Saturday, March 16, 2013

3/16 (Selection Sunday Eve) Quickie

Today's big winner: Maryland

Every once in a while, conference tournaments matter in a way that has nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament.

Maryland is not going to the NCAA Tournament -- maybe if they beat UNC today and make an improbable run to the ACC title game, they are part of the "First Four" in Dayton.

Duke is out of the ACC Tournament in the quarterfinals -- and yet this season is so shallow at the top that there is seemingly no way they lose their 1-seed status (another reminder the conference tournaments are largely vestigial).

And yet the mediocre Terps beating high-flying Duke yesterday was the highlight of Maryland's season -- and the two-year-old Mark Turgeon Era. It is the kind of win that fans relish not just for the year, but for years.

You could make the same argument for Syracuse -- the Orange are going to the NCAA Tournament. So is Georgetown. And so the win is entirely about pride, bragging rights... having the last word in one of college hoops' best (if soon-to-be-former) rivalries.

As both games wound down simultaneously -- and fans were hammering the "last channel" button on the remote or picture-in-picture function to flip between them -- it was the no-stakes portion of conference-championship week at its high-stakes best.


*Today: So many win-or-go-home automatic NCAA Tournament invites on the line, teams whose names you will know like the back of your bracket notes by Monday morning -- New Mexico State versus Texas-Arlington, Pacific versus UC-Irvine, Montana versus Weber State, Stephen F. Austin versus Northwestern State, Chicago State versus Houston Baptist, Morgan State versus NC A&T, Prairie View A&M versus Southern, Albany versus Vermont.

*There are some intriguing finals: Akron could still get an at-large if they lose the MAC final to Ohio, but they don't want to chance it. UNLV probably doesn't get in without upsetting New Mexico in the Mountain West final. Similarly, Southern Miss is must-win versus Memphis, which is in regardless. Oregon and UCLA are both in, regardless. Kansas and Kansas State are obviously both in, making this about in-state bragging rights (and Kansas getting a 1-seed if they win). Syracuse and Louisville are both in, too; if the Cardinals win, they stake a claim for a 1-seed. (Speaking of 1-seed contenders, Michigan State needs to knock off Ohio State in the B10 finals if they want to stay in contention for a 1-seed, which is on the table.)

*What about Kentucky? I think they are out. It's not like they kept it close versus Vandy. They got blown out and looked terrible in the process. Last weekend's supposedly season-saving win over Florida? Just not enough. I suspect that the NCAA and Selection Committee will conspire to push the profile of the typically ignored "First Four" by slotting Kentucky in that game against a notable fringe mid-major.

*My most intriguing bracket-previewing game of the day? Butler versus St. Louis in the Atlantic 10 semifinals -- both are tournament locks, but both have the moxie to make deep runs. This is a good litmus test, if not for them, then for your confusion over the bracket.

Enjoy the day!

-- D.S.

Friday, March 15, 2013

3/15 (Selection Mania) Quickie

It's that time again: Join the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of's Tournament Challenge.

(Wow, I was just thinking about 2006, when we had more than 10,000 people in the group and it was something like the 3rd-largest non-team-related group in the world. That was also the year that Mrs. Quickie finished in the Top 10 overall, which was crazy.)

Forget the hyper-nostalgia for the Big East: The craziest ending you will get was in the Atlantic 10 pre-quarterfinal in Brooklyn between Charlotte and Richmond. Richmond was leading by three with just 4.7 seconds to play. Then, a wild series:

A 1-and-1 for Charlotte begat a tech on a Richmond player begat a Charlotte lead begat Richmond "fouling" a Charlotte player heaving a half-court "shot" -- another three shots. Then a bunch of technical fouls called on Richmond.

Voila: A seven-point Charlotte win -- a 10-point swing in 5 seconds, which rivals anything Reggie Miller ever did a few miles away at Madison Square Garden.

You hate to see that happen and you feel for Richmond fans. But if ever there was a "that's what makes March so great" bit of freakiness, that's the one.

