Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Hypocrisy of Today’s Sports Fan

By Anthony Strait, OTSL Floor Director

     LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland and the Cavaliers. The fans of Cleveland rejoiced while many of the Heat faithful showed their displeasure. But wait…wasn’t it just four years ago that Cleveland fans burned LeBron’s Cavs jersey while Miami threw a well-criticized pep rally? How about the heat Carmelo Anthony received for re-signing with the Knicks for essentially a raise; wouldn’t we all want a bump in pay in our regular jobs? Of course the sports fan feels that titles should trump money or the idea of not wanting to uproot a family. Knicks fans who celebrated his re-signing were also the ones saying “don’t let the door hit you on the way out of New York” just a week earlier. Meanwhile Bulls fans who wanted him now say their team is better off without “Me-lo” despite the fact that Chicago was in dire need of a scorer after their lack of offense showed in the playoffs. The same people who bashed LeBron for leaving for Miami are the ones bashing Melo for staying in an obvious rebuilding situation. Not one of those fans however would leave any money on the table let alone $54 million. 

     Flip-flopping isn’t just confined to Basketball of course. In baseball we all hate cheaters now and forever; guys like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa should never be allowed in the Hall of Fame for their allege involvement in PED use. Alex Rodriguez is the worst thing to happen to the sport because he is a cheater. If we all hate cheaters then what was Nelson Cruz doing not only playing in this year’s All-Star game but starting as the American League Designated Hitter after serving a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use? How come the very Milwaukee Brewers fans who want A-Rod banned cheer for Ryan Braun who served 81 games and got an innocent man fired? For all the drama surrounding Ray Rice it won’t stop fans from drafting him on to their fantasy league teams or Ravens fans supporting “their” guy. Heck by next month the firestorm will all be forgotten as the NFL regular season starts. The very fan that bashes ESPN and its coverage of news stories more than likely has their cable box programmed to the channel upon powering on the device.  

     In a world where social media allows us more access to our favorite superstar, today’s sports fan have become more fickle and passionate than ever before. Meanwhile today’s athlete is under more scrutiny than ever before while being asked to turn the other cheek when fans become abusive in any way imaginable. Can you imagine what Michael Jordan would have gone through if Twitter were around to put his bad games and off-court issues under a microscope? How about what the social media reaction would have been to Magic Johnson’s announcement that he was HIV positive twenty-three years ago? One could only think what an anonymous online troll would say about Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the United States Army almost fifty years ago. The advent of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook allows fans to voice their opinions no matter how valid or invalid they are. 

     What it has also exposed is how we, the 21st century sports fan, have become clueless hypocrites within our very own desire to have our favorite teams win year after year.
How else would you explain the many people who troll LeBron James’ Instagram account only to leave hateful comments while saying he will never be better than Michael Jordan himself? No one ever thinks about how many of those fans have actually seen MJ play in his heyday without some YouTube highlight reel or NBATV rebroadcasting a game over twenty years old. The very Yankees fans who call for Joe Girardi to be fired never face the truth that he is perhaps doing as good a job as possible with an old, injury-prone roster on possible last legs. We want athletes to take pay cuts and think about championships when we would never take an hourly pay cut in our typical 9-to-5 jobs nor become the “company man” for the good of the team. As much as we hate certain personalities, we wish they were on our team. Melo and Russell Westbrook are scrutinized while Kevin Durant is held with such high regard. The truth is they have the same amount of titles – ZERO – as the very fans who root or loath two of the game’s finest. Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame last weekend despite having well-known players on their rosters that used PEDs. You don’t see anyone putting an asterisk next to their accomplishments. 

     Today’s fans troll ESPN articles just to leave a “who cares?” comment not realizing they obviously cared enough to click on the article to voice their opinion in the first place. Click on any ESPN or even Yahoo sports article and read the many comments under those stories. For every ten there may be one or two with some actual sports knowledge. The rest border between bizarre to racist due to the anonymous identities these users take on without revealing their true selves. Today’s fans go on Twitter and bash athletes and teams only to ask for a follow five minutes later should any of them actually get a reply. We demand to trade players that fall out of favor yet we expect athletes to show loyalty towards a particular team but more importantly the same group of fans who want to play fantasy General Manager. We complain about all the coverage a story is receiving not knowing we are the ones who are making it a bigger story with our reactions alone. We also go on Twitter to pretend to care about issues that we never pay any attention to as long as it provides a chance to vent. To fans, we are always right even when we are flat out wrong. There is a saying that if teams ever actually listened to their fans, eventually they will be sitting with them in the cheap seats. Too bad we can’t rationalize a team or player’s decision to not take it as a personal insult on us as if we personally knew them. 

     Today’s sport fan also switches teams and allegiances when it fits them. Gone are the days of having just one favorite team. Nowadays fans have several to choose from when the time is right like during a winning streak or when a team stands out as a contender. Do you know any New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets fans prior to 2012? How about Yankees fans before 1996? Lakers fans and Celtics fans or those who called themselves fans since 2008 were virtually extinct last season as two storied franchises suffer bad seasons. The New York Giants finished 7-9 in 2013, meanwhile when they won the Super Bowl in 2011 the bandwagon blew a few flat tires due to overcrowding. What today’s sports fans have done is take away the spotlight from the actual true fans who cheered no matter how good or bad their favorite team performed. Gone in all the trolling that is done is that we are closer to the games now more than ever before. Where athletes across the board can actually communicate with the fan bases that support their cause. Without question the 21st century fan at times come off as spoiled, irrational and defiant to reality more and more. 

