Thursday’s Den: Random thoughts on Opening Day

Before we start, happy birthday to my grandmother; today was her birthday. Very nice lady. Not sure April 1 is a great day for a birthday.

13) Will be fun to see fans in the stands; hopefully by the end of this season, stands will be full again, but for now, hearing real people cheer will be enough. Cardboard cutouts are cool, but they don’t make any noise.

For the record, the best cardboard cutout last year was the one in Kansas City of Bernie Lomax, the main character from the Weekend at Bernie’s movies.

12) Houston Astros made the expanded playoffs LY, despite a 29-31 record; how will they bounce back this year? They won the 2017 World Series, lost the ’19 Series in seven games; this year they’ll be without Verlander (hurt), Springer (free agent to Toronto).

Last year, Jose Altuve hit .219 in the regular season, then hit 18-48 (.375) in playoffs, so we’ll see what this year brings.

11) Baseball has done a very smart thing, letting players watch video of their at-bats on iPads during the game. Players couldn’t do that last year- from what you hear on TV, it hampered some hitters, who are creatures of habit. Baseball wants more offense, right?

10) Los Angeles Dodgers are loaded; they won World Series LY for first time since 1988, and appear to be headed that way again this year, especially after adding pitching ace Trevor Bauer as a free agent.

Their TV guys have been fairly cocky this spring; on how many teams would David Price or Tony Gonsolin not be in the starting rotation?

9) Seattle and the Angels are two teams that will apparently use 6-man pitching rotations this season, somehow new to MLB. Teams in Japan do this; starters generally pitch once a week.

Teams are guarding against ramping up a pitcher’s innings too much from one year to the next; for instance, Seattle’s Marco Gonzales threw 69.1 IP LY; he threw 203 the year before. Doubtful they want him ramping back up to 203 until next season.

8) Steve Cohen is the new owner of the Mets; supposedly, Bobby Axelrod on Showtime’s Billions was modeled after Cohen, a wildly successful hedge fund trader. In other words, he is really, really rich.

Cohen’s Mets offered newly-acquired SS Francisco Lindor $320M for 10 years; Lindor’s people are asking for 12 years, $385M. We’ll see how that works out.

LATE UPDATE: Here’s how it worked out: Lindor signed a 10-year deal for $341M Wednesday night. 

7) Umpire Ángel Hernández lost his lawsuit against MLB alleging racial discrimination; hired as a big league umpire in 1993, the Cuban-born Hernandez alleged he was discriminated against because he had not been assigned to the World Series since 2005 and had been passed over for crew chief.

From the judge who decided the case:
“The explicit reason MLB offers — that according to (Joe) Torre, Hernández ‘has not demonstrated the leadership ability and situation-management skills in critical high-pressure roles on a consistent basis’ — is presented in clear and specific terms.”

In other words, Hernandez should be glad he has a lucrative job that he doesn’t do very well.

6) Colorado Rockies traded star 3B Nolan Arenado to St Louis, and with SS Trevor Story headed for free agency, he could be the next to leave Denver, which can’t make fans in Denver happy.

Are the Rockies headed for a total rebuild? Colorado won 87-91 games in 2017/’18, but now they’re looking like a doormat.

5) Can Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge stay healthy this season?
— Last two years, Stanton played a total of 41 regular season games.
— Last three years, Judge played 112-102-28 games.
— Stanton went 8-26 with six homers in seven playoff games LY; they need him for six months, not seven games.

4) Angels have lot of hitting, lot of star power; Trout, Pujols, Rendon, Ohtani, but pitching is important in baseball and the Angels don’t have much of that.

In 12 games as a major league pitcher, Ohtani has given up 26 runs in 53.1 IP; there is very little evidence that he’ll be a good major league pitcher.

3) Lot of hype around the Padres/White Sox; there is no doubt that 76-year Tony LaRussa’s return to the dugout will be fascinating to follow in Chicago.

LaRussa hasn’t managed since 2011; he’s won three World Series as a skipper, but the world is a different place than it was 10 years ago. He did a dugout interview during a spring training game a few days ago and it…….um…….didn’t go well.

Random LaRussa trivia; he pinch-hit for the A’s in their first-ever home game in Oakland, way back in 1968.

2) Baseball needs the universal DH, for a few reasons:
— They want more scoring; pitchers can’t hit
— They want more balls in play; DH’s put balls in play
— Pitchers get hurt hitting/running the bases. Not good.

1) I’ll be looking at how the new experimental rules work once the minor leagues get rolling in May; I like the anti-shifting rules, the pitch-clock thing isn’t necessary. The 3-batter minimum for relievers is a great rule.

I can’t stand the extra inning rules or 7-inning doubleheaders. Media guys like shorter extra innings, since it makes their job easier, but to me it cheapens the game.

As for the automated strike zone, no thank you!!! Just let umpires do their jobs, and hire better umpires than Angel Hernandez.

Tuesday’s Den: American League trends and notes…….

Baltimore
— Last made playoffs in 2016.
— combined record, last 3 years: 126-258
— went 11-9 vs NL East LY, 14-26 vs their division rivals.
— 7-12 in one-run games LY,

Boston
— Made playoffs 10 of last 18 years.
— 11-20 at home, 13-16 on road LY.
— 7-17 vs lefty starting pitchers LY, 17-19 vs righties.
— Why did they trade Mookie Betts?

Chicago White Sox
— Made playoffs LY for first time since 2008; their last winning season was 2012.
— went 2-8 in last 10 games, then lost in playoffs, then fired the manager.
— 76-year old Tony LaRussa is the old/new skipper; he last managed in 2011.
— 14-0 vs lefty starters, 21-25 vs righties LY. 14-0!!!!
— New closer Hendriks had 39 saves last two years; in the 8 years before that, he had one.

Cleveland
— Last losing season was in 2012.
— Made playoffs four of last five years.
— Letting SS Lindor bolt to the Mets will obviously hurt them.
— Won 8 of last 10 games LY, then lost 12-3/10-9 in playoffs.

