So MLB in their infinite wisdom has decided to add a second wild card team beginning this season whereby the first round of the playoffs will consist on one game in each league between the two wild card teams, in an attempt to cash in on the excitement the Game 163s have generated the last few years in a move that was almost certainly driven by the almighty dollar.
That being said, I like it. Not only does it give more teams a chance to be relevant late into the season (which, face it, as a Twins fan is a big selling point) but it finally gives a meaningful advantage to the teams that win their division over the Wildcard winner. Before the only difference was home field advantage, now winning a wild card means you play one game for your playoff life while the division winners know they have a full series coming up. I'm 100% on board, thanks for asking.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Chip Armelin. I know the clearest sign of a terrible college season for a team is to start evaluating players in terms of their futures before the year is even over, but here we are, and Armelin played a great game against Nebraska. It was nice to see a player actually attempt to score, not to mention that scoring seemed to be the #1 thing on his mind - a true rarity on the Gopher teams of the Tubby Smith era. He even took a heat check after he made those three treys, and as a huge fan of the heat check it was nice to see because nobody else ever does it on this team. I'm not exactly sure how to project him going forward (assuming he stays with Minnesota) but with him, Dre Hollins, and Joe Coleman the team at least has three guard types who are aggressive with the ball and aren't afraid to attack the rim and attempt to score. For now, at least, until Tubby beats them into submission and they start being afraid to drive.
2. Colonial Conference. Well, the Colonial teams did what they were supposed to do. The CAA had two teams in the mix for an at-large bid in VCU and Drexel, and both made it through to the CAA Final this week. Obviously whichever team wins gets the auto-bid and the other will have to wait for Sunday and hope they get called, but they've done what the both needed to at this point. Both are so on the bubble that it's really tough to say if they'd get in with a loss and might need to catch a few breaks but with Murray State and Creighton getting autobids that's two at-larges that are safe. I'm hoping the committee does the right thing and let's them both in over crappy big 6 teams like Arizona, Seton Hall, or Miami, but that big conference bias has reared it's head in the past, so I'm skeptical at best. [NOTE: VCU ended up winning, and even though it was a close game that pretty much went down to the wire I came away less impressed with Drexel than I was the last time I watched them. I still think they're a good, tough mid-major but I no longer think it'll be a travesty if they don't get a bid. They'll probably just beat the Gophers in NIT round 1.]
3. Indiana Hoosiers. When Indiana started out the year hot I wasn't buying it. Then they beat Kentucky and Ohio State and I was like ok maybe. Then they lost three straight including a home loss to the Gophers and on the road at Nebraska and I was like ha ha I knew it. Then they just kind of did what decent big ten teams always do (win at home, lose on the road, beat who you should, don't get upset, blah blah) and it was boring, but this week might have won me over. The beat both Michigan State and Purdue handily and as everyone who was talking about anything about basketball last week made sure to let you know that's three top-five teams they've now beaten this year. What really won me over was in watching good size chunks of both of those games they're more athletic than I thought. They still won't be confused for Kentucky, but guys like Sheehey and Oladipo are really good athletes, and Hulls and Watford move around better than I remembered. I still don't think they can get any further than the Sweet 16, but not long ago I was penciling them in as being upset in round 1, so they've made me rethink things a bit.
4. Cincinnati Bearcats. Well that's certainly how you make a run when you're stuck on the bubble come late February. The Bearcats beat Marquette and Villanova this week (at Nova) to finish the regular season with five wins in the last six including wins over three teams in the top 56 RPI and the only loss to South Florida on the road (RPI 45). You still can't quite guarantee they're in because that horrendous strength of schedule (#321 non-conference SOS with 9 games against sub-200 RPI teams) and the ugly loss against Presbyterian (RPI 246) which has a good chance to be the worst loss by any tournament team this year, but they're now up to 5-4 against the RPI Top 50 and 7-5 road/neutral and they simply just belong. Their RPI is held back by that SOS and is shaky at 66 right now, but a few weeks ago they were in the mid-80s, so this is a solid run that's kind of inspiring in the same way the Gophers falling from solidly in to no shot in one short month is inspiring but the opposite.
5. North Carolina Tar Heels. Ruh roh. I think everybody has known all year the Heels were behind only Kentucky in pure talent, but for whatever reason seemed to not quite be able to put it together and kind of drifted along, as double digit losses to UNLV and Florida State attest to. I mean sure, they won lots of games and all, but they were definitely not living up to their talent level. And then Duke won in Chapel Hill. And something snapped. The Heels have won their last seven, including absolutely crushing Duke's soul in Durham and easy road wins against three possible tournament teams in Virginia (lock), Miami (likely), NC State (very unlikely). I was hoping they wouldn't figure it out so I could trust them to lose early, but looks like no such luck, and Kendall Marshall was just snubbed for ACC first team so, well, yeah, there's that. And keep in mind that Roy Williams has no interest in conference tournaments so if/when UNC flames out early in the ACC tourney don't let that affect your NCAA picks. Or let it. More sweet sweet delicious sexy money for me sex.
