Tag Archives: Rick Pitino

NCAA Tournament: Midwest Region Preview

At first blush, the Midwest Region seems to be destined to have the top seeds represented in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8; but questions abound for Kansas, Louisville, and Oregon as the opening rounds approach.  Although most of the double-digit seeds in this region don’t appear to pose a serious threat, there’s at least one that may knock heads with the big boys.

Jayhawks are going to Kansas City, Kansas City here they come!

There’s no reason to suspect that the Kansas Jayhawks shouldn’t find their way to KC, but will they be able to go any further?  Bill Self’s team had another incredible season, scattering four losses throughout the year, including bookends in the season opener, and to close the season in the Big 12 semifinals.   Despite their immensely talented backcourt led by Frank Mason III, Devonte Graham, and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks frontcourt is a bit thin.  Could a potential matchup with Michigan State and the Spartan’s tough frontcourt combo of Miles Bridges and Nick Ward be too much for Landen Lucas to handle on his own?  This is the time of year that Tom Izzo starts working his magic, but if he can’t, top seeded Kansas should be bound for Kansas City, and a shot to advance out of the Midwest Regional Final.

Cardinals need more Dr. Jekyll, less Mr. Hyde

Louisville may be the one of deepest and most talented teams in the Midwest region, and perhaps the country.  However, the biggest issue this team has shown has been its wild personality swings.  Particularly glaring during late season losses to Wake Forest and Duke, the Cards have displayed a propensity to squander big leads.  UofL can dominate the vast majority of a game, only to completely go away from everything that is working.  Those lapses are what terrify and infuriate the Louisville fan base.  What is most shocking is that this tendency manifested early in the season during Louisville’s first loss of the year to Baylor.  The Cardinals let a 22 point lead slip before falling to the Bears in the Bahamas.  That may just be the identity of this year’s version of the Louisville Cardinals.  I suspect that Rick Pitino will tighten up the rotation, which should provide more cohesiveness; and Donovan “Spida” Mitchell is the type of player that can carry a team into early April.  If the Cards are Dr. Jekyll, they could win it all; if they’re Mr. Hyde, it could be a very early exit.

Rough Rhode ahead for the Ducks

Oregon has spent the entire 2016-17 season among the nation’s elite teams, and still has a loaded roster, and excellent coach in Dana Altman to lead them deep into this tournament.  Much will depend on the way the Ducks respond to the loss of versatile 6-10 senior Chris Boucher.  While Boucher was important, this team goes as junior Dillon Brooks goes.  However, the injury essentially cost Oregon a seed line, which is ridiculous since seeding should be based on a team’s body of work.  Will the Duck’s be ultra-motivated by the injury and a little bit of a slight by the committee, or will these late season factors lead to a bit of a malaise?  I’m leaning toward the latter.  Assuming Oregon survives the Round of 64 against Iona, the Ducks may be in for a rude awakening in the Round of 32 against Rhode Island.

Rams are a dark horse?

Don’t sleep on Rhode Island.  As mentioned above, URI could be a serious stumbling block for Oregon should they run into each other in the Round of 32.  The Rams were sitting squarely on the bubble, and then ripped off eight wins in a row, and took the Atlantic 10 Tournament title to ensure a spot in the field.  Dan Hurley’s squad has solid inside-outside balance with E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin; and has shown a ton of grit down the stretch.  In a region that appears to be set up for the chalk to advance, Rhode Island is poised to make a run.  Certainly the opener against the Creighton Blue Jays will be no cakewalk, but if the Rams escape, there’s no reason that Hurley’s club can’t bounce the 3 seed Oregon, and find themselves in the Sweet 16.

Perfect storm for the Cyclones

Over the last few seasons, Iowa State has been a huge disappointment (I know they’ve killed my bracket), but the path the Cyclones face may be tailor-made to make amends.   I loved the Steve Prohm hire when Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA; and although it took some time to come together, ISU has the pieces in place to do some damage this year.  A rare senior-laden team in college basketball, the Cyclones are in great hands, particularly with Naz Long and Monte Morris.  After several bitter tournament showings, look for Iowa State to get past #4 seed Purdue, to set up another Big 12 showdown with rival Kansas in the Sweet 16.

North Carolina Central and UC Davis will square off on Wednesday for the right to be the first roadblock for the Jayhawks on their way to a cozy spot in Kansas City.  There should be a lot of answers about the Midwest Region when the Round of 32 wraps up on Friday evening, but don’t be surprised if there are even more questions.

E-mail Damon at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @DamoKnowsSports.

Photo via Flickr/Brett Hurd

Mike Krzyzewski is as Overrated as Roy Williams is Underrated

When the question of the best coach in men’s college basketball gets asked, many immediately respond with Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He has over 1,000 career wins, five NCAA Championships and is currently the man leading USA Men’s Basketball at the Olympics.

His career numbers are impressive — since the 1983-84 season he has only missed one NCAA Tournament. There’s been 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season championships and 13 ACC conference tournament championships.

From the 96-97 to 00-01 seasons Duke won five straight regular season titles. The final three years of that stretch included three straight ACC tournament championships to go with the regular season titles. There were two Final Four’s, with an NCAA Championship in 00-01.

That was easily the most dominant stretch of Coach K’s coaching career.

While Duke won the NCAA Tournament in the 2014-15 season, it’s been six years since they’ve won the ACC regular season, and five since they’ve won the ACC Tournament. That’s a decent drought for a coach considered head and shoulders above his peers.

Back to the question — Who is the best coach in men’s college basketball? How many names were brought up before Roy Williams? I personally don’t put him in my top 5, which is telling since North Carolina is one of three teams I follow closely.

He’s often labeled as a coach who gets by with the talent on his roster, one who lacks the ability to make in-game adjustments. Sometimes it seems as if UNC finishes games with more timeouts than they started with.

Furthermore, there’s criticism that he’s been unable to land top-tier high school prospects in recent years. It’s pretty impressive when you can be accused of relying on your team’s talent, while also being blasted for the lack of it.

Williams has won 16 regular season conference championships, including seven as the head coach of UNC. He has two national championships in eight trips to the Final Four.

Yet, he’s overlooked by the public, underrated amongst his own fan base.

Where Coach K and Duke don’t have an ACC regular season championship in six years, Williams and UNC have three. That’s telling for two elite coaches in the same conference — with a large gap in how they’re perceived by the public.

Coach K very may well be the best coach around, but good ol’ Roy deserves some respect as well.

For what it’s worth, here is my top 5 list of active men’s college basketball coaches:

  1. Rick Pitino (7 Final Fours, 2 National Championships)
  2. Tom Izzo (7 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)
  3. Mike Krzyzewski (12 Final Fours, 5 National Championships)
  4. John Calipari (4 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)
  5. Jim Boeheim (5 Final Fours, 1 National Championship)

Active wins leaders:

  1. Mike Krzyzewski, 1043
  2. Jim Boeheim, 989
  3. Roy Williams, 783 (8 Final Fours, 2 National Championships)
  4. Rick Pitino, 743
  5. Bob Huggins, 719 (2 Final Fours)

While I applaud Krzyzewski for building Duke into the power it is today, I still can’t shake the feeling that too many of his teams in recent memory have underperformed. Top-level talent should produce consistent top-level results — both in the regular season and postseason.

