Friday, March 02, 2007

If It Looks Like a Duck...

From here on out, college basketball is the boss. As we sit on the verge of the major conference tournaments, and of course the Big Dance, every game looms large. Now is the time of year that sleeper teams start making their moves, Cinderella puts on her glass slipper and power conferences begin to jockey for seedings. Lost in that mix comes the part of the college season that I despise the most, the "handing out of bids". No, I'm not talking about when the tournament committee hands out the bids, I'm talking about when big name teams stumble a little late in the season and basically give borderline teams the resume boost they need to make the field of 64. Florida has done it recently, all but securing spots for Tennessee and Vanderbilt, while UNC basically handed a bid to Georgia Tech on Thursday night. I have two major problems with this. First off, when are the pollsters going to start weighing "senior night" games? Honestly, have you ever seen an underdog not over-perform on senior night? (Attleboro's 20 point loss to Brockton on my senior night not included) With all the emotion involved in those games, it's tough for any visiting team to win, no matter the talent discrepancy. Secondly, while I understand that how a team plays down the stretch is a big factor in where they are seeded in the tourney, getting hot at the end shouldn't totally compensate being mediocre for most of the season. We all know that teams getting hot at the end of the year always seem to do well in the tourney, but how you've done in your last 10 really shouldn't be weighed as heavily as how you did in conference or your strength of schedule. Speaking of hot, however, I want to welcome the Texas Longhorns to the Top 10 this week. Fresh off a double OT victory over rival A&M, there is no hotter team in the land than Kevin Durant and Texas. Having watched Melo and company drive to the title in 2003, I can't help but notice a lot of similarities between these two squads. No, I'm not saying Durant is better than Melo or visa versa, but much like the Cuse, Texas is laden with young guns and is led by arguably the most talented player in the land. The similarities don't stop there either. Cuse had a big time coach that was overdue for a title in Jim Boeheim, and Texas has one in Rick Barnes. Cuse had a freshmen guard in "The Mayor of Scranton", Gerry McNamara, that was their leader. Texas has DJ Augustine. I'm tellin' ya, I see a lot of similarities here.

College Hoops Top 10
1. Kansas (26-4) 1
2. UCLA (26-3) 5
3. Ohio St. (26-3) 3
4. Florida (25-5) 2
5. North Carolina (24-6) 4
6. Georgetown (22-6) 6
7. Southern Illinois (25-5) 9
8. Texas (22-7) NR
9. Memphis (26-3) 7
10. Nevada (26-3) 8

just missed: Wisconsin, Washington St., Texas A&M, Butler, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Maryland
dropped: (10) Wisconsin

Big Games This Week
Now, as I just finished saying, pretty much all games from here on out are big. Even those so called "loser" conferences play a big role. If a favorite in one of those "1 bid" leagues should lose in their tourney final, it's possible that league now becomes a "2-bid" league. Might not sound like much, but it's usually enough to push bubble major teams from the promised land to the NIT. Again, I can't stress this enough. EVERY GAME FROM HERE ON OUT IS A BIG GAME! Besides, if I expect to win any NCAA pools this year, I can't keep feeding you guys all the inside info now can I? Consider yourself semi cut-off you grimy bastids.

Ohio Valley Conference Tourney (favorite: Austin Peay 20-10)
MAAC Conference Tourney (favorite: Marist 23-7)
Colonial Athletic Conference Tourney (favorite: Virginia Commonwealth 24-6)
West Coast Conference Tourney (favorite: Gonzaga 21-10)

Texas @ Kansas
Michigan St. @ Wisconsin
USC @ Washington St.
Pittsburgh @ Marquette
New Mexico St. @ Nevada
Syracuse @ Villanova
Arizona @ Stanford
Fresno St. @ Utah St.
Big Sky Conference Tourney (favorite: Weber St. 18-11)
Big South Conference Tourney Final (favorite: Winthrop 26-4)
Mid Continent Conference Tourney (favorite: Oral Roberts 20-10)
Southern Conference Tourney Final (favorite: Davidson 26-4)
America East Conference Tourney (favorite: Vermont 23-6)

