Friday’s Den: Wrapping up Opening Day of baseball season

How does ESPN or FOX not have afternoon games on national TV for Opening Day?

The last 17 years, Giants have started a different left-fielder every Opening Day. 17 years, 17 different guys in left field. 

Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks was the nephew of Tigers’ P Virgil Trucks, who won 177 games pitching in the 40’s/50’s.

Adam Wainwright sang the national anthem before the Cardinals played Toronto at Busch Stadium Thursday; he is an aspiring country music singer when his baseball career ends after this season. From all accounts he did really well singing the anthem, not an easy song. 

— A’s 2, Angels 1:
Trout/Ohtani are making combined $67M; payroll for entire Oakland roster: $59,265,000
Kemp tied game with 8th inning double; Diaz drove him in with game-winning single.
Ohtani threw six shutout innings, striking out 10. 

— Rangers 11, Phillies 7:
Texas scored nine runs in 4th inning after Phillies had led 5-0.
First time since 1997 a team scored 9+ runs in an inning on Opening Day.
Rangers won despite deGrom giving up five runs in 3.2 IP.
Grossman hit a 3-run homer for Texas.

— Blue Jays 10, Cardinals 9:
Springer went 5-6, scored four runs, tied game with hit in 9th.
Guerrero hit sac fly for game-winning run in top of 9th.
Cardinals lost C Contreras with knee injury in 7th inning.
Donovan went 3-6 with three runs scored for St Louis.

— White Sox 3, Astros 2:
Vaughn hit 2-run double in top of 9th for game-winning hit.
Game was scoreless thru six innings.
First time in 11 years Houston lost on Opening Day.

— Orioles 10, Red Sox 9:
Baltimore led 10-4 after seven innings, hung on for dear life.
Rutschman went 5-5 with four RBI for the Orioles.
Slots 1-4 in Boston order went 8-18; slots 5-9 went 3-17. 

— Pirates 5, Reds 4:
Cruz homered early, had game-winning sac fly in 8th inning.
Pirate bullpen threw 4.1 scoreless IP, allowed only four baserunners.
This is 7th year in a row that Pittsburgh started season on road. 

— Cubs 4, Brewers 0:
Stroman tossed six shutout IP, allowed six baserunners.
Chicago scored all four of its runs in the third inning.
Swanson went 3-for-4 in his first game as a Cub. 

— Braves 7, Nationals 2:
d’Arnaud went 4-5 with two runs scored, two RBI.
It took Washington starter Corbin 80 pitches to get thru three IP.
Braves’ starter Fried is headed to the IL with a hamstring injury.
Washington was 1-11 with runners in scoring position. 

— Mets 5, Marlins 3:
Nimmo had RBI double in 7th inning to put Mets ahead for good.
Marlins had tied game with three runs in 6th inning off Scherzer.
Mets put star P Verlander on IL with a muscle pull near his shoulder. 

— Rays 4, Tigers 0:
McClanahan threw six shutout IP, allowed five baserunners.
Rays’ home opener drew 25,025 fans, not great for a successful franchise.
Siri and Franco homered for Tampa Bay

— Twins 2, Royals 0:
Game was scoreless after five innings.
Lopez got 16 outs on 85 pitches, allowed five baserunners.
Kansas City was 0-6 with RISP.

— Bronx 5, Giants 0:
Judge scored first run of MLB season with a 1st inning homer.
Cole threw six shutout IP, striking out 11 Giants.
Torres hit a two-run homer in fourth inning. 

— Rockies 7, Padres 2:
CJ Cron went 4-5 with two homers, 5 RBI.
Blackmon was 3-38 in previous Opening Day starts; he was 3-5 in this game.
San Diego was 0-10 with runners in scoring position.

— Dodgers 8, Diamondbacks 2:
Will Smith went 3-4 with four RBI.
Urias threw six innings, giving up two runs on 79 pitches.
Dodders were 5-11 with RISP.

— Mariners 3, Guardians 0:
Quite a pitching duel: Bieber/Castillo each threw six shutout IP.
Seattle scored three runs in bottom of 8th— France homered.
Over was 8-7 on Opening Day this season. 

