All posts by michaelbrianwalker

Currently: math/economics teacher at Ramsey High School, commissioner of both a fantasy baseball league and a fantasy football league Past: Graduate of Midland Park High School Class of 2000 and Colgate University Class of 2004, pricing/yield analyst at AvisBudget from 2004 through 2007, member of MPHS baseball and cross-country teams Fan of: Mets, Devils, Giants Achievements: Named "World's Slowest Eater" by everyone who knows me, played on the 2003-4 Colgate intramural-championship ice-hockey team, three-time IceHouse Adult League Champion (twice as a Seal, once as a STRanger), have twice been hit by deer while driving, coached the league-tourney-champion 2008-9 Ramsey Rams JV ice-hockey team (universally regarded by me as the greatest JV hockey team of all time), once ran 6 miles listening to nothing but Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" on repeat, picked Gonzaga 10 times to win the championship (yes, I was that guy before it was fashionable to be that guy), stayed for all 17 innings of a 2000 Newark Bears/Somerset Patriots game (and caught my only career foul ball at a pro game during the 16th inning), and have not eaten breakfast regularly since 1996

Wrapping Up April

During my many months at “Below the Belt Sports”, I have managed to write long posts about the NHL points system, reasons why MLB should have an earlier trade deadline, and my dislike for preseason football.  Based on this, you are probably shocked that I have managed to experience these past three weeks without writing several long posts.  Nope, I have actually written nothing in three weeks.  Granted, if these three weeks were in late February/early March or in August, you could understand my inactivity.  However, these past three weeks have seen an NFL Draft in which both locals picked in the Top 3, Mike Francesa coming out of retirement, Matt Harvey being demoted to the bullpen, and the Devils playing and losing their first playoff series in six years.  (That is not to mention anything about the Yankees or NBA Playoffs, but I do not often touch upon those subjects.).  As for the four main topics that I missed, you are probably sick and tired of hearing of three of the four.  That said, you are loyal readers of my posts, and the five of you deserve to know what I think about these matters.  Therefore, here are my quick thoughts on each of the afore-mentioned topics.  You are welcome, Mom.

  • Mike Francesa’s return is as big a “d-bag” move as I have ever seen in the sports world, but I will listen to him anyway. Callers and guests spent a year and a half feting him for retirement, only for him to return four months after retirement.

Mike Francesa’s return has bumped “CMB” from 2-6:30 to 1-3.  That is a big step back for Carlin, Maggie, and Bart; and it is rather cruel to demote a show that has had a mere four months to grow.  Granted, I agree wholeheartedly with Chris Russo when he says that a) you should not have a new show with three hosts (Note: the successful three-host shows in the area evolved into having three hosts; they did not begin this way.), and b) you cannot have a sports talk-radio show in this area with someone who does not know baseball.  The latter describes Bart Scott.  Scott is great with football, but he does not know baseball….and WFAN’s shows talk Mets and Yankees from February to October and for plenty of the other three months too.

I actually love Maggie Gray.  I think she is fantastic.  She is an ideal Mets fan – she is very knowledgeable and falls perfectly on the Mets-fan spectrum between the annoying “sky is always falling” Mets fan and the less-often-seen “everyone on the Mets is awesome” Mets fan.  Plus, she is a Bills fan, which is a cool and unique dimension to add to football discussion.  Lastly, her voice is incredible.  I would actually watch golf if she were announcing it.

Meanwhile, Carlin too often interrupts callers before they have a chance to speak, and I do not like that he gives people silly nicknames when he answers calls.  That said, he is a Jersey guy who knows his sports.  He has done plenty of time on WFAN, and he is a good fit for New York sports radio.  He has plenty of the Francesa arrogance, but fortunately without the complete misery Francesa sometimes shows…

…but Francesa’s back.  As I have said, it is a total d-bag move.  However, I get why he did it.  He has a huge ego, and I think he assumed that people would be lining up to give him a lucrative contract.  He was wrong.  Apparently, there is not a large national market for a guy who hangs up angrily on 75% of his callers and who knows little about sports beyond the Mets, Yankees, NFL, horse racing, and college-basketball teams coached by his friends.  Thus, he is coming back to WFAN with his tail between his legs.

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It is going to be incredibly awkward in the beginning, and it is a d-bag move by WFAN to bring him back.  However, money talks.  I am going to listen to Francesa.  So will everyone else who has ever listened to him.  The awkwardness at the station will eventually fade away.  In fact, things will likely return to how they were in December.  Many people at WFAN could not stand him then; many people at WFAN will not be able to stand him now.

The truth is that I actually think his show will be better this time than it once was.  Francesa is the only person with a regularly scheduled solo talk show on WFAN or ESPN Radio New York. (Can you imagine anyone, post-Mad Dog, wanting to partner with such an egomaniac?)   Moreover, he hosted the longest show (5.5 hours) of any show on the two stations.  That is ridiculous.  Nobody should ever have a 5.5-hour show by himself.  That is insane!  It makes me understand Francesa’s crankiness a bit.  If I had to spend 5.5 hours in a row (OK, 3 hours minus commercials) answering the same questions about Matt Harvey over and over and over again, I might too lose my mind.  Therefore, having Francesa for only 3.5 hours as he is now scheduled should make him better.

