Thinking out loud … while wondering how we became mesmerized by “bracketology.”
— The Providence hockey team’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament isn’t the surprise, even though the Friars lost in the Hockey East semis to UMass-Lowell. Boston College getting the 2 seed and potentially facing PC in Worcester is the surprise. The Eagles have been high in the national rankings all season and were deserving of their own top spot.
— How about this nugget? Six Friars are among the top-10 active leaders in NCAA Tournament scoring. That means you’re experienced, deep and talented. Three must-haves if you are to win it all.
— It’s always a compliment when your coach is mentioned for other jobs. Nate Leaman’s name has been mentioned with the opening at Wisconsin, a one-time hockey power looking to regain some lost luster. Just wondering here, but would he be more likely to make a move if the Friars repeat as national champs? Would he need another mountain to climb? Just sayin’.
— So, Notre Dame? Moving to the weaker Big Ten in hockey for travel and expense purposes, or because Hockey East kicks your a**? How about both? Let’s be truthful.
— It’s hard to put a bow around Providence’s basketball season. Twenty-four wins is a sign of success, absolutely. Being ranked as high as eighth nationally was great PR for the program, even though this team may never have been quite that good in reality. Three straight NCAA appearances, however, is the true sign of success these days. Finally winning a game in the tourney is another. The bar has just been set a bit higher.
— No doubt in my mind that Kris Dunn is one of the best athletes to ever wear the black and white on the court. Maybe he’s the best athlete. The Friars have been blessed with extraordinary basketball players through the years, but athletes? Based on what these eyes have seen over three decades, not one of those players — maybe except Eric Murdock, possibly God Shammgod or John Linehan — could keep Dunn in front of them.
— I’ll go back to following the NBA regularly now, with Dunn giving me plenty of reason to watch. Thanks Kris, for the thrills. Thanks for being mature beyond your years, and for taking on the responsibility of being a role model — for your sisters and younger fans. And hopefully, for college players to come.
— What do the 2016-17 Friars need to make it an unprecedented four straight NCAA appearances? Ben Bentil, for one. Extra help inside, for two. Another shooter who can reliably hit a 3, for three.
— Bentil’s kick of the tires on a pro career is just that. And he should, as the new eligibility rules allow players to do that and pull back for a return to college prior to the draft (10 days after the combine, May 25 is the D-date) if they so choose. And expect that to happen as well — defensively, there’s much for Bentil to learn and develop to be a pro forward, guarding other pro forwards.
— It really will boil down to a couple of things for Ben. Just like for Kris, does he want to be a pro, or “stay” a pro? He also has a chance to be “the man” next season, and would be a favorite for Big East Player of the Year. Can he lead and carry a team, as Dunn did? Some would argue he’s already there, but it’s a different reality when you know you are the man.
— Hearing that PC associate head coach Andre LaFleur is gaining favor as a possible head coach at a couple of places, most notably Central Connecticut and the University of San Francisco. Expect some news on this front relatively soon, possibly before the Final Four in Houston. One of the best ways to validate the job a coach is doing is to see what kind of attention his staff receives. Ed Cooley’s staff is gaining traction.
— Joe Hassett railed about it. The fact that UNC is 33-1 in NCAA Tournament games played within the state of North Carolina certainly is hideous, only in that the Tar Heels have played 34 virtual home games. How have they won “only” five national titles? North Carolina is scheduled to play host to tourney games in Greensboro next year, and Charlotte in 2018.
— Perhaps the NCAA should have a look into the anti-LGBT bill just signed into law in North Carolina? Stupid is as stupid does.
— Not surprised in the least bit by Jamie Dixon leaving Pittsburgh for TCU. Some might see this as a lateral (at best) move, when in reality, it’s a step up for him — certainly for the school. One, Dixon disliked the move to the ACC from the Big East. Two, Pitt fans were ready to move on, after so many postseason shortcomings through the years. Three, he’s a TCU alum, and there’s nowhere to go but up in Fort Worth, with low(er) expectations for the program. And four, the money is comparable. It is, after all, about the Benjamins.
— There won’t be any shortage of candidates at Pitt, because after all, they’re in the ACC. Sean Miller won’t move back to his alma mater from Arizona, but little brother Archie might trek from Dayton, if asked nicely. And, if he’s offered an ACC-caliber contract. It is, after all, about the Benjamins.
— Stony Brook’s Steve Pikiell taking the Rutgers head coaching position may be akin to his beginning the Bataan Death March in college basketball. Did the former UConn player and assistant coach really think he wouldn’t get another shot at a high major? And is Rutgers still a high major — even if it’s in the Big Ten? It is, after all, about the Benjamins.
— Thumbs up: the ACC, with six teams reaching the Sweet 16. Extraordinary, even if Syracuse didn’t belong in the tournament in the first place. Thumbs down: Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten. The Big Ten was overrated pretty much throughout the season, despite Michigan State’s stunning first-round exit. The Pac-12 (Arizona, Utah, USC) had a lot of run in the selection committee room, so I’ve been told. And they ran out of gas, early.
