Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reid Flair Dead at the age of 25

I woke up to some tragic news in the world of pro wrestling yesterday. Reid Flair, son of the legendary Ric Flair, was found dead in his hotel room at the age of 25. While not official yet, I am guessing that this was an overdose. Police don't suspect foul play, Reid has had substance abuse issues in the past, and that combination can only lead me to one conclusion at this time.

Reid ended up replacing his dad on a major All Japan Pro Wrestling show a few months ago, had begun wrestling for All Japan periodically, and had only returned from Japan a day before his death. Reid and his father were scheduled to make an appearance at an Indy wrestling show this weekend. Obviously Ric cancelled that appearance upon receiving this terrible news.

This is another example of the thing I hate the most about the wrestling business: young deaths. Pro wrestling deaths under 50, under 40, and under 30 have become more and more commonplace in the business and it makes me sicker with each tragedy. It also makes me incredibly sad because a lot of these deaths were avoidable or could be traced to deeper issues than just drugs, issues that the business as a whole doesn't care about. This is due to there being really only one game in town (WWE) as well as the Indy promotions and even TNA not being able to afford to address major issues that may plague their employees.

Jeff Hardy's history with TNA is a great example as the promotion made him their world champion and top star while he was being tried under numerous drug charges as well as him showing up to a pay-per-view event last year in no condition to perform (you know what I mean). And yet, he did end up going out in the main-event of the PPV. That ended up being a big disaster all around.

My main hope is that this doesn't push Ric over the edge. With his fourth divorce not being that far in the past as well as his health issues recently with blood clots, I'm really afraid that losing a son in this fashion could be enough to do it.

Stay strong Ric. My condolences and well-wishes to you and your family during this impossibly difficult time.

Friday, March 29, 2013

March Madness: The Sweet 16 Day 2

BRACKET STATUS: Had Florida tonight, but wished they had lost. My champion pick (Duke) is still alive, so I still have that going for me.

The dream dies in Dallas as Florida Gulf Coast falls victim to the Florida Gators' defensive strategy of slowing the game down. This worked to perfection after FGC started the game with a 15-4 run. Here, the Gators settled themselves and took control of the game. A 23-2 run that stretched from the end of the first half into the second half is what sealed this one as the Gators simply maintained their lead for the rest of the game. The shots simply weren't going in for FGC while the energy and momentum they crave and have used to their advantage in their first two games of the tourney wasn't there after that first run.

The best game of the night easily was Michigan's come-from-behind overtime win over Kansas. The Jayhawks lead by 14 at one point, by 10 with less than three minutes to go, and by five with less than 30 seconds to play. The Wolverines have been wearing t-shirt's reading "Rise to the Occasion," and they did just that tonight when all seemed lost.

Trey Burke was the hero for the Wolverines despite Mitch McGary leading the team with 25 points. Burke ended with 23 after going scoreless in the first half. Burke scored 13 of the Wolverines' final 21 points including a spectacular three from way beyond the arc in the final seconds of regulation that tied the game. From there, Burke guided the Wolverines to victory as the Jayhawks seemed to be in panic mode, evidenced by their very bizarre final shot attempt where it seemed that they didn't have a clue what the plan was.

Duke used great foul shooting, great defense, and great play from Seth Curry to take down Michigan St. as Coach K once again gets the better of Tom Izzo.

Curry contributed six three's and 29 points in total along with Mason Plumlee and Rasheed Sulaimon scoring 14 and 16 points respectively.

Duke's defense played superb as the Spartans couldn't buy a basket in the second half. In total, the Spartans made only seven baskets in the entire second half as well as going through a 15-minute stretch where they only made one basket.

The Spartans relied on foul shots shooting during that stretch for their points while Duke only used foul shooting to keep the Spartans from ever making a real comeback in this one. Duke ended up going 24/26 from the foul-line as a team. 
 
Oh, and Louisville began the night by rolling over Oregon in typical Louisville fashion. They only won by nine, but don't let that fool you as it was a beating.

My Writing for 3/29/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/29/2013-ncaa-tournament-points-in-paint-the-key-to-marquette-advancing-to-elite-8/

Marquette dominated Miami (FL) last night on their way to an elite 8 game against Syracuse tomorrow. The key to the win was the inside play of the Golden Eagles.

