Anyone Else Nervous for the Giants’ Pick Tomorrow Night?

The day us Giants fans have been anticipating basically since the Week 4 loss to the Bucs that dropped them to 0-4 is almost upon us. The NFL Draft’s first round is tomorrow night, and the G-Men hold the #2 overall pick. This is the first time since 1981 that the Giants have picked second, when they took legendary linebacker Lawrence Taylor. They haven’t even picked in the top five since 2004 when they took Philip Rivers, who they ultimately traded to the Chargers for a quarterback by the name of Eli Manning. Now, after a 3-13 season in which we saw the Giants fire their coach, bench Manning for a game, and lose star receiver Odell Beckham for the season to a fractured ankle, this draft pick determines the direction of their franchise. Do they take one of the draft’s top quarterbacks and begin to prepare for life after Eli? Or do they take an offensive weapon like Saquon Barkley and give it one last shot with Eli? Let’s weigh the options.

Draft a Quarterback

The four top QB names that are being thrown around in mock drafts are Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Three of these four will be on the board when the Giants pick, but it is unclear which three, as the Browns have been linked to all of them besides Rosen. Darnold is considered the most polished of the four, though he had an underwhelming final season at USC. Allen is more of a project, but his 6’5 frame and rocket arm are the physical skill set teams dream about. Rosen had an impressive college career, but is considered by many (including myself) to be a bit too outspoken to play in New York. Give me an Eli Manning type, a guy who will do his job in silence. A quiet competitor, a real warrior that will get up from the hardest hits. Rosen’s Cali kid vibe won’t fly in New York, especially if he struggles. Despite what I just said about wanting an Eli Manning type, I also love Mayfield. Sure, he’s quite outspoken too, but in a more fiery, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to bury my opponent” kind of way. If you didn’t enjoy watching Mayfield play, you don’t like fun. He gets a lot of Johnny Manziel comparisons, which can obviously be taken the wrong way. But I think his height and his past mistakes are played up too much, and he has real NFL potential. Realistically, I think the Giants take Rosen or Darnold, if he’s available. But man, I would love to see Baker in blue.

Draft Saquon Barkley

My brain tells me to take a quarterback, or trade down and get a huge package of picks. My heart tells me take Saquon Barkley. I’ve been posting #SuckForSaquon for months now. This guy is absolutely electric to watch play, and with the recent success of rookie running backs like Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette, it’s not inconceivable that he can be an instant boost for the entire offense. Yes, the Giants offensive line is still weak, but they’ve already started to make improvements with the signing of Nate Solder. The Barkley connection can’t be denied, with many mock drafts linking him to the G-Men. It would be a risky pick, but I would love to keep the Jersey kid at home.

Draft Bradley Chubb

Another option is to draft on the defensive side of the ball. After trading Jason Pierre-Paul this offseason, the G-Men could opt to take the draft’s best pass-rusher. Chubb broke Mario Williams’ sack record at NC State, and his draft stock has been rising steadily over the past few weeks. It wouldn’t be nearly as flashy of a move as taking Barkley or a quarterback, but an elite pass rusher is one of the NFL’s most coveted assets.

Trade Down

If the Giants decide to trade down, there will surely be a large number of suitors. This is a quarterback-heavy draft, and many teams such as the Bills or Cardinals could be looking to trade up and grab either Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield, or Allen. Preferably, the Giants trade to a spot they can take Notre Dame OL Quenton Nelson, but that may be a long shot. Although trading down is easily the least sexy option of the bunch, it needs to at least be considered given the package it would command.

 

Last season was not fun for Giants fans. This pick could very well determine the direction of the franchise for the next five years. In Gettleman we trust.

Mt. Rushmore Mondays: Music

Feels like yesterday I was ranting to you all about why Mt. Rushmore is the undisputed G.O.A.T. of artwork. In fact, if there was a Mt. Rushmore of art, Mt. Rushmore would be on that Mt. Rushmore four times.

Anyway, three weeks later, here we are in week 4 of Mt. Rushmore Mondays. This week, if your looking for something to workout to, party to, set fire to the aux with, etc. you’ve come to the right place. As this week is the Mt. Rushmore of Music.

