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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

march madness and a touch of sadness

So here we are again, one of the greatest three or four weeks of sports fan is fast upon us. Most of the smaller NCAA league tournaments have been played and we await the Thursday start of the big guys. The big east, the big 10,the big 12,pac-10 and the granddaddy of them all, the ACC tournament all begin in earnest tomorrow and Thursday. There are some potential monster college hoops battles coming up as we come to the wire in determining the selections and seedings for next weeks 64 strong NCAA battle royale. Some of the conferences are just powerhouses with great teams battling for the regional crown. The Big East is a monster with 5 teams having over 20 wins including the number 1 and no 2 teams overall (Connecticut and Villanova). The Big 10, the ACC and the big 12 al have at least 4 20 game winners and 3 national top 25 rankings going into the weekend. The southeastern conference is perhaps a little weaker than usual this year but would anyone really be willing to bet against tubby smith and the UK wildcats going on a tear to get back into the dance after on off year? Can the year’s big surprise George Washington continue its romp through the Atlantic 10? Gonzaga and the shaggy haired wonder boy are in having won their tourney last night with a come from behind win over Loyola Mary mount? But next week all eyes will be on the tiny school with the big time program. Is this the year they finally break through and go deep into the dance? How cool would a JJ-Adam final four game be?

The granddaddy for the mid Atlantic begins Thursday. Every thing in the entire state of North Carolina virtually freezes and even lesser state such as Maryland and Virginia slow a bit come Thursday noon. This year we have Miami, Boston college and Virginia tech in the toughest tourney (and toughest ticket) in college basketball. Everyone knows how good duke is, but they have lost to two Acc teams, UNC and Florida State this year. Speaking of the despicable tar heels, didn’t they see the preseason reports that said that after losing their top 6 scorers to the NBA last year, they really weren’t supposed to be very good? Yup, second in the ACC, 10th in the nation. Terrible year for the Carolina Blue. The wolfpack of NC State, although they finished poorly have proven they can play with anybody in the league. My much-maligned twerps are always capable under Gary Williams of riding sheer tenacity deep into the rounds. Of course, they are also capable of stinking up the joint and blowing out in the first round. Their only hope for overcoming a lackluster, inconsistent year is to run deep into the ACC finals.

Tip it up. Let em play.

This is the time of year when college hoops take on meaning. For most of the teams its one and done. One loss, go home. There are only 32 at large spots and most of them are spoken for. In the big tintack and Big East alone you have at least twelve teams that will not win their league tournament but will make the dance on an at large bid. Win or go home. It often reminds me of training, this two-week stretch of the year.

Bring you’re a-game and A-effort or you re out.
Prepare and practice or the tide will roll over you before the first half is over.
Get down too far too early and the clock will kill you no matter how strong you come back late in the second half.
The opponent you thought would be a walkover is the one most likely to put your back to the wall. Take nothing for granted.
If you re offense is shut down early, you better be able to adjust on the fly.
No defense, you lose.
Your game plan better be tied to the team you re playing and the situation you win.
Offensive Rebounding, or correcting your mistakes, is crucial.
Defensive rebounding, or taking advantage of opportunities is also critical.
To win it all, you will have to play great on consecutive days. The regular season is over. Win, or go home

The other big on-going event of the next several weeks is major league baseball spring training and World baseball classic. So far the classic has not generated a lot of buzz, but this perhaps is because the US team has not played yet. That situation is changing as we speak, as team USA is about to play Mexico in the opening round. Interest will pick up I suspect, as we get closer to the final rounds.

Around the camps the usual intrigue develops. Barry and the roids(what a great name for a rock band!) are back in the headlines, The Nats finally have a stadium deal, rookie sensations are popping up all over the place and opening day is firmly in sight. Fantasy players are scrambling to arrange their draft picks, cleaning crews are sprucing up the yard while mets fan pray to their respective gods and goddesses that this is the year all that money actually translates into victories. It’s just about here. Opening Day. Full of hope, every team has a shot, and glory is a split fingered fastball away.

A sad note from the diamond is the passing away at a shockingly young age of Kirby Puckett the hall of fame outfielder for the Minnesota twins. Puckett was one of those throwbacks who played the game with obvious joy and desire leading the unlikely Minnesota Twins to two world championships. His career cut short in 1995 by an errant Dennis Martinez fastball. After his eventual retirement and enshrinement in Cooperstown it came to light that Puckett had personal and health problems that have worsened steadily leading to his death from a stroke yesterday. Whatever his difficulties off the field, on it he was a career .310 hitter with six golden gloves and 10 all start selections to his credit. He strove to be his best every game and drove his teammates to achieve the same level. I can recall many times groaning as Kirby would step up to the plate late in a game with the Orioles leading by a slim margin as Puckett was an absolute oriole Killer during in tenure in the show. He played with greatness, he played with heart and he made the team and the game itself better. Would that we could all play with the same effort, desire and dedication. Good-bye Kirby.

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