Archives for posts with tag: Michigan

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What time is it?  Oh yes, we’re back from Daylight Saving Time (not to be confused with “daylight savings”, which I’m told is incorrect) and return to “Standard Time” which for some reason takes up only 34.7% of the year.  Why not call DST the “new standard”?  I lived in Indiana when a large part of that state didn’t observe Daylight Saving, and while it was awesome not to change my clocks twice a year it was kind of jarring for it to be bright at 5 a.m. in June yet pitch black at 8:30 a.m. in December (I might be exaggerating slightly).

College football’s elite dealt with the switch back to Standard the only way they could:  top ranked LSU, No. 2 Alabama, and No. 3 Ohio State didn’t play.  I’m sure the respective coaches had their players in cocoons to get the body ready for the clock switch, although the Tigers and Crimson Tide are both preparing for their November 9 showdown.  The Buckeyes probably don’t need an extra week to prepare for Maryland.  Those falling back on the field this weekend include No. 6 Florida, who may be unbeaten in Gainesville yet 0-2 in Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, and No. 15 SMU who sees their New Year’s Day bowl hopes take a major hit with their first loss of the season.  But at least the Mustangs entered November unbeaten;  No. 20 Appalachian State fell for the first time October 31st and doesn’t get credit for reaching “Closing Month” unblemished.  What time is it?

 

Alma Mater Update- it’s time for the defense to show up. At Syracuse the number 44 is special, as the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little made those digits famous.  Even men’s basketball’s Derrick Coleman and John Wallace honored that number with great play.  But Saturday the Orange allowed 44 points in the first half to Boston College.  They wound up losing 58-27 and are now 3-6 with games remaining against Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest (a combined 16-8 on the season).  A winless ACC season is a distinct possibility after last year’s 10-3 dream season.  Bring on basketball-who probably won’t allow 44 points in a half this season.

 

Navy (7-1, 5-1 AAC) dominated UConn from the opening kickoff in their 56-10 rout of the Huskies.  The win also gives the Mids a half game lead in the AAC West over Memphis and SMU;  their lone loss is to the Tigers while the Mustangs come to Annapolis later this month.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 108 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for 165 yards and a score.  The running game would average eight yards per carry while gaining 408 on the evening.  Kevin Brennan tallied 12 tackles to lead a defense that held UConn to 4-14 on third down.

Midshipmen Miscues: head coach Ken Niumatalolo won’t be pleased with the four penalties, and Owen White averaged under 40 yards per punt.  When you’re parsing penalties and punts, it’s been one heck of a week.

Next: November 16 at 6-2 Notre Dame.

 

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) in their first game after Halloween was haunted by big plays made by Michigan as well as missed opportunities of their own;  the 38-7 loss was one of those games that felt closer than the actual score.  Unfortunately, the result puts the Terps on the precipice of Bowl eligibility elimination.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake returned a kickoff back for a 97-yard touchdown.  Josh Jackson in his first start back from injury remained healthy- no small feat concerning Maryland quarterbacks’ recent health history.  Isaiah Davis notched nine tackles and the defense prevailed in 8 of 15 third down situations.

Terrapin Troubles: Special teams they weren’t on a day where the Terps allowed the opening kickoff to be run back for a touchdown, missed a field goal and averaged less than 35 yards per punt while also allowing a first down on a fake punt.  They left points on the table when their best two drives of the day died in the Michigan red zone; instead of converting key third downs Jackson threw an interception and took a sack that set up a long field goal (which was missed).  Jackson was under pressure all afternoon, as Michigan sacked him four times.

Next: Saturday at noon on the road against No. 3 Ohio State.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3) led No. 16 Notre Dame into the final minute of play before the Fighting Irish put together an 18 play, 87 yard drive that ended with an Ian Book seven yard touchdown run.  Instead of beginning college football’s closing month with a signature victory, Tech gets 60 minutes of game tape illustrating their shortcomings.