     As technology advances and the 24-hour news cycle goes on with the hottest story of the moment the one thing will never cease is that the sports fans will cheer, boo, support or loathe without an explanation other than its our paying birthright. Today’s sports fan takes it to a whole different level due to social media. The 21st century sports fan will only continue to change their minds at every turn, change allegiance after every win or loss and insult an athlete just because we choose who is likeable and who is not. We will continue to come up with unrealistic trade scenarios without any knowledge on how the salary cap or team budget works because we can’t help ourselves. The hypocrisy of today’s common sports fan will only grow as we fight more and more to have the moon and the stars. The typical envy we have because these star players make all this money, that somehow they are above being human and think the way we want them to will linger. 

     This new generation of sports fan is as passionate as ever before but at the same time giving the term “fan” a black eye. There is a reason the term “fan” comes from the word fanatic. 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

To The US Men’s Soccer Team-Thank you!!!!

By Anthony Strait, OTSL Floor Director

     In the sticky humidity that blanketed the Arena Fonta Nova, the United States men’s soccer team played 90 minutes on their heels. 90 minutes staving off a relentless attack from Belgium as they got off shot after shot. They had their chances as regulation time ran low, but Chris Wondolowski’s chance sailed high and wide a mere six yards away. The game went to extra time when the USA's bent but not broken defense and the goalkeeper who had been Superman up to that point finally surrendered the go-ahead goal. Belgium even added a second goal thanks to a timely substitute who sped past the much tired U.S. defense. 

     Much like the spirit of the nation these men represented in this World Cup, they gave it one last push. A goal scored by the youngest member of the team gave hope and then chance after chance made for a suspenseful finish. Alas however, the U.S. didn’t as much lose (as many could take from it) as they simply ran out of time. In the end, it was Belgium who escaped to live another day. What could you say about a valiant effort that left us as a country merely heartbroken over the What-If's of an amazing World Cup run? I have two words that we all can say collectively: "Thank You!"

     Thank you to captain Clint Dempsey for waiting just seconds into the opening match to start this run with one of the quickest goals ever scored. Thank you for leading this young team through injury and leaving it all on the field. Thank you to John Brooks for the header that gave us our revenge over Ghana after they broke our hearts four years ago in South Africa. Thank you to Tim Howard for standing as firm as can be in goal. Howard’s amazing performance in defeat should not be lost as his 16 saves set a record that stood for half a century. He all but kept the United States in a game where they were dominated for much of the match. Thank you to Jermaine Jones for the beautiful strike - or as ESPN’s Ian Darke described it an “Absolute Cracker” - that pulled us even against Portugal. Dare I say thank you to Cristiano Ronaldo for giving the U.S. a much needed assist to advance to the round of sixteen. Thank you to Julian Green for giving us hope when all seemed lost with an amazing header. Thank you to coach Jurgen Klinsmann for his quirky motivational tactics and pushing a young team with little World Cup experience to their best in order to compete with the best. 

     There is much more to be thankful for as the USA's run come to a close. Thank you for the massive viewing parties as people of all shades of color and sizes gathered for each match. Thank you for the excitement and anticipation as we waited for the next match to show the world that we can compete on the grandest stage. Thank you for uniting a country too often divided by different views, different beliefs and the very hate that to this day continues to undermine the very change that made America as great as it can ever be. Thank you for laying the ground work to which can be built upon for years to come so that four years from now we will be back stronger and hungrier than ever. 

     Thank you for doing the unthinkable and escaping the “Group of Death”. Thank you for bringing us together with one chant. But most importantly, thank you for allowing us for a few weeks to believe. Cheers to the United States Men’s Soccer team! A great run and great effort, much like the country and colors they represented. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Derek Jeter: 40 for 40

By Anthony Strait, OTSL Floor Director

Derek Jeter-the honorable captain of the New York Yankees celebrated his 40th birthday this past week. To honor one of the great Yankee players of All-Time, lets run down a list of 40 things that should have Jeter in Cooperstown when he retires.

40. Derek Jeter makes his Major League Debut on May 29, 1995 against the Seattle Mariners. Following an 0 for 5 start; he recorded the first hit of his career with a sharp single to left field off starter Mariners closer Tim Belcher. 

39. Jeter became the number six overall pick by the Yankees in the 1992 draft behind the likes of Jeffery Hammonds, B. J. Wallace, Paul Shuey and Chad Motta-who combined for a grand total of only 2 All-Star game appearances. 

38. Named 1994 Baseball America’s minor league player of the year.

37. Playing his first full season in the majors, Jeter wins the American League Rookie of the Year after finishing with a .314 average, 104 runs scored, 78 runs batted in and 10 home runs. Winning all 28 first place votes allowed him to become the fifth unanimous winner in the award’s history. 

36. What became something of a trademark: Derek’s jump throw from the hole between the shortstop position and 3rd base to get would-be baserunners trying to reach base became as much as common a sight in The Bronx as the number 4 train dropping off thousands of people at the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium stop on gameday. 

35. 12…as in the number of times Jeter has batted .300 or better during his 19 year career. 

34. 71.6..as in Jeter’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR).  Third most among active players and 58th all-time.

33. 13 All-Star appearances.

32. July 11,2000: Jeter wins MVP of the 2000 MLB All-Star game in Atlanta with three hits including the two-run single that gave the American League the lead for good in a 6-3 win for the Junior Circuit. 

31. Jeter spearheaded the Yankees offense during the 1996 postseason, batting .361 in the Yankees American League playoff wins against Texas and Baltimore and the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. 

30. In game one of the 1997 Division Series against Cleveland, Jeter, along with Tim Raines and Paul O’Neil, went back-to-back-to-back with home runs in the bottom half of the 6th inning to give the Yankees the lead in a Game One win. 

29. Old Yankee Stadium may have been the house that Ruth Built, but Derek Jeter was the true Hit King with 1,276 all-time.