Detroit
— Went combined 198-345 the last four years.
— Last made the playoffs in 2014.
— 11-7 vs NL Central LY, went 12-28 vs division rivals.
— 7-4 vs lefties, 16-31 vs righties LY. 

Houston
— 29-31 LY, still made playoffs for 5th time in six years.
— went 2-7 in extra innings last year.
— 12-10 vs lefties, 17-21 vs righties LY.
— Will miss departed Springer, injured Verlander.

Kansas City
— won World Series six short years ago. 
— last three years, they’re a combined 143-241
— 15-15 at home, 11-19 on road LY.
— Adding 1B Carlos Santana should upgrade the offense.

LA Angels
— haven’t made made playoffs since 2014.
— last time they won a playoff game? 2009.
— 16-15 at home, 10-19 on road last year.
— went 7-13 vs NL West, 19-21 vs their division rivals.

Minnesota
— Lost an amazing 18 playoff games in a row.
— made playoffs three of last four years.
— Were 24-7 at home, 12-17 on road last year.
— Last two years, went a combined 137-85.

A’s
— made playoffs last three years, and six of last nine.
— were 22-10 at home, 14-14 on road LY.
— went 6-0 in extra-inning games last year.
— 11-3 vs lefty starters, 25-21 vs right starters.

Bronx
— made playoffs 22 of last 26 years.
— 11-18 on road, 22-9 at home LY.
— 26-19 vs righty starters, 7-8 vs lefties LY.
— need Judge/Stanton to both stay healthy for once.

Seattle
— Last made playoffs in 2001, longest active drought in MLB
— have been over .500 three times in last seven years.
— 20-20 vs division rivals, 7-13 vs NL West LY.
— 14-10 at home, 13-23 on road last year.
— Have already committed to using 6-man rotation at start of this year.

Tampa Bay
— made playoffs last two years, lost World Series 4-2 LY.
— went 40-20 LY, best record in American League.
— went 14-5 in one-run games, which suggests regression this year.
— 31-12 vs righties, 9-8 vs lefties LY.

Texas
— last made playoffs in 2016.
— Last four years, they’re combined 56 games under .500.
— went 6-24 on road LY; were 16-14 in their new domed stadium.
— minus-88 run differential LY was worst in major leagues.

Toronto
— made playoffs 3 of last 6 years
— from 2017-19, were a combined 54 games under .500.
— were 17-9 at home, 15-19 on road LY.
— went 13-10 in one-run games LY, T2 for most in MLB. 

Monday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports weekend…….

13) This is the state of college basketball these days:

In February, North Carolina needed couple of games to update their resume; they added mid-week non-conference home games with Northeastern, Marquette, Won one, lost one. Didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

When Carolina beat Northeastern 82-62 February 17, Huskies’ sophomore PG Tyson Walker scored 27 points, and showed up on the radar of the big $$$ schools who like to poach players from low and mid-major schools. Happens all the time now.

Makes college basketball a lot more like baseball, but I’m an Oakland A’s fan, and it drives me batty when players bolt for greener pa$ture$. Loyalty is in scarce supply these days.

Walker averaged 18.8 ppg and 4.8 assists/game as a sophomore at Northeastern, was named the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year; he committed to Michigan State this weekend. 

Not sure what Northeastern is going to do for a point guard next year, none of the national media seemed too interested in that.

12) UCLA 88, Alabama 78 OT:
— Crimson Tide went 11-25 on foul line, in an overtime loss.
— UCLA scored 23 points in the 5:00 overtime.
— This is Mick Cronin’s 12th NCAA tourney, his first regional final.

11) Baylor 62, Villanova 51:
— Villanova led 30-23 at halftime.
— Baylor was +10 in turnover margin (16-6)
— Teams combined to make 6-36 on the arc.

10) Arkansas 72, Oral Roberts 70:
— ORU led 46-34 with 15:24 left in the game.
— Eric Musselman is 5-3 in NCAA tourney games; his team trailed by 10+ points in all five of the wins.
— Oral Roberts were almost first-ever #15-seed to make a regional final.

9) Gonzaga 83, Creighton 65:
— Gonzaga is 29-0, has one win by fewer than 10 points.
— Zags took 33 shots inside arc, made 25 of them (75.8%)
— Gonzaga had 23 assists on 32 made field goals.

8) Oregon State 65, Loyola Chi 58:
— Beavers are 2nd-ever #12-seed (Missouri ’02) to make a regional final.
— OSU held Ramblers to 33.3% from the floor.
— On February 20, Oregon State was 11-11; they’ve gone 9-1 since then.

7) Michigan 76, Florida State 58:
— Surprisingly easy win for the Wolverines.
— FSU shot only 40%, looked lost on offense.
— Michigan scored 81.3 ppg in first three tourney wins.

6) USC 82, Oregon 68:
— Trojans made 10-17 shots on arc, scored 1.22 ppp.
— In two games vs Oregon this year, Trojans led by 19-21 at the half.
— Pac-12 is 12-2 in NCAA Tournament, including this game.

5) Houston 62, Syracuse 46:
— Cougars won their last ten games.
— Syracuse shot 28% from floor, 5-23 on arc.
— Average total in the four Saturday games: 126.5.

4) Memphis 77, Mississippi State 64:
— Tigers win the NIT; in their last two games, they made 24-49 3-pointers.
— This game was 33-33 at halftime.
— Memphis didn’t play any seniors; they should be good next year.

3) If Houston beats Oregon State tonight, they’ll have made the Final Four by winning four games in their region, against the #15-10-11-12 seeds. That doesn’t happen often.

2) Indiana Hoosiers hired alum Mike Woodson as their basketball coach; Woodson coached the Atlanta Hawks for six years, the Knicks for three more; he scored 14 ppg in his 11-year NBA career. His last head coaching gig was 2014; he’s been an assistant coach since.