Hokie Highlights: freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson II ran for 77 yards while throwing a touchdown pass to Damon Hazelton, who caught five passes for 63 yards to lead the team in both categories. Divine Deablo intercepted a pass and returned a fumble 98 yards back for a touchdown while Dax Hollifield intercepted a pass and notched a sack. Brian Johnson made both of his field goal attempts while John Parker Romo averaged 44.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  Patterson the passer had issues, completing just 9 of 28 throws while tossing a game-sealing interception.  The offense converted just 4-16 third downs and began the day with four straight three and outs.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 7-1 Wake Forest.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) has had their season of possibilities turn into a season of surprises. The surprising losses at Miami and Louisville now have their counterpart, a 38-31 win at North Carolina.  Now many of my UVa friends will admit they consider the original ACC member Tar Heels more of a rival than “new money” Virginia Tech, and for good reason: they’re 11-9 this century against UNC and have lost 15 straight to the Hokies.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins once again puts this team on his back, throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and two more scores.  Yes, that’s all five touchdowns came from this kid’s arm and feet.  Terrell Jana didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but did notch 13 receptions for 146 yards.  Charles Snowden led the defense with eight tackles.  The team committed just one penalty for five yards.

Cavalier Concerns: the defense was gashed for 539 yards and was burned by multiple big plays.  Touchdown passes of 34, 42, 47 and 50 yards were allowed by a D that was supposed be the strength of this team.  They also surrendered a non-scoring 57 yard strike.  The lack of running support for Perkins didn’t cost them this week, but he did get sacked three times as well as take those hits for his 21 runs.  He’s not indestructible.

Next: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against 2-6 Georgia Tech.

 

 

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“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

Have you ever tried to re-heat a souffle?  It can’t be done.  And along those lines while it’s easy to go home again for visits it’s nearly impossible to recreate the magic of what once was.  For one brief shining moment last decade, the University of Connecticut was a player in big-time football.  Look it up.  A 33-19 record over a four-year span from 2007 to 2010.  Sharing the Big East Conference championship twice within a four year stretch.  A trip to the Fiesta Bowl.  Even with the qualifier “Big East Football” in the mix,  the Huskies had come a long way from competing in the Yankee Conference and being the decidedly fourth rung on the school’s sports ladder (behind men’s and women’s basketball as well as men’s soccer).

Randy Edsall had created a BCS conference contender out of a I-AA program (yes, it was classified as that during the pre-FCS days) before answering the siren call of the University of Maryland;  a position that he said was his “dream job”.  Only the reality was less ideal than the dream, and Edsall was gone after four and a half seasons with a 22-34 record.

As disappointing as his tenure in College Park may have been, things got worse in Storrs. Paul Pasqualoni was flushed out after going 10-18 and his eventual replacement, Bob Diaco, departed after an 11-26 mark that may have included a bowl berth but will forever be known for creating the infamous “Civil ConFLiCT” trophy.

So after the dust cleared it only seemed natural to bring back the man to rebuild what was once built-if anyone can make UConn work, it’s Randy Edsall.  Only things haven’t been that easy in round two:  the Huskies are 6-26 and this year have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans in three of their four home games thus far.  He addressed the challenge during one of his weekly press conferences last year.  “We did it before, and we’re working to do it again,” Edsall said. “And it’s hard. And it’s harder now than what it was then because our generation has changed, society has changed.”

Yes, society has changed. It does every year and the kids of 2019 are nothing like the kids from 2000 when he began his first run with the Huskies, but the winning coaches adapt instead of pointing fingers.  “It’s today’s generation. It’s frustrating because there’s been no accountability in a lot of households and there’s been no accountability with these kids growing up,” Edsall said at a press conference last month. “They’ve never had it tough. They’ve never known how to work. They’ve never known how to sacrifice and be disciplined. And that’s the tough thing. And we’re trying to change all those things.”

Meanwhile, in the bad optics department, Edsall gets bonuses not just for victories but for statistical achievements.  The Hartford Courant published an article last November detailing his bonus structure, one that includes $2,000 payouts for scoring first and leading at the half.  Earlier this year when the Huskies lost 56-21 to UCF (no trophy was in play), Edsall collected $2,000 because UConn had a “better red zone scoring percentage” than the Knights.  Scoring two grand in a 35-point loss.  Now that’s accountability of a different sort.

College football is a long game when one is building a program; just look at how long it took Edsall to get things going at UConn in his previous tenure.  And recruiting classes can help things turn on a dime sometimes.  But the Huskies re-joining the Big East in their other sports places this program at a crossroads-not unlike the crossroads they were at when the school elected to make a play for the big time and hired Edsall in 1999.  Will the rain hold off until after sundown this time?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are actually favored this week against Boston College, and unless they beat the Eagles this will likely be the last time they’ll be favored in 2019.  SU’s currently 0-4 in the ACC, and their most recent conference win came at BC last November. That victory was a fun one for yours truly as I got to hang out with my roommate from freshman year Bob Goeldner and also run into a friend from high school Lynn Morganstern LeVeille. Her daughter now cheers for Syracuse.  The wins and losses fade but the smiles and good times endure.  Except for the excruciating losses–those stick with me forever.