28. Opening Day 1996 in Cleveland saw Jeter hit his first career home run in Jacobs Field.

27. May 28, 2011: in Seattle, fans witness Jeter passing Rickey Henderson to become the franchise all-time stolen base leader, notching his 328th stolen base.

26. On June 3, 2003 Jeter is named just the 15th captain in the long and storied history of the New York Yankees. Don Mattingly was the last captain before his retirement in 1995. 

25. 5…as in the five Silver Slugger awards he has won in his career.

24. September 20, 1996: against the Boston Red Sox, Jeter recorded the first walk off hit of his career with an RBI single in extra innings to give the Yankees a 12-11 win. 

23. Sports Illustrated names Jeter their “Man of the Year” following his 2009 season and another World Series title. 

22. Jeter led the majors in hits in 1999 and again in 2012 at the age of 38. 

21. May 26, 2006: Jeter becomes just the 8th Yankee to record 2,000 career hits against the Kansas City Royals. 

20. Derek Jeter had to wait a decade after his debut to accomplish this feat, but on June 18, 2005 versus the Cubs he hit his first career grand slam home run. 

19. Following the Mets win in Game 3 of the 2000 World Series to climb back in the series, Manager Joe Torre moved Jeter into the lead-off spot to help jumpstart the struggling Yankee offense. He responded on the very first pitch he saw from Mets pitcher Bobby Jones, hitting a lead-off home run that all but wiped away any momentum the Mets received from winning the previous night. 

18. In Game One of that very series against the Mets, Jeter’s defense saves the day for the Yanks. In the top half of the 6th inning Todd Zeile hits a deep fly ball to left field that hits the top of the wall. Timo Perez (who was on base) was heading home to possibly give the Mets the lead when Jeter catches the cut-off throw from left field and with a perfect throw home gets Perez out at the plate to end the inning. 

17. In Game Three of the 2003 American League Championship Series Jeter homered off Pedro Martinez to spark the Yankees rally. They came from behind to win that game 4-3. 

16. September 16, 2008 Jeter passes Lou Gehrig for the most career hits in Yankee Stadium history. 

15. Five…Gold Gloves won by Jeter throughout his career.

14. Four…number of times Jeter finished the season with an on-base percentage .400 or higher (1999, 2000, 2006, 2009).

13. A staggering 158 career postseason games played in his career. 

12. Game Five of the 2001 American League Division Series Jeter catches a pop fly along the 3rd baseline off the bat of Terrance Long, flipping and tumbling into the crowd while doing so. 

11. July 1, 2004 against the Red Sox, Jeter makes a running catch in extra innings. Running full steam; his momentum carried him two rows into the stands as he crashed face first into the seats along the 3rd base line. Jeter emerged bloodied under his right eye but may the play to end the inning. 

10. Following the very last game at old Yankee Stadium it was Jeter as the team captain and face of the franchise who addressed the sold out crowd with a speech as the Yankees and their fans bid farewell to “The House That Ruth Built”. 

“From all of us up here, it's a huge honor to put this uniform on every day and come out here and play.  Every member of this organization, past and present, has been calling this place home for 85 years. There's a lot of tradition, a lot of history and a lot of memories. The great thing about memories is you're able to pass them along from generation to generation.” 
“Although things are going to change next year and we're going to move across the street, there are a few things with the New York Yankees that never change. That's pride, tradition, and most of all; we have the greatest fans in the world. We're relying on you to take the memories from this stadium and add them to the new memories we make at the new Yankee Stadium and continue to pass them on from generation to generation. We just want to take this moment to salute you, the greatest fans in the world.”

9. In the 2009 postseason he hit .355, including .407 in the World Series. 

8. The Yankees have been in the playoffs in all but two seasons during Jeter’s playing career-that’s 16 playoff appearances in 18 years. 
7. Mr. November is born on November 1st, 2001. With Game Four of the World Series tied in extra innings-Derek Jeter hits the game winning home run just a few moments after midnight marking the first time a game has been played in the month of November.

6. As part of the 1998 Yankees team that won 114 games and is considered among the greatest teams ever, Jeter finishes the campaign with a .324 batting average, 19 homeruns and 84 runs batted in. 

5. The Flip.  With the Yankees holding a slim 1-0 lead in Game Three of the 2001 Division Series at Oakland and trailing in the series, Jeter made one of the all-time great defensive plays.  As Terrance Long doubled down the right field line. Outfielder Shane Spencer’s throw missed the cutoff man.  Jeter, hustling across the field to get to the errant throw, made a backhanded flip to Jorge Posada who was able to tag out Jeremy Giambi before he was able to touch home plate. The Yankees won the game and would go on to win the series. 

4. July 9th, 2011, Jeter joins the 3,000 hit club in style with a homerun off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price on a 3-2 pitch. He finished the day with five hits. 

3. As one of the more celebrated sports figures of our generation he has been featured in many endorsements, television shows like Saturday Night Live and even has his own wax figure in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Midtown Manhattan. 

2. He is the Yankees all-time leader in hits, games played, stolen bases and at-bats. 

1. Five…as in five World Series championships during his 19-year career including four in five years from 1996-2000 with another one added in 2009. 


The one number these days that is on the mind of Yankee and Baseball fans alike are the amount of games remaining in his stellar career. With that amount dwindling by the day - and barring a playoff run - we are witnessing the end for a once in a generation player who became the face of New York sports on and off the field with the kind of grace and humidity that could never be taught in Spring Training. Happy Birthday and cheers to a living legend. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

In Memoriam: Ralph Kiner

By Pedro Hazel, Jr. OTSL Founding Partner/Executive Producer

"On The Sportslines" expresses its deepest condolences on the passing of Ralph Kiner, slugger for the Pittsburgh Pirates and later Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.  He was also a member of the New York Mets television broadcasting team since their inception in 1962. 