Utah poached coach Craig Smith from in-state rival Utah State to be its next head man. Few days ago, Smith told his Utah State players not to have any concerns about him leaving- he was staying right where he was, sure as sure could be.

Money does strange things to people.

1) I like the idea they enacted this year; the 2nd weekend of the tournament being Saturday-Tuesday instead of Thursday-Sunday. Not sure what next year’s schedule will be like, maybe no one does; when you change the schedule once every 35 years, people get used to the way it was. 

Sunday’s Den: Trends for National League teams

Arizona
— Last made playoffs in 2017.
— Finished over .500 three of last four years.
— 5-11 vs lefty starting pitchers LY.
— 9-21 on the road LY.

Atlanta
— Made playoffs the last three years.
— 19-11 at home LY.
— 8-4 vs lefty starting pitchers LY.
— 11-9 vs AL teams, 24-16 vs NL teams.

Chicago
— Made playoffs four of last five years.
— 19-14 at home, 15-12 on road LY
— 7-4 vs lefty starters, 12-8 vs AL Central teams.
— Joe Maddon made playoffs four of five years with the Cubs; why did they dump him?

Cincinnati
— Braves shut them out 1-0/5-0 in two playoff games LY.
— Reds’ previous playoff appearance was in 2013.
— Reds are moving Eugenio Suarez to SS this year.
— Losing P’s Bauer, Iglesias will be hard to overcome.

Colorado
— Went combined 97-125 the last two years.
— Finished over .500 twice in last ten years.
— Were only 12-18 at Coors Field last year.
— 16-24 vs right-handed starting pitchers.

Los Angeles
— won World Series LY for first time since 1988.
— Last losing season? They were 80-82 in 2010.
— Made playoffs the last eight years.
— were 7-5 in one-run games, 36-12 in the others.

Miami
— made playoffs LY for first time since 2003.
— went 31-29, despite giving up 41 more runs than they scored.
— 24-17 vs righty starters, 7-12 vs southpaws.
— Before LY, their last winning season was in 2009.

Milwaukee
— made playoffs the last three years.
— went 29-31, despite going 11-5 in one-run games.
— 11-7 vs lefty starters, 18-24 vs righties.
— 10-10 vs AL Central, 19-21 vs NL Central rivals.

NY Mets
— Finished over .500 in 3 of last 12 seasons.
— Last made playoffs in 2016.
— Were 6-11 in one-run games LY.
— Have new owner with lot of $$$; will they re-sign Lindor?

Philadelphia
— Had great run from 2007-11, making playoffs every year.
— Haven’t made playoffs since 2011.
— 21-19 vs NL East, 7-13 vs AL East LY.
— 13-9 vs lefty starters, 15-23 vs right starters.

Pittsburgh
— Last made playoffs in 2015.
— 6-22 on road, 2-10 vs lefty starters LY.
— 16-24 vs NL Central, only 3-17 vs AL Central LY.
— were over .500 four times in 9 years under Clint Hurdle.

St Louis
— made playoffs 11 of last 17 years.
— 22-18 vs NL Central, 8-10 vs AL Central.
— 26-21 vs righty starters, 4-7 vs southpaws.
— Acquiring 3B Arenado is big upgrade to defense.

San Diego
— made playoffs LY for first time since 2006.
— 27-13 vs righty starters, 10-10 vs lefties LY.
— won all four of their extra inning games.
— 24-16 vs NL West, 13-7 vs AL West.

San Francisco
— finished under .500 the last four years.
— 19-14 at home, 10-17 on road LY.
— won three World Series from 2010-14.
— 18-22 vs NL West, 11-9 vs AL West LY.

Washington
— made playoffs 5 of last 9 years
— despite that, have had 7 managers the last 16 years
— were over .500 eight of last nine years, won 2019 WS.
— 11-7 vs lefty starters, 15-27 vs lefty starters. 

Saturday’s Den: Wrapping up the first full day of March Madness

West Virginia 84, Morehead State 67:
— Bob Huggins wins his 900th game as a head coach.
— Morehead State made 10-19 on the arc, still didn’t cover as 12-point dogs.
— Sunday will be like a 2012 Big East reunion- West Virginia-Syracuse. 

North Texas 78, Purdue 69, OT:
— Mean Green won its last five games, giving up 57 ppg.
— This was Mean Green’s first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
— Purdue is now 3-3 in their last six first round games. 

Oral Roberts 75, Ohio State 72, OT:
— Four Oral Roberts starters played 42:00+
— Buckeyes shot 5-23 on arc, 9-18 on foul line. No bueno.
— If you care about such things, #15-seeds are 1-7 SU in next round, 2-5-1 ATS

Oregon State 70, Tennessee 56:
— Tennessee’s center Fulkerson (eye injury) didn’t play; Beavers’ 7-1 Silva was 8-8 from floor.
— Oregon State wins NCAA Tournament game for first time since 1982.
— Since 1987, #12-seeds are 31-18 ATS in 2nd round, 3-6 since 2014.

Florida 75
, Virginia Tech 70, OT:
— Tech led by 10 early, by 8 with 15:03 left, let it slip away.
— Hokies sent game to OT with 3-pointer with 0:01 left.
— Florida G Appleby needed stitches for cut to forehead, played only 22:00.

Oklahoma State 69, Liberty 60:
— Liberty led by 3 at half; OSU outscored them 42-30 in second half.
— Cunningham was 3-14 from floor; he tends to coast in first half of games.
— Cunningham is obviously going to the NBA next year; how long does his brother keep his six-figure job as an assistant coach? 

Arkansas 85, Colgate 68:
— Colgate played their butts off, led 31-17 early.
— Colgate made 12-27 on arc, but turned ball over 22 times (-12)
— Razorbacks won 12 of their last 14 games.

Loyola Chi 71, Georgia Tech 60:
— Tech got up 13-3 quickly, but missed Moses Wright, ACC player of year.
— Loyola was 11-27 on arc, outscored Tech 10-3 on foul line.
— Since 2013, MVC teams are 11-1 SU, 10-2 ATS in NCAA games.