I’ll be doing this week a little different. Instead of writing about strictly modern figures and then giving little shoutouts to all-time Rushmores (like I did with week 2’s Mt. Rushmores of Movies), I’ll be doing the opposite. Writing about all-time Mt. Rushmores of Music, and throwing shoutouts to modern Rushmores of Music.

*Reminder: Each Mt. Rushmore is not just based off of talent and accomplishments, but also just as equally overall influence, impact, and star power.

Let’s get thing started…

Mt. Rushmore of Rock (group)

*Modern Mt. Rushmore: Radiohead, Coldplay, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Beatles

Lock of the century. John, Paul, George, and Ringo make up the most influential band of all-time, in any genre of music. From “A Day in the Life” to “Hey Jude” to “Come Together,” The Fab Four made iconic song after iconic song. They were the first real boy band, and became international sensations overnight. If they didn’t find their way on this list, it would be a joke.

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s the father of heavy metal. They were pioneers of the sub-genre and created headbangers like “Stairway to Heaven,” which is regarded as one of the best songs of all-time. The English rock band just simply consisted of phenomenal musicians, and were undeniably great.

The Rolling Stones

Once The Beatles called it quits in 1970, the Stones took the claim as the world’s best rock band. The fact they are still making great music is just incredibly unbelievable. One might argue that their longevity could rank them closer to The Beatles than you might initially think.

Queen

Have you noticed the trend? Four spots on the Mt. Rushmore of Rock Bands, four English rock bands. It’s just that simple, the Brits know how to make good rock music and Queen is no exception. The only reason Queen wouldn’t belong on this list is because who knows if they should even be considered rock? Their sound is so unique and so experimental, and yet so, so great. And then there’s the sing-along factor. If “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on the car radio and you don’t react like Wayne, Garth, and co., you should check your pulse.

Honorable Mentions: Pink Floyd, ACDC, Van Halen, The Who

 

Mt. Rushmore of Rock (solo)

Jimi Hendrix

While his band could’ve been included in the above Mt. Rushmore, I figured being given a solo spot is the respect Jimi Hendrix deserves. He is the best guitarist of all-time. Plain and simple. One could say he is the best instrumentalist (regardless of instrument) ever. There’s a reason he was the headline at Woodstock, aka the most famous music festival ever. It goes without saying he died WAY too young, and because of the drug-use he was a victim of his own superstardom.

Elvis Presley 

He’s the King of Rock and there honestly might not be a bigger individual musical figure in American history. Like the Beatles, Elvis was a cultural icon, and he really brought the genre of rock on the map even before the Fab Four. Another instance of being a victim of his own superstardom, Presley died sitting on the toilet because he was too busy taking a dump on his competition.

Bob Dylan

Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is widely considered to be the best song of all-time. I mean the magazine that ranked it #1 is literally called Rolling Stone, but I won’t let that take away credit where credit is due. This song also inspired the name of one of the bands on the above Mt. Rushmore (I don’t need to tell you which one). There’s gotta be a spot on this Mt. Rushmore for the artist behind such a masterpiece.

Bruce Springsteen

If you’ve been keeping up each week, you’d know by now that I am from Jersey. And if I failed to include Jersey’s pride and joy on this Mt. Rushmore, I’d be forced to renounce my residency. I’d be exiled. The sounds of Brucie Bruce have been heard at American barbecues for years and he is still goin at it. Long live The Boss.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Petty, Eric Clapton

 

Mt. Rushmore of Hip-Hop (modern)

I know I said I wouldn’t write about any modern Mt. Rushmores, but it also just so happens that I lied. I know I should stay consistent, but ya know… it’s my blog.

Drake

Ever since he played that wheelchair kid from Degrassi, we all knew Drake was destined for hip-hop greatness. There might not be a rapper who makes such universally liked music, as he makes banger after banger. The guy is just a fuckin superstar.

Kanye West

If you keep telling people you are the best, eventually they will start to believe you. He might be the most outspoken music artist around right now and while the nonsense he says is sometimes almost always ridiculous, you gotta respect his success as a producer and a rapper, as well as a future political candidate (Kanye 2020).

Lil Wayne

Weezy has been doing it for a LONG time. In 1991, he signed with Cash Money Records at the age of 9, and he is still at the top of the rap game. His unique sound, charisma, creativity, and longevity make him one of the biggest and most influential rappers of our generation.