Plus, he has realized where his bread is buttered – New York sports radio.  That is what he knows.  Even though he can be downright irascible on many occasions, he is the one person who can best sift through the bs with big topics. For years, he has been right about the big ideas with the Yankees, Mets, and NFL.  Additionally, he is the one person who can speak eloquently about controversial topics.

It is like he has an “a-hole switch” that he turns off when talking about touchy things.  In the months leading up to the 2016 election, he actually made some of the most cogent, non-extreme commentary on now-President Trump.  Similarly, Francesa is the only sports person I know who touched the Kaepernick issue, said the most important point of the saga, and generally avoided blowback: Protesting is fine, but you do not automatically have the right to do it when representing a large organization that signs your paycheck.  Had the NFL acknowledged Francesa’s logic early on, I think it could have better handled the whole issue, but I digress…

Francesa made a d-bag move.  He is taking a pay cut, but he is still going to make plenty of money off his d-bag move, and we are going to listen.  There are still times when he can be the voice of reason, even though he is often a jerk.  Meanwhile, Carlin has made no bones about his disdain for his former boss, and I applaud Carlin for admitting his disdain.  His reaction is human, and I think people appreciate his genuine emotion.  Maggie and Bart, who have much less history with WFAN, have taken the high road, and I commend them for that as well.  Maggie is delightful.  Have I mentioned that?  Hopefully, “CMB” become sympathetic figures, and hopefully this issue helps propel them to great radio futures.  As for Francesa, he made a d-bag move, but we are going to listen to him.  Moving on…

  • The NFL Draft happened. I am sure you heard about it.  Likewise, I am sure you know that I think it is time for the Giants to think about Eli’s replacement.  Actually, I am sure you are aware I thought we reached that time a few years ago.  That said, I have full faith in Dave Gettleman.  As I have advanced in age and now sit at the ripe old age of 36, I have grown to have a lesser appreciation for people who substitute clichés for reason and a greater appreciation for people who see through those clichés.  Well, after the draft, Jets GM Mike Maccagnan talked about how he likes all his draft picks, while Gettleman joked about the fact that every GM loves his own picks immediately after the draft.  Yes, it stinks to be a Jets fan.  I already loved Gettleman from his commentary on being offered hot dogs and bagels for the #2 pick but nothing more.  Now, his joking about “We love our draft” cliches put me over the top.  This guy gets it.  I would follow this guy over a cliff.  If Dave Gettleman believes that neither Darnold, Allen, nor Rosen is a franchise quarterback; I believe him.  It is time for Saquon to deliver Eli one more championship, and I greatly look forward to the Kyle Lauletta era from 2020 through 2039.

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One more draft thought.  It is annoying that people are mad at Josh Rosen for saying nine teams made a mistake by passing on him.  Rosen should absolutely feel that way.  Do you know who else is motivated by teams passing on them in the draft?  Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.  How have things worked out for them?  People worry about Rosen being a rich kid who does not “need” football success.  First off, to me, that is silly logic.  If you really need the money, hate football, and are great at football; you are going to try to make it to the NFL.  However, if you do not need the money and are great at football, you will only try to make the NFL if you love football.  That said, if you cannot follow that logic, you should at least like seeing a guy motivated to dominate and stick it in the faces of the teams who did not draft him.  Great quarterbacks are always super-competitive.  Rosen seems to have this trait.

The people who have a problem with Rosen’s comments are likely the same people who lost their minds over Jay Feely’s prom tweet.  It is a joke, people.  I hate guns, and I will never be a gun owner….but funny is funny.

  • Matt Harvey is in the pen, and I love it! In fact, I wrote in the offseason that the Mets’ best path to success was to move Harvey and Wheeler to the pen and to sign someone like Jason Vargas.  I could not have been more correct.  The only things I messed up were that Wheeler is still in the rotation and has been decent, that Harvey has not yet done anything great as a reliever, and that Vargas’ Mets ERA is 22.09.  Everything else though has been spot-on.  Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.  Seriously though, I still think that Harvey has a chance to embrace the bullpen role, and I can envision him being a successful closer as the Mets make a 2018 World Series run.  I can see it happening!

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  • I am not going to write a post documenting the ins and outs of the Devils/Lightning playoff series. The better team (Lightning) won in 5 games, but it was delightful to attend two playoff games for the first time since 2012.  Hopefully, the Devils can build off this year’s playoff appearance to make a legitimate playoff run in 2019.

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NHL (and Devils) Playoff Preview

Heading into the MLB and NFL playoffs, I did not write much in the way of previews.  I figured that the other esteemed writers of the “Below the Belt Sports” staff had done a stellar enough job on their own.  Shockingly though, I am the only one on the blog writing about this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Go figure!  Therefore, allow me to cover two topics – how I expect the Devils, my favorite team, to do and how I expect the playoffs to turn out.

First of all, I am extremely pumped that the Devils are back in the playoffs.  In a sport in which more than half the league (16 out of 31 teams this year, 16 out of 30 teams before this year) makes the playoffs, six years out of the playoffs is an eternity.  Making the stretch feel worse was the fact that, from 1990 through 2012, the Devils missed the playoffs exactly twice.  That is all in the past now.

