under Roy Williams.  You know what this means, for heaven’s sake stay away from those four teams!

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The frustration of watching the Nuggets

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 11, 2008

At the start of the season it seemed impossible to think that the Denver Nuggets were going to miss the NBA playoffs.  They possess two of the top scorers in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson.  They have the reigning defensive player of the year in Marcus Camby.  They have a sharpshooter coming off the bench in J.R. Smith who can provide instant offense.  They’ve even had Eduardo Najera and Linas Kleiza emerge during the course of the season to fill in key roles.  Their record isn’t even that bad, 37-26, which in any other year would put them in easy playoff position.  Heck, if they were playing in the Eastern Conference instead of the West, the Nuggets would be seeded fourth in the playoff bracket if the season ended today.   Because they play out west however, the Nuggets find themselves in the number nine position in the conference, two and a half games out of a playoff spot.  The fact is this year’s playoff race out west is shaping to be more competitive than possibly any other in league history, and the Nuggets are finding themselves on the outside looking in with less than 20 games remaining in the regular season.

It’s easy to use the competitive field as an excuse for the Nuggets being ninth in the conference right now, but the bottom line is a team that talented should not be missing the playoffs, period.  What makes them so frustrating to watch at times is they’ve shown they can beat anybody, they just can’t seem to do it consistently.  Last week they blew out the Phoenix Suns and then overcome a double digit deficit to beat defending champ San Antonio.  Granted, both games were on their home court at the Pepsi Center, but they were great efforts against great teams at the right time of year.  The efforts were essentially rendered moot however, when the Nuggets followed them with a listless performance in a key division game at Utah, getting hammered 132-105.  Last night the Nuggets daunting schedule continued with a visit to San Antonio.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Nuggets held a three point lead at halftime, and led by as many as nine in the third quarter.  Despite losing the lead partly because they lost their composure, with Camby and Anthony each picking up technical fouls for arguing calls,  the Nuggets regrouped and found themselves tied with the Spurs at 100 apiece with two minutes to go.

The rest of the game illustrated much of what has been plaguing the Nuggets all year.  The Nuggets actually toughened up on defense, forcing a missed shot by the Spurs’ Tony Parker.  As has been the case many times this year, the Nuggets stood around and watched the Spurs get the offensive rebound.  Then another shot, another miss, and another offensive rebound.  The Spurs looked discombobulated on offense, and Tim Duncan drove the lane awkwardly.  He threw up a wild shot which was blocked by Kenyon Martin, but Carmelo Anthony fouled Duncan in the process of trying to help out.  For those not keeping track, the Nuggets allowed two offensive rebounds on the biggest possession of the game, and ended up putting Duncan at the foul line.  After Duncan sank the two free throws to put the Spurs up two, Allen Iverson kept the ball on the next possession and threw up a wild fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face.  Not surprisingly the shot missed the Spurs got the rebound.  Mind you there was still more than a minute remaining, so the Nuggets would have had plenty of time to get into their offense and get a good shot.  Instead, Iverson jacked up a fadeaway before even 10 seconds had elapsed off the shot clock.  After the Spurs made two more free throws following a Nuggets foul, J.R. Smith jacked up a wild three before the Nuggets could get into their offense.  The Nuggets ended up losing a game they had a chance to win, and missed a chance to make a statement by beating a top team on the road.

The other underlying theme from last night’s game was the fact that Anthony was essentially absent in the entire fourth quarter.  Looking back at the stats last night, Anthony didn’t score a single point in the fourth quarter, and I’m not even sure he got a shot off in the frame.  For all that Iverson has done since coming to Denver, and he has done more than he’s gotten acknowledgement for, Anthony is the leader of the team.  For him to be that unproductive in the fourth quarter of a key game is inexcusable.  There is a reason why he doesn’t get the accolades that fellow draft class members LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have received.  Those two have led their teams to the NBA Finals.  The Nuggets have not made it out of the first round since Anthony’s arrival.  The way they’re headed this season, they could go down as the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  They still have 19 games remaining in the regular season, including several coming up against teams they should easily beat.  Will they step up and get it together?  It’s a question of whether we’ll see the team that’s defeated the Suns, Spurs and Celtics in recent weeks, or whether we’ll see the team that blew a 23 point lead to hapless Milwaukee and didn’t show up in Utah.  The Nuggets have the talent to be a playoff team and should be a playoff team.  That is, if they stop getting in their own way while trying to get there. 

