Monday, March 12

Downtown Report before the Madness

A while ago, I ranked the months of the year for sports fans and March only came in 9th. With as much excitement as is currently going on, especially in the world of hoops perhaps I need to revisit that low placing. Or maybe sports is just that good that even a solid month like this doesn't quite measure up.

This past weekend was a very good one for fans sharing my rooting interests, which I assume includes you, the reader. Friday saw the Cavs knock off the juggernaut Thunder in Oklahoma City and the Buckeyes pull away late from Purdue in the Big 10 tourney, while Akron and Ohio advanced to the MAC final. Saturday saw Ohio State absolutely paste a hapless michigan club and the Bobcats claim the MAC tourney crown. It's halftime right now of the Big 10 Championship game between the Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans, and I've already seen the Pittsburgh Penguins clobber the Boston Bruins today. It's been solid. Let's go a little more in depth.

Big MAC Attack
Ha, more like big hack attack with that kind of punnery.

The Mid-American Conference tournament was once again held in the Q here in Downtown Cleveland - I'd hoped to attend the semifinal games on Friday night but unforeseen circumstances kept me away. Nevertheless, I caught the last two Akron games on TV and was happy with the overall result. Ohio edged Akron by a point in Saturday's final to claim their second MAC title in three years (the 2010 one also at the Zips' expense). My Mom went to Akron and my sister and Bucko went to Akron, so I couldn't have hand-picked a better championship.

Even more broadly speaking, what I like best is the utter domination of this event by Ohio schools in this and recent years. Ohio schools have claimed the past eight championships (three for Ohio, two each for Akron and Kent State, one for Miami) despite comprising just half of the conference's membership. Look at the 2012 bracket below to see the damage the teams from the Heart of It All inflicted on the rest of the league. Three of the four semifinalists were from the Buckeye state, and Bowling Green was the only one of the six eliminated by a team outside of the state. Thanks for coming out, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois schools. And while I'm here, hey Central Michigan, guess what, Carnegie Mellon still has and you're never going to get it.

I realize this is a bit off-topic for the usual interests of this blog, but I'm a big fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and things have been really good for the Flightless Fowl of late. Even without Sidney Crosby for 60 games this season, the Penguins have rattled off nine straight and puled to within two points of the East-leading Rangers. Today I got to watch them pummel the Bruins, and I think we all appreciate the enjoyment of seeing a Boston team go down in flames. The hockey playoffs are always really quality action, and it's so much better when one has a rooting interest.

The Cavaliers have settled into a fairly comfortable mediocrity, hanging around the playoff conversation but never really giving you the sense that they'll grab one of the East's lower seeds. I think the playoff experience would be good for a young team, but not essential for their development, which will still take a few more years.

After a recent six-game skid, the Cavaliers pulled off a highly surprising two-game road sweep in Denver and Oklahoma City and finished off the weekend with a high-scoring home win over the Houston Rockets. Seriously, who saw that coming? The keys to the trip, and any recent successful play by the Cavs, have been Kyrie Irving and Antawn Jamison, especially with Anderson Varejao still sidelined. Irving saves his best for last, notching 10 points in the 4th including the game-winner against Denver and making a series of clutch drives and finishes to stave off the Thunder two nights later. Oklahoma City was a ridiculous 17-1 at home coming into the game, and the Cavaliers simply outplayed the home Thunder to spring the upset. It wasn't some sort of fluky shooting performance (OKC hit on 49% compared to the Cavs' 42%), and they only got 30 combined from Irving and Jamison. They just took care of the ball, rebounded, and outworked the Thunder on D. Simple as that. Coach Byron Scott deserves a lot of credit, I think, for the mentality he's installed to the team, even if it does occasionally waver.

I gotta get me down to the Q again soon to see Kyrie and the gang. Speaking of #2, I heard a great radio promo he did for The Alan Cox Show: "Hi, this is Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and you're listening to a show I've never even heard of, The Alan Cox Show." Brilliant.

Responses to the Redskins trading with the Rams to nab the #2 spot in the upcoming NFL Draft, presumably to choose Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, elicited a lot of response in the Cleveland sports community, including a total freak-out from The Cleveland Fan's twitter feed because the Browns didn't trade up.

My take: three first-round picks and a second-rounder is too much. And that's all I have to say on the matter.

The Big 10 Championship game just ended, and as you undoubtedly know, OSU wasn't able to capture their third straight Conference Tournament crown, falling to a very good Michigan State squad today. On the bright side: michigan has NEVER won the Big 10 Basketball tournament (their '98 "win" was vacated).

Who decided that all the Big 10 Championships need to be contested in Indianapolis?