 

Friday’s Game-

Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) at Connecticut (2-6, 0-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Another aspect of Edsall’s bonus structure is a $10,000 payout if the Huskies at the end of the season rank in the top half of the AAC in major offensive categories;  there is little threat of him collecting as UConn is currently 10th in rushing and passing efficiency, 11th in scoring and 12th in yards gained and third down conversions (I know what you’re thinking-they’re too focused on pass protection that ranks 9th in the conference).  Despite a second half defensive fade against Tulane, the Midshipmen clinched bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons with last week’s win over the Green Wave.  It’s a good thing for the academy that head coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn’t collect on similar bonuses:  the Mids are tops in the AAC in rushing offense and defense, as well as total and scoring defense.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move closer to a division title with a 45-13 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2), noon (ABC).

Somehow this is Homecoming; excuse me?  Aren’t homecomings reserved for the likes of Indiana/Illinois/Rutgers/Purdue?  Taking the Rutgers win out of the equation, the Terps are allowing 46 points per game in conference play.  The Wolverines come to College Park fresh off of a season-salvaging 45-14 rout of then-top ten Notre Dame.  They also bring a defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 25 sacks and is third best in the conference at getting off of the field on third down.  That’s bad news for a quarterback carousel that includes one player who’s day-to-day with a leg injury, another who’s still recovering from an ankle injury, and a third who’s a true freshman.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 41-17.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2) at No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Hokies are coming off of their bye week; they probably needed more time after the six-overtime triumph over North Carolina.  They probably also could have used an opponent less angry than a Fighting Irish team that saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke when they got manhandled by Michigan last weekend.  It was Ian Book’s worst game statistically since he became a full-time starter;  but something happens when he suits up in South Bend this fall.  The senior is completing 64% of his passes for 317 yards per game at home with an 11-0 touchdown to interception ratio at Notre Dame Stadium.  Good news for the Hokies:  redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker is healed up from the leg injury suffered against the Tar Heels.  Bad news for the Hokies:  there’s no way one can heal a defense that allows 33 points per game in regulation to FBS foes.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t handle the Hulk, falling 34-24.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at North Carolina (4-4, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

The ACC’s Coastal Division is on a collision course where all seven schools could finish 4-4;  while that’s not likely given Georgia Tech’s issues it’s completely conceivable the division winner goes 5-3 in the conference and advances to the Championship Game thanks to a tiebreaker or two.  UVa’s season of possibilities took a major hit last week with a seven-point loss at rebuilding Louisville-their closest game of the season.  This week’s foe is no stranger to tight games:  UNC has seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less, including a six-overtime extravaganza in Blacksburg.  The Tar Heels have issues getting to the quarterback and stopping the run, good news for a Cavaliers offensive line that remains a work in progress.

Kippy & Buffy know seasons and tailgates are made in November, and thus they enter college football’s “closing month” with a bottle of 2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon.   On the nose: “hints of cherry, earl grey, lavender and dry herbs lingering on black currant, white pepper and saffron.”  On the palate: “big round entrance evolving on dark fruit jam, currant and blackberry lingering on acidity and cherry.”   

Presto’s Pick: on the field- another offensive effort on offense. Cavaliers come up short, 20-16.

 

Georgetown gets by Colgate, Howard falls to North Carolina Central, William & Mary falls to Elon, Richmond beats Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Delaware, Morgan State slips to Norfolk State.

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This was supposed to be the season for Michigan.  Jim Harbaugh came to Ann Arbor in 2015 after the Wolverines had swung and missed with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Unlike Bo Schembechler leading Michigan to a Rose Bowl in his first season on campus, this rebuild was going to take time.  And year five meant that every player in the program was one brought on campus by Harbaugh.  Not to mention that Urban Meyer’s no longer coaching at Ohio State.  The path to the playoff was there, and “was” may be the operative word.

