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!)


March Madness: 64 to 32

The first round of the NCAA Tournament is in the books and it was anything but "mad"; the only upsets belonged to 11th seed VCU over the #6 Blue Devils last night, and 11th seeded Winthrop over the unlucky Irish earlier today.

In fact, out of the 32 games played Thursday and Friday, the lower (better) seed won only 5
times. Is this the year that sanity reigns and we see all four No.1 seeds make it to the Final Four?

That may be going a bit too far, but so far the only real surprise of the tourney is that there have been so few surprises.

Let's take a look at some of the bigger developments from Round 1.

-The four No. 1 seeds (Florida, Kansas, Ohio State, North Carolina) won their games by an average of 31.5 points-no shocker there. But Florida, the number one overall seed, actually had a scare for a half from tiny Jackson State; the Tigers battled the Gators the entire first half, trailing by just 6 at the break before an 8-0 run by Florida to start the second half paved the way for blowout city.

-#2 Wisconsin proved to be a fortunate winner when it overcame an 18-point deficit against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi today. Somehow the scoring-impaired Badgers dug deep and managed to score 57 points in the second half-more than it normally tallies for an entire game- and held off the Islanders, 76-63.

-5th seeded Va Tech and 12 Illinois played the game of the day as the Hokies overcame poor shooting (38%), missed frees (10) and a 13-point second half hole before climbing out and knocking off the Illini, 54-52. What was interesting about that game was Illinois was having its way with the Hokies until about midway thru the second half, when Seth Greenberg went to the full-court trap to stifle Illinois' flow; the Illini managed only 3 baskets after the 10:00 mark.

-The Tennessee Volunteers, led by that nutty, orange-jacketed, orange-chested coach Bruce Pearl, set a new first round record for points scored in its 121-86 win over Long Beach State. Of all the teams in the Big dance, I don't think anyone would have predicted that the Vols would be the team to set such a mark.

-Texas got a scare from New Mexico St. before pulling away for a 79-67 victory. That meant I could breathe again, because the Longhorns are my pick to win it all.

Speaking of my bracket, I am a respectable 27-5 after the first round and just off the pace in the office pool (for a change), but I know full well that good fortune in the tourney can be as fleeting as an album sale for Kevin Federline, meaning that with two more full days of games starting at 1:00 today, I could go from the top of the board to the bottom of the pile in a hurry.

Here's some of the more interesting matchups of the second round for Saturday:

-Boston College/Georgetown
Two former Big east foes square off in what should be a fun, physical and emotional contest. Plenty of star power on hand in this one as each team has 3 quality scorers, including the Players of the Year for the ACC (BC's Jared Dudley) and the Big east (the Hoyas Jeff Green)

These storied programs have a rich tradition of hardwood history behind them and each will be fired up and ready to protect their reputations. The Bruins are the 2 seed in the West region and have a lot more riding on the line than Kelvin Sampson's upstart Hoosiers, which could be a dangerous thing for the Bruins and their backers (did I mention I have them playing Texas?)

-Louisville/Texas A&M
This one has the makings of a classic: the high-flying, three-point gunning Cardinals are riding a month-long hot streak and show no signs of slowing down. But the Aggies have one of the most explosive, exciting, and clutch players in all of college ball- Acie Law IV- and if the game is close and the Aggies can get him the ball, the Birds might be exiting this dance a bit prematurely

-Xavier/Ohio State
The battle of Ohio will not be an easy one for the top-seeded Buckeyes. These cross-state rivals (Xavier is in Cincy) have played some classics against each other, and the Musketeers will be eager to knock their neighbors to the north off their lofty perch

That's all I got tonight. Back at some point tomorrow to recap and possible detail the first major upset of the tourney.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Madness: Duke haters are rejoicing

11VCU 79, 6Duke 77

The jersey pop is played out, but these guys earned the right to be tired

The 2007 edition of the Duke Blue Devils concluded its season-long tribute to the 1995-96 team by bowing out in the opening round for the first time since...wait for it...1996.

Despite career-high performances from Josh McRoberts (22 pts, 12 rebs) and Greg Paulus (25 points) the Devils folded under late-game pressure once again to end Coach K's run of 9 consecutive Sweet 16's reached.