This year’s Devils team has been a thrill to watch.  Whenever the team is down by a goal or even two goals, I fully expect the team to come back.  No, the Devils’ defense is not amazing.  Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Brian Rafalski are not playing back there, but the defense – led by the smooth-skating Sami Vatanen – is solid enough to back an excellent offense.  Taylor Hall has been a Hart Trophy candidate (for MVP), racking up 39 goals and 93 points.  If one looks at the Devils’ stats, one will see a large drop off from Hall to everyone else, but that does not mean that the team lacked offense behind Hall.  Nico Hischier put up 52 points in a rookie season in which he played like a veteran from Day 1.  Will Butcher earned 44 points, an excellent total for a rookie defenseman, and Kyle Palmieri tallied 44 points as well (but missed 20 games to injury).

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All season long but especially down the stretch, the Devils found plenty of depth scoring.  While there were no gaudy numbers beyond Hall’s, 9 other Devils did reach double figures in goals.  Many of those goals were huge.  Down the stretch, the Devils played several weeks of playoff-like games, and the team received huge goals from the likes of Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen, Miles Wood, and Pavel Zacha.  Patrick Maroon, acquired at the trade deadline from Edmonton, has been a physical beast and has settled nicely onto a line with Wood and Zacha.  Michael Grabner, also acquired before the deadline, has provided great speed and countless breakaways.  Of course, he never ever ever scores on those breakaways, but he is due.  Throw in the steady two-way play of Travis Zajac and Brian Boyle, and the Devils have a great offensive corps.

While the Devils finished the season with 97 points and the #8 seed in the East, I think these numbers undervalue the current Devils team.  The Devils’ worst stretches of the season coincided greatly with games that Taylor Hall missed and games in which the team’s goaltending was downright abysmal.  Keith Kinkaid was underwhelming early in the season; Corey Schneider has been underwhelming in 2018; but Keith Kinkaid has been on fire since ascending to the #1 role in late February.

In fact, for most of this season, I repeated, “The Devils could be a Cup contender if I had any faith in the team’s goaltending holding up for 4 rounds.”  Of course, I did not have that faith for much of the season.  I do now.

To be clear, I am not saying that the Devils will win the Stanley Cup.  They will be underdogs in every series that they play, and they will have home-ice advantage in none of those series.  That said, when I say “underdogs”, I do not mean “#16 vs. #1 in NCAA Tournament” “underdogs”.  I mean that the Devils will likely be given a 40% chance of winning each series.  Yes, that makes the Devils underdogs, but it also means that they could legitimately win any series in which they play.  Therefore, without further ado, I shall now unveil my playoff predictions:

First Round:

Devils over Tampa Bay in 7: The Devils went 3-0-0 (OK, 1-2-0-0 by my 3-2-1-0 points system) against Tampa Bay this year.  Both teams are fast teams with strong offenses.  The Lightning have a stronger defense, led by Victor Hedman, but the Devils can win this series if Kinkaid keeps up his strong play.

Boston over Toronto in 7: This should be a delightful series between two evenly-matched teams.  I give Boston the edge because of Tuukka Rask and having Game 7 at home.

Washington over Columbus in 5: You know how I feel about the value of non-regulation wins.  Columbus had 15 of them and would have finished 6 points behind Florida and outside the playoffs with a 3-2-1-0 system.  That means Columbus is a “paper tiger, Champ” in this year’s playoffs.  This spells an early exit for the Jackets.

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Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in 5: In the NHL, it is tough to have a team pull a Lebron James-memorial “Coast through most of the regular season and turn it on in the playoffs” routine, but I am pretty sure we are seeing it with Pittsburgh.  The Penguins actually turned things on during the last few months of the season, and the playoffs are a much different animal than the regular season.  Plus, after back-to-back Cups, the Pens should actually feel relaxed as if they are playing with house money.  Bye bye, Philly.  No more greased poles for you.

Nashville over Colorado in 5: Colorado is similar to the Devils in that an MVP candidate (Nathan MacKinnon for the Avs) has led a team to a surprise run to end a playoff drought.  The only difference is that Nashville awaits the Avs.  I am not a homer here.  I would expect the Devils to lose to Nashville in 5 as well.  Nashville’s defense is stacked; its offense is deep; it has Pekka Rinne; and it is playoff-tested.

Winnipeg over Minnesota in 5: Winnipeg is the second-best team in the league.  The Jets are fast, have a strong defense, and have the most underrated goalie in the league in Connor Hellebuyck.  In fact, Hellebuyck is the best goalie I saw this year.  He has the form and calm of a young Martin Brodeur.  No, I am not saying this guy is tied with Brodeur for being the GOAT, but I do believe he is the closest to a Brodeur prototype I have seen.  Minnesota, minus Ryan Suter, will not have enough to beat the Jets.

Los Angeles over Vegas in 7: Just a hunch here.  Everything on the ice has been a breeze for Vegas this year.  The Golden Knights have exceeded expectations all season long and thus have felt no pressure.  All of a sudden, Vegas is now the favorite in a playoff matchup.  I expect nerves and for Vegas to lose its first two games at home.  The Knights will recover to extend the series to 7 games, but Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar will pull out their first clutch playoff win in a few years in Game 7.

San Jose over Anaheim in 7: Honestly, I have no idea about this one.  Both are regular playoff teams who have often disappointed in the spring.  I am flipping a coin on this one.

Second Round:

Boston over Devils in 6: Sorry, Devils fans.  Boston has been more physical with the Devils than other teams have been this year.  The Devils have not looked great against Boston.  I give Boston the series win.