Thursday’s Den: Happy Opening Day, everyone!!!

Baseball season starts today, one of the best days of the year.

— Rule changes are going to help the game:
Pitch clock chopped 36:00 off of spring training games. Pace of pace should be a lot better this season. Most of the younger players have already played with a pitch clock in the minors; don’t think we’ll notice the pitch clock much, once the season gets rolling.

Banning the shift will help lefty pull hitters be more productive. 

Stricter rules on pickoff throws to first base should promote base stealing, especially since the bases are a little bigger. Bases are slightly closer to each other now. 

I would recommend betting the over on stolen base props this season. 

— New schedule in the big leagues this year; every team plays every other team this year, which means that starts like Trout/Ohtani/Soto, over the course of two years, will play in every big league ballpark. Division rivals will play each other only 13 games this season.

Batters are going to see the same pitchers fewer times, which figures to hurt offense some.

You look back at the old days and hitters faced the same pitchers a ton of times, which helps the hitters. Nowadays, teams don’t like pitchers to face the same hitter three times in a game. 

— What will Aaron Judge do for an encore this season? Last year, he hit 62 home runs, had a 1.111 OPS, 111 walks, 133 runs, 131 RBI. Tough act to follow.

— This is Shohei Ohtani’s walk year; what are the Angels going to do with him? Angels are paying him $30M this year, he makes another $40M in endorsements— he will break the bank next winter, but with what team?

Do the Angels trade him this summer? If so, what do they get for him? Halos’ over/under win total is 81.5, but if they trade Ohtani this summer, what happens then?

— Which brings us to the cruddy, cheap teams like the A’s, Pirates; their win totals are really low. Would Pittsburgh trade Bryan Reynolds? Pirates have some good young players, but if they don’t sign Reynolds to a contract extension and trade him away, what happens then?

Last three years, Pirates are 142-242, losing 101-100 games the last two years. Their win total for this year is 67.5, so they’re expected to be slightly better this season. 

As for the A’s, their win total is 59.5, so 60-102 would net them the over, which is depressing on several levels. Oakland’s owners are cheap bastards; the franchise made a $29M profit last year despite fielding a God-awful team that went 60-102. 

A’s did add some starting pitching this year with Fujinami/Muller; I’ve been an A’s fan since 1965 when I was five years old, so I have this stubborn optimistic streak inside me that says they could be way better than 60-102 this year, but they were over .500 every year form 2018-21, then went in the ashcan last year. Going to be tough to lose less than 90 games this season, but 72-90 would be a pretty big improvement. 

Meanwhile, the A’s off-field drama continues; will they move to Las Vegas? Portland? Doubtful that Oakland builds them a new stadium. If I was in Las Vegas, I’d make the cheap bastards put it in writing that they’re going to spend $$$ on payroll if they move to the desert.

— Right now, the Mets’ payroll for this season is $357,083,333; there are 13 major league teams with a payroll of $200M+, but no other team is close to the Mets’ payroll.

Mets have two Hall of Fame pitchers in Scherzer/Verlander, but they’re 38/40 years old. NL East is a tough division; team that finished third in the NL East last year won the NL pennant. Mets lost closer Diaz for the season; who takes his place as the closer? 

— Red Sox won the World Series in 2018, then missed the playoffs three of the last four years, finishing last in the AL East last year, 21 games behind; their current payroll is $194,695,000, their over/under for wins this year is 77.5. 

— Bruce Bochy will be a Hall of Fame manager, having won three titles with the Giants; now he is managing the Texas Rangers, who signed Jacob deGrom this winter, and have a payroll at a hefty $221,544,827. Semien/Seager/deGrom make a combined $91.5M, just the three of them. Rangers’ over/under win total is 81.5.

— Dodgers won the NL West nine of the last ten years, but it looks like San Diego has a better team this season. Padres haven’t won the NL West since 2006, when their manager was Bruce Bochy; their payroll this year is $248,981,645.

Peter Seidler is the Padres’ owner; he is the grandson of Walter O’Malley, the guy who moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in the 50’s.