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/29/2013-ncaa-tournament-poor-three-point-shooting-after-hot-start-doomed-arizona/

Even though Arizona lost thanks to a three-point shot from LaQuinton Ross of Ohio St., it was the Wildcats' three-point shooting that killed their NCAA tournament run last night.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

NCAA Tournament: The Sweet 16 Day 1

BRACKET STATUS: I Lost one of my finalists in Indiana and had Miami going over Marquette in this round when I made my picks. Boy was I wrong about that and boy am I glad I was wrong about that.

Marquette beat up Miami tonight partially thanks to probably the worst shooting game of the season for the Hurricanes. But it was also a fantastic inside game that propelled Marquette to the win with Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson, and Devante Gardner all contributing tremendous performances that took place mainly in the paint. Gardner in particular was the man under the basket for Marquette and scored most of his game-high 16 points that way.

The fact that Marquette only ended up winning by 10 is too bad since the game wasn't that close or anywhere near that close. My home state Golden Eagles look perfectly capable of going to their first final four in a decade. And since one of my finalists is out and came from the region Marquette is playing in, I want it to happen badly.

For the second straight game in this tournament, the Ohio St. Buckeyes survived a close game with a last-second game-winning three-point shot. On Sunday it was Aaron Craft who lifted the Buckeyes over Iowa St. while tonight it was LaQuinton Ross who lifted them over Arizona.

The Wildcats blew an 11-point lead they built in the first half by going completely cold at the three-point line after starting out hot from there. The Buckeyes, in typical fashion, took advantage of their opponent's miscues to take the lead with just under 18 minutes to play. The Buckeyes managed to keep that lead until the final seconds when Arizona tied the game before Ross' climactic shot.

At the beginning of the season, and throughout, the Indiana Hoosiers appeared to be on course to reach the NCAA final and even win the national championship. That will have to wait until next year as the Hoosiers fell victim to Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense and didn't put up a fight, losing 61-50. The game wasn't noteworthy for anything other than the poor shooting both teams demonstrated at various moments and how effective Syracuse's defense was against the Hoosiers.

There was nothing shocking about the Wichita St. Shockers domination of LaSalle on their way to the Elite 8 to take on Ohio St. Right from the beginning (literally), the Shockers were faster, more aggressive, shot better, and dominated the game in every meaningful way. Like Marquette, Wichita St.'s 14-point win seemed a bit low considering how one-sided their win was.

My Writing for 3/28/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/28/the-big-ten-has-a-desperate-need-to-win-major-bowl-games/

The Big Ten desperately need some big bowl wins. Other than Michigan and Ohio St. winning the Sugar Bowl, recent years have been filled with defeat after defeat on New Year's Day or later. Not good for the conference.

Monday, March 25, 2013

March Madness Day 4

BRACKET STATUS: Not much of a change on this day. Like pretty much everybody, Aaron Craft's shot and Indiana pulling through saved me from disaster. Other than that, Roy Williams going to 0-3 against his former team (Kansas) in the tourney was my only loss of the day in games that involved teams still alive in my bracket.

Aaron Craft saved Ohio St. with a last-second three-pointer that lifted the Buckeyes over Iowa St. Up to that point the game had been a close one that the Buckeyes appeared to be running away with before blowing a 10-point lead late. Craft's shot prevented overtime and sent the Cyclones home.

Other teams that barely survived yesterday were Miami (Fla.) and Indiana. Temple played close to the 1 seed Hoosiers the entire game with Khalif Wyatt scoring 20 in the first half for the Owls and 31 in total. In the end, the Hoosiers escaped defeat through a 10-0 run in the final three minutes. The Hurricanes survived just as tough a game against Illinois while being helped late by an obvious blown call that gave the Hurricanes the ball when it shouldn't have. It was plain as day that a Hurricanes player touched the ball last while several players, some for Illinois, were going for a rebound and the ball was tipped out-of-bounds. It's never one play or one call that decides a game, but this was still a very bad and very costly call.

Now to the Cinderella stories...

The LaSalle Explorers, a 13 seed, have made it to the Sweet 16 thanks to their two-point win over 12 seed Ole Miss.

Even more impressive is 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast becoming the first 15 seed to ever make the Sweet 16. They did so with a win over San Diego St. that saw FGC show how for real they are. This was possibly the best game of the entire weekend up until the final 10 minutes. Here, FGC pulled away, turning a two-point lead with half of the second half to go into a 10-point victory. This has to impress any skeptics of this team that are left and has to make people like their chances of making a George Mason-like run to Atlanta.