Washington over Pittsburgh in 7: It is time.  Washington is finally going to get over the Pittsburgh hump.  Washington has been better than Pittsburgh in the regular season (again), and here is a hunch that Washington finally takes care of business.

Nashville over Winnipeg in 7: Look, many people have said that they do not like this playoff format.  I agree.  This is yet another year in which the best two teams in the conference will meet before the Conference Finals.  My solution: Return to the old format in which the #1 and #2 seeds are division champs, while #3-#8 are given to the next six-best teams in the conference, regardless of division.  This scenario alone would have saved Washington-Pittsburgh for the 2016 and 2017 Conference Finals and would save Nashville-Winnipeg for the 2018 Conference Finals.  I know that the NHL likes having a bracket, so I would be OK with not re-seeding the second round.  I would rather have re-seeding, but I can live without it.  Anyway, I wrote this long thing to hide the fact that I do not have a good reason for picking Nashville other than “Game 7 is in Nashville.”

Los Angeles over San Jose in 6: Unfortunately, Peter DeBoer is taken down as he was in 2012 by the Kings.

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Conference Finals:

Washington over Boston in 6: Now that Ovechkin has gotten over the Pittsburgh hump, the Capitals confidently roll past Boston and into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Nashville over San Jose in 6: Nashville is the deepest and most balanced team in the West, and this fact reappears against the Sharks.

Stanley Cup Finals:

Washington over Nashville in 6: Sure, Carrie Underwood is easy on the eyes, but karma comes back to bite her for changing “I’ve been waitin’ all night for Sunday night” (a wonderful, albeit factually completely incorrect song) into “Oooooooh, Sunday night” (a brutal song, aside from the fact that she is in the video).  Meanwhile, the Ovechkin train keeps rolling, and #8 finally hoists his first Stanley Cup.

 

That is what I think.  Hopefully, I am wrong, and the New Jersey Devils end up winning the Cup!

No, Points Are Not Always at a Premium Down the Stretch

Often in March and April, we hear hockey announcers say, “Points are at a premium this time of year” or “It’s always tougher to get points this time of year with all teams playing so hard.”  Nope!  This is yet another hockey cliché that has no backing.

Sure, when an NHL team faces a playoff team or a team fighting for a playoff berth in March, the former can expect a tough battle.  On the other hand, what about when teams play against teams “playing out the string” in March and April?  Those are the easiest points to earn!!!  In fact, it is far easier to play against bad teams in March and April than it is earlier in the year.  In March and April, bad teams have already unloaded their best players and have sometimes shut down injured players for the season.  Therefore, games against these teams should be walks in the park down the stretch….and don’t give me any “But those bad teams play extra-hard and are extra-motivated to win those games.”   (Don’t even gimme that, Biz Markie).  Guess who else plays “extra-hard and is extra-motivated to win those games”?  Good teams who are in the playoffs or in the thick of the playoff race.  As I mentioned earlier in the season, only in the NHL do people applaud effort game in and game out.  Effort should be an expectation, not something to be commended!  In fact, the only game I have ever watched and been compelled to think, “Wow, these players are not trying”, was a Devils/Sabres game in April 2016.  Both teams were playing as if they knew they were three games away from a 6-month offseason…which was actually the case.  But I digress…

On Saturday, a thrilling battle for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference came to an end.  The Devils, Blue Jackets, and Flyers made their way into the playoffs, while the Panthers were left on the outside.  Furthermore, the Penguins did not clinch a playoff spot until two days prior.  Anyway, how do you think these five teams performed down the stretch against teams who were clearly out of the playoff race?  Really, really, ridiculously well!  In a moment, I will show you these teams’ records against out-of-playoff-contention teams from March 1 until the end of the season.  Because I am passionate about the NHL converting to a 3-2-1-0 points system, I have put the records in this format (regulation wins – non-regulation wins – non-regulation losses – regulation losses).  Please note that, in the actual standings, the first two figures are summed in a composite “Wins” category in which all wins are worth 2 points.

 

New Jersey Devils: 5-0-0-0

Florida Panthers: 8-1-2-1

Pittsburgh Penguins: 4-1-2-1

Philadelphia Flyers: 3-0-1-1

Columbus Blue Jackets: 4-3-0-1

 

As you can see, these five teams “cleaned up” on bad teams.  Therefore, no, points are not always “at a premium” down the stretch.

Also, for you non-hockey fans out there – first off, I am glad that you made it this deep into a hockey article.  That makes me feel proud.  Secondly, please note that this rule extends to other sports as well.  Take it from a Mets fan who watched the Mets wipe the floor with bad teams (who had unloaded many of their good players) in August/September runs in 2015 and 2016, only for the Mets to change from “mopper” to “moppee” down the stretch in 2017.  No, in MLB, wins are not always “at a premium” down the stretch either.

Two Last Thoughts on the NCAA Tournament

With Villanova easily dispatching of Michigan in Monday’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship, I have two thoughts related to the game.

  1. If ever there were a case for reseeding each round of the NCAA Tournament, this year would be it. Let us be clear.  This will never happen because it would make it impossible to fill out brackets.  This would drop Tournament ratings by 75%.  Therefore, this will never happen.  Nevertheless, when a valid argument arises, I feel I should at least acknowledge it.