Kendrick Lamar

He’s the youngest rapper on this Mt. Rushmore, but don’t let his younger age fool you. He might be the smartest song-writer and lyricist in the game right now. His album Damn just recently won him the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and since gaining popularity, Lamar has come out with great song after great song.

Honorable Mentions: Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, Big Sean

 

Mt. Rushmore of Hip-Hop (all-time)

*Modern Mt. Rushmore: Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar

Eminem

Marshall Mathers easily could have found himself on the Modern Mt. Rushmore, as well, as he is still making popular music, but he deserves a spot up here with the ALL-TIME greats.  There’s really no one like him, and not just because he’s white. I’ve never heard a better lyricist, his range of subjects is so broad, and above all, he tells a story in his raps. He’d never spit the senseless bullshit you’d hear from someone like 21 Savage (I mean c’mon, the only thing “Bank Account” does is show me 21 can, in fact, count to 8). Em is in my eyes the G.O.A.T., and a total lock on this list.

Tupac

Ask anyone. Tupac is always considered one of the greatest and most influential rappers of all time. His lyrics were brilliantly written and his voice was so powerful that his message was heard loud and clear. If he wasn’t killed at the young age of 25, who knows how much more he could have accomplished? R.I.P.

The Notorious B.I.G.

It always seems like Biggie and Tupac always get brought up in the same conversation, which is a shame, because they were both their own extraordinary hip-hop artist. Like the first two members of this list, Biggie was such a great lyricist and story-teller. With his distinct sound and unique look (yes, he was rather heavy), one might’ve called Biggie the face of rap in his heyday. He might have also been killed at 24 (R.I.P.), but don’t worry, he will never stop loving it when you call him Big Papa.

Jay-Z

Like Eminem, Jay-Z could’ve been considered for the modern Mt. Rushmore, but his impact on the rap game earns him the respect along with the all-time greats. He’s a great rapper, as well as a great businessman. His $900M estimated net worth makes him the richest hip-hop artists in the world.

Honorable Mentions: Dr. Dre, Nas, Snoop Dogg

 

Mt. Rushmore of Pop

*Modern Mt. Rushmore: Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Beyonce

Madonna

Her 300+ million records sold make her the best-selling female recording artist of all-time, and quite simply, she’s the “Queen of Pop”. She did not shy away from controversy, but her incredible music made her an cultural icon, as well as an influence on many pop artists of today.

Michael Jackson

Every Queen needs a King. While Madonna is known as the “Queen of Pop,” Michael Jackson is known as the “King of Pop.” Whether he was making hit songs like “Thriller,” moonwalking into the record books, or holding his infant baby over a hotel balcony, MJ was a global figure for years, and his highly publicized life/music career made him one of the best known artists of all-time.

Prince

The Mt. Rushmore of Pop basically has its own royal family. First a Queen. Then a King. And now a Prince. Despite the controversy he found himself in and his unpronounceable name-change, was a total star. No one will ever be as electric and flamboyant on stage as he was.

Whitney Houston

Like Madonna, Whitney has also been considered the “Queen of Pop,” but for the sake of consistency, she will be this Mt. Rushmore’s Princess. Not to downplay her greatness, though. “I Will Always Love You” is the best-selling single by a woman in American history. Thanks to her powerful voice, she also became simply known as “The Voice.”

Honorable Mentions: Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson

 

This blog post might’ve been the hardest of the 4 so far. There are so many genres and sub-genres with so many significant figures in music history that I couldn’t have possibly wrote about all of them. So in a last-second effort to show respect to as many music artists that weren’t included in any modern lists, all-time lists, or honorable mentions as possible, here’s the first ever Mt. Rushmore Lightning Round.