Kentucky @ Florida
Duke @ North Carolina
Clemson @ Virginia Tech
North Eastern Conference Tourney (favorite: Central Conn. St. 19-11)
Sun Belt Conference Tourney (favorite: South Alabama 20-10)
Missouri Valley Conference Final (favorite: Southern Illinois 25-5)

West Coast Conference Tourney Final

News and Notes *OK. I promised that when the Sox actually started playing games then I would actually start to talk about them. And, while it may still be sub 30 degree temperatures in good ole Massachusetts, the Sox have begun their 8 month trek towards their 2nd World Series championship in the last 4 years. Here's a breakdown of the projected lineup and rotation for the upcoming season, and the questions that will need to be answered in order for this team to reach the lofty goals I've set for them.

1: Kevin Youkilis 1B (.279 BA / 159 H / 13 HR / 42 2B / 72 RBI / .381 OBP)
2: Julio Lugo SS (.278 BA / 121 H / 12 HR / 22 2B / 37 RBI / 24/33 SB)
3: David Ortiz DH (.287 BA / 160 H / 54 HR / 29 2B / 137 RBI)
4: Manny Ramirez LF (.321 BA / 144 H / 35 HR / 27 2B / 102 RBI)
5: JD Drew RF (.283 BA / 120 H / 20 HR / 34 2B / 100 RBI)
6: Mike Lowell 3B (.284 BA / 163 H / 20 HR / 47 2B / 80 RBI)
7: Jason Varitek C (.238 BA / 87 H / 12 HR / 19 2B / 55 RBI / 103 games)
8: Coco Crisp CF (.264 BA / 109 H / 8 HR / 22 2B / 36 RBI / 22/26 SB)
9: Dustin Pedroia 2B (.191 BA / 17 H / 2 HR / 4 2B / 31 games)

1: Curt Schilling (15-7 / 3.97 ERA / 183 K / 204 IP)
2: Josh Beckett (16-11 / 5.01 ERA / 158 K / 204.2 IP)
3: Jonathan Papelbon (4-2 / 35 SV / .92 ERA / 68.1 IP) #'s as closer
4: Daisuke Matsuzaka (I'm not even gonna bother with his Japanese League stats)
5: Tim Wakefield/Jon Lester

RP: Manny Del Carmen, Craig Hansen, Julian Tavarez
Setup: Mike Timlin, JC Romero, Brendan Donnelly
Closer: Joel Piniero

Here are some questions I have for the upcoming 2007 season. And as opposed to actually trying to provide answers, I've instead tried to provide analysis on what will need to take place in order for the team to succeed.

1) Will the young talent on this team develop fast enough to enable them to contend?
A) Everywhere you look on this team there is a young guy. Whether it's young "veterans" like Youkilis, Beckett and Crisp, or young up and comers like Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Hansen, Pedroia, Lester and Del Carmen, the fact of the matter is, this team is young. And if the Sox expect to compete in the uber competitive AL East, these guys are going to need to go through their growing pains sooner rather than later. For Youk, he's now about half a decade removed from the glory-filled "Moneyball" days where he was considered an on base machine. Now it's time to actually produce. Not to say he didn't play well in his first full season as a starter, but in order to justify all the trades we refused to include him in the past few years, he'll need to boost the power numbers and more importantly, be a better table setter for Manny and Big Pepsi. As far as Dustin Pedroia, I'll have to admit I am much more concerned. Not only was he less than impressive in spot duty last year at the end of the season, but I was also a big Mark Loretta fan. Loretta not only was great offensively last year, but when teamed with Alex Gonzalez up the middle, they were the best double play combo in the Bigs and were a major reason why the Sox were the #1 defensive team in all of baseball. And while Pedroia won't be asked to do as much offensively as Loretta because he'll be at the bottom of the order, if he falls flat on his face it will lead fans again to question how good a judge of minor league position players Theo Epstein actually is. Then, there's the pitching. Simply put, as these young guns go, so go the Sox. Josh Beckett was about as predictable as it got last year, and for him to prove he's a worthy #2 he's going to need to show at least an inkling of learning a second pitch to go with his heavy heater. Daisuke Matsuzaka will get a little more leeway from Sox fans than Beckett, but I'm not expecting that leash to be very long either. Face it, they paid $100 mil for this guy, he's not a kid and he's supposedly got 5 pitches he can throw for strikes. If he doesn't produce, heads are gonna roll. Sure, fans say now they're willing to go through some growing pains with him, but I want to hear them say that if he stumbles out of the gate at 0-2 with a 6.00+ ERA in his first 3 starts.