Unclear why the Dodgers let Trea Turner walk; are they putting $$$ aside to go all-in with the Ohtani sweepstakes next winter? 

— Astros won their second World Series last year; they’ve been in four of last six World Series, but then they fired their general manager? Why?????

Altuve broke his thumb in the World Baseball Classic, is out until June; they lost Verlander. Could this be a year that Texas/Seattle challenges them in the AL West?

Last two years, Mariners went 67-41 in one-run games; is that sustainable?

— Six months of baseball starts today; enjoy it, everyone.  

Saturday’s Den: Talking about basketball and gameshows

Before we get into the basketball, I watching The Price is Right the other day— I love game shows, think daytime TV should be all game shows, the way it was when I was a kid. These contrived debate/argument shows on ESPN/FS1 are stupid. Our country needs to be less stupid. 

Anyway, the final Showcase is on, and a guy missed the price of his Showcase by $73, just an amazing guess. Showcase was over $42,000 and he missed by only $73; tremendous. 

One problem; his bid was $73 OVER the actual retail price; you can’t go over the price, or you lose— both contestants lost this one. Never saw that happen before.

Price Is Right, Hollywood Squares, Match Game, I grew up watching that stuff (Jeopardy a little bit, too). Stuff like that is a hell of a lot better than watching overpaid morons argue with each other.

On to the basketball………
— My records go back to 1985; this is the first Elite 8 since then with no #1-seeds still alive. 

Fun to watch, very difficult to predict.

— San Diego State 71, Alabama 64
MVP was 5-10 PG Trammell, who played the last two years in the WAC at Seattle.
Alabama led 48-39 with 11:40 left in the game.
Alabama star Miller shot 3-19 from the floor. 

— Miami 89, Houston 75
Miami made 11-25 on the arc, scored 1.27 points/possession.
Nijel Pack was 7-10 on the arc; Houston’s whole team was 9-31.
Miami tied for first in ACC; their uniforms don’t say Duke, so people overlook them. 

— Creighton 86, Princeton 75
Creighton shot 74.2% inside the arc, scored 1.23 points/possession.
Bluejays lost six games in a row in early December; they’re 6-1 in last seven games.
Princeton was just 4th-ever #15-seed to get to this point. 

— Texas 83, Xavier 71
Texas never trailed, led 42-25 at halftime; total butt-kicking.
Longhorns’ 6-9 big man Disu got hurt early on; check status for Sunday
Texas is 16-7 against top 50 teams this season.

— What is the Texas administration doing? How is Rodney Terry still an interim coach? Longhorns are 22-7 since Chris Beard got fired, and Terry replaced him; it is inconceivable they could hire another coach after this run, where they’ve won the Big X Tournament, and now are in the Elite 8.

— Over the last three years, Big 14 teams are:
17-7 in NCAA first round games
4-13 in NCAA second round games
1-3 in Sweet 16 games.

24 teams, four got to the Sweet 16, one got to the Elite 8. No bueno.

— Kansas State PG Markquis Nowell is in his 5th year of college basketball:
2019— Little Rock went 10-21
2020— Little Rock went 21-10, but there was no Sun Belt/NCAA tournament
2021— Little Rock went 11-15
2022— Kansas State went 14-17, lost their last six games, fired their coach.
2023— Kansas State is 26-9 and Nowell is a big star.

He had 20 points, 19 assists in an overtime win Thursday, the most assists ever in an NCAA Tournament game. People are comparing him to Kemba Walker.

Stories like this are why the tournament has been so unpredictable. K-State has two players who played on the team last year, but the new group has bonded and are having a great season.

— Conference USA needs better TV exposure; I watch some of their games on ESPN+, but they have several good teams, teams that play all different styles.

Last eight years, Conference USA teams are 6-2 SU in first round NCAA Tournament games, and they were an underdog in seven of those eight games.

— Which big $$$ school is going to go after Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May? In five years at FAU, with a pandemic in the middle of it, Owls are 100-59, 52-34 in conference games. This is a Florida Atlantic program that is only in its 30th year as a Division I program.