Ralph Kiner was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.  He hit 369 home runs in his career, winning or sharing the National League homerun title in each of his first seven seasons in Pittsburgh.  He hit 50 or more homers twice in that period. 

Growing up watching Mets telecasts I remember hearing Kiner tell incredible stories about players he knew and hung around with; and looking forward to "Kiner's Korner" after the game, especially if the Mets won.  He had been a regular part of the Mets TV broadcasting team until several years ago when his health began to fade.  But even with his health isuses he was still able to do a few games a year.  He was a trooper.  

The last of the original Mets broadcasting triumvirate is gone.  Kiner, along with the other two original Met broadcasters,  Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy are now calling games together in heaven.   Ralph, you will be sorely missed. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

NFL Fantasy Football – Draft Strategy

by James Feguson

A great deal of luck will be necessary for your team to finish #1. Luck, and I don’t mean Andrew, is only half the story. A draft strategy is much like a game plan for a head coach. You never know precisely what is going to happen, but you can bet your team is going to be prepared. Though much like a head coach, your draft strategy should be representative of your competition. So let’s look into this years draft class so each and every one of you can be more prepared.
Round 1 – Running down a dream
No matter what your draft position the first round only one player should be drafted (Calvin Johnson). The first round is your chance at drafting an elite RB that will have over 300 carries, for most 40 catches, and more often than not, over 8 TDs. AP, Rice, and Lynch, are hands down the best, but after that it becomes a little cloudy. For instance, do you think Doug Martin is worth the 4th pick? Or would you prefer Charles, McCoy or Spiller? Each of the four mentioned are predicted to have a heavy workload and the potential for a standout season. But unlike Rice, AP and Lynch, they have questions attached to each of them. Example: Can Spiller handle over 300 carries? Will McCoy lose goal line carries to Bryce Brown in Chip Kelly’s fast paced offense? Was Martins’ season a fluke? None of the questions should scare fantasy owners from drafting these guys, but if you do, make sure you have some depth at the RB position when the draft is done.
Round 2 – Choose Wisely
Depending upon the league host (ESPN, NFL.com, etc.) the second round will be filled with QBs, a few WR, and more RBs. Your choice here will probably predict how well your team does the entire year. Just about every team will make a good choice in Round One. After that it’s where your personal opinion and research that will drive your choices. Some leagues like PPR leagues or head to head will push fantasy owners to their choice. The point is that no matter who you choose here, you’re choosing the strength of your team. If you decided to take two RBs early, you should feel confident that you won’t be picking up any back off the wire early in the season. If you choose to go QB, you’re probably going to have a Top 10 QB for the entire season. If you decide to take a skill player like WR Calvin Johnson or TE Jimmy Graham, your team will have strength at a position of need all season. Either way, every choice is critical.
Look for Trends
After two rounds you can start to see the other teams’ plan of attack. Use it to your advantage. Assess what trends are beginning to emerge. How many elite QBs are left? Did I get a solid RB? What teams are stacking particular positions? Based on the answers to these questions you should start to make a plan. Let me go through a few of the trends I have noticed through my research this year
• QB’s aplenty – Unlike years past there is a plethora of options at QB this year. It is NOT a position that requires a very high draft pick this year. There are fantasy relevant QBs through the first 75 picks no matter who is hosting your league. If you decide not to draft a QB early, no big deal. Just don’t forget to keep an eye on the trends. If it’s Round Six and suddenly five QBs disappear, don’t get caught picking someone out of nervousness. Have a plan. Find a QB in every 15 picks that you are comfortable with and when the time comes, get your guy. Same can be said for elite WRs.
• Let it Flow – Few teams will have two studs at any position, mainly because of the scarcity of talent. Again, if you don’t want to be picking up the cast always, then make sure you choose a guy you’re comfortable with in a round that makes sense for both your team and their draft position. In other words, if you love T.Y. Hilton like I do, go get him, just don’t do it in Round Four where you can be possibly grabbing more high risk but just as rewarding talents at another position. I never draft a player out of the top 20 players available. It’s a good rule. But if you really hate the guys on the top of the board, don’t take them just because they’re available. Let someone else take guys like DeAngelo Williams, or Hakeem Nicks. Especially when the person you want is just outside the top 15 players available.
• Risk/Reward – Certain players have such upside, but you know ahead of drafting them that the risk of wasting a pick is real. Instead of noting what players they are, I would prefer to leave you with a thought when to draft players like that. DO NOT draft a risky player early, and when I say early I mean in the first three rounds. Let the core of your team be dependable, barring any injuries of course. Risk/Reward players will litter the draft board, and it will be up to your previous and future picks that actually determine just how risky that player will be to draft. In other words If I have acquired a solid core of players already, then why not go big or go home on a player like DeMarco Murray, or Greg Jennings. Both have question marks attached to them. Each of them could be a savior, but only if they put up the numbers that we have grown to expect from years past. That questionable potential can either sink your team or win you a playoff berth. Each one of us drafting will have at least one of these players on our roster. Make sure you understand the ups and downs of their situation before taking the chance.
• Other Options – Late in the draft teams will begin to choose depth over need. Obviously there is no rule for situations like this and it should really be based on feel and the research you have done pre-draft. If you don’t feel confident in the two WRs you chose, then instead of picking a defense go take a WR and give yourself an opportunity to make a good decision based on matchups all year long. Same goes for the rest of the skill positions. The one position I feel you should always have a good backup is the QB. Nothing can sink your chances of forfeiting a season like a bad QB. Each of you should grab a legitimate back up QB because God forbid you are in a situation where he will have to play for you for multiple weeks, that’s preferable to waiver wire players like Mark sanchez, Ryan Tannehill, or Jake Locker who have a better chance of hurting your team than helping it.
• Handcuffs – Typically in fantasy, a handcuff can either save your season, or be a total waste of a roster spot. In today’s version of the NFL, most teams run quite a bit. The fast pace of some offenses or just the brutal punishment most running backs have to endure is reason enough to make sure you scoop up the backup to the stud RB on your team. The question is when? To be honest most handcuffs will probably go undrafted, but there are a few that deserve a roster spot. My rule for this is simple. If you spent a high draft pick on the RB ahead of them, then you want to make sure you grab his handcuff. I for one am high on drafting Bryce Brown (LeSean McCoy’s handcuff), Bernard Pierce (Ray Rice’s handcuff) and Christine Michael (Marshawn Lynch’s handcuff). Beyond these three, none of the other handcuffs would be worth drafting. Not to say that they aren’t worth owning, but my guess is Roy Helu, Fred Jackson and players like them will be available on the wire when the draft is complete.
These are just a few things to keep in mind on draft day, and hopefully the suggestions will be valuable for each and every one of you. Good luck this season and remember to trust your preparation. Information and understanding who you’re looking at cannot be overlooked. This concludes our pre-draft fantasy football articles. We will continue to keep you updated after Week One games end. Thanks for reading and we’ll see ya all season long!