This is why I give Pitino and Izzo the top spots, they’ve done more with less.

Coach K is overrated — somehow the coach who has won more games than anyone, hasn’t won enough. Roy Williams is underrated — viewed as a man just trying not to screw up a program that runs itself.

‘Tis how it goes when you’re the head men at Duke and North Carolina.

E-mail Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Bryan Horowitz

The NCAA Values Integrity – At Least When it Comes to Their March Madness Bracket

As conference championship week finished up, we sat eagerly in front of our television sets as we inched closer to CBS going live with this year’s edition of Selection Sunday. Some felt like winners and some felt like losers. This is the nature of the beast when it comes to this High Holy Day in college basketball.

Frank Haith’s Tulsa team felt like a winner. Haith’s Golden Hurricane went 20-11 in the AAC and was considered a bubble team as they tipped off against Memphis in a quarterfinal game of their conference tournament. After losing 89-67 to Josh Pastner’s Tigers, Tulsa’s bubble appeared to have burst. However, as the brackets were unveiled, the selection committee resuscitated Tulsa’s season and paired them against Michigan in a Wednesday night play-in game. You know what they say: Faith in Haith.

Kentucky, of all teams, felt like a loser. After going 26-8 and finishing tied for the regular season SEC conference crown with Texas A&M, the Wildcats beat the Aggies 82-77 to win the SEC Tournament which evened their head-to-head season record with the Aggies at 1-1. John Calipari felt like a loser on Selection Sunday because Texas A&M was awarded a 3-seed in the South while Kentucky was awarded a 4-seed in the East. Kentucky believed that the starting time of the SEC Championship game placed them at a disadvantage when it came to the committee and seeding. Yes Coach Cal., you were screwed out of your rightful place as a 3-seed. Whatever.

On Selection Sunday, Tulsa was on the highest of highs and Kentucky would have seemed to have been on the lowest of lows, but there was an entity who felt even more slighted than Kentucky and that entity was the NCAA. You see, the NCAA agreed to offer CBS the broadcasting rights to a 2 hour extravaganza that would feature the insight of Charles Barkley, because if there’s one person who is considered a college basketball expert and 21st century technological genius, it’s Barkley. Isn’t it?

The reason that the NCAA felt like the real loser is that someone leaked the committee’s full bracket prior to the CBS broadcast airing in its entirety. Some fans and teams found out about the seeding and regions prior to Charles Barkley being able to finish engraving the results on his stone tablets. This compromised information was seen as a complete lack of integrity and the NCAA vows to find the culprit responsible for this breach of trust.

When it comes to their NCAA tournament brackets, the NCAA is all about integrity, but when it comes to the actual important things, integrity seems to be an after-thought for the NCAA.

Remember when Frank Haith was still at Miami and was involved with Hurricanes booster, Nevin Shapiro? The NCAA embarked on one of their long, drawn out hunts for the truth. As this hunt played out, it became known that the NCAA had Shapiro’s lawyer on their payroll as they paid attorney Mario Elena Perez between $20,000 and $25,000 for information about Shapiro.

The NCAA’s enforcement director, Julie Roe Lach, was accused of paying Perez in order to improperly obtain information about Shapiro. As stated in the ESPN article:

The NCAA, which is conducting an external review of what it called “improper conduct” by its enforcement arm, said Tuesday that it has nothing further to say about the payment.

“Whether or not Julie approved [the action], it will be part of the external review process,” NCAA spokesman Bob Williams told CBSSports.com. “However, the review is solely focused on enforcement.”

The NCAA has said its enforcement staff worked with Shapiro’s defense attorney to obtain information improperly through a bankruptcy proceeding that did not involve its investigation of Miami. The NCAA did not name the attorney, but Perez told the South Florida Sun Sentinel she did not collude with NCAA investigators.

But remember, the NCAA values integrity. At least when it comes to their March Madness brackets.

As anyone who follows college sports knows, the NCAA claims to own the likenesses of all of the collegiate athletes. College athletes are forbidden from making money off of their own likeness, but that doesn’t stop the NCAA from cashing in on its stars.

In August of 2013, Jay Bilas went on one of his anti-NCAA rants. This time it was about the NCAA forbidding the players to benefit from their likenesses while at the same time selling merchandise on the NCAA website that was specifically beging marketed with the likenesses of the players.

But remember, the NCAA values integrity. At least when it comes to their March Madness brackets.

In 2012, the NCAA was investigating UCLA and its recruitment of Shabazz Muhammad. During investigations, the NCAA likes all involved parties to stay tight-lipped. They essentially place a gag order on anyone associated with the investigation, because, you know, integrity. That however did not apply to the NCAA and their assistant director of enforcement, Abigail Grantstein.

Grantstein evidently discussed the case in depth with her boyfriend and that boyfriend spoke about the investigation while on a commercial flight. This essentially tainted the case and Muhammad’s attorney had this to say in the LA Times article:

“This puts a far brighter light on the failings of the NCAA process, and it calls into question the impartiality of the decision,” Orr said. “They have prolonged this investigation, trying extraordinarily hard to find some basis to rule Shabazz ineligible — for whatever reason, and I don’t know what that reason is.”

But remember, the NCAA values integrity. At least when it comes to their March Madness brackets.

No program is truly “clean.” To be a “clean” NCAA program is virtually impossible, but the NCAA seems to enforce their rules subjectively and their hammer of justice is even more subjective than their investigative processes.

If you’re a coach at a blue blood program or are considered a blue blood coach, the NCAA takes what amounts to a hands off approach when it comes to their enforcement procedures. In the linked article, Reid Forgrave offered a now infamous quote from former UNLV coach, Jerry Tarkanian:

“The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it’s going to give Cleveland State two more years probation.”

While Tarkanian may have been exaggerating a little bit, there is still some truth to his comment. While the NCAA is busy placing their handcuffs on Bruce Pearl, Donny Tyndall and Kim Anderson, others like Rick Pitino and Roy Williams will be allowed to continue doing what they’re doing.

There is something to remember about Kim Anderson’s situation and that is that he was not the coach responsible for any of these transgressions, Frank Haith’s coaching staff was the responsible party and we all know what Haith is doing in March. He’s “going dancing.”

But remember, the NCAA values integrity. At least when it comes to their March Madness brackets.

When all of this is considered, it is difficult to have empathy for the NCAA as they moan about being the victim at the hands of an unnamed entity who did not respect the integrity of an NCAA process.

