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Opening Day is Here!
[Posted Wed. a.m.]
NCAA Tournament Quiz: Name the last two seeds greater than a 4-seed to win the national title. Answer below. [Hint: You have to go pretty far back for the latter one.]
--Conference performance in the tournament (# of teams in brackets):
Missouri Valley (1) 4-0
Big Ten (4) 8-3
Big 12 (7) 12-6
Big East (6) 7-5
ACC (9) 12-9
SEC (8) 8-8
Pac 12 (3) 0-3
--Chris Mack left Xavier after nine successful seasons, eight of which he took the Musketeers to the NCAA tournament, and took the head coaching job at Louisville, seven years, $4 million per.
I was watching the NIT last night and at halftime, analyst Seth Greenberg said former coach Rick Pitino had just called him after hearing about the Mack hiring and said it’s clear Mack is taking over a program that will not face further severe sanctions because none of Pitino’s assistants, outside of the first guy involved in the stripper incidents, has been charged with any wrongdoing. You’ve got to believe Mack has some kind of assurance Louisville is not about to be put on a lengthy probation. [One year would be fine, more than one not fine.]
Xavier now becomes a very attractive job for someone like Loyola’s Porter Moser? Hmmm.
--And Pitt hired longtime Duke assistant Jeff Capel to be its new head coach, the job Danny Hurley should have taken rather than the UConn job.
Capel, 43, has worked under Coach K for seven seasons, establishing himself as a top recruiter, with the Blue Devils landing the No. 1 class in the country in four of the past five seasons.
Capel also spent five seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma and four seasons as the head guy at VCU. He led Oklahoma to an Elite Eight run in 2009 with Blake Griffin.
A great hire for Pitt. Now, can he get the nine players who asked for their release in wake of the firing of coach Kevin Stallings to return?
--For the first time in the 70-year history of the AP All-America team, three freshmen were named to the first team.
Trae Young (Oklahoma), Deandre Ayton (Arizona) and Marvin Bagley III (Duke) were the trio, accompanied by Villanova’s Jalen Brunson (junior) and Kansas’ Devonte Graham (senior).
Young, Bagley and Ayton will all go in the top ten in the upcoming draft.
The second team consists of: Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State, junior), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier, senior), Jock Landale (Saint Mary’s, senior), Miles Bridges (Michigan State, sophomore), and Jevon Carter (West Virginia, senior).
--The NIT got what it was looking for...a Penn State-Utah finale. Utah beat Western Kentucky 69-64 in one semi on Tuesday (a pretty entertaining game), while the Nittany Lions took out Mississippi State 75-60.
--The big news Monday night was the return of Markelle Fultz to the Sixers lineup after being out virtually the entire season under mysterious circumstances (basically, we were told he had a shoulder injury, but in reality most believe he was just trying to find his confidence...and his jump shot). Fultz, the overall No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, entered the game against the Nuggets with two minutes left in the first quarter and was met with a warm ovation from the Philadelphia fans. He scored 10 points in 14 minutes on 5 of 13 shooting, but also handed out a staggering 8 assists in such a short period of time.
Philly won the game, 123-104, to move to 43-30.
--Also Monday, the Knicks lost to the Hornets in OT, 137-128, as they fell to 27-48, though in the ninth from the bottom playoff/lottery slot, which sucks. But at least they saw what former first-round draft pick Trey Burke can do, the point guard in just his second start for the Knickerbockers going off for 42 points and 12 assists, eliciting calls that he had the potential to be the next Allen Iverson.
A bit premature, but the Knicks would be nuts not to grant the kid a decent contract at season’s end. They’ve seen enough to know he can contribute.
--One other from Monday. The Pistons beat the Lakers 112-106, in a meaningless game for both that I mention only because Lonzo Ball went 7 of 8 from the field, scoring 15 points, with 8 rebounds and 11 assists.
So Ball hiked his shooting percentage to .359! Reader Steve G., who attended Pocono Mountain Basketball Camp in his youth, which was a top camp in our area back in the day, noted that when it came to Ball’s free-throw woes (.460 percent), he should have had a lesson from Hank Slider, who was famous back in the 1970s for being a shooting guru. Slider was at Pocono (I went there one summer) and the guy, then an old-timer, really was amazing.
Anyway, you got assigned counselors who were then-current college players (mine was a guy Marty Patterson who was attending Clemson, another was Mark Moeller, who was on N.C. State’s championship team with David Thompson and Tom Burleson), but Steve told me his was Jim Delany, the current commissioner of the Big Ten, which is kind of cool.
--We note the passing of Zeke Upshaw, a player for the Grand Rapids Drive of the NBA’s developmental G League. Upshaw collapsed on the court during a game last weekend and died two days later. He was 26.