James Ferguson is an OTSL Alum. He now writes for GMenHQ.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jferguson631. You can find this piece on GMenHQ.com here: http://gmenhq.com/2013/08/25/fantasy-football-draft-strategy/.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Welcome To The Madness, Part 2


by The Rabbi, OTSL Video Editor

Yesterday, I gave you a primer on the conference tournaments that started on Wednesday.  Since then, white smoke has come out of Vatican City signaling Part 2 needs to be up...(wait, that signals something else, okay).

Onward to the final three conference tournaments (of importance) that start Thursday.

Atlantic 10 Tournament (Thursday-Sunday, BROOKLYN, New York)

Who's In:  
VCU (good transition to the A-10 this year, and despite a little bump in the road in the middle of the year, could get a Top 4 seed with a tourney win); Saint Louis (one of the hottest teams in the tourney, will definitely get a Top 4 seed with a tourney win here; amazing job getting this team together after Rick Majerus passed away in November); Butler (actually has to play in the opening round Thursday, but has enough of a great non-conference resume that they will be as high as a #5 as low as a #8 seed).

On the Bubble:  
Temple. They've been a very good team late in the season.  Had a major win the past weekend against VCU to get themselves on the cusp of a berth.  The Owls, who have won seven in a row needed that VCU win because the only win of any substance they had was against St. Louis...in January.   Temple should just need one victory in the A-10 tournament to put themselves in the field of 68.  But they may need two wins to avoid the First Four.

LaSalle.  Like Temple, they got a bye to the Quarterfinals on Friday; however their 4th place finish in the A-10 may not truly be enough.  They have 21 wins, but only five against teams ranked in the RPI Top 100.  Ouch.  The Atlantic 10 is very top heavy, but LaSalle is somewhere surprisingly in the middle.  They need to win at least one more game (just like the back to back wins they had against Butler and VCU back in late January) to ensure they get to go dancing.

Games to watch:  
Temple vs. George Washington/UMass (Friday).  There were so many mid 90's memories that dealt with these three teams, the big time A-10 powers.  It seemed like every single time there was an A-10 final, one of these three teams was involved.  For Temple, it's a little more important than that this time out, as the Owls NEED a victory to get themselves into the Big Dance without having to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.  The Owls only won by one earlier last month at UMass.  Luckily for Temple, UMass has faded a little bit.

LaSalle vs. Butler/Dayton (Friday). We've mentioned LaSalle's issues: they have a boring resume, but a good enough league record in a top flight conference can get you in the tourney.  However, as we mentioned yesterday, how you finish is a very important thing and thus a loss against what will most likely be Butler could cost LaSalle a trip to the NCAA's.  

Who wins?  
Saint Louis.  12 out of 13 wins to close out their season, with that one loss in overtime.  They've been playing in a different level than the rest of the A-10, and it will show here.

ACC Tournament (Thursday-Sunday, Greensboro, NC)

Who's In:  
Duke (not the #1 seed in this tournament; undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, will be #1 seed overall if they win here); Miami (only team that can beat Duke in conference, but struggled down the stretch, still have an outside chance at a #1 seed); North Carolina (very unspectacular this year, but still can avoid being an #8/#9 seed if they go deep here); NC State (even more unspectacular, but has enough good victories to quietly avoid the bubble).

On the Bubble:
Virginia.  Talk about your ULTIMATE bubble team this week.  They've lost SEVEN times (yes SEVEN) to teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100.  However, they beat Duke, Wisconsin, as well as fellow bubble team Tennessee.  They finished in a good enough spot in their conference to make sure they got a bye into the Quarterfinals, but they also lost four out of their last seven at the wrong time.  Just one more win in that stretch may have officially put them in.  

Maryland.  As we've said before, this is a LONNNNNG shot.  We're only keeping them here to make what is a very quiet bubble in 2013 a teeny bit more interesting.  Granted, the ACC hasn't been the murder's row conference it has been in years past (and should be again next year when Syracuse, Pitt, and Notre Dame join the fold), but the Terrapins going 8-10 in conference in a down year will not bode well for them with the Committee.  Trust me.