What to look forward to today:

*Two days 'til Selection Sunday: The half-hour of the bracket reveal is the best 30 minutes of the sports year. Everything is all possibilities and gut-feelings and second-guessing. And that's just your bracket, let alone all of the analysis of the bracket by all of the hoops pundits.

*Sub-.500 Utah has reached the semis of the Pac-12. The game is at 11:30 ET tonight vs. Oregon. I feel for the teams on the Bubble, but how can you not be rooting for Utah to continue the run?

*Big East semis: Syracuse-Georgetown (because of course) and Louisville-Notre Dame (who played those many many OTs the last time they met). All are in the Tournament; this is for pride.

*Kentucky on the hot seat: They play Vandy in the SEC quarters. A loss here to the sub-.500 'Dores would put UK back on the edge of the Bubble, at the mercy of teams like... Utah (ironically, the team Kentucky beat for the title in '98).

*The Mountain West semis: San Diego State vs. New Mexico, UNLV vs. Colorado State. Four bracket-worthy teams likely playing for three spots (with UNM and Colorado State likely already claiming two).

*All the crazy adidas uniforms: I get it -- people in the media hate them. But they are having their intended reaction: We are talking about them. (Hard not to love Notre Dame's highlight-green uniforms from last night, but then again, I wear highlight-neon shoes in my weekly old man basketball league.)


*Steven Jackson to the Falcons: Great fit for both.
*Ed Reed to the Texans? Would be great influence.
*Greg Jennings to Vikings? Harvin replacement?
*Geno Smith wows at Pro Day: Going No. 2 to Jags?
*Kobe: Hawks insist they weren't trying to hurt him.
(Still should have been a foul, which is Kobe's issue.)
*WBC: Does the DR care more than Team USA?
*Nadal: He's back! (beating Fed will inspire that reax).

Join the Tournament Challenge group. Get ready for Selection Sunday.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

3/14 (Ugh, No Internet) Quickie

Internet service got bonked, so tapping this out on my phone, which ain't ideal. Nevertheless...

*Big East quarterfinals: The quintessential Big East moment - bloated with nostalgia, brash, gluttonous, likely overrated.

(And vastly overrated in the grand scheme of "But how many of these 6-8 teams actually make the Final Four, let alone win a national title?" Steel yourself for yelps of "1985!" which is all well and good but nearly 20 years old, and I say that as both a yelper and someone who thinks the '85 Final Four was more important than any in history, including the over-exposed Bird-Magic '79 edition. So, yes, I am both conflicted and self-loathing.)

Regardless, it IS a quadruple-header of college basketball featuring a half-dozen "big-t" Tournament teams. Meanwhile, the Big Ten is asking what the fuss is about....

*Welker to Broncos: Of course. The "Ray Allen from the Celtics to the Heat" of NFL deals.

*Amendola to Pats: Makes the Welker "of course" above look like the surprise move of the year.

*RBs on move: In order of effectiveness for the acquiring team - (1) Bush/Lions, (2) Greene/Titans, (3) Mendenhall/Cards (unless Arizona gets itself a good QB).

Caveat: Steven Jackson signing with the Packers would trump all of those.

*Kobe hurts ankle: Ankle hurts Laker playoff run. (Yes, should've been a foul.)

*Carmelo returns to Denver: Unlike Dwight Howard in Orlando, Melo couldn't actually win, which is the sweetest of all comebacks to bitter fans.

*Heat win 20th straight: Can excellence be boring? We are reduced to "Well, at least the Sixers made it interesting."

*Jeter tries SS: Proof ain't in March.

*Pope x Sports: Apparently a huge fan of Argentina's San Lorenzo club. Presumably, he has a string rooting interest in next year's World Cup.

*Is today the final day of Northwester's Carmody Era.

- DS

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

3/13 (Wednesday) Quickie

Today's big winner: Dwight Howard.

He went back to Orlando for the first time since he left town. The fans were all over him. The Magic were hacking him.