The 6-foot-6 swingman had 11 points Saturday as the Drive earned a playoff spot with a 101-99 victory in its regular season finale against Long Island. Upshaw, in his second season with the Drive, played three seasons at Illinois State and finished his college career with a year at Hofstra.
--Still can’t believe Opening Day is here. Starting before April 1st is just weird. And the weather won’t be cooperating in many parts of the country the first week it seems. [Ergo, crappy attendance for one.]
But I’m looking at the Sports Illustrated baseball preview, which I’ve previously said has the Nationals over the Yankees in the Series, and that’s OK. Your official Bar Chat “Pick to Click” to win it all is a repeat from the Houston Astros (over Washington). Kids, you can safely bet the lunch money. Just ask your parents for an advance, then, during your summer vacation, hop the rails, post-Supreme Court ruling allowing sports betting, to increase your bet at the nearest available location.
But SI has the Mets at 88-74 and making the wild card. I’d love the Mets to have that kind of season. I just don’t see it. I’ll go with 84-78, which means chances are the season is still entertaining throughout for us Metsies.
Then again, you clearly have a situation where in MLB, out of 30 teams, 7 seem a lock for 90 wins.
In the NL: Washington, Chicago and L.A.
In the AL: New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Houston.
I agree with SI’s projections on each of the seven that they all win at least 95 games.
But that leaves a bunch of teams with a shot at the wild card. And, if the Mets’ rotation is reasonably healthy, ditto Yoenis, then what the hell, they’re in the race.
--The Yankees received the bad news they didn’t want to hear. First baseman Greg Bird is out 6-8 weeks after surgery on his ankle.
--Angels manager Mike Scioscia made it official. Shohei Ohtani will make his pitching debut Sunday at Oakland in the finale of the team’s season-opening four-game series. [Tyler Skaggs, Garrett Richards, and Matt Shoemaker are the first three starters.] No decision on when Ohtani will DH has been made. Good luck, Shohei!
--The Associated Press released their projections of opening day payrolls, and Boston tops the major leagues at about $223 million, ending the Dodgers’ four-year run as the top spender. The Giants are second, $203 million, with the Cubs third at about $183 million. The Dodgers and Nationals are at $180 million, and the Angels at $170 million.
The Yankees are all the way back in seventh at $167 million – their lowest payroll since 2003, and the lowest they have been ranked since 1992, when it finished ninth at $34.5 million in the final season of George Steinbrenner’s two-year suspension. They would then top the league 1994-97 and 1999-2013, interrupted by a season in which Baltimore finished $207,000 ahead. They were second to the Dodgers each of the last four years.
Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner has vowed to get under the luxury tax for the first time since the current tax system started in 2003, and they have, after shelling out $341 million in penalties over 15 years.
Both the Yankees and Dodgers want to be in a better position next fall to go after the likes of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.
The highest paid player this season will be the Angels’ Mike Trout at $34.08 million, followed by Clayton Kershaw at $34 million and Zack Greinke at $31.95 million.
--As of Tuesday, some of the still-jobless veterans include Greg Holland, Andre Ethier, J.J. Hardy, John Lackey, Brandon Moss, Brandon Phillips, Mark Reynolds and Carlos Ruiz.
Jayson Werth signed a minor league contract with the Mariners yesterday, though he is likely to secure a big league roster spot soon.
--Baseball America College Top Ten
1. Oregon State
5. Florida State
10. North Carolina State
Not a banner year thus far for the ACC.
--From AdWeek: “In 1872, Louis Rueckheim was a German immigrant who joined his brother Frederick in Chicago to set up a popcorn business. Sold from carts equipped with steam-powered poppers, popcorn had been a hugely popular snack since the Civil War, and F.W. Rueckheim & Brother prospered. But two decades in, the brothers decided it might be time to try to differentiate their commodity product. In 1896, after shelving a too-sticky prototype (which the brothers first sold at the Chicago World’s Fair three years earlier), Louis perfected a way to coat the popcorn with a dry molasses shell that mixed well with peanuts and didn’t stick to people’s fingers.
“He called it Cracker Jack, borrowing from a contemporary idiom (‘Cracker Jack’ was a late-19th-century analog to today’s ‘da bomb’). Natural-born marketers, the very German Rueckheims possessed an innate feel for American consumerism. They came up with the idea to sell their snack at baseball games, adding a toy prize in each box.”
But the boys didn’t have a jingle.
So it was in 1908, when a New York lyricist named Jack Norworth was riding the subway and noticed an ad for a game at Manhattan’s Polo Grounds. “Then and there, he began scribbling the lyrics for ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ on the back of an envelope.” Norworth didn’t know the Rueckheim brothers, and hadn’t even been to a ballgame, but he knew enough to pen the line: “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.”