Matchups to Watch:  
Virginia vs. NC State (maybe) (Friday).  We'll get this matchup as long as the Wolfpack get past the Virginia Tech Hokies.  I have to believe that if the Cavaliers win, they have a decent case for their NCAA tournament berth and it really should be at the Wolfpack's expense.  A win by the Cavs will be their second this year over the Pack, and this one would be at a neutral site.  If Virginia can get over what seems to be consistently erratic play starting Friday, I think they have a really good shot to get to the ACC Semis.

ACC Final (Sunday).  If form holds, this would be Duke vs.Miami, and oh would that be glorious!  I think we should throw out their first matchup in Coral Gables in mid-January where Duke didn't have Ryan Kelly and look at the classic these two teams had at the beginning of March when Duke won 79-76 at Durham.  Miami has cooled off a tiny bit since their hot start (they were the last undefeated team in conference), but they still held on to win the ACC Regular Season Title, and they can still play with anyone in the country.

Who wins?  
Duke.  Sorry.  As much as I hate them, right now, with a full lineup, they are the best team in the country.  They showed that early in the season and they are showing it again late in the season.

Big 10 Tournament (Thursday-Sunday, Chicago)

Who's In:  
Indiana (winning the Big 10 Regular Season plus the Conference Tourney should get them a guaranteed #1 seed; they may get it regardless); Michigan (struggled a little bit of late, but should still get a #3 or #4 seed); Michigan State (still an outside shot at a #2 seed if they win the tourney here); Ohio State (won against Michigan State and at Indiana to end the season; will definitely get a #2 seed if they win here); Wisconsin (fighting between the #4, #5, #6 seed lines for the last few weeks).

On The Bubble:
Minnesota.  Started the season amazingly hot, then tailed off, then got their biggest win of the year against Indiana (ranked #1 at the time).  Of course, then they tailed off again in their last two games, losing to Purdue and Nebraska back-to-back, playing more like the 9th best team in the Big 10 than the team that ripped off 11 consecutive victories in the first half of the year.  

Illinois.  They will likely make The Dance, but their inconsistency is about as bad as that of the Golden Gophers.  Like Minnesota, they have a big victory at home against a then ranked #1 Indiana team.  That started a run where they won of five out of six, putting this team on the cusp of a NCAA berth and then they lost two out of their last three, including to the team below them in this rundown.  I have to believe they need at least one victory in the Big 10 tourney to lock up their NCAA spot.

Iowa.  They've gotten into the discussion late, due to finishing ahead of Minnesota and Illinois in the Big 10 closing the season with a 6-2 stretch.  However, when you go 1-5 against the Top 5 teams in the conference AND you have a non-conference schedule that would only make a Division II Team proud, there is a huge problem with your NCAA Tournament resume.  If Iowa gets three wins in the conference tourney, we can put them in the discussion.  Anything less and they watching from the couch when The Dance starts next week.

Games to Watch:  
Minnesota vs. Illinois (Thursday).  Yup, the two teams I just mentioned on the bubble somehow find themselves playing one another in Round One of the Big 10 tourney.  The loser of this game may sweat a little bit on Selection Sunday.  They would also put themselves in the very vocal discussion of the teams who just might have to start their NCAA play on Tuesday/Wendesday.  The winner has a chance at one more HUGE win Friday vs. Indiana.

First Semifinal (Saturday).  This could very well be Indiana vs. Michigan Part Three.  The Hoosiers won both matchups this year, by a total of NINE points.  If the amazing matchup they had in Ann Arbor this past Sunday is any indication, this could be a terrific game if both teams show their entire arsenals.  Now this match-up could also wind up being Indiana vs.Wisconsin, which could be interesting, considering the Badgers won the first meeting this year, in Bloomington.  A revenge game for the Hoosiers could add some spice to this potential Semi.

Who wins?  
Surprisingly enough, I won't go chalk here because I think this goes to the Michigan State Spartans.  I feel like they have enough experience to go through a grueling tournament like this.  Plus, they have that #2 seed to play for, so there's a good amount of motivation there.

That's it.  It's been fun these last few days (although my fingers would not say the same after all this typing).  Go forth and enjoy The Madness my friends.  I'll be on the couch for the next four days watching all the ball I need to watch.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March Madness, Part One (You know before it officially starts)


by The Rabbi, OTSL Video Editor 

This is my favorite time of the year, as we are as close as you can be to The Madness FINALLY beginning.  This week marks the peak swing for Conference Tourneys.  Even though a lot of people might say these tourneys invalidate a whole season's worth of work, I still enjoy what we are about to see.  The CRAZIEST week of the year.  

Now even though the little guys have finished up or are about to finish up, there are still eight big conference tournaments getting underway within the next 24 hours.  In those tourneys, you'll see a majority of the teams who will make an impact come next week when the major part of The Madness gets underway.  I'll let you know what these major teams are playing for this week, plus a lot more about these tournaments.  Let's get started:

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE (Tuesday-Saturday, Las Vegas)

Who's In:  New Mexico (never been a doubt, probably a Top 4 Seed), Colorado St. (would like to avoid the 8-9 game range and move up to a #6 or & #7 Seed), UNLV (been about as close to a Top 25 team all year as you can get, would like to move up to a #5 Seed), and San Diego St. (enough quality wins and opponents non-conference to overlook a mediocre 9-7 conference record).

On the Bubble:  Boise State. They're as close to in (same record as San Diego State), but have a much weaker non-conference slate, which means they have to do a tiny bit more to make it to the big dance.  

Matchups to watch:  Boise State vs. San Diego State (Thursday).  Two very close games between these two teams in the regular season (splitting home and home) means Boise State will need the tiebreaker.  If Boise can win two straight against the Aztecs (they won by four in the regular season finale on Saturday), there's going to be very little doubt that they are a tournament team unless...