 

The NCAA tournament always lends itself to upsets, but, more often than not, these Cinderellas have turned into pumpkins by the end of the Regional Semifinals (Sweet-16 Round).  This year, however, saw a different story.  Plenty of underdogs found their way not only into the Sweet 16 but also into the Elite 8.  Loyola-Chicago was a surprise Final Four team as an #11 seed, and even Michigan was a surprise national runner-up as a #3 seed.

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Taken alone, one would assume that several teams must have pulled off runs of 2, 3, or 4 upsets…but this was not the case.  Instead, the fact that the upsets were bunched on the left side of the bracket rendered a Pyramid scheme in which countless teams ended up going much further than they truly deserved.  I say this based upon the premise that almost any NCAA Tournament team can play the game of its life to pull off one major upset but falls short when trying to pull off the second-consecutive upset.

UMBC displayed this idea perfectly during this year’s tournament.  Not only did UMBC pull off the first #16-#1 upset in Tournament history, but the underdog completely blew the doors off UVA, winning by 20.  However, when UMBC faced #9-seeded Kansas State in the Second Round, UMBC ran out of steam.  The Retrievers did not have another “game of their lives” in them.  The byproduct of this was that a #9 seed advanced to the Sweet 16.  This was the first time that a #9 advanced this far without pulling off a mega-upset, because all other #9s (in the current Tournament format) had to face #1 seeds in that round.  Who did Kansas State face in its Regional-Semifinal (Sweet 16) matchup?  #5-seeded Kentucky.  Kansas State dispatched of Kentucky, 61-58, and this would be Kansas State’s most impressive win in the tournament.  That said, by advancing to the Elite 8 without playing against a top-four seed, Kansas State had not yet made believers out of many people.

Of course, Kansas State should have had its chance to make these believers in the Regional Final.  Surely, there would be a #2 or #3 seed awaiting the Wildcats in this matchup.  Nope, instead Kansas State earned the task of facing #11 Loyola-Chicago.  The Ramblers won their first two NCAA Tournament games on buzzer-beaters.  These wins were a very minor upset over #6-seeded Miami (FL) and a larger upset over #3-seeded Tennessee.  This is where the road should typically get more difficult, and an #11 should now face at least one out of the #1 and #2 seeds over the next two rounds.  This was not the case.  Instead, Loyola-Chicago faced #7 Nevada, who had upset #2 Cincinnati in a 22-point-comeback Second Round win.  Thus, Nevada and Loyola-Chicago had both just played their “games of their lives” before meeting each other.  Thus, when they faced each other, somebody had to win.  That “somebody” would be Loyola-Chicago.  Thus, we ended up with a Regional Final (Kansas State vs. Loyola-Chicago) in which the former had beaten no top-four seeds while the latter had beaten a #3, #6, and #7.

Loyola-Chicago ended up winning the Regional Final.  The whole “Sister Jean” thing was a great story.  I loved every second of it, but #11-seeded Loyola-Chicago did not enter the Final Four with the impressive run that fellow-#11 seeds George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011) had.  George Mason and VCU had signature Regional Final wins over #1 seeds UConn and Kansas, respectively.  Beating #9-seeded Kansas State was just not the same for Loyola-Chicago.

That said, who did Loyola-Chicago find in its National Semifinal matchup?  #3-seeded Michigan.  Granted, a #3 seed playing in the Final Four is a regular-enough occurrence.  After all, this team should theoretically have been ranked between #9 and #12 in the Top 25 upon entering the Tournament.  The likes of Michigan in 1989 (champs), Georgia Tech in 2004 (runners up), and UConn in 2011 (champs) were also #3 seeds, and none of those teams were huge shocks to make the Final Four.  Again though, the issue for Michigan this year is that its road to the Final Four (and ultimately the disastrously lopsided championship game that I am ignoring as I write this post) was extremely weak.

First of all, Michigan should have been eliminated on St. Patrick’s Day.  In the Second Round, the Wolverines were down 2 against #6-seeded Houston with 2.2 seconds to play and Houston shooting two free throws.  Somehow, Houston missed both free throws, and Michigan won on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.  Kudos to Michigan for taking advantage of a gifted opportunity, but usually a team in this position has to step it up against the #2 and #1 seeds in the next two rounds.  Again, this was not the case.  #7-seeded Texas A&M played the “game of its life” against #2-seeded UNC.  Michigan took care of A&M in the next round and then were gifted #9-seeded Florida State in the Regional Final.  Florida State was actually the only team on the left side of the bracket to defeat two Top-4 seeds, as the Seminoles beat #1 Xavier and #4 Gonzaga, only to have their magic run out in the Regional Final against Michigan.

Thus, we ended up with a National Semifinal of Michigan and Loyola-Chicago.  Michigan took care of Loyola-Chicago before getting embarrassed in the final by Villanova.  This championship result is not shocking in the slightest.  Everyone knew upon entering the Sweet 16 that the top three teams remaining – Villanova, Kansas, and Duke – were on the right side on the bracket.  Moreover, many would also argue that Texas Tech and Purdue – on the right side as well – were also better than anyone on the left side of the bracket.  Thus, we essentially ended up with a JV bracket on the left, a varsity bracket on the right, and a predictable varsity-vs.-JV matchup in the final.