Teams with current coach openings:
California, Temple, South Florida, Penn State, Texas Tech and technically, Texas, but if I was a prospective coach, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Texas- that should be Rodney Terry’s job.

All the other current job openings are below FAU’s level. Valparaiso just fired their coach; May went to college at Indiana, which is close to Valpo, but he can do better than a low-level Missouri Valley job.

— When they started the Big East Conference in 1979, they invited Holy Cross to join; Crusaders had a pretty good team back then, but the Holy Cross administration turned them down, citing the college’s commitment to academic excellence.

Could you imagine that happening today? How much $$$ you think they squandered by joining the freakin’ Patriot League? Holy Cross won four Patriot League titles under Ralph Willard 15-20 years ago, but come on, these big-time hoop schools make some serious cash— rich alumni like it when the alma mater is in the top 25.

— Loved listening to Stan Van Gundy/Kevin Harlan on TV this week; Van Gundy is all ball— I learn a lot every time I hear him describe a game. Harlan is a great play/play guy who sets his analysts up the right way. Van Gundy offers opinions; you may not agree with him all the time, but he’s coached in college and the NBA— he knows his stuff.

— Micah Shrewsberry bolts Penn State to be the new coach at Notre Dame; Nittany Lions were 23-14 this year, but they started four seniors, were the most experienced team in the country. They’re going to regress next year, no matter who the new coach is- it was time for him to jump. 

Thursday’s Den: Nine memorable NCAA games, plus my four all-time favorite games

Here are nine of my most memorable NCAA Tournament games, in no particular order, followed by my four all-time favorite tournament games:

Memorable games:
2017 Final Four— I’m in Las Vegas, watching the Final Four with a friend of mine who has a boatload of money on Oregon (+4) vs North Carolina. I’m not going to tell you how much $$$ he had on Oregon, but it was more than $10,000 (I saw the ticket).

I’m a nickel/dime bettor, total small-timer; this was a different world. I remember sitting there munching on Doritos watching the game, I seemed more nervous than he was. Oregon loses but covers, losing 77-76. My friend was very casual about the whole thing.

He also bet the underdog in the other game, but a lot less $$, South Carolina vs Gonzaga and he won that bet too. If I won that much money I’d be strutting around like Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine but serious gamblers are smart and take things in stride.

Funny thing about that night: it was the only time in the last 35 years that both favorites won at the Final Four, but neither one covered the spread.

2016— Yale 79, Baylor 75— It is fun seeing people you know coaching on TV; Yale coach James Jones went to college at Albany, couple of years behind me. He was a good ballplayer, but he is a great coach. Other than Pete Carril, he is the best coach in Ivy League history, and it was a lot of fun to see his team pull a big upset against a basketball blue blood.

2023— Marquette 78, Vermont 61— Same deal here; friend of mine is an assistant coach with Marquette- they had a great season this year. I’m hoping that some D-I program comes to its senses in the next few weeks and gives him a head coaching job. He’s earned it. 

1989— Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— This was back when ESPN had the tournament; Bob Ley was the studio host and Dick Vitale did the analysis. Georgetown was a power back then; they were a 22-point favorite in this game, but they were life-and-death against Princeton.

At halftime, Dickie V says that if Princeton wins, he’ll stand on his head on the ESPN set; it was classic TV, totally unscripted. It was hilarious, but Georgetown escaped by a point, and America took a great sign of relief that no one was standing on his head on live TV.

1998— Valparaiso 70, Ole Miss 69— Scott Drew is the Baylor coach; brother Bruce is the coach at Grand Canyon- their father Homer Drew coached Valparaiso for a long time.

His full-court out of bounds play (to Bryce Drew, I think) got Valpo a walk-off win in this game. To this day, that play is still used all over America. One of the best-ever endings to a tournament game.

2023— Furman 68, Virginia 67— Furman hadn’t made the NCAA’s since 1980, hadn’t won a tournament game since 1974; they made couple foul shots with 0:12 left to pull within 67-65, then the Virginia player tries a full-court pass to kill the clock, but it gets picked off, and Furman sticks a 3 from the right-wing with 0:02 left to pull a very unlikely upset.