I'm a believer in how good FGC is, but I'm hoping that Florida ends their dream as I have the Gators as a final four pick in my bracket. But if the dream must continue for FGC, I'll be thrilled to watch it unfold even if my bracket gets blown up. Hey, it's probably gonna happen sooner or later anyway, so why not let my bracket get blown up with what could become the best sports story of 2013.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness Day 3

BRACKET STATUS: Saint Louis losing hurt me fairly bad as I was predicting a shocking upset of Louisville in the Sweet 16. That can't happen now. Other than that, there were wins in my bracket today. Except for, and I'm ashamed to say this as a fan of the school, VCU's loss to Michigan as I didn't think the Wolverines were going to have enough to deal with VCU's pressure D. Go figure McGary would go crazy and play out of his mind. GO BLUE!

The day began as a day of slaughters with Michigan, Michigan St., Louisville, Arizona and Oregon all winning huge. Of those teams, only Michigan St. had a single-digit halftime lead (lead 32-29 at half); the Spartans went on to destroy Memphis in the second half. Of the winners mentioned above, only Oregon won by less than 20 as they beat Saint Louis by 17. The other four each won their games by at least 22 points.

Marquette/Butler was a thriller to be sure, with Marquette coming up victorious late for the second straight tournament game, but Wichita St.'s win over Gonzaga was even more thrilling.

This was a game of waves. Wichita St. started off hot and built a lead, only to have Gonzaga chip away at it before halftime and then storm ahead in the early part of the second half. Then came the three-pointers from Wichita St. With nearly 10 three-pointers made in the second half, Wichita St. erased the lead Gonzaga had built and built their own lead. It ended up being enough as both teams were missing plenty of free-throws at the end of the game and next to nothing was going in for Gonzaga in the final minute when they were desperately trying to keep the game alive.

So Gonzaga is the first 1 seed to go down. Can't say that's much of a surprise as my bracket had them going down in this round, but not to Wichita St. Of the four 1 seeds, Gonzaga did look the weakest despite being #1 in the country at the end of the season. Their non-conference schedule and defense that's on and off didn't properly prepare them for the pressure and expectation that goes with being a 1 seed. A great and historic season for Gonzaga, but one that ends early, as expected by yours truly.

My Writing for 3/23/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/23/2013-ncaa-tournament-michigan-wolverines-dominate-thanks-to-their-big-four/

Michigan dominated VCU in the NCAA tournament today to the tune of 78-53 to advance to the Sweet 16. Trey Burke was back to normal, and the usual suspects did their thing. However, Mitch McGary played the best game of his young collegiate career. It all added up to a rout of a team many expected to handle the Wolverines with their defense.

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/24/2013-ncaa-tournament-it-was-inside-versus-outside-in-butler-marquette-thriller/

Marquette won another NCAA tournament game in the final moments. This one was different from their win over Davidson on Thursday due to how exact opposite both teams' main method(s) of scoring were in tonight's game.

Friday, March 22, 2013

March Madness Day 2

I'll be honest: the second day of this year's NCAA tournament could not follow yesterday's drama. The overall drama of the day just wasn't there. The games that were supposed to be close were close, the teams that were supposed to slaughter their opponents did, with two big exceptions.

La Salle provided the day's first big upset with their win over 4 seed Kansas St. This one actually got quite interesting as La Salle lead by 18 at the half and then proceeded to blow that lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half. From there, the game became a duel for the lead right until the final seconds. La Salle managed to be the team ahead late, thus putting all the pressure on the higher-seeded Wildcats to somehow pull this win out of their ass. They couldn't, missing both of their shot attempts in the final 15 seconds. Now the Explorers get to explore life in the NCAA tournament with people seeing them as a legit competitor and not just a small school in the way of a “better” team.

Florida Gulf Coast seized the moment and made the more shocking upset of the day and what will be the most shocking upset of the tournament, taking out the 2 seed Georgetown Hoyas. Once again a really good looking team coached by John Thompson III goes down early in a major upset. FGC used tremendous shooting in the second half and a ton of dunks during the game to build a second half lead that almost reached 20.

It ended up being Chase Fieler's HUGE (and I mean HUGE) dunk with 1:48 to go that sealed this one in my mind. The dunk came after one G-Town rally and set off the final rally where the Hoyas actually got FGC's lead down to four. But to me, this game was over the moment Fieler made that dunk and the pro-FGC section of the crowd got back into the game because they could sense that the upset was going to happen.

For the third time in the last two tournaments a 15 seed has knocked off a 2 seed. And, in a fun bit of trivia, all three upsets took place on the first Friday of the tournament with Missouri and Duke going down last year.