If the NCAA Tournament instead re-seeded after each round, we would have likely lost the “Sister Jean” storyline after the Sweet 16.  While that would have been tough, the payoff of likely having a Final Four of Villanova, Kansas, Duke, and Texas Tech/Purdue would have been worth it.  The likes of Loyola-Chicago, Kansas State, and Nevada would have played these elite programs in the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.  Thus, if one of those Cinderellas did actually knock out one of those dominant programs, we would have known that the underdog belonged in the next round (more so than we truly knew this year).  Even #3-seeded Michigan would likely have had to line up against Texas Tech or Purdue in the Elite 8 and Villanova in the National Semifinal.  Then, we would have most likely received a Villanova/Kansas or Villanova/Duke championship game instead of the rout we actually watched.

Of course, let us be clear.  None of these changes would ever happen!!!!  I do not actually want them to happen!  We all love brackets and betting waaaay too much to let this change happen!  That is before I even get into the scheduling nightmare for the traveling secretaries.  Plus, in all aspects of life, I hate overreacting to the worst-case scenario, and this year was the worst-case scenario in terms of having logical seeding beyond the Second Round.  Never before have we had so many upsets bunched together on the same side of the bracket, and it will likely be a long time before we see it again.

2) No real sports fan thinks that Michigan should be considered “2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions”. This will be a quick point, but I read an article in today’s USA Today, and this article suggests that Michigan should be given the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.  Of course, this was the year that Louisville beat Michigan for the title, but the Cardinals have since been stripped of this title (OK, maybe I should have chosen a different verb there…).  The NCAA has erased Louisville’s name from this part of the record book due to Rick Pitino’s many recruiting violations, including sending prostitutes to recruits.

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Yes, sending prostitutes to recruits is really really bad.  Nobody should condone that behavior, and Rick Pitino has rightfully been fired for his behavior….but Louisville won the championship that year.  We watched it.  We cried tears of pain and nausea when Kevin Ware gruesomely broke his leg, and we cried tears of joy when his teammates brought him on the floor to celebrate a National Championship.  Louisville won the game; Michigan lost the game.  If I were on that Michigan team, I would not want retroactively to be called “2013 National Championships”.  That would be phony, and no athlete wants to be given a championship that way.  The 2013 National Champions were the Louisville Cardinals.  End of story.

Anyway, the college-basketball season is over, and we must now wait all the way until next November before we can finally get more college basketball in our lives!

Bring Back “The ‘Hey’ Song”

To all the Devils fans out there, this is a letter that I have mailed to Hugh Weber, “President – Prudential Center and the New Jersey Devils.

Dear Mr. Weber,

 

Please bring back “The ‘Hey’ Song” (“Rock and Roll Part II”) after Devils goals.  I know that you are always looking for ways to improve the fan experience, and this is the #1 way that you can achieve this objective for hard-core Devils fans.  All of our greatest moments as Devils fans involve this song.  From “Henrique, It’s Over!!!” to Jeff Friesen’s two goals in Game 7 against Anaheim to Neal Broten’s and Randy McKay’s overtime goals in the 1995 playoffs, this is the song to which we celebrated.  Thus, this is the song to which I – and most other Devils fans – would love to celebrate future Devils goals.  If you could bring back this song for this year’s playoffs (in an ideal world in which the Devils make the playoffs) or for next year’s opener (in a less-than-ideal world), I – and many, many other Devils fans -would be very grateful.

At the same time, I understand why you scrapped this song a few years ago.  You did not like that many fans would chant, “You suck”, while cheering.  I agree with you on that one. The “You suck” is juvenile, and it actually devalues the Devils’ accomplishments, in that anyone should be able to score against someone who “sucks”.  That said, the people who chanted “You suck” during “The Hey Song” now do it twice as often.  They chant it during the current goal song, and they also chant it a few minutes later when the crowd sings “The Hey Song” on its own (with accompaniment from a horn).  Therefore, by bringing back “The Hey Song” as the official goal song, you would actually cut the amount of “You suck”s in half, which is a good thing.

Anyway, I am a simple man.  I love coming to Devils games, and I love hearing “The ‘Hey’ Song” after goals.  That is all I want.  I am jealous when I hear fans of the Rangers, Blackhawks, Isles, and countless other fans get to cheer along with their true goal songs.  I, along with many other Devils fans, wish to hear the Devils’ true goal song played once again after goals as well.

Thank you for your time.

 

Sincerely,

Michael Walker

Circle of Madness

Note (Saturday 3/17): I actually wrote this post on Thursday (3/15) night.  Since then, my bracket, with a championship game of UVA over Wichita State, has been destroyed.  Therefore, some of what you will read below did quite ring true this year.  Enjoy my post nonetheless!

I am one of those annoying people who watches 99% of my college basketball in March yet is super-duper interested in basketball for that month.  Does that make me a fraud?  Yes.  Do I care?  No.  I love the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and I know that many of you out there are frauds like me.  In light of this, allow me to share with you my “Circle of Madness”.  This explains my following of college basketball over a full year.  I shall start this circle with “One Shining Moment”.

April: While watching “One Shining Moment”, I think to myself, “I love college basketball!  Next year, I am going to watch a lot of college basketball all year long.”

July: On a random summer day, I think to myself, “I really love the NCAA Tournament.  I can’t wait until next year’s college-basketball season.”