2) Got a closer?
A) Harking back to what I was just talking about, this one is entirely on the young guns as well. Theo did a lot to bolster the middle relief in the off season with pickups like JC Romero and Brendan Donnelly, but neither of them is a proven closer. Neither, however, is the guy that many, including myself, assume is going to get the job as closer, Joel Pineiro (pronounced Joe-El Pin-yare -O). Most of us remember Pineiro as a back of the rotation starter for the Mariners, but he's turned himself into a closer recently by dropping his arm slot. Might sound a little too easy to be true, but it makes sense to baseball nerds like me. As a guy who used to throw from a lower arm angle, I know it gives your fastball and your slider all sorts of new movement. Also, by changing his arm slot, it's going to take American League hitters some time to get used to him despite having faced him many times. All that being said, Joel is totally unproven as a closer and has just 1 career save on his resume. So, what happens if he can't get the job done? Manny Del Carmen and Craig Hansen have shown a lot of promise out of the pen, but are they dependable at this point in their careers? Can they even hold up to a full season of closing? Who knows. And as far as Mike Timlin is concerned, I'm just not buying it. There's a reason the guy has been primarily a setup man his entire career. If he was a good closer, wouldn't he have emerged as the obvious choice last year? Put it this way. It's not out of the question that one of these guys can take the closer job and run with it, but would I bet on it? No way in hell. And with no closer, you got no season. I know that the last team since the Yankee dynasty with a regular closer from opening day to winning the World Series was the Sox with Keith Foulke, but I don't feel like taking my chances with "closer by committee". I think we all have seen how that story ends.

3) Is DJ Drew going to fold like a crisp linen shirt under the pressure cooker that is Boston?
A) Yes. He's a bum, he gets hurt and he just doesn't show the required emotion to play in this town. And no, it's not a typo. His name is David Jonathan Drew. From here on out, I'll be referring to him as "Dave". Let me know when he's played in his 100th game and knocked in his 100th run, then maybe I'll consider calling him Davey J or somethin'.

*This just in. BALCO was not the only place in the country supplying illegal steroids to athletes. Shocking I know, but apparently it's true. The New York state district attorney's office has indicted a pharmacy that was allegedly distributing steroids to professional athletes via the Internet, a few of them being Angels CF Gary Mathews Jr., former heavy weight champ and current deformed ear champ Evander Holyfield and of course, the juice man himself, Jose Canseco. Hopefully, for your sake, you're not surprised by this news. First off, we were all naive to think that the athletes weren't using roids when there was no testing. But now, to believe that only one laboratory was supplying these guys with roids and human growth hormone is just rediculous. Trust me when I say this. THIS THING IS GOING TO GET MUCH WORSE BEFORE IT GETS ANY BETTER. You think Evander Holyfield and Gary Mathews JR. are big names? Just wait man, just wait. It's only a matter of time before bigger "roid factories"/ pharmacies are discovered, and bigger named athletes are implicated. Along those lines, it gives me great pleasure to report that the Pittsburgh Steeler's team doctor, Ricahrd A. Rydze, allegedly used his practice to purchase over $150,000 worth of human growth hormone. When questioned about the purchase by authorities, Rydze claimed he had bought the HGH in order to prescribe it to his elderly patients. When I read that remark, I couldn't help but think of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry's parents hire that 80 year old guy, Izzy Mandelbaum (played by the late Lloyd Bridges), to train him. Old geezers using HGH? Please. You know he was shootin' Big Ben like Pacman Jones shoots dirty strippers. And while I have no idea if human growth hormone is usually used by elderly peeps, this guy simply has to know better. Now, the Steelers are going to have to deal with questions about their guys juicin' up, a distraction they surely don't need. The Steeler's should just be lucky they aren't a baseball team. If this doesn't show the disparity between the effect of steroids in the two sports I don't know what does. Nobody cared when Merriman was suspended for roids. Hell, he still made the freaking Pro Bowl. But, when Barry Bonds and friends "play hide the needle", it's national news that causes everyone and their brother to attempt and reform the entire sport! It's a double standard for sure, but the NFL is so big right now, it simply can't be touched. Roids or not.