Rutgers 60, Clemson 56:
— Clemson led by 5 early in 2nd half;
— Rutgers held Tigers to 35.6% from floor, outrebounded them 41-32.
— Favorites went 10-6 ATS in Friday’s games.

Villanova 73, Winthrop 63
— Villanova shot 57.7% inside arc, win for only 2nd time in last five games.
— Winthrop finishes season 23-2; they were in NCAA for only 2nd time in last decade.
— Villanova plays #13-seed North Texas Sunday.

Syracuse 78, San Diego State 62
— Syracuse made 15-27 on the arc; its easier shooting outside the dome.
— Buddy Boeheim had 30 points; he’ll be in the NBA in two years.
— San Diego State started four seniors; will their coach bolt for Minnesota? 

Wisconsin 85, North Carolina 62:
— Only time Badgers scored more points this year? November 27, vs Ark-Pine Bluff.
— Wisconsin made 13-27 on arc, scored 1.29 points/possession.
— North Carolina was 2-5 this year when they rebounded 33.3% or less of their own missed shots; they grabbed 30% of their misses in this game.

Texas Tech 65, Utah State 53:
— Aggies shot 58% inside arc, but turned ball over 22 times (-14)
— Texas Tech forces turnovers 24.1% of time (#6).
— Arkansas-Texas Tech is a matchup from the old Southwest Conference.

Illinois 78, Drexel 49:
— This looked a 1-16 game; not competitive.
— Dragons have to be proud of making NCAAs for first time since 1996.
— Illinois took only eight foul shots, seven 3-pointers; they steamrolled Drexel.

Baylor 79, Hartford 55:
— This was a stress-free win for Baylor; they play Wisconsin-UNC winner Sunday.
— Baylor is shooting 41.4% on arc this season, best in country.
— America East teams are now 6-2 ATS in last eight tournament games; Hartford was +26. 

Houston 87, Cleveland State 56:
— Cougars led by 8 at half, then coasted home; one of the day’s worst games.
— Last eight years, Horizon teams are 0-9 in NCAA’s (2-7 ATS)
— Houston has won 8 in a row, has #1 eFG% defense in country. 

 

Friday’s Den: Welcome to the best weekend of the year

13) UCLA 86, Michigan State 80 OT
— Spartans led by 11 at halftime- they scored 3 points in last 6:20.
— Michigan State lost four of its last six games.
— UCLA breaks a 4-game skid, plays BYU Saturday.

12) Drake 53, Wichita State 52
— Drake scored 25 points in first 28:36, 28 points in last 11:24.
— When they were MVC rivals, Wichita beat Drake the last 14 times they played.
— Bulldogs move on to play USC Saturday.

11) Texas Southern 60, Mount St Mary’s 52
— Mount St Mary’s led by 10 at half, scored only 22 points in 2nd half.
— Texas Southern has won 15 of its last 16 games.
— Tigers move on to play #1-seed Michigan Saturday.

10) Norfolk State 54, Appalachian State 53:
— Norfolk led by 19 in second half, blew the lead, rallied from down 6 with 5:22 left.
— App State missed their first 19 3-pointers, finished 6-36.
— Norfolk State moves on to play #1 Gonzaga Saturday.

9) Jalen Wilson, leading rebounder for Kansas, is out for the Jayhawks’ first round game with Eastern Washington.

8) Gonzaga is the 20th team to be unbeaten heading into the NCAA Tournament; of the previous 19, seven of them won the NCAA title, with Indiana in 1976 the last one. Lot more teams in the tournament since the mid-80’s; have to win six games to win a title now.

7) 12 of the last 32 national champs won their conference tournament.

6) In the NFL, Buffalo Bills signed former Chicago QB Mitchell Trubisky to be their backup QB. Wonder how the Bears’ GM explains away trading 3rd and 4th-round picks to move up to draft Trubisky, when Patrick Mahomes was sitting there in the same draft. Oy.

5) Las Vegas Raiders want backup QB Marcus Mariota to take a pay cut, from $10.725M to $3M a year. If Mariota declines, Raiders are expected to release him. Dallas needs a backup QB, so Mariota could land there if the Raiders release him.

4) According to the Boston Globe and Andy, who reads this website, New England Patriots were “uncharacteristically extravagant in NFL free agency Monday, essentially buying a new team” for ’21, awarding contracts to seven free agents with a “maximum value” close to $200M and nearly $100M in guarantees.

Of the previous five NFL teams who spent that much dinero on free agents, none of them made the playoffs the following season.

3) In baseball, hitters seem happy that in-game video is back in dugouts this season; there are lot of hitters who became dependent on seeing their at-bats when they got back to the dugout, so they could make adjustments for their next turn at the dish.

2) When I was in high school, a long time ago, the mid-70’s, ESPN didn’t exist yet and I didn’t have control of our family’s remote control anyway, so I spent lot of nights in my room, listening to ballgames on the radio. Lot of nights.

My parents had this battery-powered radio that was the size of a shoe box; at night, it could get any station between Albany and Detroit and as far south as Baltimore, St Louis on a good night.

For 2-3 years, I spent a ton of time listening to Cleveland Indians games on WWWE in the summer and Cavaliers’ games in the winter. Joe Tait was the play-by-play guy for both teams; he was enthusiastic but fair, smart as hell and he taught me a lot about sports, he helped fuel the passion for sports that I still carry today.

Mr Tait passed away last week at age 83; I was watching the replay of an Indians’ spring training game the other night and they paid tribute to him. He was so much fun to listen to, yelling “Bingo!!!!” when Bobby Smith would nail a jumper; his banter with baseball partner Herb Score taught me a lot about baseball.

RIP sir, you were freakin’ great at your job.

