Saturday, March 17, 2007

March Madness, St. Paddy's Day edition

To all my Irish friends back home and elsewhere I want to say Happy St. Patrick's Day and I wish all you safe travel home from wherever you are swilling, errr, celebrating tonight.

St. Patrick's Day on a Saturday- boy, hope the Boston cops are prepared for this nightmare.

I want to wish my good buddy Swilly McDrunk and his wife Jamie a happy 1-year anniversary and hope you guys are enjoying it with that young Irish stud, Finn

Also, to my late, great friend Chicago Bob I just want you to know that although I didn't consume 15+ green beers like we did a few years ago at O'Keefe's with the Czar, I thought about it, and I am sipping an amber-colored beverage out of that monster mug as I type this. Cheers, Bubba.

How did I spend the holiday, being a non-Irish lad? I took my son to a spring training game and watched the Blue Jays and Tigers in their green unis bash the ball around Knology Park. Couple of quick notes about the game:

- Toronto's scheduled starter Gustavo Chacin wasn't able to take the hill today against Detroit because he was nabbed by Tampa cops for DUI last night; looks like Gustavo had too many green beers in Ybor.

- I found out firsthand why Frank Thomas has two nicknames that both incorporate the word 'big'- Dude. Is. Large. I was also surprised at how generous he was with the fans, signing for a large group of kids & autograph sleazebags even as the PA announcer was announcing his name in the starting lineup. Classy.

Anyway, this year the Gaelic Christmas can be enjoyed by non-Irish folks, too, and not just because green beer knows no cultural or ethnic boundaries. No, this year the annual drunkfest lands on a day that the NCAA Tournament is being played, which by my calculations happens about 4 times every 7 years, minus leap year, or something like that. That means fans can go out and celebrate the holiday, watch the tourney, and when their brackets go up in smoke they can drown their sorrows with nine Harp's and 4-6 Irish Car Bombs.

My own bracket took a severe beating with losses by Louisville and BC. But sometimes the agony of knowing you lost the office pool gets forgotten in the midst of a daylong extravaganza of quality games, and there were plenty of them played today. Of the eight games played, seven were decided by 7 points or less and they included 2 overtime games and one double-OT thriller; plus Butler, another 'little school that could', muscled its way into the Sweet 16 to compete with the big boys.
Let's review the results from a wild day on the road to the Final 4.
-1Ohio State 78, 9Xavier 71 (OT)
I got back from the game just in time to catch the fantastic finish in this one. The Buckeyes were tested, as predicted by yours truly, by its interstate rivals from the Queen City, trailing for much of the game and headed for a huge upset. In fact if it weren't for a bogus, 'Jordan Rules'-esque non call on Buckeye freshman phenom Greg Oden in the waning seconds of regulation, the Musketeers may be the ones headed to San Antonio next week for the round of 16.

Oden (14 pts, 12 rebs) fouled out with :10 left and Xavier leading 61-59, and the obvious intentional nature of the shove to Xavier's Justin Cage should have earned him a flagrant as well. If the ref had called it, Xavier would have had two free throws plus the possession with hardly any time left. Instead Cage made just one of two frees, which set up Ron Lewis' "they'll be replaying this shot forever" 3-pointer that tied it with less than a second to play in regulation.

In the overtime OSU's other freshman sensation, stat sheet-stuffer extraordinaire Mike Conley, Jr.(21 pts, 4 ass, 5 rebs, 3 blcks, 2 stls), scored the first 7 points for the Buckeyes and 11 in the extra frame as Ohio State escaped with a controversial, thrilling win that defined the famous tourney catchphrase "survive & advance".

-6Vandy 78, 3Wash St. 74 (2OT)
The game of the day had to be this back & forth affair between the Commodores and Cougars in Sacramento-too bad most of the country didn't get to see it.

Wazzou led for most of the second half and enjoyed an 8 point lead with just over 10:00 to play, but a 12-0 spurt by Vandy from that point on made it a barn burner. Senior Derrick Byers had a monster game for Vandy, chipping in 27 points including 5 treys and one huge blocked shot in the first OT that kept Vandy's Sweet 16 hopes alive.

-3Pitt 84, 11VCU 79 (OT)
The giant killers of the first round weren't able to duplicate the feat again as VCU fell victim to a tough Pitt squad, but the Rams showed some grit & determination of their own by sending the game to overtime despite trailing by as many as 19 points in the contest.

The Rams had knocked off Duke to hand the Devils its first 1st round loss in over a decade, and the scrappy team from the CAA nearly repeated that act after overcoming a late 12-point deficit. After the hero of the Duke game Eric Maynor helped his team get back into it, the toll of playing two emotionally & physically exhausting games in three days caught up with them, and when Lavance Fields missed two free throws with 2 seconds left, Pitt put it away in OT. Still, VCU showed a lot of heart and made for many exciting tourney moments.

-2Georgetown 62, 7BC 55
This game was an old fashioned Big East slugfest as these two former conference rivals battled it out for the right to move on to the Sweet 16.

After jumping out to a 39-31 lead with 15:00 to play in the second half, Georgetown came roaring back behind center Roy Hibbert (17 of his 19 points in the 2nd half) and Big East Player of the Year Jeff Green, who converted two big 3-point plays down the stretch and finished with 11 points and 12 rebs. The biggest problem for BC? Jared Dudley (19) and Tyrese Rice (22) combined for 41 of the Eagles' 55 points. 'Nuff said.

I don't have the time or the space to go in depth on each of the other games: Louisville got upended by Texas A&M, 72-69; Butler advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second time in 4 years by knocking off Maryland, 62-59, with help from an offensive foul call on the Terps' DJ Strawberry in the waning seconds; UCLA nearly blew a 13 point lead with just over 5:00 left but held on to defeat Indiana, 54-49; and the Tarheels got a small scare from Mich St. but used a 14-4 late surge and a huge game from Tyler Hansbrough (33 pts, 12 rebs) to win going away, 81-67.

Whew. Quite a day. And as I predicted my cruise to the top of the office pool heap came to a crashing halt as I lost a FF team (Louisville) and a Final 8 pick (BC) within hours of each other.

But like I said it's a small price to pay for action like that.

Plenty more to come tomorrow, including Purdue/Florida, Kansas/Kentucky, Nevada/Memphis and Texas/USC.

BTW, if Texas loses I might not be posting for a while.

Enjoy the holiday and the tourney, and please drink responsibly (i.e. no less than 20 brewskis, Gleason!)

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