And Howard put on arguably the best regular-season performance of his career: 39 points (including 39 foul shots!) and 16 rebounds, leading the Lakers to yet another must-win as they surge into playoff position.

This is the Howard that the Lakers wanted (needed!), that Kobe obsesses about and that shuts up all of the folks who had been taking pot-shots at him throughout LA's mediocre season.

And yet! Howard is nothing if not mercurial. It would be something to see if he has indeed turned a corner -- maybe last night's game will psychologically free him from everything and put him in video-game mode for the rest of the season (a prerequisite if the Lakers want to do anything interesting).

It is hard not to think "We'll see...." But then you watch what he did last night, and it's like: Oh wow.

If you think the NBA is better for having a competitive and fiesty Lakers team, last night was one of the biggest and best wins of the season.

That is thanks to Howard taking all that the fans and the opposing players could throw at him and proving himself the bigger (way bigger) person for it.

More of today's winners:

*Long Island-Brooklyn, Valpo, South Dakota State: All won their way into the NCAA Tournament. For LIU, it's their third straight trip... for Valpo, it will always inspire memories of Bryce Drew beating Ole Miss (one of my Top 3 favorite NCAA Tournament moments ever)... with South Dakota State, it's about how far their star Nate Wolters (27 pts last night) can carry them.

*NFL Free Agency Mania:
-Mike Wallace to Miami: It was a must-have for the Fins.
-Paul Kruger to Cleveland: Bold move new management needed.
-Martellus Bennett to Chicago: A Bears TE who won't drop the ball.

*Reggie Bush: Who wants him? The Lions clearly do -- and everyone seems to think he would be a great fit with Stafford and Megatron. He will shop himself around (it's Reggie Bush, after all), but here's betting that he ends up circling back with Detroit, a huge change of pace from Miami.

*Chip Kelly: No player captured the Eagles' sad "dream team" aspirations from two years ago like Nnamdi Asomugha. It's not his fault -- he was just intended to be the centerpiece. It didn't work out, and the team cut him yesterday, the most symbolic move they could make to signal the end of the Reid Era and the fresh start with Kelly. (More than symbolic, it saves them some cash.)

*Ryan Nassib: Could the former Syracuse QB become this year's Ryan Tannehill in the NFL Draft? His old college coach Doug Marrone, who now runs the Bills, just cut Buffalo's incumbent starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, leaving the Bills without a QB. Sure, they could be eyeing Geno Smith in the draft, but there is no guarantee Smith drops to the back of the Top 10, when Buffalo is picking. And the trade market (Nick Foles) and free agent market (who knows?) are seemingly thin.

*Notre Dame women's hoops: A week after gutting out a win over UConn to take the Big East regular-season title, they pull it off again in the Big East tournament title game. The East's top dog ain't the Huskies anymore. (Well, at least for now.)

*Miami Heat: 19 straight wins. Let's review the major themes of the streak: They are toying with the league... a repeat NBA championship is an inevitability (the only question is how many losses they take en route to 16 postseason wins)... it's OK that the NBA playoffs have no drama, because this team seems to be THAT good.

*Barcelona: Remember yesterday's previews of the Barca-Milan game, in which all the experts were trying to make sense of how fall Barca had fallen en route to being bounced from the Champions League? That was cute.

Down 0-2 in aggregate to AC Milan in the Champions League round of 16, Barca overwhelmed in the second game 4-0, including 2 goals by the brilliant Lionel Messi. And, once again, we are left wondering what would happen if other sports counted playoff series in terms of aggregate score.

*Today's must-see/must-follow college hoops: Lafayette and Bucknell play for the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament... the (sort of last) Big East Tournament heats up, with "Last Four In"-ish Villanova in a must-win versus St. John's... Your sneaky-good game of the day is Boise State versus San Diego State in the Mountain West quarterfinals; both teams have the potential to go on a run and win the conference tournament (or even make it to the tournament finals and put themselves squarely in the "Last Four In" conversation).

-- D.S.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

3/12 (Tuesday) Quickie

The best rivalry in sports right now is 49ers-Seahawks.