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Adios Javon!

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 6, 2008

Good riddance, that’s what I said to myself after Javon Walker signed with the arch rival Oakland Raiders after getting released by Denver.  Has anyone ever received a higher reward for fading fast as Javon Walker?  Seriously, the guy ends up with a new five year contract worth $56 million, $16 million of which is guaranteed, after the year he’s had?  Then again this is the Raiders.  How on earth does Al Davis think he still knows what he’s doing?  First they shell out $50.5 million over five years to keep no name defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and then they overpay for Walker, who had received interest from other teams, but wasn’t exactly getting his door knocked down? Sure there were other teams interested in Walker, but several reports indicated he hasn’t worked out at all since the end of the season, and there were questions as to whether he could pass a physical with any team because of his knee, which has now required two operations in three years.  The fact is the Broncos actually tried to trade Walker before they released him, but couldn’t find any takers. 

Mike Shanahan seemed like he had a steal two years ago when he acquired Walker for a second round draft pick from Green Bay.  Sure, Walker was coming off a knee reconstruction and had missed the entire 2005 season after injuring his knee in week one, but the Broncos were getting a playmaker.  It did actually work, well for one season anyway.  Walker showed the big play ability he was brought in for, catching 69 balls in 2006 for 1,084 yards and 8 touchdowns.  Looking beyond those numbers though, Walker pretty much carried the team by himself on offense, or does anyone forget he put up most of those numbers with the immortal Jake Plummer throwing to him?  

Things actually started okay last season too, as Walker caught 17 balls in the first two games alone, both Broncos wins, although he didn’t have any touchdowns.  Walker inexplicably was held to two catches for 10 yards in week three against Jacksonville and then did not take the field again until week 12.  During that time we kept hearing how things were week to week as far as his status, and there were reports of more trouble in the already reconstructed knee.   Walker was ready to return following the bye week against Pittsburgh, having missed two games, and looked ready to go in practice in that week.  Then the Friday before the game he’s down in Houston having a second surgery on the already reconstructed knee.  In the meantime, Brandon Marshall began to emerge as the top target for quarterback Jay Cutler.  Marshall in fact finished with a great year, finishing with 102 catches for for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.  Walker after he returned in week 12?  He was held without a catch in his return against Chicago, caught one ball for seven yards at Oakland, sat out against the Chiefs with further knee trouble, and caught a whopping six balls in the final three games of the season for less than 50 yards. 

Walker pretty much wrote his ticket out of Denver during his end of season press conference the day after the final game against Minnesota, saying that he wanted to be elsewhere and that he felt he should be the number one receiver.  It became clear that Cutler and Marshall developed a connection during Walker’s absence, and that if Walker wanted to come back in 2008 it would be in a so called number two role.  With the Broncos having as many needs to fill as they do, they clearly weren’t about to pay a $5 million roster bonus for a guy who didn’t want to be here, so it is clear why they let him go.  I’m certainly of the mind that if a player doesn’t want to be part of the organization, get rid of him.  Admittedly, Walker is very effective when healthy, and the Broncos will miss his big play potential.  That being said, if Marshall can continue to shine next season, and if free agent signee Keary Colbert turns out to be as good as advertised, the Broncos could actually be in decent shape.  I still find it very hard to believe that someone was willing give Walker that kind of contract when it’s unclear as to whether his knee will hold up for one season, let alone five.  The silver lining is that if this goes wrong as I suspect it will, the Raiders will be the organization to suffer.  I can’t think of a more deserving owner or franchise to get stuck overpaying for a receiver that’s not likely to hold up the length of the contract and will more than likely bring an attitude problem to the locker room.  I can’t wait to hear the reception Walker will get when the Raiders come to Denver next season.  I just hope that this doesn’t backfire on the Broncos and that Walker doesn’t regain his Pro Bowl level in Oakland.  Then again, it is the Raiders, so the odds are with them not knowing what they’re doing.  Odds are they’ll be able to add Walker to their list of free agent failures (see Brown, Larry). 