The camera shot of CBS’ play-by-play guy Kevin Harlan calling all this, then holding his arms out after the game-winning shot, so neither of his analysts says anything to ruin the moment, was just great to see.

2019— Murray State 83, Marquette 64— Back when I was still picking games on this blog, I took the over in this game, Ja Morant against a Big East team. Game was 42-35 at halftime, a good pace, but then Marquette scored 9 freakin’ points in the first 10:00 of second half and when they fell behind, they refused to press Murray State, and lost meekly to a freakin’ OVC team and the game fell several points under. Had they pressed, Murray State would have hung 90-100 points on them.

I laugh about it now, but that night in my living room, I was NOT HAPPY; probably lucky I didn’t have a damn stroke. How could a Big East team quit against an OVC team? To this day, when I see that fraud Steve Wojciechowski in ESPN”s studio stealing money, it makes my blood boil. Anyway, that night is a big part of why I don’t pick games much anymore.

2016— National title game, Villanova-North Carolina, I’m sitting in the Westgate SuperBook having a Cherry Coke and some pizza. The guy next to me is a younger guy who says he has a lot of money on Villanova and the under. We strike up a conversation but he is very nervous as the game comes down the stretch. Things get quiet.

Kid of North Carolina makes a tough shot to put UNC ahead and puts the game over the total; the guy next to me ain’t happy, but then Villanova hits a shot at the buzzer to win the national title and get the guy a split on his bets.

Never seen someone so happy to break even.

2010— I’m at the MGM Grand sportsbook for the first Saturday of the tournament; me and apparently every Kansas fan west of the Rockies. Jayhawks were a #1-seed, a big favorite over Northern Iowa. Ton of people wearing blue/red in the MGM Grand.

Game is early on, some kid makes a shot— the three young guys next to me start hugging each other. I ask one of them “Is that your brother? Why are you so happy?”

I had no idea you could bet on which team got to 15 points first; that obscure basket won the guys their bet and they were celebrating.

Anyway the game goes on and go figure, Northern Iowa hits a shot from the corner at the end and upsets Kansas, big upset. Lot of sad people were walking around, wearing blue/red.

My four all-time favorite NCAA Tournament games:
2006— When the brackets came out, I went on a local radio show here in Albany and gave my quick thoughts on what would happen. I had decided that Northwestern State would upset Iowa in a #3-14 game and I said so on the radio. Fairly bold prediction.

As luck would have it, Northwestern State does pull the upset, winning 64-63. Now that was a fun day.

1990— Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 90— During the WCC tournament, LMU’s star Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court during a game. It was horrible; they called off the tournament, and LMU got the automatic bid because they finished first.

When the brackets came out 8-9 days later, LMU had the very last time slot in the first round, the midnight Friday game on CBS. Their opponent was New Mexico State, a team that would run with the hyper-fast breaking Lions, coached by Paul Westhead.

Back then, I picked games in the Albany newspaper and I had done very well that year; I really wanted to risk my entire (fictional) bankroll on LMU in his game— there was no way they were losing this game. I didn’t risk my bankroll, just made the normal pick, but I tried to impress that upon the readers. LMU was going to win.

LMU’s Bo Kimble shot his first free throw lefty, in honor of his fallen friend, but Kimble also had four fouls at halftime, and the game was tied. I was queasy about my pick, but LMU exploded in the second half, won by 21, then won two more games in one of the most famous runs in NCAA history. That team was so much fun to watch.

1990— Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels dispatched LMU in the West Region final, then they played Duke in the national title game, and they crushed Duke, 103-73. Then the weasel from the NCAA had to hand Tarkanian the national championship trophy, after they had harassed the guy for years (NCAA later wrote Tarkanian a $2.5M check to settle a dispute).

Sweet 16 of the West Region is being played in Las Vegas tonight, 33 years after that great night. The NCAA embraces Las Vegas now because more than anything, they love making money.

1974—NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT— When Michael Jordan was growing up, his favorite player was David Thompson, a great player for NC State. I was a big Wolfpack fan; friend of my parents lived in Raleigh, and he told me all about Thompson. I used to listen to their games on the radio on WBT in Charlotte.