*They play in the same division.
*They are the top two teams in the NFC.
*Their coaches hate each other, going back to college.
*They are geographically proximate.
*It's the NFL, and the NFL is king.
*Both teams continue to make bold moves.

Yesterday was a collision course -- as close as you'll get to the two teams battling it out with each other on the field:

The Seahawks traded a 1st-round pick for the Vikings' dynamic (and disgruntled) playmaker Percy Harvin (my second-favorite NFL player behind a certain Jets back-up QB). It was a big bet on one of the league's biggest talents, but if -- if -- Harvin is healthy, there isn't a better QB-RB-WR combination in the NFL than Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Harvin.

The 49ers used a 6th-round pick to give Baltimore at least something for WR Anquan Boldin, star of the Super Bowl and an incredible complement to the 49ers' existing offense, which centers around Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. It was a deft move by the smartest franchise in the NFL, if not all of sports.

The two teams will play twice in 2013 in the regular season and -- in part thanks to yesterday's moves -- once in the playoffs for the right to go to the Super Bowl. You don't have to like either team (or notice the distinctly West Coast geography or methodology) to appreciate that they represent Best Sports Rivalry 2.0.

Follow-up: So what rivalries round out the "Right Now" Top 5? 
(2) Alabama-LSU
(3) Ravens-Patriots
(4) Nationals-Phillies
(5) Indiana vs. the Big Ten

More of today's winners:

*Gonzaga is in the NCAA Tournament, zipping toward a 1-seed that they are good enough to deserve, despite their flimsy schedule strength.

*James Madison is back in the tournament for the first time since the early-90s... Tourney regulars Western Kentucky, Davidson and Iona are back in, too.

*Today's must-see game: Mount St. Mary's vs. LIU-Brooklyn (one of my favorites) for the Northeast title and auto-bid into the Tournament. Two other bids on the line: The Summit (North Dakota State vs. South Dakota State, which at the very least sounds kind of awesome) and the Horizon (Wright State vs. Valpo). For all six teams involved, this is it -- win and in, lose and there is no consolation.

*San Antonio Spurs: Beat the Thunder, handily, and missing Tony Parker wasn't a problem. There has been a presumption that OKC vanquished San Antonio from true "West contender" status and that it was a glide path for the Thunder back to the NBA Finals. But what makes the Spurs so fascinating is that they refuse to be bumped from the discussion, and last night's win is more evidence that OKC will again have a massive challenge if it wants to hurdle the West's old standard-bearer to earn the right to get demolished by the Heat in the Finals.

*Steve Hutchinson is retiring from the NFL, and most experts see him as a borderline Hall of Famer. Remember when his jumping from the Seahawks (where he paved the road for Shaun Alexander) to the Vikings was a huge deal, because the Vikings put a novel "poison pill" in his contract offer that kept Seattle from keeping him? (It's irony that Seattle yoinked a star from Minnesota yesterday.)

*Darrelle Revis: Is he about to be traded? I'm with Peter King -- how can you trade for him (presumably a lot of good draft picks) let alone give him the new deal he wants without seeing how he plays following his injury and recovery?

*David Garrard: He has signed with the Jets and it's just a matter of time before he out-performs Mark Sanchez, which to Garrard must feel like a delightfully low bar that makes competing in Miami last season with Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill look like competing with Rodgers and Brady. The obvious follow-up question, of course, is BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR TEBOW?

*The Big East: Begins its final tournament as something resembling the Big East you care (cared?) about. The Catholic 7 will keep the spirit of it going next year and beyond, but there is something about the mix of Syracuse and UConn (two fan bases that always pack Madison Square Garden) with the smaller basketball-only schools that will be missed.

*Manny Ramirez: Signs with a team in Taiwan. The ignominious end to his MLB career is up there with the ultimately ignominious end to Barry Bonds' MLB career. I would have liked to see both finish swinging at MLB pitches before retiring.

*Tom Crean: Apologizes for post-game outburst with Michigan. Don't apologize, Coach: Own it!