— With the Madness continuing for two more weekends, it’s interesting to note that the television ratings for the tournament, over the four networks showing games, actually is down by 5 percent over a year ago. Perhaps that’s a continuation of the regular-season trend of audiences being down slightly as well — with the exception of the Big East on FS1. Or it could mean the public still is having trouble finding truTV on the channel menu. SyFy, H, H2 or NatGeo would be much better choices, don’t you think?
— Not for nuthin’, but the ACC’s tournament run will net the conference millions. Each win in this year’s tournament is worth approximately $1.5 million to a conference’s coffers, so do the math. Six teams already have 12 wins through two rounds. The only problem: The ACC has to share with a gazillion teams. Or at least it seems like a gazillion.
— New York Times columnist William Rhoden opined this week that for the Big East to truly get back to where it once was, prior to football Armageddon, that it should become a “coast to coast” Big East. Add Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, and develop Eastern and Western Divisions for a true National Conference. Good thing no one reads the Times anymore, or pays attention. And didn’t the league try to do this as a band-aid fix before football blew it all up anyway? Boise State and San Diego State, hello?
— I get it. Basketball-centric schools, sure. National names, OK. But the Big East is in zero hurry to expand. The coaches don’t just like, they love the round-robin schedule. And the tournament selection committee, for what it’s worth, has said it’s easier in the at-large selection process to see true “worthiness” of a team based on head-to-head comparisons. Never say never, but the only way the Big East expands is if television wants/needs the inventory. It will be, after all, about the Benjamins.
— Zen question of the week: Why does “more” always seem better?
— My buddy Statbeast sez he’s got a Zen question that no one seems to be able to answer, before exasperation sets in: “Why are booty calls and butt dialing so different?” Hmmm. Good one.
— The NFL owners’ meetings in Florida this week yielded somewhat predictable results — addressing player safety and conduct issues, mostly. I don’t like touchbacks on kick returns to the 25-yard line, but then again, I’d also like the sport of football to exist for the enjoyment of my grandkids’ grandkids. This sport is headed the way of the Roman gladiators, if long-term health issues are set aside any longer.
— Robert Kraft’s letter to the commissioner, requesting the return of the Patriots’ draft picks, was a PR move. Deep down, we all know there’s no way the NFL capitulates here, not when the league finally has the Patriots where it wants them. And Mr. Kraft understands he has to co-exist with the vindictive nature in this business — so, placate the masses. Continue the “Us vs. Them” storyline. It’ll continue to play well here.
— Think Bill Belichick’s grumpy demeanor at the meetings was rude? Inconsiderate? Childish? Typical? Best guess — he and Mr. Kraft are simply PO’d. They just aren’t going to go out of their way to support or advance the league — at least right now — after being hogtied and hornswaggled as they were for Deflategate.
— Speaking at the conclusion of the owners’ meeting in Florida, commissioner Roger Goodell said there has not been any “new information … that would cause us to alter the discipline” for the league to consider giving the Patriots anything in return. Huh? Should we go back to the eighth-grade explanation of the ideal gas law, or is that too much for you to comprehend, Mr. Commissioner? Or maybe to you it’s just weird science, and what you don’t understand you dismiss and ignore?
— Something else called “Vision 2020″ came from the owners meetings this week, with new potential revenue plans for the NFL that would increase the league’s annual intake to $25 billion — or more — by the start of the next decade. In other words, “Here’s how we’re going to take more money from you, and you’ll love it.”
— The Rams have pulled out of St. Louis and are officially headed west. You might recall this almost happened to us 21 years ago, and ironic that St. Louis is involved again — only this time on the losing end. The NFL will be doing everything it can to bolster the enthusiasm for a Los Angeles team again, including featuring the Rams in August’s “Hard Knocks” on HBO.
— Had to laugh at this, though. Jets owner Woody Johnson’s plea to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: Come back to the Jets, according to the New York media. “I kind of hope [he returns],” was what Johnson actually said. What got lost in the translation here? That the New York media thinks Geno (Glass Jaw) Smith is a bust?
— Don’t look now, but the Celtics’ win total this year already surpasses last season’s total for the entire season. So why aren’t expectations for this team higher than they seem to be? Are the C’s Cleveland-good? They’re probably not even Toronto-good, but since when are expectations of our pro teams set so low around here?
— Loved seeing this item this week: If you’re convicted to serve a life sentence in Rhode Island, the state considers you “civilly dead.” You can’t vote, you can’t marry and you certainly can’t drive (legally, anyway). Nor should you be able to enjoy civil liberties and the freedom that comes with such privilege. But we’ll let you live, because there is no death penalty here. Instead, become a burden to the society that deems you “dead” in the first place. Zombies amongst us. What’s next, a bill for the taxpayers to pay for the honeymoon?
— Does anyone remember that ESPN’s X Games started here, in Providence? Now that they’re leaving Austin, Texas, a year before the contract is up, largely due to the heat in the late summer Texas sun and the desire for an earlier competition, what about Providence again? Has anyone made this call yet?
