March Madness Musings II; Play Ball!
Another incredible weekend of basketball.
Every game seemingly a down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Great performances from heralded and unheralded players. Tons of “can you believe this?” moments.
There’s nothing like March Madness for amazing finishes, intensity, and emotion.
There’s also nothing quite like college basketball’s underbelly of “student-athletes” going to class for one quarter and then turning pro. Or five and six-figure payments from shoe companies to coaches, “advisors” and recruits.
Both the good and the bad were on full display last weekend.
Duke Bedeviled: After surviving two last-second shots at the rim by UCF and Virginia Tech, Duke’s luck ran out in a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State. But it was hard to figure why
RJ Barrett took the last three shots for the Blue Devils, resulting in one made free throw, rather than the unstoppable Zion Williamson, the best player in college basketball.
Another Curry? Virginia prevailed over Purdue in overtime despite an unbelievable performance by the Boilermakers’ Carsen Edwards, who scored 42 points and hit 10 threes, many from Steph Curry range. Ironically, Edwards is the first player from a losing team to win Regional MVP honors since—you guessed it—Curry in 2008.
My Pick: Texas Tech outlasted No. 1 Gonzaga, as unheralded Davide Moretti—from Bologna, Italy—came up big. In my bracket, I picked the Red Raiders not only to reach the Final Four, but to win the whole thing. My theory is that defense will prevail.
No One to Root For: In the Midwest Final, it was hard to get behind either Auburn or Kentucky, two teams coached by serial cheaters. The folks in the media seem to have very short memories as they fawn over Bruce Pearl, the recipient of a show-cause penalty for his violations at Tennessee, previously involved in some shenanigans at Iowa, and currently operating under a cloud at Auburn.
But you have to credit his team for a gutty performance. Playing without Chuma Okeke, injured in a win over No. 1 seeded North Carolina, Auburn rode the clutch play of guard Jared Harper to victory.
Reid in the Headlights: Former Stanford forward Reid Travis transferred to Kentucky this year to “align his athletic and academic interests.”
His two main goals athletically were to reach this year’s Final Four, to be played in his hometown of Minneapolis, and to prove he can play forward in the NBA. Travis fell just short of the Final Four, and it’s questionable whether he impressed many NBA scouts by averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds this season.
But I’m sure he’s taken full advantage of the academic challenges at Kentucky, the nation’s 147th ranked school.
Batter Up: The 2019 baseball season got underway and it quickly became apparent that the A’s and the Giants are again going in different directions. The Giants will have a lot of trouble scoring runs this season with no power hitters and no speed. They scored just five runs in the opening four-game series with San Diego.
Meanwhile, the A’s have power, defense, and a cobbled together pitching staff that is looking more than adequate. In fact, the first four starters looked downright unhittable against the Angels, giving up a total of one run and nine hits in 24 innings.
Moneyball: The talent discrepancy is even more glaring when you consider the team payrolls.
The Giants have the sixth highest payroll in baseball, at $176 million, but according to Sports Illustrated, are the worst team in the National League. Meanwhile, despite the No. 26 payroll, the A’s are one of the top four or five teams in the American League.
New Giants' GM Farhan Zaidi certainly hasn't distinguished himself to this point, making a slew of deals involving second or third-rate players, while Billy Beane and co. have dealt for four quality veterans—outfielder Robbie Grossman, infielder Jurickson Profar, starting pitcher Marco Estrada, and DH/first baseman Kendrys Morales.
Between an obvious lack of talent and what appears to be some serious micro-managing by his new analytics-driven GM, it’s no wonder Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy decided to make this season his last.