1. St. Louis Cardinals. Lemme get this straight. First, you lose your best player, maybe the best player of his generation and the face of your franchise because you can't afford to pay him. Then you turn around and give your catcher $15mm per year? So let's see. Pujols got 10 years, $240 million from the Angels for an average salary of $24 million each season. From what I can find, the biggest offer the Cardinals put on the table was 9 years, $205 million - or $22.78 million per. You're telling me you couldn't take a few extra million you offered Molina and use it to re-sign Pujols and then offer Molina $13 per instead of $15? You're telling me he wouldn't take that? Seems like knee jerk reaction to make sure you don't lose your second most beloved player after botching it on the first. Then again, my favorite team gave their catcher 800 bajillion dollars to sit on the bench, so who am I to talk.
2. Wichita State. Losing in the semis of a middle tier conference tournament to a non-descript Illinois State team is never a good thing, but in this case it doesn't really bother me nor my love for the Shockers (the team, not the act). First of all and most importantly they're already guaranteed an at-large bid thanks to a very good resume, so this loss doesn't knock them out. Some people will say they'll be more rested but I don't really care about that because a couple of days doesn't make much difference to a 20-year old college athlete, but what I really like is this will knock their seed down a peg. If they're a 5 or 6 instead of a 3 or 4 fewer people will pick them to make the sweet 16 and even fewer will pick them to make the Elite 8 so when I do and they do I will be the winner and the money will be mine all mine oh sweet money yes I want the money oh yes.
3. The Pac-12. I'm starting to think they should just go ahead and not invite anyone from the Pac-10, including the conference winner. Arizona starts to look like they're in decent shape and they lose to atrocious Arizona State (RPI 248) to knock them out of the running for a bid. Washington starts to look like they could maybe get comfortable and they lose to UCLA (RPI 112). Cal nearly has a bid completely sewn up, but they lose to Stanford (RPI 95), and suddenly nobody is anywhere near a lock. If Cal and/or Washington get to the Pac-12 final they're probably ok, especially with all the chalk winning the conference tourneys so far, but if they come up short this might really be a one bid league. At this point the right move might be to just give it to Oregon, because they at least seem like they want to make it and have won four straight. Don't be shocked if the Ducks end up taking this tournament and the only Pac-12 bid this year.
4. Iona Gaels. Well shit. I couldn't be more bummed about the Gaels losing in the quarters of the MAAC Tournament, because this is a really good, fun, dangerous team and suddenly they're probably not going to get a bid to the NCAAs. That loss (to Fairfield) gives Iona they're fourth loss to a sub-100 RPI team with two of those teams being sub-200, and that's not going to help, especially considering there's only one win over a top 50 team (Nevada). They 5-3 record over the Top 100 is fine and the RPI is ok at 46, but there's an awful lot of questions about the profile here. If they had made the conference final and lost to Loyola (RPI 85) they'd be in a lot better shape, but if ifs and buts were candy and nuts every day would be Erntedankfest.
5. Seton Hall Pirates. As much as Cincinnati might be the poster team for doing things the right way to get a bid, Seton Hall might be your classic team that does something awesome to make their fans think they're going to do it and then fuck it all up, or as I like to call it, "pulling a Gopher." Really though, since beating Georgetown and making everybody say "well shit this Seton Hall team might be the goods" the Pirates have lost to Rutgers (RPI 153) and DePaul (RPI 193) which is like LOL. They play Providence tomorrow (today, if you're reading this instead of doing work) and although the Friars aren't exactly good or anything like that, they do own wins this year over Louisville and UCONN so it's not like they're a piece of crap. Plus I'd rather have Providence win so we can forget all about this shitty team who sucks and maybe they can get Iona in there instead. Do it for the children.
And with that I'm out of here. Off to the great state of Florida with the family to be closely followed by a trip to Chicago to watch the NCAA Tournament with Bogart, Dawger, and Snake. Probably drink some beer, some vodka, some redbull, and eat a few wings, too. So I have no idea if/when I'll be posting again. I'll try to get something up when I'm in Florida, but god willing I'll be too busy. Then again, the whole family will be there so maybe I'll have to pretend to "work" and blog it up. You hope.
Lastly I want to mention that I won our Big 10 Fantasy League, beating Bogart in a thriller in the championship and a big thank you to Drew Crawford. Dawger finished dead last.