UCLA beat the Wolfpack in December; this was when Bill Walton was a senior- they had won seven national titles in a row. Every kid in my school who liked basketball was a UCLA fan, except for me; the rematch in the Final Four.

UCLA led by 7 in overtime, but State rallied and won, then beat Marquette in the national title game and I was hooked for life on college basketball.

Dunking was illegal back then in college ball, which is a tribute to how great a player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was. Had Thompson been able to dunk, we would have some amazing highlights to watch on YouTube these days. 

Monday’s Den: Things I learned this week……..

Good to be back; the last 8-9 days were kind of cruddy, but things are better now, so we can begin again. Here are some things I learned in the last week:

College basketball:
— This year’s Sweet 16 contains teams from 11 different leagues:
3— SEC, Big East
2— Big X
1— from eight other leagues

— Miami’s win Sunday night saved the ACC from not having any teams in the Sweet 16; that, according to my records, hasn’t happened since the Field went to 64 in the mid-80’s.

— Princeton is first Ivy League team since Cornell in 2010 to make the Sweet 16; Tigers held Arizona/Missouri to 55-63 points, very impressive. Princeton never trailed against Missouri, which was kind of shocking; they play Creighton in the Sweet 16 Friday.

— #15 or #16-seeds who have made the Sweet 16:
2023— Princeton
2022— Saint Peter’s
2021— Oral Roberts
2013— Florida Gulf Coast

Had never happened until 2013, now it happened three years in a row. The game is changing.

— Teams are more fragile now; rosters are cobbled together every spring/summer, and the fiber of a team isn’t what it once was. Players transfer A LOT; so when practice starts in October, it takes a while to build some chemistry.

NCAA Selection Committee used to use “last 10 games” as a reason to choose/not choose a team for the tournament. Going back to that criteria wouldn’t be a bad idea; teams get on a roll at the right time, which is where Princeton is where they are.

— Purdue’s last three NCAA Tournaments:
2023— #1-seed, lost 63-58 to #16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson in first round
2022— #3-seed, lost 67-64 to #15-seed Saint Peter’s in Sweet 16
2021— #4-seed, lost 78-69 in OT to #13-seed North Texas first round

Purdue had 7-4 Zach Edey this year, who is going to be really good in the NBA; in the last 12:00 against FDU, Edey took one shot. One freakin’ shot, against the shortest team in America.


— Virginia’s last four NCAA tournaments:
2018— #1-seed, lost by 20 to #16-seed UMBC in the first round.
2019— #1-seed, won the national championship

2021— #4-seed, lost to #13-seed Ohio U in first round
2023— #4-seed, lost 68-67 to #13-seed Furman in first round

Talk about peaks and valleys. Jeez.

— Under went 20-4 in Friday/Saturday games; referees weren’t calling many fouls. Players have to play thru contact. Lot of times I watch games with no sound; you see a play, wait for players to stop and shoot foul shots, but not fouls are called. A ton of contact went uncalled this weekend.

— Tennessee flat-out intimidated Duke; they contested every step the Blue Devils took, the much-older Vols forced their will on Duke, pushed them all over the court. Filipowski had a cut under his left eye in the first 5:00 of the game— he probably needed 3-4 stitches afterwards.

This is what FAU coach Dusty May had to say about playing Tennessee next:
“We’re going to study Australian rugby rules and get ready for the Vols.”

— Big X made a lot of noise this this winter about how they were the best league and for the most part, they were, but their teams laid an egg this weekend, going 7-5 overall, 5-2 in first round, 2-3 in second round— only Kansas State, Texas are left. Not good enough.

Creighton played three starters 37:00+ in Denver’s high altitude, still shot 11-24 on the arc, scored 1.21 points/possession, in a fairly easy win. Ugly performance by Baylor’s defense.

— Arkansas is in the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row; surprised Eric Musselman is still the coach there. Thought a bigger $$$ school might’ve scooped him up by now.

— Apparently St John’s offered Rick Pitino their coaching job, which should attract a lot of the headlines early this week. Once Pitino decides, more coaching dominos will fall.