Duke appeared motivated early and got off to a scorching start, jumping out to a 22-9 lead over CAA champion VCU midway through the first half and clicking on all cylinders for one of the few times this season. McRoberts had a pair of monster dunks and blocks and Paulus, perhaps energized by playing in front of 40+ friends & family from his nearby hometown, Syracuse, was providing the scoring & leadership this team has lacked most of the year.

But the Devils suddenly reverted to the same group of talented-yet-confounding youngsters who lost a number of close games in the final month of the season before exiting in the first round of the ACC tourney last week. By halftime the Rams had cut the deficit to two, 40-38, and everyone who took VCU in the office pool knew the mentally-shaky Devils were on the ropes.

Duke started the second half much like it did the first-hot-and when it grabbed a 10-point lead with just over 10:00 to play some people believed (i.e. me) that being in so many close losses might work in Duke's favor in this one.

Not the case.

The Rams rode the play of diminutive guard Eric Maynor, who scored 22 points including 8 in the final four minutes, right back into the game, and by the time Duke knew what hit 'em VCU had taken a 72-70 lead with 2:07 to play. As Duke was busy missing free throws (Paulus & McRoberts missed 3 apiece down the stretch) and turning the ball over, Maynor was hitting clutch shots and playing great defense and ultimately winning the game for his team; it was his jumper from the top of the key with 1.8 seconds left that ended up being the game winning basket.

Ironically, with Buffalo-native and Duke tourney god Christian Laettner in the stands, the Devils had a chance to hit a game-winning shot when it got the ball back after Maynor's basket, one last chance for another miraclulous March finish.

But in this season of 'almosts' and 'not quites' for the Devils, the season finished just like it should have- with a thud.

By the way, will someone put out an APB on Jon Scheyer? Nobody's seen him in weeks.


Happy March Madness!

The 2007 NCAA Tournament has officially began and, not coincidentally, so has my love affair with my new TV.

There really is nothing quite like watching the beginning of March Madness (of course I'm not counting that foolish "opening round game") in glorious high definition, with the surround sound blaring the familiar CBS "Road to the Final Four" tune at neighbor-annoying decibels, my brackets in one hand, beverage of choice in the other. It nearly brought a tear of joy down my cheek.

(Quick note about the new set: now I hate to leave the HD channel range- the upper 600s-700s- and venture down into the nether lands of basic & digital cable. It's like owning a Ferrari and only driving it in first gear; sure it looks great and can still outperform nearly all of its competitors, but it's not until you air it out in the higher gears that the beautiful machine realises its full potential. I'll stop now.)

Anyway the thrill off the set didn't wear off although the early games left a lot to be desired as far as excitement goes. The Maryland/Davidson contest, which I received in my market, was actually a decent game until the last few minutes, but other than that the first round of games went pretty much according to form. Here's a quick recap:

- Maryland 82, Davidson 70
Don't be fooled by the score- Davidson was close, late (71-68 w/ 3:33 to go) and gave the Terps fits all day, mainly sharpshooter Stephen Son of Dell Curry; he finished with 30, including 16 in the first half, 10 straight to close the half. But he went ice cold in the second half and so did Davidson's chance at an upset.

BTW, Straw Jr. is a damn good ball player

-BC 84, Tex Tech 75
Bobby Knight's streak of futility in Lubbock continues as the Eagles dispatched the Red Raiders
behind the tri-namic trio of Sean Marshall (21 pts), Tyrese Rice (26 pts) and Jared Dudley (19 pts). Tech stayed close for most of the game, but with star guard and leading scorer Jarrius Jackson gagging (10 pts, 4-14 FGs), you knew it would be another disappointing end for a Knight-coached team.

On the other bright side I have BC advancing pretty far in my bracket, so this was a win-win for me.

-Louisville 78, Stanford 58
The Cardinal vs. Cardinals turned out to be as interesting as the reason why Stanford's nickname doesn't have an "s" at the end of it (the name is for the school color, not the bird)- in other words, not very. Louisville was one of the hottest teams in the land coming in to the tourney, and playing an overmatched 12-loss team did nothing to prevent that hot streak from continuing.

