Archives for posts with tag: Kentucky

Who’s ready for Opening Day!?!  In March???  It’s the price of doing business playing 162 reguarl season games with 3+ rounds of playoffs while not holding the World Series in November.  For better or worse.  I know-I get this feeling twice every year.  It happens in early November, when we’re halfway through the NFL season and just into college football’s closing month when suddenly we’re supposed to care about Maryland-Hofstra.  The men’s college basketball season concludes over the next few weeks, so it’s only fitting some of the NCAA Tournament thunder is robbed by baseball’s pomp and circumstance.  Usually opening week in baseball overlaps with the Final Four;  this year the Nationals will have played nine games (weather permitting) by the time the nets are cut down in Minneapolis.

That said, the calendar waits for no one. The Washington Nationals attempt to bounce back from an 82-80 season as well as the offseason loss of Bryce Harper.  But this team will be bolstered by offseason additions like Patrick Corbin as well as the catching duo of Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki.  The Nats were built to handle Harper’s departure as good as they could be, with prime prospect Victor Robles joining last year’s breakout rookie Juan Soto in the “future is now” category.  If only Adam Eaton can play 140 games in rightfield while leading off;  the veteran has been limited by injuries to just 118 games over the last two years.  Other questions involve the health of mainstays Ryan Zimmerman (85 games played last year) and Stephen Strasburg (22 starts).  Also, will manager Davey Martinez return for year two armed with lessons learned in 2018?  Unlike the NFL, baseball is not a snapshot season.  Over 162 games a team’s players and manager rise or fall to their actual level a lot more than pro football-or even the NHL and NBA.  Let’s get this season underway.

 

Regional Roundup: fourteen of the top sixteen seeds advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with three glaring losses by David over the first weekend.  Thursday, Belmont was a tipped pass away from beating Maryland and New Mexico State missed two of three free throws against Auburn when three makes would have upset the Tigers and two would have forced overtime.  But both of those losses paled in comparison to UCF leading Duke late but being unable to hold off the overall number one seed in the final minute.  So instead of Cinderellas, we get a #5 seed Auburn and a #12 seed Oregon as the only Regional outliers.

 

Sweet Sixteen Showdowns–

South-

 #1 Virginia vs. #12 Oregon.  While the Cavaliers avenged last year’s First Round loss to UMBC by rallying past Gardner-Webb and moved past 2017’s Second Round loss to Florida, the “Ghosts of Regionals Past” are just as haunting.  UVa has won just one Regional Semifinal game this century…while the Ducks have reached the Final Four as recently as 2017.  They also boast the 12th ranked defense in Division I-UVa allowing the fewest points per game again this season.  Coach Dana Altman’s team is the only double-digit seed still in the tournament thanks to ten straight wins.

#2 Tennessee vs. #3 Purdue. Rick Barnes previously led Clemson and Texas to the Sweet Sixteen, and it’s no different with his third straight orange-clad school.  One would think that if things don’t work out longterm in Tallahassee, he’ll head to Illinois.  The Boilermakers were a Lucas Haas injury away from doing major damage last March;  guard Carsen Edwards led the Big Ten in scoring this past winter and is averaging 34 points a game in the NCAA Tournament.

 

West-

#1 Gonzaga vs. #4 Florida State. The Bulldogs have lost to ACC schools in four straight NCAA Tournaments, and the Seminoles are one of the more athletic teams in the bracket.  It’s also amazing how somehow FSU coach Leonard Hamilton looks younger than he did 20 years ago.

#2 Michigan vs. #3 Texas Tech.  Two of the top three defensive teams (UVa being #1) battle with the Wolverines looking to make a return trip to the Elite Eight.  The Red Raiders reached the Regional Final last year as well before falling to Villanova.

 

East-

#1 Duke vs. #4 Virginia Tech.  An ACC matchup takes place one round earlier than it should; I’m still flummoxed that the committee was cool with putting three Big Ten schools in the lower half of the East bracket.  The Hokies beat the Blue Devils when Zion Williamson was hurt, but so was VT guard Justin Robinson. Tech is 17-3 with the senior in the lineup; 7-5 without.

#2 Michigan State vs. #3 LSU.  One coach is being flogged for freaking out during a game, while the other is in the land of limbo. Will Wade hasn’t coached since the Tigers’ penultimatet regular season game…but LSU finds itself in DC along with Tom Izzo, who might be persuaded to drink more decaf this weekend.

 

Midwest-

#1 North Carolina vs. #5 Auburn. Another strong regional has the Tigers as an outlier–although coach Bruce Pearl’s team was in the top 25 for a big chunk of the season and they did win four games in four days at the SEC Tournament.  The Tar Heels are the best team nobody’s talking about, and senior Luke Maye feels like he’s in his 8th year at the school.  Both teams can score in bunches.