1) Somewhere upstairs in this house of mine, there is a cassette tape with the last inning of a 1977 Indians-Angels game, Dennis Eckersley’s no-hitter. I had this genius idea that I could be a broadcaster, so I would tape broadcasters and try to learn how they did it. That plan never got too far off the ground.

This afternoon, I looked up the boxscore of that 1977 game, 44 years ago and it downed on me; of the 10 guys who started for the Indians that night, four of them are still baseball broadcasters:
— Dennis Eckersley (Red Sox)
— Ray Fosse (A’s)
— Duane Kuiper (Giants)
— Rick Manning (Indians)

Enjoy the basketball games this weekend; if you see a pizza delivery guy wandering around lost, send him to my house.

Thursday’s Den: Doing some thinking out loud……

13) NCAA updates:
— Oklahoma’s #2 scorer De’Vion Harmon is out for this week, after testing positive for COVID. Sooners play Missouri in their first round game. Harmon is averaging 12.9 ppg.
— Georgia Tech star Moses Wright, the ACC player of the year, will miss the Yellow Jackets’ first-round game against Loyola-Chicago.

12) Watching lot of exhibition baseball this month, was wondering who has hit the most home runs ever in exhibition games? I’m guessing this information isn’t available and I know it isn’t important, but it would be fun to see.

Searched the Interweb but couldn’t find anything; I did see that in 2000, five Boston pitchers combined to throw a perfect game against Toronto in an exhibition game, but that’s just more useless knowledge.

11) This spring, San Diego Padres’ pitchers are going to the plate with a bat in their hands, but they’re not hitting; they just take three strikes and go back to the dugout, to avoid injury. This is something Oakland’s pitchers did a few years ago, eliminates the risk of a costly injury.

Spring training games have become like basketball scrimmages, where coaches control some scenarios. Pitchers can re-enter, innings were stopped early for the first 10 days of games. It is all about getting pitchers some work, on the mound, not at the plate.

10) Francisco Lindor says he is opening to signing a contract extension with the Mets, but if it isn’t done before the season starts, then he will not discuss a contract extension during the season. This is probably a negotiating ploy, but Lindor does have leverage to get a deal done.

9) Miami Heat traded Meyers Leonard and a 2nd-round pick to Oklahoma City for Trevor Ariza. Miami will be the 35-year old Ariza’s 10th NBA team.

Weird trade; Ariza hasn’t played yet this season, but Miami announced on Twitter that it is hopeful he’ll be available to play this weekend.

As for Leonard, the Thunder said Leonard “will not be reporting to Oklahoma City and will not be an active member of the organization.” When you’re marginal player and you yell out anti-Semitic stuff on the Interweb, your career spirals downward. Quickly.

In other words, he’ll have a lot more time to play video games, now that he is retired.

8) Chicago Bears tried really hard to trade for Russell Wilson; they offered Seattle three 1st-round picks, one 3rd-round pick and two starting players, one of whom was Khalil Mack. Seattle apparently turned them down.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter says the trade isn’t dead until the NFL Draft happens, but the Bears trading for Andy Dalton says otherwise.

7) With Drew Brees retiring, New Orleans paid its two QB’s this week; they gave Taysom Hill a four-year, $140M deal where the last three years are voidable, and they paid backup Jameis Winston $12M for 2021. Very unusual quarterback room.

Hill has played in 53 NFL games, is 3-1 as a starting quarterback; he’s thrown 134 career NFL passes, run ball 151 times, caught 30 passes. Am curious to see how this plays out.

6) NFL has a great skill of staying in the news 365 days a year, 366 in leap years. Today is March 18 and NFL is in the news as much as March Madness and more than spring training games. Part of it is because the people who run baseball are arrogant imbeciles who won’t market their sport the right way, but that’s another discussion for another day.

5) Thoughts/prayers to former NBA center Shawn Bradley, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury which left him paralyzed, after a car crashed into his bicycle. Bradley is 7-foot-6; he played 12 years in the NBA, scoring 8.1 ppg.

Since retiring from NBA in 2005, Bradley has been a counselor at a private school in Utah.

4) Couple weeks ago, Rams DT Michael Brockers declared that Matthew Stafford was an upgrade at quarterback for Los Angeles, over the departed Jared Goff. His actual quote:

“Is it a level up? In my heart, deeply, just understanding what he brings, it’s a level up. It’s a level up.”

Since then, the Rams wanted Brockers to re-do his contract, to help get the Rams under the salary cap. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, so Brockers is now a Detroit Lion, where one of his new teammates is…..Jared Goff.

Awkward.

3) Iowa State paid former basketball coach Steve Prohm $5.5M to take a hike, after a hideous 2-22 season. Prohm’s Cyclones had made three of previous four NCAA tournaments, but were also a combined 18-54 in conference games the last four years. 18-54 gets you fired. 

Less than 24 hours later, word is out that TJ Otzelberger is bolting UNLV to take the Iowa State job; Otzelberger worked as an assistant at Iowa State from 2006-2013, and again three years later. Unnamed sources claim this deal has been done for a month or so.

Here’s the thing; Otzelberger was 28-29 in two years at UNLV and was showing zero signs of any progress. Rebels had very little depth this year; when you play in a league where lot of teams play in higher altitude, you need some depth and UNLV didn’t have much.

Rebel fans can’t be that sad to see Otzelberger go, but the program is now mired in mediocrity— next year they’ll have their fifth head coach in eight years. Richard Pitino just got hired by New Mexico, so UNLV can forget about hiring Rick Pitino as a bombshell replacement, since UNLV and New Mexico are in the same league.

Iowa State will also have to pay $4M or so to UNLV, as part of Otzelberger’s buyout.

2) Richmond 76, Toledo 66— Spiders win their NIT opener, despite being down couple of starters. Richmond had lost their last three games coming in, were down 8 with 15:43 left in this game, but they stormed back for the win and will play in the next round March 25.

1) Western Kentucky 69, Saint Mary’s 67— Big man Bassey had 19 points, 11 rebounds; Hilltoppers blew an 11-point lead, but pulled it out on free throws with 0:03.3 left and move on to the second round. 