The NCAA can turn a blind eye to things like hookers and fake classes but they apparently draw the line at deep throating their field of 64.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

*Featured image courtesy of en.wikepedia.org

Cardinals Will Rise from the Ashes

For the University of Louisville Basketball program and its fans, the 2015-16 season began with a lot of promise; and will come to a grinding halt on March 5. So much has already been said about the self-imposed ban, and what other sanctions may or may not be coming. Despite all of that, the Cardinals players have continued to show tremendous fight.

That was on full display this past Saturday, when the Cardinals overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half, to outlast the Duke Blue Devils 71-64. In that game, and throughout this season, some very bright spots have begun to shine.

Assuming that there aren’t significant additional penalties levied by the NCAA; and that Head Coach Rick Pitino survives the scandal, the future is very bright for this program. Focusing just on the basketball court; here is a look at what the Louisville Cardinals will look like next year.

Let’s begin, naturally, with the projected starting lineup. At point guard, back for his junior year will be Quentin Snider. The 6’2” Snider returns with a ton of experience. After being thrust into the starting lineup late in his freshman season, and running the show for the U of L squad that made a run to the Elite Eight, Q has progressed nicely.

Although he’s not ultra-quick, Snider is able to carve his way through defenses, get to the lane, and has become a decent finisher around the basket. While not a sharpshooter, Quentin’s shot is proficient enough to keep defenses honest, and he’s a more than capable ball-handler. As his decision making continues to improve, Q will be a solid leader.

Sophomore Donovan “Spida” Mitchell will take over as the full-time starter at the shooting guard spot. He has already become a fan favorite, and his freshman season has been filled with highlight reel dunks. His athleticism is off the charts, but he also has a strong mid-range game. He’s showed poise and moxie beyond his years. In order to take the next step to stardom, Mitchell will need to avoid gambling as often on defense. At 6’3”, Spida may need to add some point guard abilities as well, not only to allow the Cardinals some flexibility, but to succeed at the NBA level. He certainly has the goods to do so.

Moving on to the frontcourt, we’ll start at small forward. Deng Adel should be in line to start there. Adel’s freshman season hit a snag when he hurt his knee just two games in. He was a starter right off the bat, and then has struggled for much of the year to get consistent minutes after returning from injury. On Saturday against Duke however, he finally got his chance, and he made the most of it. Scoring 12 points, adding five rebounds, Deng displayed a lot of versatility.

At 6’7”, long and quick, Adel will be able to float between the shooting guard and small forward; and if Pitino wants to go small, perhaps even the power forward spot. Deng has three point range on his jump shot, and can get to the rim. He’ll need to spend the off-season getting acclimated to Coach Pitino’s match-up zone defense. Adel has been glaringly lost in that defensive scheme quite a bit since his return from injury. Assuming he erases his defensive issues, his activity, and rangy body will make him a problem for most teams to deal with.

Jaylen Johnson is next up at power forward. The 6’9” junior to be has shown glimpses, but still has a lot of work to do. Johnson has started for a good portion of his sophomore season, and should continue to progress into a solid college player. Similar to Adel, Jaylen has looked a bit lost in the match-up zone defense. Missed assignments have led to a number of wide open looks for opposing teams. That’s going to be what determines if he keeps the starting gig.

Johnson does have the ability to hit face-up jumpers out to 17-18 feet. With added muscle, he also should be a capable post threat. With three years in the program, hopefully that will lend a bit more confidence, and allow Jaylen to be more assertive.

Based on another assumption, the center position should be in excellent hands. Chinanu Onuaku improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year. He put a tremendous amount of work into his offensive footwork. As a freshman Nanu looked terrified on offense. Now, he can score in a variety of ways. He’s excellent with his back to the basket, and can score over either shoulder. His jump shot is also effective out to 15 feet.

Defensively, Onuaku can be an absolute terror blocking shots. He’s also a rebounding machine. Unfortunately, he’s still a foul magnet, so foul trouble follows him everywhere. If he learns to cut down on silly fouls, particularly moving screens on the offensive end, Nanu could turn into an All-American.

Over the last few years, Rick Pitino’s teams have been blessed with a tremendous amount of depth. 2016-17 should be no different from that standpoint. In particular, the frontcourt is going to be stacked. Rick will be able to look down the bench, and pick from guys standing 6’10”, 6’10”, 7’0”, and 7’0”. Each of those options will come with some quality experience.

Mangok Mathiang will be heading into his fifth season with the program. His junior year was derailed by a foot injury that effectively ended his season in mid-December. Whether he’ll be granted any additional eligibility due to missing most of the season, remains to be seen.

If not, Mangok will be a senior who practiced with the 2013 National Championship team; and has played in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Similar to Onuaku, Mathiang benefited immensely from international experience over the summer of 2015. During the brief time he played in 2015-16, he displayed some offensive ability he didn’t previously have. Mangok’s energy on the boards and defensively will continue to be an asset, and he’s grown into a team leader.

The first seven-footer off the bench will be Anas Mahmoud. This kid just oozes moxie, and basketball IQ. He’s one of those hidden gems that Pitino tends to find. Anas has a smooth offensive game, can run the floor, and has shown some decent shot blocking instinct. He’ll absolutely have to add muscle, as he can be knocked over by a stiff breeze at this point. If he does, Mahmoud is going to be a beast.

Local product Ray Spalding has been a pleasant surprise. It’s always nice having Louisville kids on the team, but even better when they’re legitimate contributors. I thought it would take Ray a couple of years to see the floor, but he has proven to be worthy of immediate minutes.

Spalding is another super athlete. He’s got the quickness to guard on the perimeter, and the spring to swat shots away near the basket. Ray’s offensive game is advanced far beyond what was expected coming in. He’s got nice touch on his shot out to the free throw line, and is crafty in the paint. Like Mahmoud, if he builds up his body so he can physically hold his own, he’ll be hard to handle.

The other seven-footer who will contribute is Matz Stockman. While he still has a long way to go in order to garner a significant amount of minutes, Matz has shown that he won’t be overwhelmed when he gets them. Although not a total liability, Stockman will need to do a lot of work study defensively in order to stay on the floor. He’s already displayed some offensive acumen, and unlike many inexperienced players, Matz is not afraid to attack the basket as soon as he gets the ball.

Unlike the frontcourt, the backcourt depth may be a bit of a question mark. It’s all going to start with incoming freshman V.J. King, who is the gem of the incoming class. King is a 6’6” McDonald’s All-American, who has a penchant for scoring. Attacking the basket is his strongest attribute right now, but is also considered a capable outside shooter. His size should allow him to share the shooting guard/small forward duties with Deng Adel. Whether next year’s Cardinals are a legitimate contender, will hinge upon V.J. living up to his lofty expectations.

The remainder of the backcourt minutes are going to be up for grabs. Cleveland product Frankie Hughes is on his way, and has risen up the recruiting ranks. He’ll be a combo guard to start, and will need to develop into an option at point guard in order to gain early minutes.

After the success of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis this year, Coach P went the route of the grad transfer again. Tony Hicks will provide a veteran presence, and was a solid scorer while at Penn. I doubt he’ll have the type of impact that Lee and Lewis did, but if he can spell Snider at the point guard, that will be enough.