Pitino's return to Rupp Arena may have brought mixed feelings, but his team has won 12 of its last 15 and is poised for a potential long tourney run. Then again, I picked them to go to the Final 4, so maybe not.

Vandy is taking on GW right now and handling them pretty well.

I'm heading back into high def land; not sure when I'll be back.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

3/14/07, HD-Day: a day that will live in infamy (for me)

The question has been lingering for days now: Where the hell is he?

Only 1 post since Friday (not counting the one I deleted) from a blog that normally cranks out 1-3 posts per day has had many friends, family members & loyal readers (what do you mean they are all one in the same?) frantically pondering the fate of the TBBostonian.

Fear not, my trusty followers, I am back to dispel the myths surrounding my disappearance and assure you that all is well here at the worldwide headquarters, although I was quite troubled to learn what some of my readers believed happened to me; some of the theories floating around included:
  • I ditched my "normal" life to become a member of Sergio Garcia's globe-trotting mantourage
  • I got nabbed, along with Gary Matthews, Evan(der) (Holy) Field(s) and John Rockhead in that Orlando/HGH bust
  • I was secretly called to Los Angeles by Simon Cowell to take replace one of those tone-deaf, beat-boxin' lounge lizards on American Karoake

...or the best one I've heard yet...

  • I had already jumped of the Skyway in anticipation of my bracket going up in a ball of flames by midnight Friday

Those were all very good guesses and I greatly appreciate your proposals of support, words of encouragement and generous offers of bail money, but there is a simple, glorious, crystal-clear reason for my extended absence:

I have joined the world of HIGH DEFINITION TELEVISION! (cue the trumpets)

That's right, all those nights kneeling beside my giant, mid-'90s-chic entertainment center and praying that my 36" CRT Sharp behemoth would be replaced by a sleek, slim HD-equipped beauty finally paid off as the TV fairy (a.k.a. my mom) heard my prayers and answered them in a big way. As in 40" Samsung LCD Widescreen monitor big.

Before I go forward into the fairy tale land that is high def television viewing, a.k.a. Man's Garden of Eden, let me backtrack to the events of the past four days and get everyone brought up to speed on what has transpired.

Sunday I attended the PODS Championship and watched world-class golfers like Sergio, Vijay Singh and Chris DiMarco get eaten alive by Innisbrook's unforgiving Copperhead course. Mark Calcavecchia was leading comfortably (3 strokes) late (3 holes to play), but he tried to choke the tourney away on the impossible-to-birdie Par 4 18th; he ended up winning despite bogeying 18 when Heath Slocum's 4-ft par putt hopped out of the cup. We promptly left the course, semi-staggering from a combo of too many Michelob Cool Cans and hours of walking the monstrous course in the warm Florida sunshine, and headed home to watch the selection special.

On the way back I received a call from my wife telling me I needed to drive about 30 minutes in the opposite direction to pick up the HD TV my mom had got us. I know my wife has never smoked crack so I just assumed I was hallucinating and told her I was almost home, we'd talk about it then.

Upon arriving at the homestead I realized that indeed my mother had been generous enough to reward all my years of juvenile delinquency and adult idiocy with a gift from above, as in the set was located in distant Port Richey, about an hour north of my area. Needless to say the next day I hopped in the ride and hightailed it up to the land of rebel flags and monster trucks to claim my new best friend. I then spent the next two days/nights disassembling my ginourmous cabinet and swapping TVs, a task that may have been a bit, shall we say ball-busting, but the end result made all the back-breaking work well worth it.

By 2:00 PM today the installer from Bright House had hooked up my HD DVR cable box and I was instantly transformed from a "has not" to a "has", from a "has-been" to "has been watching anything & everything in high def ever since."

So that's the reason why the gap in my postings. My computer has finished a distant second to my new TV set in the war of affection electronic devices wage with their testosterone-laced owners. But I promise I will get back on my schedule right away.

After I watch stuff like "Comet Collisions" on Discovery HD, "Into the Blue" on Showtime HD, and a gazillion hours of March Madness on CBS HD.

Can I get an amen?!

Thanks, mom!