Midnight Madness in October: As I revel in the only time of year with MLB, NFL, and NHL games; I am floored to hear that college-basketball teams have begun practicing.  “Seriously, who cares about college basketball at a time like this???”, I think.

Opening Night of College Basketball in November: A week or two after the World Series has ended, I think to myself, “OK, now I can put all my sports focus on football and the Devils.”  When I hear that the college-basketball season has begun, I think, “I’m not ready for this yet!  Can we push this off a few weeks?”

Next Week or Two: I begin to obsess over making fantasy-playoff runs in my fantasy leagues, how to win my Survivor pool, how the Giants are going to make the playoffs, and which Devils games I will attend.  At no point do I spend even a second thinking about college basketball.

Thanksgiving Eve: At a bar or restaurant, I catch a glimpse of either the Preseason NIT or Maui Invitational on TV.  I think to myself, “Oh yeah, it’s time for me to start watching college basketball this season.  Starting now, I am watching every single Gonzaga game!”

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Next 2-3 Weeks: I do not spend even a second thinking about college basketball.  My mind is simply filled with thoughts of “Fantasy, Giants, Christmas music, Devils, Survivor, Christmas music, Fantasy, Survivor, Mariah Carey needs to cover up her chest at Rockefeller Center, Devils, Survivor, Christmas music.”

Random Date in Mid-December: During a CBS football game, I see a preview of a college-basketball game, complete with the great CBS college-basketball music.  I start to get excited thinking about March Madness.  I think to myself, “I really need to start watching college basketball TODAY.  I can’t just jump onboard a week before the NCAA Tournament”…you know, even though that is what I have done for each of the past 11 seasons.

Next 2-3 Weeks: I do not spend even a second thinking about college basketball.

Random Night in January: I turn on a Rutgers game because Rutgers is either tied or losing by just a few points to a good team.  I am very excited for 2 to 3 minutes before switching to “The Mick” on DVR.  Sidebar: “The Mick” is absolutely hilarious, and I recommend it to all of you.  The only funnier show right now is “Last Man on Earth”, which (double sidebar) is coming back on Sunday!  Anyway, after turning off the Rutgers game, I think to myself, “I really need to start watching college basketball.  If I wait until March to start watching, I will know nothing about these players or teams, and I won’t enjoy the Tournament as much as I usually do!”…even though, for every year since 2007, I have waited until March and have managed to love the crap out of the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Sunday of the Year (aka The Sunday Between the AFC/NFC Championships and the Super Bowl): I wake up in the morning (but not feelin’ like P-Diddy) and think to myself, “How do I fill my NFL void?  I know, I am going to watch college basketball today!”  What do I actually do?  Go running, listen to Elton John music, clear out my DVR, go to the gym, and spend a few hours lying on my couch doing absolutely nothing.

Super Bowl Sunday: As I go to bed after the game, I think to myself, “The Super Bowl is over!  You know what that means – March Madness is right around the corner.  Time for me to start watching college basketball!”

Next 2-3 weeks: I watch one Bucknell (where my brother went to college) basketball game on TV.  By that, I mean that I put 10 minutes of the game on my TV while I am eating dinner, listening to a podcast, and reading a map…all at the same time.  That game aside, I watch no basketball whatsoever.

Two Weeks Before Selection Sunday: I realize that college-basketball conference tournaments are soon to begin.  “Now I will start watching college basketball so that I know what I am talking about when I do my brackets.”

One Week Before Selection Sunday: I go to espn.com’s “Championship Week” page and look at all of the conference-tournament brackets.  I also begin making daily visits to Joe Lunardi’s “Bracketology”.  At this point, I have watched zero basketball over the previous week.

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During the Last Week Before Selection Sunday: Hallelujah, I finally start watching some college basketball!  I do not watch for long periods of time, but I do check out at least one college-basketball game each day.  Additionally, I check the college-basketball scores daily to see who is advancing in their college-basketball tournaments.  This is a huge step for a guy who had not deliberately sought out general college-basketball scores at any previous point in the season.

During the Weekend of Selection Sunday: I read many articles about who should be in the Big Dance/who should not/who should be seeded where/etc.

During the Selection Show: I watch/listen in a state of pure euphoria.  “I love this time of year!!!!  March Madness, Thin Mints, and spring weather!  Plus, this year, I feel like I know the teams in the Tournament so much better than I have in any previous seasons.  I am going to dominate my pools this year.”, I think.

Between Selection Sunday and Thursday’s Start of the First Round: I fill out my brackets and read/listen to countless analysts speak about the tournament.  By Thursday, I have heard that every single team in the Dance is somehow a sleeper, a favorite, an underdog, prime to pull off an upset, unlikely to  pull off and upset, underseeded, and overseeded…and has both a very easy path and a very difficult path to the Final Four.  I find myself in many conversations with other people who have also watched roughly 0 hours of college basketball this season.  In these conversations, we lament the fact that Oklahoma has no business being in the Tournament while Oklahoma State stays home.  In years’ past, we have scolded the selection committee for leaving Drexel or St. Mary’s out of the tournament.  We agree that the Selection Committee shows no respect for mid-majors and that Drexel and St. Mary’s are clearly better than two of the at-large teams who have been selected for the Tournament.  We are qualified to make these statements because we watched St. Mary’s upset Villanova in 2010, and we saw Drexel pull off that upset in 1996.