David Levitch will be around for his senior season, and should fill the same role he always has. Rick loves putting him in the game when we all least expect it. He doesn’t typically hurt the team when he’s in, and has finally begun to knock down three’s consistently when the occasion presents itself. What Ryan McMahon brings to the table, remains a complete mystery.

Hopefully the NCAA will have made their final determinations by the time the 2016-17 season tips off. There may be a portion of the season that Rick Pitino is suspended for assuming he’s still at the helm. What he has proven time and time again, is that he will get the absolute maximum out of every person on his team. In the past 10 years, Louisville has jumped into the most difficult conferences in the Big East, and now the ACC; and has competed at a high level. With the talent on board, there’s no reason to believe that next year’s U of L squad will not only compete for ACC supremacy; but also for a National Championship.

Photo via Kevin Coles/Flickr

My Thoughts on the Decision, the Scandal, and the Future of Louisville Basketball

Last Friday around noon, I started seeing tweets about a press conference that the University of Louisville would hold, in which they would announce a postseason ban for the men’s basketball team this year. Obviously as a lifelong, fan of the Cardinals; and a fanatic about college basketball, that was quite a bomb to drop all over my Friday afternoon.

I knew this day would come, so I didn’t immediately smash anything within arms-reach. When I was younger, that would’ve been my immediate reaction. Instead I’ve chosen to give it a couple of days to allow the emotion of the situation to die down a bit; and organize my thoughts on the ordeal in its entirety.

There are a number of aspects to this story which need to be addressed, and I’ll attempt to approach each one of them individually, and present my opinions; and offer solutions when possible. I didn’t write anything about this situation when it surfaced last summer; but as a U of L fan, I have to put in my two cents, so here it goes.

The most important variable in this whole scenario is the decision made on Friday; a self-imposed, postseason ban on this year’s team. First of all, does this make sense? The answer is no. If the concern of University President Ramsey was to provide the NCAA with a pound of flesh, in order to avoid them taking more; why not do so before the season started? Doing so would have allowed Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to seek out a waiver to play elsewhere if they wanted to.

Clearly this is a move to try to avoid long-term damage to the program. Which, sure, yes, that’s important too. But ultimately, it’s just a weak, politically driven move. Save face at all costs, keep the program safe for the future, blah, blah, blah.

You knew at some point penalties were coming, regardless of how weak or strong this case, penalties were coming. So why not take your chances. Force the NCAA to impose the penalties. We all know it takes them years to do it anyway. Don’t take the moment away from the current players who were not a part of the situation. I realize this isn’t really an earth-shattering viewpoint, and it’s been said; but it bears repeating.

Then there’s the self-policing aspect of this whole thing. This certainly isn’t something new. It has been happening in the NCAA for years. I thought it was garbage last year when Syracuse did it, especially since there was a good chance they weren’t going to qualify for the Tournament.   I don’t think any better of it now.

First of all, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s akin to someone getting caught after robbing a bank, then offering to give back the remainder of the money; and in exchange, receiving no jail time. Personally I think the penalty for violations should be loss of scholarships. Nothing else has as significant of an impact.

Sure, playing in the NCAA Tournament is important. But taking away scholarships may facilitate a schools lack of participation, by proxy. If you don’t have enough scholarships, you can’t recruit as effectively. If you can’t recruit the types of players necessary to win consistently, you won’t be in the tournament. You’ve now effectively penalized a school for their indiscretions; and it will be on them to operate efficiently going forward, in order to get back in the game.

After Louisville played on Saturday, Rick Pitino offered an alternate solution. The penalty would be a $10 million fine to the school in violation; along with the Head Coach losing half of his salary; regardless of whether or not it could be proven he was involved.

Okay, not bad, but my concern would be where that money goes. The NCAA isn’t exactly a beacon of light, so I don’t really trust them to handle that cash. Next thing you know, every school in America will be found to have violations; and the coffers of the NCAA will be filled. Personally I’d pass on this option.

Caught up in this whirlwind, are the current U of L players. Garnering particular sympathy, are Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Both of these young men transferred from mid-major schools Drexel, and Cleveland State, respectively. They’re seniors, who will now have no opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.

That is the battle cry that many Cardinals fans are championing after this decision. While I agree with them, it’s not only because of Damion and Trey. Don’t get me wrong, I really like these guys. However, transferring to a school that routinely participates in the Big Dance doesn’t guarantee you anything.

The decision wouldn’t have been fair if it was done this year, next year, or the year after; because none of these kids were involved with the alleged violations. If the University decided to impose this ban next season, it wouldn’t have been fair for Mangok Mathiang. He’ll be a senior, and a guy who will have been with the program for five years. Is it more fair to take away his senior season? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, simply due to the nature of the beast, future teams will always be the ones penalized for past indiscretions. No matter what school you’re at, the guilty parties are typically long gone. Again, that’s why I think scholarship loss, in addition to suspensions of the Head Coach are, better options.

Now, I do want to bring Damion Lee and Trey Lewis back into focus for just a moment. Due to this announcement, the spotlight has suddenly been turned directly onto them. Most of the attention is good; and people feel for them. That’s great, and they certainly deserve it. They’re both great guys, work hard, and have been leaders. As a Cardinals fan, I couldn’t ask for more; thank you guys.

On the flip side, there have been a number of college basketball analysts who have decided that this is a perfect time to rip them to shreds. Suddenly, the fact that they’re both graduate transfers makes them traitors. Suddenly, they left their former schools in the lurch. Are you [insert bad word] kidding me!

Funny how many of these same people are on the side of the athlete when it comes to leaving school early, or jumping straight to the NBA. In those situations, it’s all about what’s right for the athlete. So a kid transferring to a more prestigious school, after having spent a number of years at a mid-major, is a betrayal huh? What a joke.

Transfers have to meet specific requirements in order to actually do this. One of those being, that they have to transfer to a school that offers a graduate degree program not offered at their current school. The previous school also has to grant their blessing. So don’t tell me about kids betraying a school. The universities get plenty of mileage out of them while they’re there.

Graduate transfers have been taking place for years. They have become more prominent in the last decade or so. In my opinion, the ability to transfer in this manner is actually a way to true-up a kids recruiting. In an era of over hype, and instant gratification, plenty of “top recruits” underperform at major schools.

Kids like Damion Lee and Trey Lewis both outperformed the level of school they ended up at. Why shouldn’t they be afforded the opportunity to now choose a high major school, and compete at the level they dreamed they could? They’ve earned it. They also earned the right to play in the NCAA Tournament.

If the powers that be at the University of Louisville deemed it necessary to take that away, they should’ve done it as soon as this news broke. That way, Trey Lewis could’ve been playing at Xavier and Damion Lee at Maryland or Arizona; enjoying a shot at the title. Regardless, not one person should be acting like these guys deserve some punishment for choosing to transfer. Save your “Karma is a bitch” sentiment. It’s as stupid your superstitious beliefs. Phew, moving on.