  Elton John      |  Marvin Gaye  |   Bob Marley    |   Frank Sinatra

Aretha Franklin |   Ray Charles  |           Adele           |   Stevie Wonder

[ PUBLIC ENEMY POSTER ]

Wu-Tang Clan    |       N.W.A.         |    Run-D.M.C.    |   Public Enemy

 

4 weeks down. 1 to go. I hope you’ve enjoyed our time together, because next week we are closing April with the biggest, baddest Mt. Rushmore Monday yet (or maybe not, we’ll see how I’m feelin when I write it). There will be a wide range of topics covered, but before then, make sure to catch up on past Mondays. Last week’s Mt. Rushmores are here: https://belowthebeltsports.com/2018/04/17/mt-rushmore-mondays-television/

Looking forward to next Monday April 30th: Mt. Rushmores of *Miscellaneous*

Mt. Rushmore Mondays: Television

We’ve reached the Wednesday of Mt. Rushmore Mondays. After this and we are over the hump. Two down. Three to go. After last Monday’s fun with movies, we move onto movies’ little cousin: Television. We’ll be taking a look at the very best of TV dramas, sitcoms, characters, etc. Anything you either schedule your week around or binge on Netflix. Look no further.

Again, due to the likely age of our readers (aka you guys), we’ll be focusing on much more modern television. Don’t worry. You don’t have to know who Mary Tyler Moore or Archie Bunker is to read this blog post. Nothing from the ’70s. But you should brush up on your ’90s television, though. Because you’re crazy if you aren’t expecting Seinfeld to be included in this Mt. Rushmore Monday.

*Spoiler Alert: Write-ups may contain some spoilers. So if you are not caught up on certain shows, you may want to refrain from reading about why they belong on each Mt. Rushmore.

*Reminder: Each Mt. Rushmore is not just based off of talent and accomplishments, but also just as equally overall influence and impact.

Shall we…?

Mt. Rushmore of TV Sitcoms (modern)

The Office (2005 – 2013)

Except for when Dwight is being Dwight and Michael is being Michael, The Office isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy. What it is is a brilliant portrayal of the subtle, relatable humors of everyday life at an ordinary workplace. You learn to love the characters and all their relationships. Pam says it best in the final scene of the series, “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kinda the point?”

Seinfeld (1989 – 1999)

Kinda like The OfficeSeinfeld is so great because it shows the subtle humors of everyday, relatable life. The dynamic between the four best friends is hilarious. They are all just so ignorant and selfish, and Kramer especially is one of the funniest characters in TV history.  The fact they still get so much money from re-runs says enough.

Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000 – 2011; 2017 – Present)

Curb is the most cringeworthy show, and it is so funny because of it. What makes it so great is that Larry David the character is literally Larry David the person. They are the same people. When they came back for a 9th season, they did not disappoint. The last season was as Larry David as ever.

Friends (1994 – 2004)

Friends served as one of the most popular TV shows for a long time, as well as an introduction for 6 upcoming stars to the world. Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc, Perry, and Schwimmer were all so great and had so much chemistry that Friends has to have a spot on this Mt. Rushmore.

Honorable Mentions: The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family

 

Mt. Rushmore of TV Dramas (modern)

Game of Thrones (2011 – Present)

To anyone who refuses to watch GOT because of its dragons and magic: I was once you. Young. Naive. Ignorant. Now I realize GOT is far and beyond the best show currently on television. It is so deep with so many well-developed characters and storylines. And with the constant threat that anyone could die at anytime, there really is no other show like it.

The Sopranos (1999 – 2007)

The Sopranos has become iconic. With so many great TV dramas on today, it almost seems like The Sopranos was the very first of its kind. In an age well before binge watching, the characters and stories were so great it made the week-long wait unbearable. And as an added plus: the series takes place in the greatest state in the U.S. of A. and my homestate, New Jersey.

Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)

Kudos to AMC for rolling the dice with Breaking Bad, which is the only network television (and non-HBO) show on this Mt. Rushmore. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime turned down Vince Gilligan’s pitch. Lucky for AMC, which stumbled on their best show ever, and maybe the best all-time.

The Wire (2002 – 2008)

As Omar Little said, “You come at the king, you best not miss.” And according to the people who believe The Wire is the best show of all-time (and many do), all shows have missed. The show was so gritty and so real.

Honorable Mentions: Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things

 

Mt. Rushmore of Adult Cartoons (modern)

Family Guy (1998 – Present)

Seth MacFarlane is honestly a comedic talent we should cherish. He voices so many characters and makes you laugh in so many different ways. With Family Guy‘s hilarious cutaways, raunchy jokes, and mindless humor, it’s usually a go-to when simply throwing on a show, and has, in my opinion, one-upped its yellow-skinned counterparts.