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Random Thoughts for March

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 4, 2008

So the calendar has turned into March.  Never mind that it’s hard to fathom that we’re already two months into 2008.  This means one thing and one thing only: this is the best time of year for college basketball.  It is this time of year that reminds me why the college game is considerably better and more entertaining than the pro version.  I’m well aware that I recently wrote that I’m paying more attention to the NBA these days.  That still holds true, especially this season when the Nuggets may end up holding the distinction of the most talented team ever to miss the playoffs.  However, there is one thing the college game has that the NBA will never have, and that’s the passion involved in each game.  Have you ever once seen NBA fans charge the court to celebrate a big win?  No.  Do NBA fans arrive at a game three hours early to secure the best seats? No.  Do NBA games have raucous student sections that turn even the most mundane of matchups into an electric atmosphere? No.  

As much as I despise Kansas basketball, and the hatred is evident if you get to know me for five seconds, I had to give a tip of the cap while watching their game against Texas Tech last night.  It was senior night at Allen Fieldhouse, and as usual the place was packed.  That atmosphere is what makes college basketball so great.  Students at KU camp out for days to make sure they get seats for the next game, and regardless of the score (last night KU walloped Tech by 58 points) no one leaves the game early, ever.  I’ve been to NBA games where the score is tied with three minutes left and people are heading for the exits to beat traffic.  Seriously, how absurd is this?  People don’t leave movies early, so why do they leave games early, even when it’s competitive at the end?  That’s a rant for another time, but the point is you don’t see that kind of casual fan behavior at a college game.  Every college game has an electric atmosphere, virtually anywhere in the country, that is simply not duplicated at the professional level.  Even in a year where my Mizzou Tigers are just hovering over .500 at 15-14, I still pay much closer attention to the college season and in particular the Big 12 this time of year than I do any other sport.  The NCAA tournament is a unique event on the sports calendar partly due to its unpredictability, but it’s the passion of each game that makes the event special.  For me, the final few weeks of the regular season and the week of conference tournaments also provide the same intensity and excitement.  No matter who your team is, no matter how poor a season they’ve had, there’s always that minuscule chance they could win their conference tournament and make the big party.  That small chance alone makes the next few weeks of games worth watching.

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Have you seen some of these deals being shelled out in the early period of free agency in the NFL?  I know it’s always a time where teams want to show their fans that they’re doing something to try and improve the team, but some of these deals are insane.  How many of you out there have heard of Tommy Kelly?  He’s a defensive tackle who last year had 30 tackles and one sack for the Raiders, and didn’t play a down after suffering a season ending injury in week 8 against Tennessee.  The Raiders shelled out $50.5 million over five years to re-sign him.  That’s an awful lot of money to shell out for one sack.  Reports had some NFL GM’s saying, “Who is Tommy Kelly?”  How about Justin Smith, defensive end formerly of the Bengals, getting $45 million over six years to sign with San Francisco?  Smith had a whopping two sacks last year, and while talented, doesn’t seem like he’d be considered the so called missing piece to justify that kind of signing.  The Jacksonville Jaguars clearly thought that two interceptions was worth $6 million a year, as that’s what they’re paying former Charger cornerback Drayton Florence.  Seems as though the New England Patriots still have confidence in their more low key formula.  They elected not to re-sign WR Donte Stallworth (who went to Cleveland), CB Asante Samuel (who got a 6 year $57 million contract from Philadelphia, although he at least intercepted six passes last year) and CB Randall Gay (who signed with New Orleans).  These can be added to the list of big name players they have jettisoned in the past (David Givens, Deion Branch, Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe among them), and it’s a philosophy that seems to work for them.  As successful as they’ve been, maybe the answer isn’t to spend every dime you have on free agents every winter.  Then again, maybe the Patriots are just good at bargain hunting.  Their 3 year $27 million re-signing of star receiver Randy Moss seems like the biggest bargain of the winter. 

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Tonight Peter Forsberg returns to the Colorado Avalanche.  I really hope that this isn’t just a public relations move to bring him back.  If he is even 80 percent of the player he was before he left the club, then the Avalanche are about get a huge boost.  Right now they are on the cusp of playoff contention, but if he can contribute, then they might just make a run.  Last year felt weird without the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but if they make it back this year with Forsberg and Adam Foote having just returned to the team, it will be just like old times. 

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