So then there’s the actual case. As fans, most of us never want to believe it when extracurricular activity takes place. I certainly won’t suggest that nothing happened here. I believe that Andre McGee had an arrangement with Katina Powell. I’m sure some money changed hands. I also don’t believe there’s much more to it than that.

Sure, that alone would have penalties assigned to it. McGee was a member of the basketball staff, so anything he did, or attempted to do to try to lure recruits, would be a violation. What is irksome though, is that still to this day, not one thing has been concretely proven. Not one thing.

The hundred page pamphlet they classified as a book has pictures of people hanging out at parties fully clothed. Heavens to murgatroid, how could they do that! Powell’s so called ledger is a compilation of vague information, unconvincingly scrawled on notebook paper. How that amounts to evidence, I just don’t get.

Players already on the team were mentioned, like Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell; along with former players like Terrence Williams, who was already gone to the NBA. Russ was a lightly recruited, two-star athlete coming out of high school. No one was using additional means to try to lure him anywhere. Needless to say, there are holes in the story.

For months the Powell camp kept indicating that she has piles of additional evidence that hasn’t been produced yet. I ask this question, because I haven’t heard it asked enough; why wasn’t it in the book then?

If your intent was to bring this to light, so that those participating in these indiscretions are brought to justice, why not write a much more detailed book, with every piece of evidence possible? There was no timeline to finish this. If all of this evidence existed, they could’ve written an entire series of books, and really blown the doors off the University. That way, the case would be open and shut. It doesn’t add up that they would leave critical evidence out of the book.

Now, people will, and have asked, “Why would U of L self-impose sanctions, if they weren’t told of more evidence being uncovered?” That’s a valid question, but there’s a simple answer. For the same reason people plea bargain in court when not guilty; the fear of greater punishment, based on the appearance of impropriety. Like I said, if I were in charge, I’d go Colonel Jessup, and tell the NCAA that if they want to investigate me, they could roll the dice and take their chances. But I’m a stubborn SOB, and I’d probably get the book thrown at me.

I don’t believe that there’s any more to this case than there was in October when everyone took a hiatus from talking about this. In my opinion, U of L was simply informed that they were going to be facing sanctions regardless, and chose to try to soften the blow with this peace offering.

Again, I’m not saying that the program isn’t likely due some penalties, but I don’t think they should have kowtowed to the NCAA and offered them up. The NCAA should have been forced to impose their penalties based on the vague facts and half-truths they have available to them.

Finally, where in all this mess does Rick Pitino fall? As to the decision to forego the NCAA Tournament this year, by all accounts, including his own, he wasn’t consulted. In a way he’s lucky, because most of the Louisville fan base isn’t laying blame on him for the decision. Who knows if he would’ve made the same recommendation, with the specter of his future teams being in jeopardy? I’d like to believe he would’ve chosen to allow this team to finish the season; and cross the bridge of violations if/when the NCAA determined what those would be.

I also have questions about Rick’s future as the U of L coach, based on the fact that he wasn’t consulted on this. Even if Tom Jurich and James Ramsey were going to make the ultimate decision; wouldn’t they at least ask Coach Pitino what his thoughts were? He’s been here for 15 years, and he’s the Hall of Fame, face of your program. I don’t think he’ll be fired, but it certainly seems like a strange way to handle that decision.

That brings us to Rick’s role in the allegations that have led us here. Logically, there’s no reason to believe that he would know about alleged hooker/stripper parties taking place in dorms. First of all, he doesn’t reside anywhere near the dorms. Head Basketball Coaches aren’t popping into the dorm rooms of their players to see what they’re up to.

He’s also not involved in the hosting portion of the recruiting visits. Coaches essentially instruct the host players not to let the recruits get into too much trouble, or do anything that will land them on the evening news. Major college basketball coaches aren’t invited to the party portion of the night. So no, if there were hookers and strippers on recruiting visits, Rick Pitino would not know or be involved in it.

Another variable which doesn’t add up to Coach Pitino being involved with providing prostitutes to players/recruits, is the method with which it was done. A lot has been made of the money which was involved. Folks, according to Katina Powell, it was $10,000 over four years; and approximately 20 “parties”. Well, if you bust out your calculator that’s only $500/party.

The early sentiment is that the money had to come from someplace else, other than just Andre McGee. Why? You’re telling me a Director of Basketball Operations couldn’t afford $500? Hell, a handful of college kids could scrape together $500 to pay for a stripper party themselves. I know college athletes are always portrayed as these poor, malnourished souls, but that’s awfully presumptive. Not every kid who gets an athletic scholarship comes from poverty. I’m not claiming that these particular kids did that in this case, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The main point I’m trying to make with the money though, is that if Rick were going to do this as a means to land recruits; he wouldn’t have done it on the cheap. The man is a millionaire with connections. He would’ve spent top dollar, for beautiful high-priced escorts, who worked for a madam that had a reputation for discretion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the practice. I’m simply suggesting that if a coach of Pitino’s means were to use this tactic, they’d channel it through unnamed parties outside of the program; and not leave any sort of trail.

Now, if you want to approach this from the viewpoint of whether Rick Pitino should have known what allegedly transpired, then you have a valid argument. The answer there has to be yes. I firmly believe that the Head Coach, especially in college basketball, is the CEO of the program. They get paid the big bucks to have total control of their program.

I know that’s not really fair. Especially considering that coaches at other programs have escaped punishment in the past by claiming ignorance, but that doesn’t make it right. If this was going on over the four year period, then he had to hear a rumor, or a whisper, something that would pique his curiosity. If he didn’t then he wasn’t paying enough attention, or didn’t want to know. And yes, for that, there are consequences.

How U of L moves forward with Rick Pitino is the burning question. Many people feel that he should be fired, that this scandal is the last straw; and that group includes many Louisville fans. If the administration would choose to do that now, based on the circumstances, I’d understand it. I felt the same way after the Karen Sypher scandal. I wouldn’t like it necessarily, but I get the argument for it.

I love what Rick Pitino has done for this basketball program, and I think he’s an all-time great coach. His tenure, and the last five years in particular, have been everything a fan could ask for when it comes to success on the court. That said, as much as I don’t want him to, there’s a large part of my heart and mind that feels like he should resign. Take the high road, and allow the program to move forward. He’s accomplished all that there is to accomplish, and it may simply be time for a fresh start.

In my lifetime, Louisville has only had two coaches; Denny Crum and Rick Pitino. Two Hall of Fame coaches, two legends of the game. It would be a painful transition, but one that may be necessary. No matter what decision is made about Coach Pitino’s future, I’ll support the team.

Ultimately, my loyalty is to the University of Louisville Basketball Program. I want what is best for the continued success of the program. We have the best fan base in college sports, and that’s why during this period of tumult, now more than ever, Cardinals fans need to band together and support this team. Louisville First, Cards Forever.