— This’ll go over well. Organizers of the 2022 Qatar World Cup are “considering a proposal to house football fans in Bedouin-style desert camps amid growing concerns about a potential shortage of accommodation during the tournament,” according to Reuters.
— Forget about the insane working conditions for those building the stadiums, the worker deaths, slave wages and labor camps. Temperatures will reach well over 100 degrees for the games, too — not exactly prime accommodations for the athletes, either. FIFA isn’t just crooked, it’s stupid. Because it is, after all, about the Benjamins.
— I had the pleasure of meeting TBS/TNT NBA reporter Craig Sager years ago, while working in San Antonio. Always loved and appreciated his passion for, and knowledge of, pro basketball. His goofy suits became part of the “show,” which he understands so well. It’s heartbreaking to see his struggle with leukemia, and HBO’s “Real Sports” profiled his plight this week. Sager has been given 3-6 months to live, but he says he’s going to keep working. And become a medical miracle. Not betting against him.
— Say what you will about his politics, or his motives, but former gubernatorial candidate Robert Healey’s passing this week takes more than just a life from our political world around here. It takes a smart man, one with a tremendous sense of humor and realism, away from the process. He was the epitome of the party he created — a real “cool moose.”
— Loved watching “This Week in Baseball” with Joe Garagiola growing up, and remember his two trips as host of the “Today Show” on NBC. Garagiola was baseball for me as a kid, with only one game a week on network TV, and usually on Saturdays during the summer. He was 90 when he passed away this week, and if anyone had a full life — as an athlete, broadcaster, husband, father and philanthropist — he surely did.
— Comedian Garry Shandling and former Patriots Kevin Turner and Julius Adams also left us this week. Turner, a running back, suffered with ALS, and was 46 years old. Adams was a defensive end on the Pats’ first Super Bowl team in the 1985 season. My goodness, when it rains, it pours.
— If the Red Sox really want to show they mean business when they break spring training, Travis Shaw should get the nod at third base over Pablo Sandoval. I get that this probably won’t happen, because Sandoval a) makes too much money, and b) could become a distraction if he sits on the bench in a utility role.
— Who is to blame for this predicament? Management that approved his arrival in Boston in the first place. Bite the bullet. Bench the Panda. The best player should play, period. No more excuses for a team with a hefty payroll to finish in last place. Stop coddling millionaires. They can go and cry in their checkbooks and whine to their agents.
— The guy I want to see play this year: Sam Travis. He’ll probably start out with Pawtucket, and that’s not a bad thing. By all accounts, the 22-year-old first baseman has been crushing the ball this spring, and he might actually have been a contender to make the big club if it weren’t for the Hanley Ramirez Makeover Project.
— The guy swings a bat without gloves. Ever tried that yourself? Especially against 95 mph cheese?
— Good stuff from Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen on MLB expanding the wild card playoff: “Baseball’s built for a series more than a one-game [wild card],” McCutchen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You don’t ever see anywhere in the game of baseball where 30 teams play a team one time. Doesn’t happen. I believe the reason behind that is because the game is so unpredictable you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
— Troy Brown once put it so eloquently. “Bingo! I’ve got bingo!” So does McCutchen. But right now baseball is, after all, about the — well, you know.
— As legend would have it, the idea behind filling out an NCAA bracket just for fun began in 1977 in a bar in Staten Island, New York. Some 88 people filled out brackets that year and paid a $10 winner-take-all fee, and that was that. Same bar — in 2006 — took in 150,000 entrants and paid out more than $1.5 million. Uncle Sam took notice somewhere in between, and the bar’s owner had federal tax evasion charges filed against them. While the NCAA Tournament began in 1939, the popularity of March Madness didn’t really kick in until the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The expansion made the challenge of correctly predicting tournament results even harder — if not impossible. And don’t we all love a good fight? The odds of having a perfect bracket are said to be 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, or 1 in 9.2 quintillion. You have a better chance of hitting four holes-in-one in a single round of golf, or dying an untimely death by vending machine.
— My personal “aha” moment for the tournament? When Larry Bird and Magic Johnson met for the NCAA title in 1979. Great buildup, superb performances, wonderful theater. Every year thereafter, the anticipation builds for similar matchups. TV also has had much to do with the proliferation of “bracketology” in our lives, in just about every competitive endeavor. This year, I decided to skip the pretense. No brackets, no pools. No bother. Figured it was the most sensible, logical thing I’ve done in years. If I don’t expect, I’m not disappointed.
— Jeremy from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, posted on Facebook this week: Great season, I’m proud to be a Friar fan and supporter. I’ll take being one of the last 32 teams out of 351 every year! Can’t wait for next year, let’s go Friars! Jeremy: I share your sentiment. Hopefully, that albatross of 19 years between NCAA wins has flown the coop, finally, whether deserved or not. Still feel like some year soon, this program takes the next expected step, and that’s advancing to the Sweet 16 and beyond. The Friars certainly are on the right track, and if you’re a fan/donor/supporter, that’s all you can reasonably ask for.
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