Saturday’s 35-14 loss by the No. 11 Wolverines to No. 13 Wisconsin saw the Badgers take a 28-0 halftime lead and make Michigan look like Rutgers.  Saturday’s loss puts the 21 points allowed to Middle Tennessee and Army in a different context, and the turnover-prone offense (seven lost fumbles in three games) that can’t get out of its own way looks all the more suspect.  Michigan’s only dipped its toe into one tough schedule:  three of their four October games are against ranked foes (including a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame) and November includes Michigan State and Ohio State, two schools that have had plenty of success against the Wolverines this decade-even after Harbaugh’s heralded arrival.  Once again, it looks as though Michigan end the season having gone to as many Big Ten Championship Games as Rutgers and Maryland.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange and I have an interesting relationship this autumn.  Because the game was on the ACC Network, I missed their season-opening shutout of Liberty.  I was in the press box for their painful pounding by Maryland so I got to see that defeat up close.  The following week’s loss to Clemson (homecoming?!) was on ABC and I saw the tail-end of that mess after covering the Navy-East Carolina game.  So when I caught last Saturday’s contest with Western Michigan, I was pleased to see they were up 21-0 in the second quarter.  Enter the defense that will help opposing skill position players get drafted a round or two earlier.  The lead was trimmed to 38-33 when I had to run errands and I later learned the Orange wound up winning 52-33.  So after four weeks, when I am watching or listening SU has been outscored 120-37 while they’ve handled foes 65-17 when I haven’t been able to monitor the team.  I apologize for being a hex this fall.

 

No. 21 Virginia (4-0) is off to its best start since 2004, but they certainly kept the Scott Stadium crowd on the edge of their seats as they trailed Old Dominion 17-7 at the half.  But just like they won the second halves against Pitt and Florida State, the Cavaliers were not to be denied in their 28-17 triumph. Seasons are not made in September, but as we’ve seen across the country they can definitely be ruined and while there are more than a few tough tests ahead UVa’s season of possibilities continues.

Cavalier Congrats: the legend of Bryce Perkins grows with another night where he led the team in rushing and scored a touchdown through the air and on the ground.  The offense also enjoyed a turnover-free night.  Charles Snowden notched 15 tackles with two sacks to pace a defense that handcuffed the Monarchs after halftime (66 total yards on 36 second half plays).

Cavalier Concerns: the offense had issues sustaining drives all evening, converting just 1 of 11 third downs.  Blame a running game that gained just 87 yards on 27 carries after accounting for sacks.  Special teams were not that special, as the Cavs had a field goal attempt blocked while averaging 36 yards per punt.  UVa was also whistled seven times for 70 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Notre Dame.

 

James Madison (3-1, No. 2 in FCS) was tested on the road at Chattanooga as the Moccasins put 14 points on the board in the first quarter.  But the Dukes defense dominated the rest of the way in a 37-14 rout.

Duke Do’s: Percy Agyei-Obese rushed for a season-high 114 yards while Ben DiNucci completed 19 of 25 passes for 264 yards.  Ethan Ratke connected on all three of his field goal attempts.

Duke Don’ts: a costly special teams fumble in the first quarter let Chattanooga pull even after trailing 14-0.  The pass rush generated just one sack.

Next:  Saturday at 2 p.m. against Elon.

 

Towson (3-1, 1-1 CAA) fell in overtime to Villanova (No. 18 in FCS) 52-45.  Although the Tigers will take a tumble down the rankings (they were 5th entering the game against the Wildcats), the conference race has just begun.

Tiger Triumphs: Tom Flacco passed for 304 yards while rushing for 110 more, but Yeedee Thaenrat proved to be the money man in the red zone with three rushing touchdowns.  Coby Tippett tallied 13 tackles to pace the defense.

Tiger Troubles:  the defense allowed 295 yards rushing while allowing the Wildcats to convert on 12 of 19 third downs. Third down was an issue for the Towson offense as well, as they moved the chains on 4 of 13 tries.

Next: Saturday at (gulp) Florida.

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Welcome to another new era of Maryland football.  For the third time this decade a new regime checks in with high hopes.  Following a season where redshirt freshman Jordan McNair died during an offseason conditioning drill and the entire football program/athletic department/university was placed under a microscope, a fresh start will be more than welcomed.  And taking the Terps into the future will be a figure from their past:  Head Coach Mike Locksley previously spent time in College Park as running backs coach under Ralph Friedgen and as Offensive Coordinator under Randy Edsall (before taking over as Interim Head Coach for six games in 2015) and has deep ties to the area, having played high school football at Washington DC’s Ballou before playing at Towson.