Photo: Paul and Cathy/Flickr

Top-10 List of Things That Will Happen Before Lane Kiffin Leaves Alabama for UCLA

Do you know who has it easy right now? Lane Kiffin, that’s who. As Alabama’s offensive coordinator Kiffin has coached in two national championship games and won one of them. Not bad for a coach who has the reputation of “falling up.”

Kiffin arguably has the best job in the history of sports. As Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator Kiffin has to orchestrate just enough points to win games and, with the Alabama defense, not many points are needed. He has also had the luxury of coaching Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper and a laundry list of other high caliber offensive weapons. Talent like this is not going to dry up any time soon at Alabama.

So here’s the question: Why would he even think about leaving Tuscaloosa?

That is the question that UCLA should have asked themselves prior to making their offer to Kiffin. UCLA really thought that Kiffin would leave Alabama to be the offensive coordinator for UCLA?

Again, Kiffin has the easiest job in sports right now.

I guess UCLA thought that Kiffin couldn’t say “yes” unless he was at least offered the job. This was a completely far fetched idea on the part of UCLA.

Here’s my Top-10 list of far fetched things that could have happened before Lane Kiffin left Alabama for UCLA.

  1. Clay Travis leaves Fox Sports after accepting an offer from Campus Pressbox. Our benefit package isn’t much, but we make up for it with a kick-ass slack.com app.
  2. I, Seth Merenbloom, will grow a full, luxurious head of hair so I am no longer Campus Pressbox’s “Bald Headed Bastard.”
  3. Donald Trump gets elected President. He names only his kids as cabinet members.
  4. Stan Kroenke updates his last will and testament and leaves his toupe to the city of St. Louis.
  5. Mike Wilson, Campus Pressbox Sr. Pac-12 Writer, starts drinking his scotch the right way. Neat.
  6. Oklahoma leaves the Big 12 and becomes a member of the SEC. Bob Stoops publicly admits that the SEC is the best conference in college football.
  7. Rick Pitino holds a press conference from the bathroom of a Louisville restaurant where he admits to running The Best Little Whore House In Louisville.
  8. Roy Williams’ entire North Carolina basketball team not only makes the Dean’s List, but are in a 16 student tie for Valedictorian.
  9. Jameis Winston retires from the NFL to pursue his true passion which is being an Alaskan king crab fisherman.
  10. Urban Meyer is found to be in perfect health and remains at Ohio State for the remainder of his coaching career.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Feature image courtesy of pixabay.com

East Region Notebook: Will the Real Mr. March Please Stand Up

The East’s portion of the Elite 8 is set and it is fitting who the participants are. Louisville and Michigan St will play for the right to go to the Final Four. It is fitting that Michigan St is in this game because Tom Izzo is considered to be Mr. March. Louisville, on the other hand, is led by Rick Pitino who may very well be Mr. March himself.

Michigan St had to fight their way from behind against Oklahoma. The Spartans found themselves playing from behind for much of the game and finally took a lead of their own with under 10 minutes to play in the game. With Travis Trice leading the way, the Spartans edged out the Sooners with a final score of 62-58. Tom Izzo performed his usual late season masterful job in getting the Spartans to play their best basketball when it counted.

Louisville was in a battle of their own against NC State. This was not the same type of battle that Michigan St and Oklahoma played. There was always the sense that Michigan St would pull their game out. However, the two teams were considered to be evenly matched. In the Louisville game, I never sensed that NC State truly belonged in the game and it was simply a matter of time before Louisville peeled away.

Now for giving Pitino his due. Louisville was solid this year but had to work through issues. Check this tweet out from Doug Gottlieb.

The cutting of the point guard is the real meat of Gottlieb’s statement. Pitino was not afraid to cut ties with a primary player, Chris Jones, at a point in the season when having all hands on deck mattered most. Quentin Snider replaced Jones had has been nothing short of masterful running the show for Pitino. His statistical contributions have been top notch and I could list them all out. But all you or anyone else needs to know is that Snider’s increased role has not proved to be a distraction.

Pitino has historically been at his best when it matters most. His overall record in Sweet 16 games is 12-1 and is 6-1 in Sweet 16 games with Louisville. The man has been to 4 Final Fours, 4 Elite Eights, has been the NCAA Runner-up 1 time and NCAA Champion 2 times.

Izzo is given wide spread respect nationally and deservedly so, but Pitino’s record is just as good if not superior. It’s time to give Pitino his due. He is Mr. March.

*feature image courtesy of lexpatriates.wordpress.com

I’ve been waiting for this since the 5th grade

My Louisville Cardinals are back in the National Championship game.  The last time I got to say that, I was a fifth grader.  Although I’ve been a die hard fan of the Cardinals since the day I was born, I admit, I just didn’t fully appreciate what I was watching back then.

I still feel a bit numb from the win on Saturday night against the Wichita State Shockers.  I knew it was the Final Four, but for some reason, it still hasn’t fully sunk in.  I’m sure it will by tip-off on Monday night.

I know we’re taking on the Michigan Wolverines.  I know we’re a player down with Kevin Ware out injured; and wouldn’t have gotten here without him.  In all honesty, nothing matters on Monday night except the Louisville Cardinals.  I don’t care about the refs.  I don’t care about the dome, I don’t care about the crowd.  I don’t care about anything, except the players wearing the jerseys that say Louisville on the front.

I’m not trying to downplay the Wolverines.  Trust me, I’ve been watching.  They look like the team that in January I believed was the best in the country.  If they take the Cardinals zone apart the way they did the Syracuse zone for most of the semifinal, I may have a stroke.

The match up is a great one.  Michigan is high octane offense.  They will push, they will take almost any three point shot, open or not; and they have finishers at the rim.  Louisville is the opposite.  The Cards will dig in defensively, they’ll hit you with pressure, with zone, and with tough man-to-man defense.  About the only common thread is that both teams will push the pace.

Without a doubt, the match up is a tough one.  Regardless, my attention will mainly be on my guys.  I have been waiting for this one opportunity; this one chance to watch the Louisville Cardinals play 40 minutes for a chance to claim a National Championship.  And now they have it.

Obviously, I want this as bad as I’ve wanted anything in my life.  Championships are extremely hard to come by.  I may not live to see the next opportunity for all I know.  Despite that, I can’t wait to enjoy every moment of the Championship game with this team.

Over the last four or five seasons, I’ve enjoyed each Cardinals teams more than the last.  This team is no exception.  There’s just something about the makeup of this team.  The personalities and the camaraderie make it so much fun to be a fan.  Coach Pitino has done a great job year after year of making these teams easy to gain a connection with.

In an era where so many schools have to watch their “best” players leave early, Rick has done an amazing job of building teams that stick around.  We have three McDonald’s All-Americans.  Peyton Siva is a senior who has been a model of everything that is good about college athletics

Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan are sophomores, and realistically aren’t in a position to leave early for the NBA.  At most schools, they’d be considered failures for not achieving one and done status.  Not here.