It certainly would have been a nice trophy to add to the shelf, but the stakes of today's game were mitigated by the fact that OSU was probably locked into a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome of today's contest. Plus, I'm not going to sit here and complain about a 27-7 season, a share of the Big 10 regular-season championship, and a runner-up finish in the tournament. Another outstanding season for Thad Matta and his Buckeyes. All Matta has done in eight seasons at the helm is go 215-63 and lead the team to five regular-season Big 10 titles, three tournament championships, two Sweet Sixteens, and a National Runner-up.

And now, of course, we focus on the NCAA Tournament. I have fewer teams than in some past years - Ohio and Ohio State are my two where past years included Pitt, Akron, and Cleveland State - but the tourney is always a good show. A couple of thoughts here on the event:

1) The "going dancing" and "Big Dance" thing has to go. It's played. It isn't a dance. It's a basketball tournament. No one is going dancing. They're playing basketball.

2) Hey NCAA, please stop calling those two play-in games the "first round" and the actual first-round games the "second round." It's ridiculous, and you're only confusing people. Call it the Preliminary Round or something. You have to see how stupid this is.

3) During the annual monstrously self-righteous hand-wringing about the BCS system for college football, this tournament is always held up as a paragon of the "right way" to determine a champion. Indeed it is a positive that the basketball championship is contested in a much more politics-free manner, but is it really the best way to have the best team win the title? Do we like that a team can work all year and lose to a hot-shooting mid-major who they'd beat 9 out of 10 times? Granted, that's exciting, but it lacks the fairness of a series system like the NBA and NHL have. Such a system would be improbable for college hoops, but before genuflecting too much before the NCAA basketball tournament, let's recognize that it's not an optimal way for the best teams to contest for the crown.

4) I'm not filling out a bracket this year, and not just because I'd rather keep that $10 in my pocket (I would've cashed in big two years ago had Baylor toppled Duke in their Regional final). I'm doing so because I prefer to enjoy the games and choose my rooting interests independent of a group of haphazard predictions I've made.

Plus, I think that filling out brackets encourages some bad fan behaviors. One of them is telling other people who you did or did not have in your bracket. NO ONE CARES ABOUT ANYONE ELSE'S BRACKET. We really don't. It also produces this phenomenon where people root strongly for a particular team solely because they've picked that team, whereas I may have a legitimate interest in that school. It's so fucking annoying when I'm psyched for an OSU game and I have to hear some jackass rooting for Gonzaga or some shit over the Buckeyes just because of their stupid bracket. Weak. So no bracket for me again, just basketball.

5) President Obama: you are a busy man. Do not spend any of your valuable time filling out a women's bracket. It's totally irrelevant.

6) I'll once again reiterate my St Patrick's/NCAA tournament proposal, even though I don't expect it to gain much traction. I base it on three facts:

1) The tournament costs employers $1.8 billion in lost productivity.
2) No one knows for sure that St Patrick was born on March 17, and we observe other birthdays (King Jr, President's Day) on days other than the actual known date.
3) There are no major holidays on the calendar between MLK and Memorial, by far the biggest gap in the calendar.

So let's be smart. The third Friday of March is St Patrick's Day and it's a Federal Holiday. Employers can condense the productivity losses from those two days into one day, workers get a day off during the February-March-April stretch, and everyone gets to watch the games. Who loses?

Guess what, you guys? Baseball is coming back!

I love the rhythm of sports here - just as the NCAA tournament excitement is dying down baseball kicks right in. FCF and a cast of thousands are bucking past year trends in 2012 and skipping the Opening Day game. Why? So we can go to the second game, which is on a Saturday and should offer more open seats both at the bar and at the game. I'm already psyched.


Figgs said...

Every time you make your St Pattys Day arguement, it sounds more and more logical.

I've always said the same thing about the tournament - it certainly isn't a strong way to crown the nation's best team. That being said, the entertainment value is through the roof. Few moments in a given year can rival the excitement of the opening weekend.

I see your point about how filling out a bracket could compromise your rooting interests, but that's why I fill one out but don't pay much attention to it as far as rooting for teams goes. If I have a horse in the race (even if it's to a lesser extent like Akron or something), I'll still be pulling for that team even if it hinders my bracket. Where having a completed bracket helps is in a game where I would typically have no rooting interest, say UNLV/Baylor, I can really get behind the Rebels because I have them making a run.

I can't wait for Ohio to bounce michigan in the first round.

Also, super psyched for baseball season to get underway.

Andy said...

In my haste to refute BCS critics and people chattering about their picks, I indeed glossed over what a terrific sporting event this is.

Go Bobcats!