He’ll also be the fourth different head coach for some of the fifth-year players in the program.  “We’re all well aware of the things that have taken place here but again we’ve told our players that this team, this 2019 team will be defined in the present.” Locksley said, “Meaning whatever it is we do today that’s how we’re going to be defined by.”  This is also a chance for Locksley to redeem his earlier head coaching career, after he went 2-26 at New Mexico and 1-5 as the Terps’ interim coach.

Even in a new era, the quarterback question is once again a crucial one.  Last year the Terps passing offense ranked 13th in the Big Ten and they lost leading passer Kasim Hill to transfer (Tennessee) in the offseason.  Added to the mix of the oft-injured Tyrell Pigrome and 2017’s leading passer Max Bortenschlager is Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson:  the ex-Hokie threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017 before his 2018 was cut short with a broken fibula suffered against Old Dominion.  “Number one in a starting quarterback for me is a guy who does the best job taking care of the football on the offense side of the ball,” Locksley said, “The next the most important thing is who makes the players around them better. Who gives us the chance to allow all the different weapons we have in our program to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.”  I’m also going to add whoever stays healthy as Maryland’s quarterbacks have been cursed with injuries over the years.  Since 2003, only Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 have started every game for the Terps.

The Terps lost a major weapon when wide receiver Jeshawn Jones tore his ACL during summer workouts.  That means the returning leading receivers (senior D.J. Turner and sophomore Dontay Demus) tallied 13 catches apiece in 2018.  Thank goodness for graduate transfer tight end Tyler Mabry (27 catches last year for Buffalo).  And thank goodness for a running game that will feature sophomore Anthony McFarland, who rushed for 1034 yards last fall.  “I feel like the offense is good, it’s very explosive.” McFarland said, “His (coach Locksley) offense is getting the playmakers the ball in space-and not just me.  We got a lot of guys that are gonna get the ball in space and really show what we can do.” One such playmaker is junior Javon Leake, who averaged 9.1 yards per carry in 2018.  Junior center Johnny Jordan and senior guard Terrance Davis anchor an offensive line that generated 5.7 yards per carry (third best in the Big Ten) but allowed 30 sacks (fourth most in the conference) last year.

The defense returns five starters on a unit that allowed more than 30 points in half of their games last fall, but may be trending upward as for the first time since Maryland joined the Big Ten they allowed fewer than 400 yards per game.  Senior safety Antoine Brooks (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception last year) looks to help this unit make the next step, and knows he’ll have to be an active ingredient.  “We gotta play more together, try to talk more and be more into each other as a group on and off the field,” Brooks said.  They’ll get a boost from Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones.  How does the senior linebacker expect to contribute? “Fill in that leadership role, being a leader on and off the field, whether it’s in the film room or outside. Just making sure guys are doing the right thing,” Jones said.  He’ll also be expected to help a pass rush that has sagged the last two seasons (34 combined sacks in 2017 and 2018 after notching 37 in 2016).

The schedule begins with Howard August 31 in College Park.  The other non-conference foes are two teams that went to bowls last year in Syracuse (beat Maryland in their last College Park meeting six years ago) and Temple (routed the Terps by 21 points last year).  The Big Ten campaign kicks off on a Friday night against Penn State and this year’s crossover tilts will be against Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska (the trio went 17-21 in 2018).  November could be chilly as the Terps face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State: four schools that are each ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25.  The Big Ten East is once again a gauntlet, but the new coach is more than ready for the 2019 season to begin.  It’s excitement. It’s a lot like Christmas in August,” Locksley said. “We’ve got a lot of great pieces and presents here in our program and I just really want to see these guys go out and exceed where we are.”

 

Dream Scenario- the Terps come out of the gate with Jackson at quarterback and shock ranked foes Syracuse and Penn State in September before bouncing either Ohio State or Michigan in November.  They don’t win the Big Ten East, but the foundation is set for one incredible era.

Nightmare Situation- Josh Jackson catches the injury bug that has bedeviled every quarterback who’s taken a snap in College Park since Sam Hollenbach.  The receiving corps can’t recover from the loss of Jeshawn Jones and the one-dimensional Terps tumble early and often in Big Ten play to stadiums that are either white (Penn State) or blue (Michigan).  They get the benefit of the doubt when Nebraska’s red-wearing fans visit.

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.