BRACKET STATUS: I lost an elite 8 team with K-State going down, but I made out pretty good otherwise. No other losses today in my bracket hurt me badly, so I'm still looking decent. My dad had the Hoyas as a final four pick. Tough break.

Also, as a Wisconsin native, it pained me to yet again see the Badgers blow it in the tourney. Against Ole Miss, the Badgers overreliance on three-pointers came back to bite them again as they lost by 11. Even worse, the Badgers scored only 10 points in the final 11 minutes of the game. Sad shit I must say.

My Writing for 3/22/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/22/2013-ncaa-tournament-michigan-supporting-cast-picks-up-the-slack-for-trey-burke/

Trey Burke needed support last night from his Michigan teammates, but the Wolverines got the job done.

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/22/2013-ncaa-tournament-wisconsin-dooms-themselves-again-with-poor-offensive-philosophy/

The Wisconsin Badgers' offense failed them yet again today in the NCAA tournament. After watching this scene play out in many important games in recent years, this was something I personally felt I needed to write about.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

March Madness 2013 Day 1

I know the tournament is technically under way, but we all know that the tournament really begins on a Thursday every year.
 
Also, if I don't mention some big games here, it's because I wrote about them and the links are on one of the "My Writing For..." posts. Got to cover all my bases.
 
BRACKET STATUS: Could be better. I lost to of my Sweet 16 with Pitt and New Mexico going down. Other than that, the day was the usual mix of wins, losses, and a few gambles that backfired.

The big upset of the day turned out to be 14 seed Harvard over 3 seed New Mexico. This gives the Ivy League one of its better tournament moments ever with a big first-day upset courtesy of their conference champion. Takes me back to Princeton's upset of defending national champion UCLA in the 1996 tournament.

Michigan St. and Saint Louis both used plenty of great defense to earn dominating wins in their respective tournament openers. Michigan St. used a speedier kind of offense while Saint Louis used more physicality in their offense. But both won by double-digits, Saint Louis won by 20, and Michigan St. lead by 27 at one point, so it was all good for both teams.

Saint Mary's played terribly for most of the first half, but pulled it together to create a close game before ultimately losing to Memphis. Saint Mary's spent the whole second half clawing and clawing and clawing their way back into the game only to fall short in the final seconds. They got within two thanks to a leaning three-pointer and then forced the ensuing in-bounds pass from Memphis to go out-of-bounds and give Saint Mary's their final shot. Of course Matthew Dellavedova, the top star for Saint Mary's, took the final shot. And like most of his shots in this game, it didn't go in.

And finally some last-minute heroics and a climactic finish in the tournament are on the side of a team from Wisconsin. Marquette avoided an upset (though not a major upset in my opinion) at the hands of Davidson thanks to a wild final two minutes. Marquette's final 11 points were scored by Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue. Wilson hit two clutch three's before Vander Blue scored a running layup with about one second left to play. It was far from a pretty performance by Marquette, but they got the win in the end.

Cal/UNLV turned out to be quite the suspenseful game right to the end. It was close throughout, but had a slow build to it as neither team played exceptionally well. This helped add to the suspense when the game stayed close late thanks to Cal not being able to close the door on UNLV when they had a chance to so in the final few minutes. The final minute became a battle of free-throws with both teams in the double bonus and both teams also missing from the foul line. There was an obvious foul that the referee's didn't see in the final ten seconds that cost UNLV a few seconds off the clock and ended up killing their comeback bid.

To finish off the night, VCU and Syracuse laid an absolute ass whipping on their respective opponents. 

For Syracuse, it was the standard major school smacking a smaller and much lower-seeded school.

With VCU, it was more noteworthy because they beat a good team in Akron that was missing three players due to injury (back spasms for one player) and the flu. Plus, Akron was missing another player due to suspension. 

VCU's 88-42 win gave them the largest margin of victory for a 5 seed over a 12 seed in NCAA tournament history. The previous record was set in 1981 and then matched in 2007. But that record was only for 35-point wins, something VCU topped by more than 10 tonight. A hell of a statement, even if it was against a depleted opponent.

More of My Writing for 3/21/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/21/2013-ncaa-tournament-kelly-olynyk-saved-gonzaga-against-southern/

Kelly Olynyk's second half performance is what lifted the 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs over 16 seed Southern. The game was close the entire way and it really looked for a while like we might see the mythical upset to end all mythical upsets. But we didn't thanks to Olynyk.

My Writing for 3/21/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/21/the-big-ten-should-rename-their-divisions/

The Big Ten's divisions do need to be renamed. I don't think I need to make a case for it, but I did anyway.