Yup, that tune, and single line, helped Cracker Jack keep its place on the Americana shelf. “The heritage is so strong because people grew up with it,” said Jeannie Cho, VP of marketing for Frito-Lay, which acquired the brand in 1997. “Through generations, people have enjoyed baseball games with their families. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s part of the song.”
One analyst, Caleb Bryant, told AdWeek that the song gives Cracker Jack the longest-running product placement in American history. “The only other thing that American,” he added, “would be if Coca-Cola were mentioned in ‘The Star Spangled Banner.”
Frito-Lay screwed up in 2004 when it decided to replace the famous box with a bag, prompting the Yankees to replace it with Crunch ‘n Munch. (Fans hated the bag, asked for the box back, and Frito-Lay complied...all was well).
--Still a month away from the draft, but the NFL keeps our interest. Giants fans are wondering what the team will do with Odell Beckham Jr., who is under contract for this season, but he has said he would not report to camp without an extension, and the Giants, long tired of his on-field crap, could easily trade him shortly.
But on Monday, owner John Mara, who over the weekend said Beckham could be dealt, said, “Do I want him to be traded? Absolutely not. I want him to be a Giant.” But then he added, “I can’t promise that’s going to happen.”
Ergo, the Giants need to be blown away by an offer to deal him.
--As I was posting Sunday, I missed that the Jets had just announced that they had rescinded their offer for veteran defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and at first it looked like the Jets were jerks in the matter, though most of us fans were happy with the result.
But the team is now saying they were tired of waiting for Suh to accept their offer, and that they had set a deadline, and that this was the reason it was pulled.
Regardless of what the story really is, Suh then signed a one-year, $14 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams.
--Former Giants linebacker and Montana State star Corey Widmer has declined his nomination to the Montana Football Hall of Fame, saying the sport “destroyed my life.”
Widmer said after numerous concussions he fears he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease. He has depression, memory problems, suffers from mood swings and seeks to isolate himself.
“I’m 49 years old, depressed to the Nth degree, but have a lot of money – and some people might say it’s still worth it. I just tell them to watch what they wish for,” Widmer told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “If someone could’ve explained all of this to me when I was 14, I would’ve given it all back in a heartbeat. I would’ve wished for something else.”
--The NFL said it has simplified the catch rule. A player has to catch the ball, land in bounds, and then do something that demonstrates he has control of the ball.
More specifically, a catch will have occurred if a player, who is in bounds:
“(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms before the ball touches the ground; and
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
(c) after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, performs any act common to the game (e.g., tucks the ball away, extends it toward or over the goal line or the first-down line, takes an additional step, turns upfield, or avoids or wards off an opponent), or maintains control of the ball long enough to do so.”
I’ll take a week this summer, get a couple cases of beer, and read this more closely then.
--The Carolina Panthers are set to be sold for around $2.5 billion, according to sports bankers, as owner Jerry Richardson has put the team he founded in 1993 up for sale; which would be a sign the league, despite its myriad of problems, is still pretty healthy.
So far there are six bidders, including hedge fund king David Tepper, who is currently a minority owner in the Steelers and a man I am most familiar with. [Tepper has been a major benefactor to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Pittsburgh, the two schools he attended.]
--In a bit of a surprise, Peyton Manning has turned down both ESPN to work on “Monday Night Football” (replacing Jon Gruden), and Fox for its new “Thursday Night Football” slate of games. Fox seemed a sure thing since Manning was on record as not wanting to work weekends, but now Fox has no Plan B after investing gobs of money in the hope “Thursday Night Football” would help juice the rest of the network lineup.
--The latest odds for The Masters...a tradition unlike any other...on CBS...have Tiger Woods at 10-1, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are also at 10-1, with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose at 12-1. Bubba Watson is now 14-1 after his success this year.
--The consensus was that last weekend’s Match Play event was pretty hideous. Forget the awful play on Sunday, the players aren’t happy with the round-robin early format that guarantees the top players are around a few days, which pleases spectators and sponsors, but not the golfers. And then you get blowouts, which needless to say makes for poor television.
Meanwhile, Justin Thomas would have been No. 1 in the world if he had won his Sunday semifinal match against Bubba Watson. Thomas admitted after this was all he could think of, “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”
Followers of the sport were shocked at Thomas’ honesty.
So some of us had something different to watch on Monday afternoon, the delayed NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville, Va., and it was won by Clint Bowyer, the 38-year-old ending a 5 ½-year drought in winning his ninth career Cup race. The 190 races without a win was the third-longest streak between victories in Cup Series history, Bowyer finishing second six times in that stretch. On Monday he led 215 of the 500 laps, more laps than he had led in his previous 159 races combined, which is rather remarkable.