 

 

 

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The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday night with the First Four.  If you’ve filled out a sheet or two already you’re probably trying to figure out how to better your workplace rivals.  First things first–

1–Do not be the person who tells everyone what the standings are Thursday afternoon after each result.  Odds are they know–and if say they pick a Georgia Tech to go to the Final Four and they lose the first day of the tournament don’t want to to be told.  And if they didn’t, to be notified after every result is a water torture nobody wants to experience.

2–You don’t have to share your picks.  Honestly, win or lose.  You had Houston beating Michigan and the Wolverines hit a last-second shot?  Sorry to hear…as in I’m sorry you felt as though you had to tell someone.  Everybody’s pool takes hits with each upset–and we don’t want to know how you’d be winning the office pool if only Virginia had beaten UMBC.

3–“Almost picking” is not the same as picking. So if your Final Four picks flame out the first weekend, don’t tell us which schools you thought about taking but didn’t.

4–Don’t discuss your “other sheet”.  Oh yes, the famous “other sheet” that you filled at your other job or with other friends.  The sheet that has all of the winners, even though the sheet you’re playing with your friends has no Final Four teams remaining.  The “other sheet”.  Right…

 

It’s time for our Bold, Fold and Gold picks for 2019…

Bold- which sleepers might bust a bracket or two?

Fold- which teams are likely to make in early exit?

Gold- who advances to the Final Four?

 

East Regional- Duke is the team to beat after entering the NCAA Tournament ranked number one in the nation for the first time since…2006.  For all of their success this decade one would have thought they’d have been atop the rankings at least once. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time this winter.  I thought Michigan State should have gotten the last number one seed, but instead the Spartans are on the other side of the Blue Devils’ regional.

Bold- Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy, and the Golden Gophers play Louisville- who just happened to fire Rick Pitino two years ago.  Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who happens to be Rick’s son.  They already have plenty of tape and a scouting report on the likely second round foe Michigan State.

Fold- LSU was in the top ten before coach Will Wade was served a subpeona by the federal government and a suspension by his school regarding the recent FBI investigation.  The Tigers then wilted in the SEC Tournament.  While they have the clear edge talent-wise over Yale, the circumstances surrounding the program aren’t the recipe for a deep tournament run.

Gold- Duke has the best player in Zion Williamson and the best coach in Mike Krzyzewski. They’ll find their way to Washington DC for a coronation next weekend after disposing of their alphabet soup (NCC, NDSU, VCU, UCF) in nearby Columbia, SC.  A likely avenging of a February loss (Virginia Tech) looms.  The question is, how did three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota) wind up in the bottom half of that regional?  I thought the Selection Committee’s long lunches were put in place to prevent that.

 

South Regional- Virginia is a number one seed for the fourth time in six years.  We don’t need to discuss what happened last season.  Unfortunately March Brings Cinderellas to the forefront.  Condolences to Gardner-Webb.  Unless the Runnin’ Bulldogs somehow repeat the Terriers’ feat.  Then it’s going to be another summer of discontent in Charlottesville.

Bold- Cincinnati is fresh off beating Houston to win the AAC Tournament…and the Bearcats are also bound for Columbus, which happens to be the capital of the state that the city of Cincinnati resides.  Don’t be surprised to see the underseeded Bearcats make noise.

Fold- Villanova has been boom or bust recently, either advancing to the Final Four or saying adios the first weekend.  The Wildcats gritted their way to the Big East Tournament championship for a record third straight year, but wrapped up the regular season with five straight road losses.  Even though Hartford isn’t exactly San Jose, I’m feeling Jay Wright’s team has a short stay this March.

Gold- Virginia will be tested by a Tennessee that doesn’t have to travel far (Columbus & Louisville), but this year the Cavaliers have additional hitch to their giddy-up in an offense that might not be able to match their best in the nation defense (I think it’s Grandfathered in that UVa leads the nation in scoring D) but has the necessary firepower to pull away from foes. De’Andre Hunter’s wrist is intact, unlike last March, and so are the Cavaliers’ Final Four hopes.

 

Midwest Regional- North Carolina won neither the ACC regular season or tournament, but why recognize another league like the Big Ten or SEC at this time?  The Tar Heels head up the Blue Blood Bracket, with Kentucky and Kansas (sadly UCLA could not attend the NCAA Tournament this year) joined by a few schools who actually did win their conference tournaments in Auburn and Iowa State.

Bold– Seton Hall is fresh off losing the Big East Tournament championship and possesses the type of player (Myles Powell) who can make noise in the big dance.  They’ve also beaten Kentucky this season.