*Madden: Who is going to win the spot on this year's Madden video-game cover? I think it will be RGIII in a rout, but the introduction of old-school players is a wild card -- who doesn't want to see Barry Sanders on the Madden cover?

*Today's big non-winner: Adrian Peterson, who is more than a little ticked that the Vikings got rid of the player most likely to keep defenses from stacking everyone in the box against him (not to mention making Minnesota a viable playoff contender).

*Plus: Kyrie Irving, out 3-4 weeks with a shoulder sprain. If there is anything that will limit Irving's sky-high potential, it is his penchant for getting injured.

*And: Mike Vick, who canceled his book tour because of threats he was getting. He may be back in the NFL and he may be contrite, but there is a group of people out there who don't/won't/can't forget. Threats are never the way to go -- they would make more of a statement by peacefully (but loudly) demonstrating wherever he shows up.

*Anyone else still thinking about the DeAndre Jordan-Brandon Knight posterization?

-- D.S.

Monday, March 11, 2013

3/11 (Monday) Quickie

The play of the weekend -- and the NBA's play of the year -- was the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan posterizing the Pistons' Brandon Knight. First of all, watch it here:

OK, a few things:

*We need to retire the word "posterized" because it won't happen in a more textbook sense than here.

*Brandon Knight may do many productive things in his NBA career, but this is the moment he will be remembered for. (That he stays on the ground juuust a bit too long afterward did him no favors.)

*Why did Knight even try to challenge that lob dunk?

*The camera cut to the kids courtside freaking out is my favorite 3 seconds of video this year.

*The cut to Blake Griffin freaking out isn't bad either.

*The Clippers aren't going to win the NBA title this year. They aren't going to win the West and they probably won't even make it through the conference semifinals. And yet...

This is of a piece with the second most-incredible play of the NBA season -- Jamal Crawford's between-the-legs alley-oop to Blake Griffin, which happened only last week. The gist is this:

If you watch the NBA to see who wins the championship, you're doing it wrong. If you watch the NBA to follow your favorite team, your rooting interest is sincere (I say that as a lifelong Bullets/Wizards fan), but you're doing it wrong.

We watch the NBA for the truly jaw-dropping moments -- like Jordan (who will never again have to worry about sharing a name with that "other" Jordan) over Knight.

UPDATE: Good for Knight that he took to Twitter and displayed a ton of humor about the situation: "It wasn't in the scouting reports that the clippers threw lobs lol" (He might not fully understand the indelibility of the moment, but whether he does or not, good on him for acknowledging it.)

More weekend winners:

*Liberty: As of right now, the best NCAA Tournament story. 15-20 for the season, 6-10 in the conference. But they won four straight in the Big South Conference tournament (including yesterday's title-game win over 1-seed Charleston Southern) and now they are in the NCAA Tournament.

I don't care that they will be stuck in the "First Four" play-in game -- they are in the NCAA Tournament and they validate everything that is awesome about the conference-tournament system (and sort of validate my long-standing theory that we'd be better off getting rid of the conference tournaments and letting every team in an open-to-all mega-tournament.)

*Tiger Woods: ESPN's Scott Van Pelt has had the best reaction to this whole "Is Tiger back?" thing. Here's a representative tweet: "Context: Rory got red hot won 5/19 starts & got to # 1. Tiger now has won 5/19. Luke Donald, # 3 in world, has 5 237 PGA starts"

I would say that among other things, the win mostly heightens everyone's anticipation for what Tiger can/might/must do at The Masters next month.

*Tom Crean: Walks into Michigan's Crisler Arena and walks out with the first outright Big Ten title for Indiana since '93, barking at a Michigan assistant who was part of the pre-Crean Indiana debacle on his way out. ("You know what you did!" becomes part of Indiana lore.)

A couple of caveats on Indiana's win, which all but secures a No. 1 seed for the Hoosiers, presuming they make it to at least the Big Ten Tournament semifinals:

(1) A team that makes its foul shots beats them.