Saint Mary’s finishes 14-10 after starting out 8-1; first time in 14 years they didn’t win 20 games. 

Wednesday’s Den: Mid-week musings……..

13) Pretty cool moment on the Mariners-Rockies’ telecast the other night; the broadcast had announcers from both teams, a great idea because you learn more about both teams.

Anyway, early in the game they have a Colorado coach miked in the dugout for a half-inning, the Rockies’ pitching coach at AA Hartford. Why, you ask? Seattle’s pitcher at the time was Marco Gonzales; the Rockies’ pitching coach is Frank Gonzales, Marco’s father. 

He can’t root for his son, he doesn’t want to root against him; it was good TV, and had to be a really proud moment for the dad.

12) Interweb says that LeBron James will become a part owner of the Boston Red Sox; he became a partner with Fenway Sports Group, a deal that also also increases James’ ownership stake in an English soccer team. Apparently it is fun to be really, really rich.

11) There was a surprising moment in the Cardinals-Mets game Sunday which drew national attention; Cardinals’ P Jordan Hicks came in relief to pitch, faced Luis Guillorme leading off an inning. The at-bat lasted 22 pitches, longest AB I can ever remember seeing, before Guillorme walked. 

Sunday was the first day this spring where you couldn’t pull the plug on an inning, and there is that 3-batter rule now, so when St Louis wanted to change pitchers, apparently the umpires quietly told them that they had to bring the trainer out and pretend Hicks was hurt, if they wanted to remove him, and that’s what happened.

10) Grand Canyon made their first NCAA Tournament this year; I’m especially happy for coach Bryce Drew, who got hosed when Vanderbilt fired him two years ago.

Drew’s first two Vandy teams went 31-36, 16-18 in SEC games, but then he recruited a really good freshman point guard, Darius Garland. Vandy started out Year 3 with a 4-0 mark, but Garland got hurt 2:00 into Game 5, and the Commodores went in the ashcan when he never came back to play that year.

Vandy’s AD seemed anxious to fire Drew and hire Jerry Stackhouse; the Commodores are 20-37 in two years under Stackhouse, 6-28 in SEC games.

Garland has scored 13.5 ppg in his first 88 NBA games (for Cleveland); had he not gotten hurt, Vandy would’ve had a good season, Drew would probably still have his job and Grand Canyon would have a different coach. Maybe Vanderbilt did Drew a favor by firing him.

9) Padres’ catcher Austin Nola broke the middle finger on his left hand, which makes his availability for Opening Day a ????

Nola hit .273 for Seattle/San Diego last year.

8) When the season starts, Oakland A’s better hit the ground running; they open with seven games against Houston, three against the Dodgers. Yikes.

7) College basketball stuff:
— Indiana fired Archie Miller. Hoosiers have been over .500 in the Big 14 once in the last eight years.
— Minnesota fired Richard Pitino, who was then hired by New Mexico.
— Penn State hired Micah Shrewsberry, who has been an assistant coach under Brad Stevens and Matt Painter.
— George Mason fired Dave Paulsen.
— For some reason, Utah fired Larry Krystkowiak. Maybe the Utes should’ve stayed in the Mountain West Conference.

6) I’m going to repeat this one last time; Louisville has an assistant coach named Luke Murray, who is Bill Murray’s son. Luke Murray is going to be a head coach soon.

Minnesota GOPHERS have a head coach opening; it would be tremendous if Bill Murray’s son became coach of the GOPHERS (Caddyshack reference).

Minnesota needs Luke Murray to be their next basketball coach. In Caddyshack, Bill Murray played a groundskeeper named Carl Spackler who was at war with the gophers who lived underneath Bushwood Country Club.

The TV commercials would be epic; imagine Carl Spackler rooting FOR the Gophers?

5) Word out of Anaheim is that Matt Vasgersian will be the Angels’ new play-by-play guy on TV, with Darin Sutton filling in at times. Angels’ analyst is Mark Gubicza, who is great- upbeat, smart so they’re going to be fun to listen to late at night on the baseball package.

4) Chicago Bears signed QB Andy Dalton to a $10M, one-year deal, with another $3M possible in incentives. Dalton started nine games for Dallas LY; Bears now have him, Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky at QB— sounds like Trubisky will be moving on.

3) New England Patriots signed eight free agents Tuesday, as they prepare to bounce back from missing the playoffs last year- they also re-signed QB Cam Newton last week.

2) QB Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with Washington; they’ll be his 9th NFL team. He is already the only quarterback ever to start a game for eight different teams. 

Houston Texans added QB Tyrod Taylor, who has a 24-21-1 record as an NFL starter, but has started only four games the last three years, with Bills/Chargers. 

Taylor was the Buffalo QB before Josh Allen, the Chargers QB before Justin Herbert- he lost his starting job when a doctor punctured his lung with a needle while giving Taylor a pain-killing injection just before a game last fall.

1) Colgate is playing Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament; Red Raiders are 14-1 this season, but the schedule they’ve played has been, by modern standards…….unique?
— 13 of the 15 games were against Boston U (5), Army (4) or Holy Cross (4)
— Only other teams they played were Bucknell, Loyola MD, in Patriot League tourney.
— Their first game was January 2nd.
— Colgate has made 40% of their 3-pointers, #3 in country.
— #189 Army is only team they’ve played ranked higher than #210 in country. 

Tuesday’s Den: Conference trends for the NCAA’s first weekend

Conference trends for the first weekend of the NCAAs:

ACC
— Last three years (we’re not counting 2020 as a year, since there was no tournament), ACC teams are 7-17 ATS in the first round.
— Since 2013, ACC teams are 35-13 SU in first round
— Last five years, 16 of 37 ACC teams (43.2%) made the Sweet 16.

American
— UConn was 2014 national title out of the AAC.
— Last five years, AAC teams are 7-8 in first round, 1-6 in 2nd round.
— During that time, 2019 Houston is only Sweet 16 team they’ve had.