Fold- there’s always that one team that wins its league tournament that somehow feels like it spent a ton of energy doing so…and then can’t recreate the magic the following weekend.  Auburn took the SEC in an emotional day for Bruce Pearl, who lost an assistant coach not to another job but to prison (Chuck Person convicted in the FBI probe).  New Mexico State ranks 26th in the nation in scoring defense and won’t be a walkover.

Gold- why in the heaven am I taking another ACC team?  North Carolina has the talent, the experience, and the gosh-darnit-aw-shucks coach in Roy Williams on the sidelines to do just enough to infuriate the fan base that thinks the Heels should win every game by 50.  They won’t win every game by 50, and there’s going to be at least one win where UNC looks like they have no idea how to play basketball for 5-10 minutes but survive anyway.

 

West- Gonzaga is going to join the ACC as a provisional member so commissioner John Swofford can boast that for the first time all four seeds come from the same league.  Actually, if the Atlantic Coast Conference can have schools in Louisville and South Bend while the Big Ten can have 14 schools, this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.  The Bulldogs have been in the top five all season and begin another tournament run Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Bold- Syracuse plays that famed 2-3 zone and gets their best player back from injury in Tyus Battle.  The Orange lost late regular season games to North Carolina, Duke and Virginia after leading all three games at the half.  They won’t be star-struck by the Bulldogs, who have lost the last four years in the NCAA’s to an ACC school.

Fold- Marquette was once 23-4 and in conversations to not only win the Big East but secure a #2 seed.  But four losses to end the regular season plus a four-hour Big East Semifinal defeat to Seton Hall have exposed the Golden Eagles as another ordinary team.  Markus Howard is a dynamic point guard, but he won’t be enough to get this team out of its late-season skid.

Gold- or Maize.  Michigan began the year 18-0 and has lost just three times since Valentine’s Day-each loss coming to Michigan State who happens to be in a different region.  Coach John Beilein always gets the best out of his teams in March and this year won’t be an exception.  Ann Arbor’s not too far from South Bend…perhaps the ACC could reach out to the Wolverines.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament tips off tomorrow with the Infamous “First Four”.  Before you dismiss the dealings in Dayton, take note that in the eight years they’ve had the last four at-large teams face off a “First Four” team has won a First Round game every year.  Four times one of these schools has reached the Regional round and we will always have the initial First Four Graduate VCU’s Final Four run as an example.

 

East- the road to the Final Four goes through Washington, DC with overall number one seed Duke and Zion Williamson expected to find their way to Capital One Arena.  Their First Round matchup may very well be a Durham City Championship Game, as North Carolina Central faces North Dakota State in the First Four Wednesday.

Favorites- the Blue Devils have lost just once this season while playing at full-strength, and their run through the ACC Tournament now that Zion Williamson puts the rest of the nation on notice.  Intriguing potential first weekend showdowns include the Durham City Championship in the First Round if North Carolina Central wins its First Four game (remember, the First Four Success doesn’t transfer to No. 16 seeds), or an alumni reunion against ninth-seeded UCF coached by former Blue Devils All-American and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins.  Flying under the radar on the other side of the bracket is Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Michigan State.

Best Matchup- No. 10 seed Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino.  The Golden Gophers draw No. 7 Louisville, who fired Pitino’s father Rick two years ago. Who said the Selection Committee doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Locals-

Maryland (22-10) is seeded sixth after its disappointing showing at the Big Ten Tournament.  In their last NCAA appearance the sixth-seeded Terps lost to Xavier by 11 in Melo Trimble’s final game.  Anthony Cowan Jr. shot 1-for-4 that night;  last week it was Bruno Fernando who shot 1-for-4 against the Cornhuskers.  The Terps need the sophomore big man to return to the form that made First Team All-Big Ten if they’re going to reach the weekend.  The Terps will face either Belmont or Temple Thursday–the Bruins are 0-7 all-time in the big dance and the Owls are 2-5 in the tourney under coach Fran Dunphy.

Virginia Tech (24-8) is seeded fourth as the Hokies make the NCAA’s for the third straight year (the first time that’s happened in program history).  The also get point guard Justin Robinson back in the lineup–since the senior went to the shelf with a foot injury the Hokies are 7-5, including a pair of overtime losses to red-hot Florida State.  They draw Atlantic Ten champ Saint Louis;  the Billikens won four games in four days while banishing Dayton and Davidson to the NIT.