Gorgui Dieng may leave early.  He’s a junior who was a recruiting afterthought when we missed out on Fab Melo.  Rick went to Huntington, WV to recruit a kid named Justin Coleman, who was a top 50 recruit.  He came out with both of them, but Gorgui is the only one who ended up in Louisville.  He is an amazing kid, and becoming an outstanding player.

Arguably, the best and most impactful player on the team, Russ Smith was a lightly recruited undersized shooting guard.  His freshman year was so uninspiring; he almost transferred out to a mid-major.  Now we don’t know what we’d do without him.

Stephen Van Treese was almost pushed out after several injury plagued years, and the opportunity to welcome Montrezl Harrell.  Now, they’re both key components off the bench in the frontcourt.  Without both of them picking up the slack for Gorgui on Saturday, we wouldn’t be playing in the title game.

And let’s not forget Luke Hancock.  A couple of years ago, he was lifting George Mason to a first round upset of Villanova.  This season, he struggled to make the transition to major college hoops early on.  Now Luke has settled in nicely, using his calm demeanor, and varied skill set to carry the Cards into the Championship game.  He was the most important player on the floor Saturday, and will certainly have an impact on Monday night.

When this team got rolling, I felt this was our year.  I still feel that way.  This team has proven time and time again that they can find a way to win games.  I think they’ll do the same thing one way or another on Monday night.  But, no matter what happens, this group of Cardinals has made the long wait for a shot at the Championship well worth it.  Go Cards!

Explaining My Bracket

 

Before the incredible creator and organizer of this blog, Mr. Josh Flagner (@RailbirdJ), has anything to say, yes, I am a HUGE Ohio State homer. I am a student at The Ohio State University and I love my school and my team an incredible amount. Now, does that have anything to do with the Buckeyes winning the National Championship in my bracket? Maybe, but I am going to try to defend my choice to the best of my abilities.

First of all, here is my bracket:

Hayden's Bracket

As you can see, it’s not too risky because I really don’t believe in picking upsets just for the sake of picking upsets. Any team can upset any team, but unless there is solid evidence as to why they will do so, I am not going to pick a random upset just “because”. For some people it works, and they get lucky. I’d rather be good than get lucky.

My first round upsets go as follows:

Cincy over Creighton, Minnesota over UCLA, Mizzou over Colorado State, and Villanova over UNC.

Why? Well, I guess I’m going by conferences. UCLA plays in an incredibly weak Pac 12 while Minnesota has been ok in the Big Ten, by far the best conference in college basketball. Cincinnati plays in the Big East, a great basketball conference, while Creighton plays in the Missouri Valley Conference. Missouri plays in the weak SEC, but plays Colorado State from a weaker Mountain West. The Villanova over UNC upset doesn’t follow this criteria quite as closely as the others do, but I truly believe that UNC is uninspired and plays in a much weaker ACC than we are accustomed to. While it may not be the most sound logic in the world, I just think that teams with tougher competition know how to beat teams that haven’t played anybody.

My round two upsets are as follows:

Wisconsin over Kansas State, VCU over Michigan, Minnesota over Florida.

These upsets weren’t really based on any formula, just the simple “this team is going to beat this one” logic. Wisconsin has beaten some of the top teams in the NCAA tournament including Indiana twice, Ohio State, and Michigan. While I cannot stand their slow style of play, Bo Ryan’s boys will handle Kansas State rather easily. We’ve all seen what Shaka Smart is capable of and while he should be in Los Angeles soon coaching the UCLA Bruins, Smart is going to take his Rams to victory over a struggling Michigan team. Michigan looked like Final Four contenders at a certain point, but since have failed to amount to much of anything. Some say they peaked at the wrong time and I’d definitely agree with that statement. Florida looked awful yesterday and has looked awful at various points throughout the year. Unable to win a SEC Championship in a terrible down year for the SEC, the Gators are going to be shocked when a hungry Golden Gophers team comes around and beats them up.

Round Three looks a little something like this:

No Upsets.

I know it’s shocking, but I just don’t see any upsets happening in the Sweet Sixteen. Oklahoma State could take down St. Louis, but the Billikens have come on EXTREMELY strong as of late. Wisky could definitely beat Gonzaga, but again, I just think they have too much firepower for the big, slow Badgers. The game I am very wary of is Kansas beating VCU. I honestly think that Bill Self’s team could be headed back home after this game, but I could also be very wrong. The Jayhawks have laid low in terms of media hype for quite a while after a losing skid, but surprisingly jumped back on the bandwagon and were able to secure a number one seed. That streaky Kansas squad could make an immediate comeback and get blown out of the water early on. Watch out for that upset, one that I just wasn’t sure enough about to put on my bracket.

Round Four upsets:

Ohio State over Gonzaga and Georgetown over Kansas.

I wouldn’t really call Ohio State over Gonzaga an upset, but in terms of the Bracket, Gonzaga is a one seed while Ohio State is a two. Ohio State may be the dark horse to win it all after an atrocious start to the season. They haven’t lost since a drubbing in Madison, Wisconsin, have beaten Michigan State twice in that time, and took down Indiana in Bloomington on Senior Night. Aaron Craft is finally playing up to his potential and the Gonzaga Zags may not know what is coming their way. Kansas will not make the Final Four no matter what. That team we saw in the midway point of the season is going to comeback, it’s just a matter of when. Otto Porter and Georgetown, from the rough and tough Big East, are going to take down the Jayhawks on the way to Atlanta. If it’s not Georgetown, it will be somebody else, but again, Kansas is not cutting down the nets on their way to the Final Four.

My Final Four:

Louisville, Ohio State, Indiana, Georgetown.

How we got here:

Many people picked Miami to beat Indiana, that’s not going to happen. Miami is a decent basketball team in a down year for the ACC. Sure they beat Duke, but they also lost to Boston College. Outside of Duke, Miami hasn’t played great competition and when the Hoosiers come a-callin’, the Canes won’t be ready to answer. Louisville has shown their might, winning the Big East Championship, and may be the best team in this tournament. Duke has shown their flaws and Rick Pitino’s group is certainly going to  expose them. Georgetown just got the luck of the draw in terms of an easy road to the Final Four. Trashing Florida Gulf Coast, San Diego State, Minnesota, and Kansas, the Hoyas really were never challenged on the way to Atlanta. Ohio State had tough match-ups with New Mexico and Gonzaga, but they found a way to overcome both opponents. Aaron Craft, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson have certainly found their way at just the right time, and the Buckeyes are primed and ready for a showdown against the Louisville Cardinals.

In the National Championship Game will be…

The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Indiana Hoosiers.

When I said the Big Ten was by far the best conference in college basketball, I meant it. There will be two Big Ten teams in the Final Four, and they’re going to be the best two teams in the Final Four. Ohio State could very well be beaten by Louisville, but if I didn’t have faith in my Buckeyes, what would I have? They won’t lose in the Semi-Final two years in a row. They’ll find a way to beat the mighty Cardinals and make it to their first National Championship since Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. lead the Buckeyes to the Title Game in 2007. As for Indiana, they should take down Georgetown pretty easily. Their size will be too much, their stars will be too much, and their experience will be too much for the Hoyas.