Boise State/San Diego State vs. (most likely) New Mexico (Friday).  Either team gets blown out (and we're presumably moving New Mexico in here because we think they should get through their opening round), it leaves a bad lasting impression on the committee.  Some people on the tourney board may not have seen either team fully at many times this year (hello West Coast bias!), but they do watch conference tourneys.  Getting blown out in the game that leaves the final impression on the committee is not good for your cause.  It could cost the Broncos a Madness slot an may knock the Aztecs dangerously close to that "Last Four In" range.

Who wins?:  In a year with a very strong upper crust of those five teams (although New Mexico did win the conference by two games), I remind myself of the one thing I hate about this tourney:  IT'S A HOME TOURNEY FOR UNLV!  Top seeded Lobos lost earlier in the year in the Thomas and Mack Center, I unfortunately see another loss coming their way here.  UNLV will win this tourney.

BIG EAST CONFERENCE (Tuesday-Saturday, New York City)

Here it is.  College basketball purists have been fearing this, and after this year it will come to fruition.  This is the last tournament of the current incarnation of the Big East at The Garden.  When the Catholic schools play here in the near future, it won't be the same.  The moments will still be there though...sort of.

Who's in:  Louisville (has a 7-game winning streak, can close out a #1 seed with a tournament victory), Georgetown (can close out a #1 seed with a tournament victory), Marquette (sneaky good team looking to keep their Top 4 seed line after winning a share of the Big East regular season title), Pittsburgh (looking to break in to that Top 4 seed line after a shaky 2012), Syracuse (FREE-FALLING right now, losing 4 out of 5) and Notre Dame (lesser talent than years past, but still going to get a Top 6 seed here)

On the Bubble:  Cincinnati.  Widely regarded as a "lock" in some circles, they play Providence in the first round.  They lose there, whose to say Providence shouldn't get in after having the same conference record as Cincy and a better end to the season?  That said, as long as Cincy wins, the rest of their week should be for seeding.

Villanova.  Beating a very hot Georgetown pretty much locked up their bid, but they need to be a bit careful against a very scrappy St. John's team on Wendesday.  A loss there may make the committee remember this wasn't a very good 'Nova team before conference play.  A win against the Johnnies, and the next step for Villanova is making sure they avoid Dayton games on Tuesday and Wendesday.

Matchups to watch:  Semi-final #1 (Friday).  The possibilities are endless.  Georgetown should dispatch Cincy or Providence in their semifinal, and the likelyhood is they'll either play Syracuse or Pitt.  If it's G'Town/Syracuse, it will be their last game (we promise) as Big East foes.  If it's Pitt, they've played some tough battles with Georgetown and this would be the last one for a while, as I don't think they're going to schedule each other non-conference.

Conference Final (Saturday).  If it's the Top 2 seeds, then Georgetown and Louisville are playing for a Top seed.  The Big East has been a dog fight this year, and almost all the teams who will make the tournament out of this group have experienced their ups and downs (the one's who won't make The Dance only experienced downs).  Having a #1 seed come out of the Big East would be a huge accomplishment for a conference going through a lot of turnover and turmoil this year.

Who wins?:  As much as I've loved the job that Peyton Siva and Russ Smith have been doing for the Cardinals, there just seems to be something that's clicking with the Hoyas (last week's loss to Villanova aside.)  I'll pick one of the Big East's most historic teams to carry on the legacy of the new Big East and go with Georgetown.

SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE (Wednesday-Sunday, Nashville)

This is the least top heavy conference (BY FAR), but the most intrigue is squarely on the bubble here, as there are 5-6 teams at least in the discussion there.  This is a big time "bid-stealer" league if there ever was one.

Who's in:  Florida (only team with a non-conference and conference record that's sparkling, is probably looking at a #3 seed regardless of performance this week in Nashville), Missouri (the bubble sucks, which is why they're in. Too much of a good non-conference start overlooks a disappointing 11-7 conference finish)

On the Bubble:  Tennessee.  They have a good resume, but still a few holes left.  The SEC is considered a weaker conference than any of its other Big 6 BCS neighbors, but Tennesee is the best of it's "rest".  They've won eight out of their last nine and have beaten every good team in the SEC:  Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky.  They just had a weak non-conference schedule and that puts them here.

Kentucky.  Don't be fooled, this is not the defending national champions here (those guys are all gone).  They've played like a good team through most of the year, but when star freshman Nerlens Noel went down, the Cats went 4-3.  They weren't playing like world beaters before the injury and surely not after it.  They weren't losing to Georgia and Arkansas afterwards.  Now, as the #2 seed, they won't play till Friday, but even a win in that first game won't give them a guaranteed spot.  More on that in a second.

Ole Miss.  With such HIGH expectations when the season started, all of a sudden Ole Miss became just another high mediocre major during the season with a less than stellar profile.  They didn't beat Kentucky or Florida, and their only major win was at home against Missouri.  The Rebels have a non-conference strength of schedule in the 100's.  Not good, but a finals appearance in this tournament can possibly get this team over the hump.

Alabama.  Still here based on the fact that they got the "double-bye" to the tournament.  But the Tide have lost to Dayton, Tulane, and Auburn; not exactly resume builders.  Then again, if enough teams lose, the Tide can sneak in with an SEC Final appearance.  But nothing more.  Anyone else wins this tournament, they will end up being a bid stealer.

Games to watch:  A possible Tennessee vs. Alabama Quarterfinal (Friday). It's one of those games where the loser will definitely be out, but the winner won't necessarily be in.  Tennessee has a lot more talent in Cuonzo Martin's second year, and I kind of feel like they are in with two wins in the tournament.  This would be their second.

Second Semifinal (Saturday). If form holds (and it usually doesn't) it would be Missouri or Ole Miss vs. Kentucky.  Kentucky is going to be the story of this tournament in their fight to defend their title.  If they get to this semifinal, all they'll have to do is win to get back in.  If Kentucky's status is "In", they can start fighting to get out of that First Four.