*Make that TWO wins in a row for the Boston Celtics. That's the good news. The bad news is nobody has noticed because a certain announcer and former Celtic that's been busy setting the women's movement back a few decades. In case you've been under a rock the last week (or possibly smoking said rock), I'm talking about Boston Celtic color commentator Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell. In reference to female official, Violet Palmer, Maxwell said "Go back to the kitchen. Go in there and make some bacon and eggs, would you?" Surprisingly, this offended women everywhere (yea I don't get why either), and Maxwell was forced to apologize. Knowing Max like I do (obviously not personally, but from listening to him on the radio), I could tell by his tone that he was merely joking. And I don't see anything wrong with that. No, I'm not sexist, but at what point do we start taking everything at face value without considering the situation and the source? Should Max have known better? Of course he should have. But was he really implying that this woman quit her profession and make him some breakfast? Un freakin likely. Listen, he was trying to be funny, he had a poor choice of words, and he apologized. I don't see it as any worse than if Max told a former college ref to go go back to school because he made a bad call. Only difference here is, it's the hot button topic of equal rights. And to tell the truth, I bet Violet Palmer probably even thought it was a funny remark. She was probably just a little confused as to why Max didn't ask her to make some cornbread while she was in the kitchen. (Insert Kool Aid, fried chicken and collard green comments here)

*And finally, just a little piece of breaking New England Patriots news. According to sources close to the team, the Pats are on the verge of agreeing with free agent linebacker Adalius Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens. A Pro Bowler this year, Thomas is widely considered as the best free agent on the market and would serve as a much needed boost to the Pats aging LB corps. At the Pro Bowl, Thomas said his impression of head coach Bill Belichick was drastically changed after he saw the coach working up close. He had said he basically thought Bill was a bad coach to play for, but after playing for him in Hawaii he was singing a different tune. Way to go Billy! Stay tuned for updates on this one, but expect Thomas to be signed and in Foxboro before the weekend is through.

*Anyone that's played any kind of sport (note: country club sports + casino games do not count) has at one point had to answer this question from a girl. "What's the deal with you guys slapping each other's asses all the time?" My standard answer was something along the lines of "ya know it's just in the heat of the moment, and it's something we've been doing since we even knew what "gay" was. Besides, I'm so God damn comfortable with my sexuality, I will bang you out right now!" OK maybe it wasn't exactly like that, but you get the picture. I'm sure many of you are also familiar with the term "Everything is bigger in Texas". Our president's IQ aside, I'd have to say that one usually rings true. Now, watch the two instances I just described collide in a recent Texas basketball game. Dude looks like he's about to go BTK on his teammate right there. Ouch.

*Hey there duck! Some of you may have read in the news recently about a very special duck named Perky. My good friend and "Now You Know" supporter Kevin Tomasso put this video together for Perky, and I'd like to share it with you. Feel free to cry.

For those of you that still haven't jumped on the bandwagon, I highly recommend it. Remember, if you predict 21 straight games against the spread, you win $100,000. I have my streak to 3 in a row people! I can smell the cashish from here, and it smells delicious.


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