(2) That was a flagrant foul at the end and Michigan should have gotten both the free throws and the ball, which would have likely changed the game's outcome.

(3) That was Michigan's best defensive performance of the season (and it still wasn't enough).

(4) While appreciating the specific emotional trigger that got him riled up, Tom Crean seems pretty high-strung to navigate his team to six straight wins in the NCAA Tournament.

*Creighton: Fends off Wichita State to become the Mo Valley's automatic rep in the NCAA Tournament. They will be a popular Sweet 16 pick, but the Jays' defense is still a huge question. (Top 10 offense, according to Ken Pom, but by far the worst-rated D -- 77th -- among the Top 16 teams.)

*Miami Heat: That is 18 wins in a row. But the real value of this particular win was the symbolism: Any thought you had that the Pacers might be the team to challenge Miami in the East playoffs should be obliterated like Indiana was by the Heat on Sunday. Again, let's go with my soon-to-be-trademarked phrasing: This season is a "Heat Accompli." (re: here.)

*Dwight Howard: Is he manipulative? Or just flaky? Or just desperate to be loved? I'll say some combination of the last two. The big thing is that the Lakers can't make the playoffs without him stepping up his game (as he did yesterday).

*Matt Kenseth: Three cheers for early-fortysomethings.

*Team USA: Advances to the WBC second round. (Yes, I know you are wildly interested.)

*Cullen Jenkins: Gets $8M and, more importantly, jumps from the Eagles -- who cut him -- to their division rivals in New York, who have a pretty good track record with player personnel decisions.

*Great read: Getting excited for Selection Sunday? Patrick Stevens' daily Bubble Watch is really awesome.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

3/10 (Very Sunday) Quickie

Service-y! Don't forget to set your clocks one hour forward.

I should have known that tap-dancing on Kentucky's "First Four Out" status would result in a desperate UK edging my Florida Gators to put themselves back in the proverbial "Last Four In." The final seven minutes of that game (in which Florida didn't score a point) was both maddening as a Florida fan and impressive if you want to see a team playing as hard as it can to avoid an indelibly terrible basketball fate.

Duke throttled UNC: As expected? Duke can lose in the ACC Tournament and still end up with a 1-seed. It would be very (very) interesting if Duke ended up the 1-seed in the South with, say, Florida as a 2-seed, because the Gators present a particularly tough match-up for Duke. (As of now, that ain't gonna happen -- Lunardi has Duke pegged as the 1-seed in the East and Florida bumped off the 2-line.)

Georgetown obliterates Syracuse: In the rivalry's presumptive finale (at least as Big East conference-mates), the Hoyas get the last word, in the process clamping down on the Orange like no team ever has in the Boeheim Era.

I really really want to pick Georgetown to go far in the NCAA Tournament -- and maybe they will, if they can display some of the more-than-Porter offense that they did yesterday to go with that extremely effective D. But I've been bracket-burned by the Hoyas before.

Tournament bids! The Belmont win over Murray State was as exciting as you could hope for. Meanwhile, Florida Gulf Coast may only last the first day, but what a great name. Also: Harvard!

Tiger still up at Doral: He is playing this weekend as well as he has since The Incident. Either he slams the door today and the narrative is something along the lines of "Just wait until Tiger at the Masters!" or he chokes it away and... well, he's not going to choke it away.

NBA: Amare out for 6 weeks. It's the other knee this time. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is motivated and ready to help Kobe get the Lakers into the playoffs. How can you not be rooting for the Lakers to get in and punch one of the top seeds in the mouth?

NFL Free Agency: Anyone want the game-breaking receiver from the Super Bowl champs? Anquan Boldin cost you and he is probably just a year or two from retirement, but he is available and can clearly make things happen.

Steelers cut James Harrison: In his prime, he was worth the trouble. Unclear where he ends up now. Probably on a desperate loser.

WBC: The US wins...but are you paying attention? (You almost certainly heard about the wild Canada-Mexico brawl.)

Bernard Hopkins: 48 and a boxing champ. Fortysomethings rule!

-- D.S.