Who wins?:  Missouri has always been the most talented team of this bunch, but has never really shown it during the season.  This tournament is going to be a crapshoot here, so I'll go with the semi-dark horse #6 seed here, and go with Mizzou to get the automatic bid and improve their seeding.

PACIFIC-12 CONFERENCE (Wednesday-Saturday, Las Vegas)

The Pac-12 finally switched from the only place they've had their tourney (Los Angeles) to a place where a good amount of money can be made on their tourney (Las Vegas).  After last year's DISASTER of a tourney where the Pac-12 only got two schools in, this year's edition is definitely much better.

Who's in:  UCLA (won five out of their last six, have a great non-conference schedule, won regular season title), Arizona (thudded to a 4-4 finish, but started 20-2 which is good enough for me).

On the Bubble:  Colorado.  In most circles as a #10 seed on projections, the Buffaloes would have probably been a lock if they didn't lose to Oregon State this past Saturday.  Now, they have one more shot against Oregon State in the opening round of the tourney.  They win that, it'll be hard to leave them out of The Dance.

California.  Also in most circles as a likely Madness team, though they ruined an amount of momentum by losing at home to Stanford this past weekend.  However, in an improved Pac-12 this year, the Golden Bears were a moment away from clinching a share of the regular season conference title.  That should be enough to get them in but they still want to get out of that "Last Four In" range.  

Oregon.  They've been a Top 25 team until the past month when the Ducks quacked back to the pack (see what I did there?).  They have only one really good road victory since February and they did lose three out of their last five towards the end of the year.  They should be in, but they can't afford a Quarterfinal loss to Washington or Washington State, which could hurt their chances even more.  Again, they should be in, but not 100% as of yet.

Arizona State.  RPI of 90, but again, Conference Tournament week is HUGE in terms of the NCAA Committee's perception of you.  The Sun Devils need a very solid run here; a Finals appearance could cement their chances of making The Dance.  Most likely though, they would be a bid-stealer if they win.

Matchups to Watch:  Arizona vs.Colorado Quarterfinal (Thursday).  This would be a rematch (if Colorado wins Wednesday) of last year's final if it were to go down.  The two also had a memorable game earlier this year where Colorado looked like they made a game winning shot, but after a long deliberation it got waved off (which led to their coach wanting basketball to abolish all replay).  Colorado easily won the rematch in February and if the Buffaloes could win in this spot they can get much higher NCAA seeding.

Pac-12 Second Semifinal (Friday).  However, if Arizona wins that Quarterfinal, they may set up another matchup with UCLA.  Arizona, which went into the league season as the favorites, then lost both of their games to the Bruins.  This would be big for Arizona to catapult them into Top 4 seeding range if they can beat the Pac-12 regular season champs.

Winner?:  UCLA.  They are clicking at the right time right now.  Only Cal is a tiny bit hotter than the Bruins in this conference, but those high expectations that were set for UCLA's young team at the beginning of the season are starting to be met.  I'm giving the Bruins the title here.

BIG-12 CONFERENCE (Wednesday-Sunday, Kansas City, MO)

Who's In:  Kansas (pretty much a #2 seed if they win the tourney; too much needs to happen for them to get a #1), Kansas State (amazing season in Bruce Weber's first year, probably a #4 seed), Oklahoma State (played like the second best team in the conference; right now they project as a #3 seed, but might go as high as a #2 seed with a conference title).

On the Bubble:  Oklahoma.  VERY close to being in, but lost last Saturday to TCU, one of the worst teams in the country.  Even still, they look semi-safe right now.  They cannot afford one more loss though, which we'll get into a second, or the very bland resume of the Sooners (no bad losses, and 2-4 against those three "In" teams) will get a second look, and that could also put Oklahoma in the "Last Four In" group.

Iowa State.  They've had some of the most heartbreaking losses in this field.  They are 2-4 against those three "In" teams I keep mentioning, but unlike Oklahoma, all six of those games were by single digits and both losses to Kansas were in overtime (although there are a lot of fans in Ames that would say they had the second game against Kansas stolen from them).  However, they also have two BAD losses during the year to Texas and Texas Tech and BYU is their only great non-conference victory.  They still have work to do.

Baylor.  Yeah, this was the team ranked preseason Top 10 and made the Elite Eight last year.  But the Bears come into the conference tourney winning only three out of their last 11.  The only reason they're even on this list is because of the shellacking they gave Kansas over the weekend in Waco.  Baylor needs at last a finals appearance in the conference tourney to make the NCAA's.  Anything else and they'll be watching March Madness at home.

Matchups to Watch:  Oklahoma vs.Iowa State Quarterfinal (Thursday).  As I've mentioned before, both have tournament profiles that look the same, but Iowa State has played just a little more excitable.  They split during the regular season, each winning on the others court by double digits.  The winner here probably avoids the First Four in Dayton and can try to sneak out of that 8-9 game range, which would make their second round matchup much harder.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma State Quarterfinal (Thursday).  I'm excited for this one.  Oklahoma State won by two in OT when these two last played on the 6th of February.  Baylor NEEDS this game for any NCAA Tournament consideration, while Oklahoma State (who is kind of in the same position Baylor should be in) would love to knock them off.

Winner:  Kansas.  Can never go against the old guard especially when they are the most talented team in the conference.  Even though Kansas has had some hiccups in this year (see TCU), the Jayhawks still have enough talent to get over the speed bumps they had this season.  I think the Jayhawks prevail.

Part 2, previewing the remaining three conferences will come tomorrow.  Enjoy the madness, everyone.