The Simpsons (1989 – Present)

Speaking of yellow-skinned, enter: The SimpsonsFamily Guy might be better (at least in my opinion), but The Simpsons is the O.G. mindless adult cartoon about a working class family with a stupid father, wife, teenage son, teenage daughter, infant child, and dog. The Simpsons has also been doing it for SO long, being the longest-running American sitcom.

Rick and Morty (2013 – Present)

Rick and Morty might not have the years that the others have, but there is something so different and revolutionary about it. With its drunken improv/method acting and mind-blowing Sci-Fi concepts, Rick and Morty is so funny and so smart. It is so much more than a mindless comedy, and has a bright future if Harmon and Roiland can keep up and think of new, brilliant concepts. To put it simply: Wubba lubba dub dub.

South Park (1997 – Present)

Probably the most offensive show on this Mt. Rushmore, South Park honestly just doesn’t give a fuck. Trey Parker and Matt Stone somehow take sensitive topics such as the Holocaust, racial tension, and homosexuality and are able to make a hit show for 20+ years.

Honorable Mentions: Beavis & Butthead, Robot Chicken

 

Mt. Rushmore of Kid Cartoons (modern)

SpongeBob SquarePants (1999 – Present)

Do I really need to explain this one? It’s freakin SpongeBob. C’mon. The animated sea sponge has become an international icon. The show is ageless, too. If you’re a kid, you love it. If you’re an adult, it is still so charming and funny, with the occasional hidden dirty joke, that you just can’t not love it, too.

Looney Tunes (forever)

At first, I didn’t know if I should include the Looney Tunes because they’ve been around since 1930. But then I quickly remembered how relevant they still were even when most of us were growing up. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and the whole gang are iconic. I really believe the catchphrase, “What’s up, dock?” is one that will always be remembered.

Pokémon (1998 – Present)

If you told me your childhood wasn’t filled with Pokémon Gameboy games, cards, and toys, I’d call you a liar. Every kid I knew growing up spent years duking it out for the 8 gym badges, looking to become the very best that ever was. And the TV show and movies were wildly fantastic, as well. Similar to SpongeBob, Pikachu has become an international icon.

Rugrats (1990 – 2006)

“I am Reptar! Hear me roar!” If you didn’t fuck with the trials of Tommy Pickles and Chuckie Finster growing up, I simply don’t fuck with you. Rugrats was a go-to cartoon for little kids. These cute toddlers went on some wild adventures that we were lucky to be a part of.

Honorable Mentions: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Jimmy Neutron, Fairly Odd Parents

 

Mt. Rushmore of TV Protagonists (modern)

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) – Breaking Bad

I can confidently say that Walter White has the greatest character arc of any TV character ever. Look at where he starts: an innocent, family-oriented high school chemistry teacher with a boring life. And look at where he ends up: a brilliant, badass meth kingpin that will do anything to get what he wants. From Mr. White to Heisenberg. Two completely different characters, yet the arc seems totally natural and organic.

Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) – The Sopranos

Kinda like Heisenberg, Tony is just a terrible guy. Murderer. Thief. Brilliantly evil. Yet we still root for him. He really paved the way for TV anti-heroes, such as Walter White, Don Draper, Omar Little. Tony’s the OG Italian Mafia boss, and he does Jersey proud.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) – Game of Thrones

Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen, while total beasts right now, started the series off a little slow (in my opinion). Tyrion, however, has been a top character since episode one. There’s so much to like about him: he’s so small and so drunk, while also so smart and so funny. In the most popular show currently on television, he’s probably the most likable character. He’s been through hell and back, and is front and center in probably my favorite scene in TV history (below).

Michael Scott (Steve Carell) – The Office

He might be the only character from a TV comedy on this list, but that really doesn’t matter. There might not be a more quotable character in TV history. “I. Declare. BANKRUPTCY!!” “Dwight, you ignorant slut.” “I’m not superstitious, but I’m a little stitious.” And of course, “That’s what she said.” Michael Scott was just an absolute legend, and The Office wasn’t the same after he left.