VCU (25-7) is seeded eighth after their upset loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals.  Thankfully URI is not in the tournament-as they’re the only team to have beaten the Rams since January 12.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ initial opponent is a UCF team that lost by 24 points in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

 

South- Virginia (29-3) gets a number one seed for the fourth time in six years…as the Cavaliers will not only face Gardner-Webb but will also confront the ghosts of last March.  UVa’s loss to UMBC in 2018 will be a scarlet L the program will wear for some time.  They’re a little older and a little wiser this year;  they’re also a lot healthier as De’Andre Hunter is 12 months removed from the broken wrist that hijacked his-and in effect the Cavaliers’-campaign last March.

Favorites- the Cavaliers’ toughest test may be Tennessee at the other end of the bracket, but the Volunteers have a potential Second Round showdown with AAC champ Cincinnati-in Columbus, Ohio.  Defending national champion Villanova is also in the region as the No. 6 seed, fresh from becoming the first school to win three straight Big East Tournaments.

Best Matchup- No. 12 seed Oregon has won eight straight, and they’ve done so minus 7-foot-2 center Bol Bol (son of the late Washington Bullets center Manute Bol), while Wisconsin is led by four-year starter Ethan Happ in the pivot.

Locals-

Virginia- the top seed enters the NCAA’s again with the best scoring defense in the nation, but this year’s team has a little more firepower with Kyle Guy and De’Andre Hunter providing scoring punch.  In addition to a Gardner-Webb team making its first-ever trip to the tournament, Ole Miss (five losses in seven games) and Oklahoma (a Big 12 Tournament loss to sub-500 West Virginia) stand in their way to the Regional in Louisville.  Break out the bourbon.

Old Dominion- former UVa and American University coach Jeff Jones is back in the NCAA Tournament after leading the 26-8 Monarchs to the Conference USA tournament championship.  ODU gets a No. 14 seed and plays Purdue;  the Boilermakers may be coming off of an upset loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Quarterfinals but have advanced to four regionals in ten appearances under coach Matt Painter and boast the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Carsen Edwards.  Jeff Jones’ team is led by B.J. Stith and his 16.9 points per game;  Stith is the son of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer Bryant Stith (who played his last two years at UVa under Jones).

 

Midwest- North Carolina gets the ACC’s third No. 1 seed- the first time one league has nabbed three top seeds since the Big East in 2009.  The Tar Heels head to nearby Columbia, SC where the local school refers to itself as “Carolina” and “USC” to the dismay of some and the amusement of others.  The Regional is in Kansas City-and if the seeds hold UNC will play Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.  I’ve been told that Kansas City is somewhat near the state of Kansas.

Favorites- in addition to the Tar Heels and Jayhawks, the bracket boasts blue blood Kentucky as well as AAC regular season champ Houston–not to mention SEC Tournament winner Auburn and Big 12 tournament champ Iowa State.  Buckle up.

Best Matchup- Cinderella Wofford played its way to a national ranking as well as the Southern Conference championship, while Seton Hall scraped its way to within two points of the Big East Tournament title.  Seven-ten matchups

 

West- Gonzaga has been in the top five of the national rankings all season, and even their loss in the WCC finals couldn’t keep the Bulldogs out of the top seed.  They’ve also advanced to the second weekend four straight years, and this year’s obstacles include First Four winner Fairleigh Dickinson or Prairie View A&M plus potential Second Round foes Baylor and Syracuse.

Favorites- at the other end of the bracket is last year’s national championship runner-up Michigan.  The second-seeded Wolverines began this season 18-0 and have lost only three times since Valentine’s Day-all to Michigan State.  No. 4 seed Florida State is coming off of an impressive ACC Tournament run that included a double-digit win over Virginia.

Best Matchup- No. 6 seed Buffalo awaits the First Four winner of St. John’s-Arizona State;  while an Empire State showdown (we have to wait for Albany-Buffalo for our Erie Canal clash) would be exciting the Sun Devils are in their second season under former Bulls coach Bobby Hurley.  For the record, the Selection Committee does not go out of its way to generate specific matchups.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange play the late game Thursday evening against Baylor, another team that has issues offensively.  But they’ll have Tyus Battle back in the lineup.  And an ACC team has eliminated Gonzaga in each of the last four years.  So there’s that.  More important is the drumstick to flat ratios.