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/21/expansion-in-the-big-ten-that-isnt-needed/

It was announced last year that Maryland and Rutgers were going to join the Big Ten conference soon. Here is my take on the whole thing.

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/21/ncaa-tournament-tom-izzo-looking-to-coach-his-way-to-seventh-final-four/

Tom Izzo and his Michigan St. Spartans looked damn impressive in their win over Valporaiso today in the NCAA tournament. Izzo has coached the Spartans to six final four appearances in his time in East Lansing, Michigan. Could a seventh be coming?

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2013/03/21/2013-ncaa-tournament-how-long-can-the-st-louis-billikens-run-continue/

The Saint Louis Billikens are currently on a run rarely seen from a non-power six school that doesn't have the name recognition that Gonzaga or Butler does. Saint Louis dedicated their season to their coach Rick Majerus who died last December. Since Majerus' death, the Billikens have almost been unstoppable and looked the part in their win today.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The NCAA Basketball Tournament is Upon Us

So now that the tournament brackets have been unveiled, it's time for all of you to get your brackets ready at work, school, and with friends & family. For a few weeks, this entire country will care about college basketball more than the rest of the season combined. And that's what this is year after year: a near three-week binge of basketball with those delightful Thursdays & Fridays for two weeks where people have a good distraction from work or school.

This is without a doubt the most wide open field I've ever seen in my life watching college basketbal. For the last month, my Dad & I would talk about as much, as well as our feeling that there was around 15 teams that were a good #1 or national champion pick. To date, that number really hasn't gone down that much and it's going to make for possibly the most entertaining tournament I've ever seen (earliest memories watching was 1992-93 season).

During the tournament I will be giving my take on the games as well as a constant update on my bracket. Why not? Since I have this blog, I might as well. The thing about this tournament is that I've been doing brackets for 13 seasons, and this is the only time I've ever gotten that ugly feeling that my bracket is going to be worthless after the first two days. I hope that's not the case, but I'm sure many will understand that feeling going into this tournament.

My friend put it best when he wrote on Facebook that this tournament is going to be "fucked up fun." Fucked up indeed. Fun, also indeed.

Good luck to everyone, but especially me, with the pools. And good luck to all the teams involved as the one of you that makes it to Atlanta and hoists the trophy on April 8 will need more luck than other years to go with the talent, coaching, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, etc. needed to win a championship.

My Writing for 3/18/2013

http://www.worldboxing101.com/2013/03/18/timothy-bradley-retains-wbo-welterweight-title-in-fight-of-the-year-candidate-against-ruslan-provodnikov/

My recap of the HBO boxing doubleheader this past Saturday. Bradley/Provodnikov was incredible and Vargas/Omotoso was a very interesting and good bout as well. Overall, plenty of good stuff in these two bouts and another good outing from HBO boxing. They've been very good about putting on good boxing cards on T.V. over the last year and a half or so.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pre-UFC 158 Writing

http://www.rantsports.com/mma/2013/03/16/it-might-be-good-for-ufcs-business-if-nick-diaz-beats-gsp/

The positives that could come out of a Nick Diaz upset title win tonight.

http://www.rantsports.com/mma/2013/03/16/who-will-be-the-challenger-for-the-ufc-welterweight-title-after-gspdiaz/

My look at what UFC's welterweight division could look like after tonight. At UFC 158, the top three bouts all are in the welterweight division. It will be both a showcase for the division and a glimpse into its future.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Writing for 3/11/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/11/rich-rodriguez-and-the-michigan-coaching-quagmire-part-1/

The first in my two-part look at the Rich Rod era in Michigan football. As part of my ongoing series of articles on the Big Ten's plunge into football purgatory, these three seasons definitely went a long way toward helping the conference's plunge. The team certainly plunged, and that's what the first part focuses on.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

My Writing for 3/7/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/07/bill-obrien-the-hero-of-happy-valley/

My thoughts on the job Bill O'Brien did as Penn St. head coach in 2012. It was probably the least desired job a football coach could want considering what the university has gone through. But O'Brien soldiered on and helped create a successful season where one didn't seem possible.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Writing for 3/4/2013

http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2013/03/04/les-miles-still-lsu-tigers-head-coach-despite-twitter-rumor/

Les Miles fell victim to a nasty Twitter rumor this weekend and I'm giving my two cents about it. I'm not a huge fan of Twitter, and it's stuff like this that makes me even less of a fan.