Honorable Mentions: Daenerys Targaryen, Don Draper, Eleven, Dwight Schrute

 

Mt. Rushmore of TV Antagonists (modern)

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) – Game of Thrones

Cersei is just a ruthless bitch, but you have to respect her willingness to do anything it takes to stay on the throne. The only thing keeping her human was her love for her three children, but as each of them died one-by-one, Cersei became more and more of a monster. The last time we saw her she was the undisputed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, with a dogfight with Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen coming in season 8.

Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) – Breaking BadBetter Call Saul

On the surface: a model Albuquerque citizen and business owner. Under the facade: a cold-blooded drug kingpin using his industrial laundromat and Los Pollos Hermanos chicken chain as a front for the largest drug-trafficking syndicate in the Western hemisphere. Before Heisenberg finally put and end to their perpetual cat-and-mouse game, Gus was always one step ahead of Walt.

Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) – Deadwood

Like Gus, Al was a ruthless businessman willing to stop at nothing to keep his power of Deadwood, South Dakota. Regarded as one of the best shows ever to be cancelled too soon, Deadwood rode McShane’s sadistic Swearengen for 3 strong seasons. For the sake of the show’s fans and anyone planning on watching, hopefully the rumblings of HBO producing two Deadwood TV-movies to wrap up the series are true.

Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) – Game of Thrones

Fitting for one member of this Mt. Rushmore to birth another. Cersei’s youngest two children might’ve been sweet and innocent, but her oldest was the devil in the flesh. What sets Joffrey aside from the rest of this Mount is that while the others were cruel for the sake of gaining power, Joffrey was cruel for the sake of being cruel. He loved nothing more than to see his inferiors suffer. This little fucker might be the most hated character in TV history.

Honorable Mentions: Ramsay Snow/Bolton, Ben Linus, Stringer Bell

Halfway through April, we’re down to the home stretch. If you’d like to recap before next week, here’s the link to last week’s Mt. Rushmores:

Mt. Rushmore Mondays: Movies

Looking forward to next Monday April 23rd: Mt. Rushmores of Music

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).

Image result for devils playoffs

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.

Image result for washington capitals

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.

Image result for los angeles kings

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.

Mt. Rushmore Mondays: Movies

Here we are! Week 2! Last week we took care of the Mt. Rushmores of each major sports league, and today we’ll take a look at the Mt. Rushmores of Hollywood. I’m talkin’ filmmakers. Actors. Actresses. Comedy actors. Heroes. Villains. You name it, I got it (except not actually because the blog post can only be so long).

Considering Below The Belt’s audience is primarily Millennial readers, my Mt. Rushmores of Hollywood will consist of much more modern selections, as opposed to all-time. I’d be remiss not to throw a shoutout and at least include my all-time Mt. Rushmores for some categories, but I will only go into detail for the modern Mt. Rushmores.

*Reminder: Each Mt. Rushmore is not just based off of talent and accomplishments, but also just as equally overall influence, impact, and star power.

Anyway, Let’s get into things…

Mt. Rushmore of Hollywood Filmmakers (modern)

*All-time Mt. Rushmore: Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Speilberg, John Ford, and Stanley Kubrick.

Steven Spielberg

Spielberg is the only member of both of my Hollywood Mt. Rushmores (modern and all-time). His wide range of films make him probably the most versatile director in history. He can make Oscar-nominated movies such as The Post (2017), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Schindler’s List (1994), as well as make popcorn movies like Jaws (1975), Jurassic Park (1993), and Ready Player One (2018). Spielberg truly is a visionary.

Martin Scorsese

Honestly, Scorsese is just a flat-out beast. Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990), The Departed (2006), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). The list goes on. Films of his have won a total of 20 Academy Awards, as well as 81 total nominations. The standard he has set for his crime thrillers is unprecedented.

Quentin Tarantino

There is only one Quentin Tarantino. His violent, bloody, nonlinear film style is so unique that you could identify a Tarantino film within just the first few shots. From his directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs (1992), to his most recent release, The Hateful Eight (2015), Tarantino has come out with classic after classic.

George Lucas

While Lucas hasn’t come out with the wide range of films the other guys on this list have, no filmmaker can create a film franchise quite like he can. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, as well as Indiana Jones, is worth an estimated $5.1 billion thanks to the following these iconic franchises have garnered, which warrants a spot on this Mt. alone.