Bowyer has had his share of controversy, especially in 2012-13, and it cost him greatly, but I like his reaction Monday. While standing in Martinsville’s front stretch, an impromptu Victory Lane, holding young son Cash, named for Johnny Cash, he screamed, “Give me one of them damn beers!” and promptly snatched one and chugged it on live television. Gotta respect that. [It was a tall boy, too.]
No Cup race Easter weekend. Next one the following week in Texas.
--I need to complete the NCAA Frozen Four I started last chat, slated for April 5-7 in St. Paul.
Minnesota Duluth vs. Ohio State; Michigan vs. Notre Dame
--Brad K. passed this on the from Fairfield, Connecticut, where “Police are warning people that hawks are dive-bombing and even clawing at people’s heads.
“Several people in Fairfield have been attacked by the birds in recent weeks, police say.”
No action will be taken on the All-Species List pending further investigation. But ‘Hawk’ will need to hire an attorney, and for this a gofundme page has been set up. John Dowd is now available.
--From the AP: “Authorities say a coyote that was found on an outdoor mezzanine at the New York State Museum in Albany has been tranquilized and removed from the building....
“The animal was discovered lying in front of doors at a walkway leading to the mezzanine of the museum.”
Good lord, that would creep you out.
But the coyote was clearly looking to get inside the museum to check out the natural sciences exhibits.
--I was reading a piece by Lucy Jones of the BBC on the storm of 1703 and it’s most interesting.
Yes, on the night of December 7, 1703, “the United Kingdom was visited by an extreme weather event.
“Following weeks of wind and rain, a cyclone blew through the country at midnight, from the Welsh coasts to the Midlands and the south of England, hitting the cities of Bristol and London in particular. The storm also wreaked havoc in continental Europe, causing severe damage in the Netherlands, the Danish islands and Germany.”
Now you’re probably immediately thinking, ‘How the heck does anyone remember this?’
Well, it was remembered as the “Great Storm of 1703” by none other than Queen Anne, who described it as “a Calamity so Dreadful and Astonishing, that the like hath not been Seen or Felt, in the Memory of any Person Living in this Our Kingdom.”
But it’s really remembered because of the work at the time of novelist Daniel Defoe (“Robinson Crusoe”), a man who lived from 1660-1731.
Defoe, just before the storm struck, noticed that the Mercury had “sunk lower than ever I had observ’d it” and assumed the instrument had been meddled with by his children. He recorded the “terrible night” in great detail in a 1704 book, “The Storm,” using accounts from people across the country.
So, yeah, hard to believe, but there is a real accounting of the event.
Two more recent researchers, one now deceased, ranked North Sea storms and 1703 was only the fifth worst, the consensus being the worst was 1987, but because of Defoe and his detailed account, which was a most popular book, the storm has a lot of notoriety, namely because the physical damage was so great, especially because it hit the south of England’s populated cities and harbors.
“The storm uprooted thousands of trees; blew tiles from rooftops, which smashed windows in their paths; and flung ships from their moorings in the River Thames. A boat in Whitsable, Kent was blown 250m inland from the water’s edge.
“As Britain slept, the wind lifted and dropped chimney stacks, killing people in their beds. It blew fish out of the ponds and onto the banks in London’s St. James’ Park, beat birds to the ground and swept farm animals away to their deaths. Oaks collapsed and pieces of timber, iron and lead blasted through the streets. The gales blew a man into the air and over a hedge. A cow was blown into the high branches of a tree. Lightning kindled fires in Whitehall and Greenwich. From the hours of five in the morning until half past six, the storm roared at its strongest. It is thought between 8,000 and 15,000 people in total were killed.” [Lucy Jones]
The country had experienced 14 days of heavy winds before the big one hit, meaning a lot of ships were crowded in the English Channel, waiting the heavy weather out. Thirteen Royal Navy ships and many merchant vessels were lost in the Channel, along with the sailors.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/25/78: #1 “Night Fever” (Bee Gees) #2 “Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees...ugh...the Bee Gees were king in light of “Saturday Night Fever” and the disco craze...I want to commit hari-kari but can’t find my sword...) #3 “Emotion” (Samantha Sang)...and...#4 “Lay Down Sally” (Eric Clapton...dreadful...) #5 “Can’t Smile Without You” (Barry Manilow...not his best...) #6 “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” (Andy Gibb) #7 “I Go Crazy” (Paul Davis...saves the week...underrated artist...) #8 “Sometimes When We Touch” (Dan Hill...Trump used this line extensively later...) #9 “If I Can’t Have You” (Yvonne Elliman) #10 “Thunder Island” (Jay Ferguson...OK tune...)
NCAA Tournament Quiz Answer: Last two champions with a seed greater than 4...
2014 – UConn No. 7
1988 – Kansas No. 6
1985 – Villanova No. 8
Next Bar Chat, Monday.