A-14
— Last five years, A-14 teams are 6-10 in the first round.
— A-14’s last Sweet 16 team was Dayton, back in 2014.

Big East
— Last three years, Big East teams are 18-14 in first round.
— Last three years, Big East teams are 5-13 in 2nd round.
— Thats 5 of 32 teams (15.6%) making the Sweet 16.

Big Sky
— Big Sky teams lost their last 13 first round games.
— Big Sky teams are 1-7-1 ATS in last nine first round games.
— You’re reading armadillosports.com 
— Montana in 2006 was last Big Sky team to win an NCAA game.

Big West
— Since 2014, Big West teams are 4-4 in play-in/first round games.
— Since 2003, Big West teams are 0-6 ATS in their 2nd tournament game.

Big 14:
— Last three years, Big 14 teams are 16-3 in first round (11-8 ATS)
— Last three years, Big 14 teams are 8-8 in 2nd round
— Thats 8 of 19 teams (42.1%) teams in Sweet 16.

Big X
— Last three years, Big X teams are 12-7 in first round games.
— Last three years, Big X teams are 8-4 on 2nd round games.
— Thats 8 of 19 teams (42.1%) teams in Sweet 16, same as the Big 14.

CAA
— Since VCU left the CAA in 2012, things haven’t gone well.
— Last seven years, CAA teams are 0-7 in NCAA games (5-2 ATS)
— Last eight years, six different teams have represented the CAA

Conference USA

— C-USA teams won five of their last seven first round games.
— Those five C-USA teams that won went 0-5 ATS in second round.

Horizon League
— Butler made the Final Four in 2010/2011 out of the Horizon.
— Since then, Butler jumped ship to gr$$n$r pa$ture$.
— Last eight years, Horizon teams are 0-8 in NCAA’s (2-6 ATS)

MAAC
— Siena was last MAAC team to win an NCAA game, in 2009.
— Since then, MAAC teams are 0-11 SU, 2-9 ATS.

MAC
— Buffalo won its first round game in 2018/2019, ending the MAC’s five-game losing skid in first round games. 

— MAC teams covered their last four first round games.
— Since 2003, MAC teams are 1-4 ATS in second round.
— Since 2003, Ohio U in ’12 is MAC’s only Sweet 16 team.

Missouri Valley
— Since 2013, MVC teams are 9-1 SU, 8-2 ATS in NCAA games.
— Those nine teams went 4-5 ATS in 2nd round games.

Wichita State-Drake is a first round game, old MVC rivals.

— Last eight years they were in the MVC, Wichita went 122-16 in Valley games; they totally dominated.
— Last five years Wichita was in the Valley, Drake went 26-64 in MVC games.
— In four years since Wichita (and also Creighton) bolted, Drake is 45-27.

Mountain West
— Since 2014, Mountain West teams are 3-8 in play-in/first round games.
— Those teams went 2-4 ATS when favored, 2-3 as an underdog, 4-7 overall.

Ohio Valley
— Since 2009, OVC teams are 8-2-1 ATS in NCAA tourney games, but they’ve lost seven of last eight SU.
— When Murray State whacked Marquette two years ago, it snapped a 7-game losing skid for the OVC in NCAA tourney games.

Pac-12
— Since 2013, Pac-12 teams are 19-13 in first round games.
— Since 2013, Pac-12 teams are 13-6 in second round games.
— Thats 13 of 32 Pac-12 teams (40.6%) that made the Sweet 16— that will surprise some people.

SEC
— Last four years, SEC teams are 17-6 SU in NCAA games, 11-12 ATS
— Thats 7-10 ATS when favored, 2-2 as an underdog, 2-0 when pick ‘em.
— Last four years, SEC teams are 10-7 in 2nd round games
— Thats 10 of 23 SEC teams (43.5%) that made the Sweet 16

Southern
— Wofford’s win in 2019 snapped So-Con’s 0-10 skid in NCAA games.
— That said, SoCon teams are 7-4-1 ATS in last dozen NCAA games.

Summit
— Summit teams lost 16 of last 17 first round games (6-9-2 ATS)
— Summit teams covered four of last six first round games.
— Summit teams are 2-0 SU in play-in games.

Sun Belt
— Since 2003, Sun Belt teams are 6-14 in NCAA Tournament games.
— You’re reading armadillosports.com
— Since 2010, Sun Belt teams are 4-8 ATS in NCAA Tournament games.
— Over last 20 years, Sun Belt has changed a lot, as schools jumped conferences.

WAC
— WAC teams lost their last 13 NCAA Tournament games.
— WAC teams are 3-6 ATS in last nine NCAA Tournament games.
— New Mexico State won this league seven of last eight years, so Grand Canyon winning WAC tournament is different— this is their first NCAA bid.

WCC
— Last time someone other than Gonzaga/BYU/Saint Mary’s repped the WCC? 2008, when the San Diego Toreros made the tournament.
— Gonzaga won its last 11 first round games (6-5 ATS)
— During that time, Gonzaga is only 3-7-1 ATS in 2nd round games.
— Gonzaga won its last five second round games SU- they’re expected to do a lot more than that this season. 

Tuesday’s Den: 13 of my most memorable NCAA Tournament games:

13) Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— 1989 first round. It would be another 29 years before a #1-seed lost to a 16-seed, but Pete Carril’s Tigers came damn close in this game.

Dick Vitale was in the ESPN studio with Bob Ley that night; he says on the air if Princeton wins the game, he’ll stand on his head on the set, on the air. He damn near had to do it. Georgetown had Alonzo Mourning that year; they wound up losing in the regional final.

12) Villanova 77, North Carolina 74— 2016 national title game. I’m sitting in the Westgate SuperBook watching this game, guy sitting next to me has Villanova and the under. From the sound of his voice and his tension level, he had a lot of money on both.