Honorable Mentions: James Cameron, Christopher Nolan

 

Mt. Rushmore of Hollywood Actors (modern)

*All-time Mt. Rushmore: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart

Daniel Day-Lewis

DDL is a just a walking Academy Award. Having won three awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (the most ever), he might as well paint himself gold and change his name to Oscar. He never acted in as many films as most, but when he did, he was nominated. Unfortunately, Day-Lewis’s time on the big screen has come to an end, retiring from acting after his role in Phantom Thread (2017), which might I add earned him another Oscar nomination.

Tom Hanks

I mean, c’mon. It’s Tom Hanks. He’s America’s Dad. Easy decision here. There might not be a more versatile actor, with Hanks taking roles as a mentally challenged war veteran and ping pong specialist, a cowboy action figure, a confused Eastern European, and a man whose best friend is a volley ball. Just like DDL, Hanks, a 2-time Oscar-winner, could’ve been considered for the all-time Mt. Rushmore of Actors, as well.

Robert De Niro

De Niro is a longtime friend and collaborator with Scorsese. This dynamic duo has led to multiple award nominations and wins for the actor, including for his roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). This man will have you asking, “Are you talkin’ to me?” Add all-time great The Godfather Part II (1974) and the family classic Fockers comedies to the discussion, and I give you the one they call Bobby D.

Jack Nicholson

Heeeeeere’s Johnny! (Sorry… I had to)… Nicholson can clearly play a mean psycho, evidence by his role in The Shining (1980), as well as one of the O.G. Jokers in Batman (1989). He’s been doing it for over half a century, and with his 12 Oscar nominations, he’s the most nominated male actor in Academy history.

Honorable Mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr., Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

 

Mt. Rushmore of Hollywood Actresses (modern)

*All-time Mt. Rushmore: Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis

Meryl Streep

The year is 2100. Meryl Streep is nominated for her 100th Oscar. Now let’s look back to the year 2018, when Streep was nominated for her 21st Academy Award (9 more than the next most nominations) for her role in The Post (2017). At this point, it’s obligatory. The year Meryl Streep isn’t nominated for an Oscar is the year she dies.

Natalie Portman

Whether she’s winning an Oscar for playing a ballerina or rapping about drunk driving on Saturday Night Live, Natalie will always have my heart. She’ll have you on the edge of your seat in V for Vendetta (2005), covering your eyes in Black Swan (2010), laughing your ass off on SNL, and questioning reality in the last 10 minutes of Annihilation (2018). The latter is honestly the most mind-fucking shit I’ve ever watched.

Kate Winslet

Known for her role as Rose in Titanic (1997), Winslet has been nominated for 7 Oscars. While minuscule compared to Streep, her total of nominations is still a very impressive number. Despite not allowing Leo to safely float on the door alongside her, she’s earned a spot on this Mt. Rushmore.

Frances McDormand 

Honestly, Frances McDormand scares the shit out of me. She’s a a two-time Oscar winner and a total badass. Franny Mac is the definition of a strong, independent female, and after watching her go nuts during her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), she is not the type of person you’d want to fuck with.

Honorable Mentions: Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry

 

Mt. Rushmore of Comedy Actors (modern)

*All-time Mt. Rushmore: Charlie Chaplin, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase

Will Ferrell

There probably isn’t an actor who has played as many iconic roles in comedies as Will Ferrell has. Ricky Bobby. Buddy the Elf. Ron Burgundy. Chazz Michael Michaels. I personally believe Elf (2003) is the funniest Christmas movie of all-time, and Step Brothers (2008) is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. He is completely shameless. Will is a complete and total lock on this Mount of Modern Comedic Rushmores.

Jim Carrey

Despite flying under the radar the last few years, this Mt. would not be complete without Jim Carrey. His ridiculous delivery and antics are gut-wrenching. The only thing left up to question is which of his roles is your favorite? Truman? Ace? Bruce? He’s got so many top-notch characters that you really can’t go wrong. I am still of the notion that the below scene from Bruce Almighty (2003) with Carrey and Steve Carell might be one of the funniest scenes ever.