#2 Kentucky vs. Houston. They want Wildcats-Heels in the Regional Finals, right?  PJ Washington remains a question mark with his foot injury- and at best will play 15-20 minutes against a Cougars team that is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1984- when Akeem Olajuwon led the team to the Final Four and a loss to Georgetown in the National Championship game.

 

 

 

While most of the eyes in the Southeastern Conference were focused on Jacksonville and the game unofficially referred to as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, another SEC East school was busy making history.  At the same time #7 Georgia was shutting the door on 9th ranked Florida, Kentucky rallied to beat Missouri 15-14 a with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns–the gamewinner coming with time expired.  The #12 Wildcats–ranked this season for the first time since 2007–improved to 7-1 on the season and more importantly 5-1 in the SEC.  Yes…for the first time since 1977 Kentucky will finish with a winning conference record.  Since going an unbeaten 6-0 in league play under Fran Curci (and also under probation so they couldn’t play in a Bowl that year) the Wildcats have had almost as many winless (6) SEC campaigns as they’ve had .500 seasons (8).  When Mark Stoops took over for Joker Phillips in 2013, many thought he had a tough task ahead of him while others remained flummoxed that a school would hire as head coach somebody with the nickname “Joker” (for the record, it’s Joe Jr.).  The process has been slow yet steady as the Wildcats have gone from two to five to seven wins thus far…and now Kentucky will host Georgia Saturday with a trip to the SEC Championship Game on the line.  What’s this about basketball?

 

Alma Mater Update- talking about droughts ending…the Orange find themselves ranked (#22) for the first time since 2001 after a 51-41 win over NC State.  SU is bowling for the first time since 2013–and unlike that fall the Orange are assured of postseason play before Thanksgiving.  Fans get to celebrate Eric Dungey’s final month as the quarterback of the Orange and get occasional peeks at the future QB in Tommy DeVito.  Winnable games with Wake Forest and Louisville arrive before they face Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

 

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) turned the Coastal Division race upside-down with a 49-28 loss to Georgia Tech.  Every fear or nightmare one has entering a game against an option team like the Yellowjackets came true.  It’s a good thing Navy isn’t on Tech’s schedule this fall.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while Damon Hazelton caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a score.  Khalil Ladler made a team-high 12 tackles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.5 yards per punt.  Hokie Humblings:  the Yellowjackets chewed up yardage and the clock all night- holding the ball for 42 minutes while gaining 465 yards on the ground.  The offense converted just 2 of 8 third downs and gained just 19 yards on its first 11 plays from scrimmage in the second half.   Eight penalties for 87 yards didn’t help either.  Next:  Saturday at 3:45 against 6-2 Boston College.

 

Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating North Carolina 31-21.  The Cavaliers also move into first place of the Coastal Division, something that might not sit well in Blacksburg if they didn’t have their own problems to deal with.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and another score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notches 10 catches (setting the career mark at UVa) for 108 yards.  Juan Thornhill tallied seven tackles to pace the defense that held the Tar Heels to 4-of-14 on third down.  Just one penalty on the day.  Cavalier Concerns:  Lester Coleman averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, and the return game (17 yards per kickoff return, 1.4 yards per punt return) was somewhat lacking.  Next:  Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against 4-4 Pitt.

 

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) moved within one victory of bowl-eligibility with its 63-33 rout of Illinois.  The big play was the thing as five of the Terps’ nine touchdowns were by more than 40 yards.  Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns while scoring a fourth on a 97-yard kickoff return.  Kasim Hill threw for a career high 265 yards and three touchdowns.  The offense converted 12 of 15 third downs while holding the Illini to four field goals on four trips to the red zone.  Terrapin Troubles: after two and a half quarters of lock-down defense, Maryland went into break-but-don’t-bend mode by allowing touchdowns of 61, 89 and 84 yards.  The team was penalized seven times–once in the pregame warmups while another was a targeting penalty that resulted in linebacker Tre Watson’s ejection.  Next:  Saturday at noon against 6-3 Michigan State.

 

Navy (2-6) dropped its fifth straight game in a 44-22 loss to #3 Notre Dame…and it could have been a textbook case for the 2018 season.  The offense struggled in the first half- gaining just 62 yards on 24 plays from scrimmage-while the defense allowed four touchdown drives of 67 yards or more.  Now the Mids are in danger of missing postseason play for just the second time in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure.  Midshipman Medals: After a disastrous first half, they actually outscored the Fighting Irish 22-16 the rest of the way.  Malcolm Perry ran for 133 of the team’s 292 yards.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense was held to 2-for-12 on third down.  Meanwhile, the defense was unable to slow down the Fighting Irish:  quarterback Ian Book completed 82% of his passes for 330 yards while Dexter Williams ran for 142 yards.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 7-1 Cincinnati.