Guard on North Carolina (Marcus Paige?) hits a tough shot to tie the game and put the game over the total; the guy next to me slumped in his chair, but when Kris Jenkins drained a long shot to win the national title, the guy cheered up, a lot. That night, splitting his bets was a very good thing.

11) Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79— 1988 national title game. Over the last 35 years, this was only time the underdog won all three games at the Final Four. Kansas was a #6-seed; it would be another 26 years before a lower seed (#7-seed UConn in 2014) would win a national title.

Billy Tubbs coached Oklahoma back then; I loved watching his teams, they played and with great confidence. This game was 50-50 at halftime, two conference rivals going at it, but the Jayhawks had Danny Manning, and he led them to a surprising national championship.

10) Vermont 60, Syracuse 57 OT— 2005 first round. Back then, group of us would gather at an Off Track Betting sports bar, hunker down for four days and watch games for 12 hours a day. Lot of fun, lot of bantering back/forth. Wish the casino in Schenectady was around back then.

This was the year Tom Brennan coached Vermont to a big upset in the first round; they were a 9-point underdog in this game. Brennan later became a talk radio star, after he retired from coaching- his Catamounts lost their next game by 11 to Michigan State.

9) Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67 OT— 2010 2nd round. I was at the MGM Grand watching this game; lot of Kansas fans were around, very cocky that their team was headed to the Sweet 16- they were the #1-seed in that region. 

Problem is, no one told Northern Iowa; they hit a 3-pointer late in the game, pulled the big upset and made a lot of Jayhawk fans very sad.

That was the week I’m watching a game, kid scores a basket very early in the game and the three guys next to me start hugging each other and yelling. I ask them if that was their brother who scored that basket— they said no, they had Wake Forest in their “first to 15” bet.

I had no idea that MGM offered a bet where you picked which team got to 15 points first.

8) North Carolina 77, Oregon 76— 2017 national semifinal. Watched this game in Las Vegas with a friend of mine who had a very, very large bet on Oregon. He had both underdogs that day, and over the last 35 years, that day was the only time in national semifinals where both underdogs lost, but both covered, so he had a really good day.

South Carolina was a #7-seed that surprisingly made the Final Four that year; since then, Gamecocks are 32-36 in SEC games, and haven’t been back in NCAAs. Tough place to win.

7) North Carolina 71, Gonzaga 65— 2017 national final. This was two nights after the two dogs had covered the semi-final games. I’m at the SouthPoint sportsbook, and I sit next to three younger guys, all from San Diego. It was also opening night of baseball season.

For the next 3-4 hours, we shot the breeze about everything, mostly sports, but some other stuff too. They told me that Steve Fisher needed to retire at San Diego State (he did, right after that). First time I ever had a quesadilla (they’re good!!). Living proof that all Americans have more in common than what separates us.

6) Georgia Tech 93, Minnesota 91— 1990 regional final. I had the Gophers +3.5. Minnesota has the ball at the end, no chance to win, kid drains a 3 from the right corner at the buzzer, to send me home happy.

Long, long time ago, went to the NIT Final Four in New York City. This is 1984 or so, when I had just started working. All I remember about that night:
— Fresno State had really pretty cheerleaders who threw small boxes of raisins into the stands. Apparently, they grow a lot of raisins in Fresno.
— Someone scored a basket late in the game to cover the spread; these three guys in front of us starting yelling and hugging each other. Winning money makes you happy.
— Long busride back to Albany, then I went right to work— I was on the midnight-8am shift back then, looking at fingerprints. That was a long freakin’ night.

5) Murray State 83, Marquette 64— 2019 first round. Not a pleasant memory; I picked this game over the total, should have had Murray and the over. Marquette had no answer for Ja Morant and the Racers were going to hang 100 on a Big East team, the game was going to go way over the total, but the Marquette coach retreated his team into a zone defense and refused to try and win, to avoid embarrassment. No bueno.

Gamer stayed under the total; lets just say…….I wasn’t happy 🙁

4) UNLV 103, Duke 73— 1990 national title game. Wish I was in Las Vegas for this game, the night Jerry Tarkanian won his first national title. What a team that was; Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon. Lot of midnight games on ESPN for that crew.

Back then, Big Monday was a tripleheader: Big East at 7, Big 10 at 9, Big West at midnight, after SportsCenter. UNLV was in the Big West back then; they were like Gonzaga is now, a very big fish in a fairly small pond. Lot of fun to watch.

3) Northwestern State 64, Iowa 63— 2006 first round. This was a 3-14 game; Demons were a 7-point underdog. I had gone on a local radio show when the brackets came out and predicted an outright win for Northwestern State, so I was pretty excited when it happened.

Couple years later down in Orlando, I’m watching an AAU game down in Florida and the Northwestern State coach sits next to me. I told him the story, thanked him; he told me how one of his former players was going to graduate school at Iowa that year, had given him a great scouting report on the Hawkeyes. Luckily for me.

2) Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 92— 1990 first round. LMU’s first game since the tragic death of Hank Gathers during the WCC tournament, 12 days earlier.

Game was tied at halftime; Bo Kimble, LMU’s best player, had four fouls at halftime but the Lions exploded in the second half and won going away. Kimble shot his first foul shot lefty to honor his fallen teammate. LMU won two more games before losing in the regional final.

1) NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT— 1974 national semi-final. I was in 9th grade back then, a big NC State fan (friend of our family lived in Raleigh), used to listen to their regular season games on WBT, a radio station out of Charlotte.

David Thompson/Tom Burleson/Monte Towe were the guys for NC State- they had lost to UCLA the previous December, were expected to lose here too, seeing how UCLA had won the previous seven national titles, but after getting down 7 in overtime, they rallied back and handed Bill Walton his only loss in an NCAA Tournament game.

Years later, I’m at an AAU tournament in Orlando, sitting by myself, when Monte Towe comes in the gym near where I was. Talked to him for 5-10 minutes, good guy. Hell of a passer for a guy who was 5-foot-6 at the most.