This all makes perfect sense coming from a guy (me) who usually picks Michigan State to outperform its seed (except this year because of karmic reasons) because it did that in 2009 and 2010 and picks Cincinnati to perform worse than its seed just like it always did under Bob Huggins in the 1990s.  Like I said, I know my college basketball.  It was not luck that caused me to pick Loyola-Chicago to go to this year’s Sweet 16.  No, no, no.  It was hours of Loyola game film that someone else watched….and then this watcher wrote an article that said Loyola is really good.  Then, I read that article. Like I said, I know my stuff.

Thursday to Sunday of First Weekend of NCAA Tournament: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!!!!  48 games of college basketball!  I love it, and I hate having to miss even a single game.  I hated missing Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater for Valparaiso against Ole Miss in 1998.  (I was in school in 10th grade at the time.)  I hated missing Loyola-Chicago’s buzzer beater today!  After all, a loyal college-basketball watcher like myself should not have to miss any NCAA Tournament games!

Quick tangent: There are four people who annoy me greatly this weekend:

  • The person who starts out 4-for-4 on Thursday and brags to everyone about it. Congrats, you successfully picked a 3 over a 14, a 6 over an 11, a 2 over a 15, and a 1 over a 16.  Seriously, if you have a standard bracket-scoring system (32 max points per round), the first round can only eliminate you.  Those with 2012 Duke, 2014 Duke, or 2016 Michigan State national-championship brackets know what I mean.  If you went 4-for-4 so far, nobody cares.

 

  • The studio talking head (one of the 7845 employed by CBS/TBS/TNT/TruTV/Nickelodeon/Bravo) who responds to a “12 over 5” upset by saying, “Everyone in America is tearing up their brackets right now.” Um, yeah.  I suppose if you are in a “You win this pool only if you pick a perfect bracket” pool, you are tearing up your bracket.  Otherwise, you can probably withstand that one upset even if you did not pick it.

 

  • The play-by-play announcer who shouts, “IS THERE AN UPSET BREWING HERE IN (FILL IN THE LOCATION HERE)????”, as a 16-seed heads to a timeout with 12 minutes left in the first half holding a 20-15 lead. How many times do we have to see a #1 seed go on a huge run to end the first half or start the second half before we realize the silliness of this announcer’s quote?  Often, a #16 seed can hang with a #1 seed for a little while, but eventually the #1 seed figures out how to neutralize the #16’s strength or takes advantage of its major depth advantage.

 

  •  The announcer/analyst who calls an “11 over 6”, “10 over 7”, “9 over 8” an upset.  Stop it.  In the first round, “12 over 5” is the smallest seed disparity that counts as an upset.

 

Monday to Wednesday of the Following Week: I spend several hours playing with the “Scenario Generator” on my bracket pool’s site to see how many different paths there are to my victory.

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Thursday to Sunday of Weekend #2: I love it!!!!  We get the quantity of 48 games in Weekend #1.  Now, we get the quality of 12 huge games between dominant teams – with a few Cinderellas sprinkled into the mix.

 

Monday to Friday of Next Week: I can’t wait for the Final Four.  I think, “It all comes down to this.  All the hours of college basketball I have watched this season culminate right here. This is my reward. What an incredible ride it has been.”

 

Saturday to Monday of Final Four Weekend: I intently watch all three remaining games.  It is bittersweet though, as I know that, after Monday, I have to wait until mid-November to get to watch college basketball again.

Monday Night: While watching “One Shining Moment”, I think to myself, “I love college basketball!  Next year, I am going to watch a lot of college basketball all year long.”

….and there you have it – my Circle of Madness!

A Player Deserves a Point for a Screen

I am writing this post to answer a question once and for all.  The question is, “If I write a post, and nobody reads it; did I still write the post?”  I figure, what better way is there to accomplish this than by posting that the NHL should award points to players for screens.  What topic is sexier than that?

This thought enters my head a few times per NHL season, and last night was one of those instances.  Recent Devils acquisition Patrick Maroon had a perfect screen on a Travis Zajac goal, but he did not receive a point for his efforts.  To me, that is silly.  The screen was the #1 reason for the goal.  Sure, Zajac had to make a good shot, which he did.  However, Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren likely makes the save if he sees the puck.  In fact, when an NHL player takes an unscreened first shot (as opposed to a rebound), an NHL goalie saves it nearly every time.

In hockey, a forward often finds himself parked in front of the opposing net while his teammates pass the puck around the zone.  As soon as one of his teammates prepares to shoot, this forward has three offensive responsibilities: screen the goalie, try to deflect the puck, and look for the rebound.  If the player successfully deflects the puck into the net or puts a rebound into the net, the player earns a point (a goal).  However, if the player successfully screens the goalie to allow for a goal, this player is unrewarded statistically?  This seems quite incongruent to me.

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Therefore, I feel that the official scorer should have the right to award a point for a screen.  In this case, the person who would – under current rules – earn the secondary assist would not earn a point.  I am OK with that though.  Sure, the second-to-last pass setting up a goal is important to the goal, but it is not as important as the screen.  The screen more directly contributes to the goal than the secondary pass.  Therefore, the screener deserves the point.

Hopefully, I have now answered my question, “If I write a post, and nobody reads it; did I still write the post?”