Steve Carell

Did I attach the above scene to perfectly segue into our next head on the Mt. Rushmore of Modern Comedy Actors? Yes. Am I ashamed of it? Absolutely not. Steve Carell is most known for his role as Michael Scott on TV, but that shouldn’t downplay his comedic genius in movies. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) is probably his top movie he played a lead role in, with the supporting role as Brick Tamland alongside the first actor on this list in Anchorman (2004) probably being his funniest character.

Seth Rogen

He hasn’t been around for quite as long as the other guys on this list, but I don’t know if anyone is as brilliantly funny as Seth Rogen. He’s written and starred in so many laugh-out-loud comedies that he’s become, in my opinion, the face of comedy in 2018. His movies are so funny that he can’t help but laugh along with you on screen, which in turn only makes you laugh more.

Honorable Mentions: Adam Sandler, Steve Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen

 

Mt. Rushmore of Movie Characters (modern)

*All-time: Indiana Jones, James Bond, Vito Corleone, Rocky Balboa

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) – Forrest Gump (1994)

Personally, my favorite movie character from my favorite movie. He’s an icon. Everyone knows Forrest. Despite his low IQ, the warm-hearted Gump left his mark on the real events of American history, from the Vietnam War to Watergate.

Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) – Fight Club (1999)

You’ve probably never seen a cooler movie character than Tyler Durden. As he puts it himself, “I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.” C’mon. So fuckin’ cool.

Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski – The Big Lebowski (1998)

All he wants to do is replace his urine-soaked rug. So innocent. So nonchalant. So stupid. From his sweater to his hair to the way he simply goes about his day, everything about The Dude looks comfortable. He is so subtly funny, and if you disagree… “Yea, well… ya know, that’s just like uuhhh… your opinion, man.”

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) – Marvel Cinematic Universe

The first movie of the MCU is arguably the best movie of the MCU, thanks to the origin story of how billionaire Tony Stark became Iron Man. Just simply cool like Durden, in very similar but also very different ways. He’s rich. He lives the lavish lifestyle. He’s brilliant. He survived captivity. Oh yeah, and he fucks whoever he wants.

Honorable Mentions: Harry Potter, Marty McFly, Captain Jack Sparrow

 

Mt. Rushmore of Movie Villains (modern)

*All-time: Norman Bates, The Wicked Witch of the West, Annie Wilkes, Nurse Ratched

Darth Vader – Star Wars francise

He’s the most distinguishable movie character in the most popular movie franchise of all-time. Even if you’ve never watched any of the Star Wars movies, you know who shocked the world when he said, “Luke, I am your father.” If you’ve ever heard of what a movie is, you’ve heard of Darth Vader.

Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) – The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

“Hello, Clarice,” gives me chills every time. Because of this Oscar-winning performance, Anthony Hopkins will always be remembered as Dr. Hannibal the cannibal. He’s also the one behind one of my favorite movie lines ever: “I’m having an old friend for dinner.”

The Joker (Heath Ledger) – The Dark Knight (2008)

A lot of people have played The Joker over the years. Nicholson’s aforementioned performance is a classic. Jared Leto’s is forgettable. Unfortunately for Leto though, he had to follow the most recent portrayal in The Dark Knight (2008) by the late Heath Ledger. Heath is universally known as the best Joker, with his fantastic, posthumously Oscar-winning performance. The Joker was a psycho and he knew it. Ledger, a method actor, became the character to prepare for the role, and quite literally died as the Joker.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – Marvel Cinematic Universe

One of the few criticisms of the MCU is that its villains are forgettable and just get killed off after one movie. The exception to this criticism is Loki. Thor’s adopted brother is smart, devious, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. You love him one moment and he breaks your heart the next. He is easily the best, most well-developed villain in the only movie franchise that comes close to Star Wars.

Honorable Mentions: Hans Gruber, Hans Landa, Keyser Söze

 

That about wraps it up. Week 2 of Mt. Rushmore Mondays is in the books. If you missed last Monday’s edition, the link is here: https://belowthebeltsports.com/2018/04/03/mt-rushmore-mondays-sports/

Again, if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment.

Looking forward to next Monday April 16th: Mt. Rushmores of Television

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.

Image result for loyola chicago basketball

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.

Image result for kevin ware national championship

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!