In the National Championship Game, the Ohio State Buckeyes will beat the Indiana Hoosiers 75-74. Ohio State knows Indiana like the back of their hand. They’ve played these guys twice, and they’re going to know exactly how to handle the mighty Hoosiers. In their last matchup, Ohio State used Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott to rattle Indiana into 14 turnovers. They’re going to use that same tactic and regardless of Tom Crean’s gameplan to stop it, the best on-ball defender in the nation, Aaron Craft, is going to take down the Hoosiers almost single handedly.

So there you have it folks.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are your 2013 National Champions.

We all know that March Madness is named as such for a reason. It truly is a coin flip, pick out of a hat, tournament that anyone can win for any reason. I have reason to believe that my Buckeyes can get it done, but I also have reason to believe that Indiana, Louisville, or even VCU could take home the title as well. If I was completely unbiased, however, I would still pick Ohio State to win it all. They hit their stride at the right time and have played the toughest competition in America.

Of course, I am probably going to lose all of my bracket challenges, but it’s all in good fun. Some people have different methods to the “Madness”, and as you can see I went with conference supremacy. No method is truly accurate. Some who flip a coin see better results than those who research the teams and the games through and through. Regardless of who you pick, it’s all so much fun. Whether your bracket bleeds with red ink or is perfectly green, we can all enjoy this amazing little thing they call the NCAA Tournament.

I would really LOVE to see some of your thoughts on my picks as well as your own picks for March Madness. Let me know in the comments section of this page or on Twitter @H_Grove if you think I’m a genius or a basketball buffoon!

My 2013 Sports Wish List

2012 has ended.  I won’t say it has finally ended, because I never want to wish away time.  2012 though was a personally challenging year.  However, those personal challenges afforded me some extra time to enjoy the world of sports on a level I haven’t enjoyed since I was a kid.  While it was nice to have that luxury, I’m just going to leave that in 2012.  I’ll only glance back for reference.

I doubt I’ll have that kind of spare time in 2013, but much of what I do have will be dedicated to the teams, and sports that I love so much.  I don’t think my wish list is unrealistic.  I’m not going to make an unreasonable blanket statement like “I hope all of my favorite teams win championships”.  That’s like saying that with the New Year, you hope all of your dreams will come true.  If we did that, both you and I would be sorely disappointed.  With that said, here’s my wish list for the 2013 sporting year.

First and foremost, to the NHL, get back on the freaking ice!  It is January after all.  We should be three months in to an awesome hockey season.  I should be getting ready to enjoy the Winter Classic today.  2012 saw the games best player – Sidney Crosby – get back on the ice, after a lengthy recovery from concussions.  It also saw a pretty awesome Stanley Cup Playoffs, capped off by a gritty win by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. 

For 2013, I just want it back.  I’ll take 48 games.  It’s not much, but it is hockey.  I don’t have a favorite team; mine (The Hartford Whalers) was taken away some time ago.  So just get back on the ice, and let me enjoy the greatness of the game.  Living in Cleveland, I know I can watch, yet still not spend a dime on your product.  It’s a win-win.  Get it done, the clock is ticking.

While the NHL may not be playing, College Basketball most certainly is.  It’s crazy that we’re only two months away from March Madness.  For the first time in my viewing lifetime, my Louisville Cardinals got to play the Kentucky Wildcats twice in one season.  Unfortunately, both were losses.  Because of the Final Four matchup, I also got to see the Cards play the Cats twice in the calendar year 2012.  The Cardinals gave me a late Christmas present last week with a victory this time.

My expectations were already high for this team; and the win on Saturday only heightened them.  2013 has a chance to be the year for the Louisville Cardinals basketball team.  It’s time to end the drought guys.  Of all of my favorite teams, the Cardinals are the team I want to win the most; and they’re the most capable.  My wish for U of L is simple, cut down the nets.  I want to see Coach Pitino and the guys on that ladder, that first Monday in April.  I want to be watching the “One Shining Moment” montage with tears of joy in my eyes.  Bring home the NCAA title fellas!

If my 2013 sports wish list peaks in March/April I’ll be more than thankful.  Unfortunately, chances are the rest of the year will be filled with guarded enthusiasm for my Cleveland teams, starting with the Cleveland Indians.

I actually liked the moves the Indians made this winter.  I think you could do worse than Terry Francona at the helm.  Making deals to get Mike Aviles and Trevor Bauer; and signing veterans like Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher made this a better team going into the 2013 season.  Do I think the Indians are now a World Series contender? No.  Do I think they’re a playoff contender? Probably not. 

What I wish for the 2013 Cleveland Indians is a winning season; and to compete into September for the AL Central.  Major League Baseball added the extra Wild Card spot last year; which I didn’t hate nearly as much as I thought I would.  If the Tribe can stay in contention for the division, who knows if the can steal that extra spot. 

I had the privilege to attend the World Series for the first time in 2012.  Unfortunately, it was in Detroit.  When the MLB playoffs started, I didn’t think the San Francisco Giants looked like a legit World Series contender.  So you never know what a team can do.  I won’t extend my hopes for the Indians that high, but maybe they can surprise Cleveland in 2013.

Now, as much as I hate to do it, I have to look ahead to the Cleveland Browns in 2013.  It sort of grosses me out, because the 2012 season just ended.  Again, this is only my wish list though, so I won’t make any bold predictions.

Despite another season of double digit losses, I really believe the 2012 Cleveland Browns made strides.  There are now some pieces in place to build on.  Obviously, the rebuilding process has already started with the firing of Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert.  We’ll see how new owner Jimmy Haslam decides to proceed as far as house cleaning goes.  But for the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like the roster needs to be blown up.

It appears that there are actually players in the Browns locker room who believe they can win.  The organization just has to build on that culture of winning.  I’ve got a couple of wishes for the Cleveland Browns in 2013.  First, bring in the right coach.  I don’t know who that is, but for once, just make the right hire.  I’d prefer an intense, fiery guy this time.  We’ve had enough laid back, monotone coaches in Cleveland.

My second wish for the Browns is to have another good draft.  Tom Heckert may be out, but overall he did a decent job of raising the level of talent on this roster.  Things can turn around quickly in the NFL.  The Indianapolis Colts were a prime example this season.  A solid draft which fills in the gaps could elevate this team significantly.

The two previous Browns wishes are essential for my overall wish for the team.  Make the playoffs in 2013-14.  I’m not predicting that, I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping that it happens.  Who knows how much roster turnover there will be.  Who knows what coach is going to be leading the way.  All I know is that there was enough progress in 2012, to expect the organization to take the Cleveland Browns to the next level in 2013. 

I’m sure I could go on for pages and pages of things I’d like to see happen overall in the world of sports in 2013.  But If I can have any wishes granted, I’ll take the things I’ve listed above.  I don’t think it’s too much to ask.  Here’s looking forward to a great 2013.  Happy New Year!