Coaching changes:
— Ole Miss hired former Texas coach Chris Beard.
— Georgia Tech hired former NBA player/Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire.
— Bowling Green hired former Southern Utah coach Todd Simon
— McNeese State hired former LSU coach Will Wade.
— Western Kentucky hired A&M-Corpus Christi coach Steve Lutz

— Jose Altuve is the best player on my fantasy team; he broke his thumb in the World Baseball thing this weekend, making this week even more joyous. Altuve will be out 8-10 weeks.

— Rams traded DB Jalen Ramsey to Miami for a 3rd-round pick
— Buccaneers signed QB Baker Mayfield.
— Panthers signed WR Adam Thielen, QB Andy Dalton
— New England signed TE Mike Gesicki
— Colts signed K Matt Gay
— Eagles signed QB Marcus Mariota
— Colts signed QB Gardner Minshew
— Commanders signed QB Jacoby Brissett
— San Francisco signed QB Sam Darnold

Regular life:
— You can go online and order groceries and someone will bring them to your house; had no idea this was a thing, it isn’t that hard to get them yourself, but I utilized the service this week and it made things a lot better.

— Postponed today’s trip to Las Vegas, which sucks; UConn-Arkansas, UCLA/Gonzaga would have been great fun Thursday night, but now they’ll be fun to watch on TV. There will be other trips; have to start planning one.

— Red Gatorade is very good; I hadn’t had Gatorade in a long, long time, but I was told to drink a lot of fluids to avoid getting dehydrated, so Gatorade was it (some Vitamin Water, too, but that doesn’t taste as good). 

Monday’s Den: Some quick thoughts on the Field of 68

— Last three years, only four of the 12 Final Four teams were #1-seeds. 

— Three of this year’s #1-seeds play Thursday-Saturday this week.

— Top-ranked teams who missed the Field of 68: Rutgers (#35), Oklahoma Sate (#38) and Oregon (#41). 

— Arizona State is in the First Four for third time in last five tournaments; they lost 60-56 to Syracuse in 2018, beat St John’s 74-65 the next year. 

Think about it; on February 25, Sun Devils beat rival Arizona 89-88 when they sank a 55-foot desperation jumper at the buzzer. Without that win, Arizona State is in the NT. 

— Speaking of the NIT, North Carolina declined to play in it after being the first preseason #1 team ever to miss the NCAA Tournament. 

Some trends on how some conferences have fared in first round games:
— Lot has been said this year about how the Big X is by far the best conference this year; over the last three years, Big X teams are 14-5 ATS in Round of 64 games.

— Mountain West got four teams in the NCAA’s this year; over the last three years, MW teams are 0-8 SU/ATS in Round of 64 games.

— Charleston is a 5-point underdog vs San Diego State Thursday; Cougars play pace #29, while Aztecs play pace #252, so a contrast of styles here.

Over last nine years, CAA teams are 0-9 SU, but 5-4 against the spread. 

— Florida Atlantic is 31-3, their best season ever; will they be able to keep coach Dusty May? You go 31-3 at a mid-major, a coach usually works his way up to a bigger $$$ job.

Last seven years, Conference USA teams are 5-2 SU in Round of 64 games.

— VCU beat Dayton 68-56 to win the A-15 tournament; Rams are 27-7, but they weren’t getting in the NCAA’s if they lost this game. This was first time since 2005 that the A-15 got one team in the tournament- they had 12 teams in the league back then.

— Big Sky teams haven’t won a tournament game since Montana (+7) upset Nevada 87-79 way back in 2006. Big Sky teams went 3-11-1 ATS in those losses. 

Montana State is this year’s Big Sky team; they’re 22-4 in their last 26 games, are experience team #47. Bobcats play #3-seed Kansas State in their first round game.

— Last three years, SEC teams are 7-4-2 ATS in first round games.

— Kent State-Indiana play in Albany Friday night; Kent coach Ron Senderoff is an Albany alum and he also worked at Indiana, from 2006-08.

Over last six years, MAC teams covered all six of their games in Round of 64. 

— Over last ten years, Horizon League teams are 0-10 SU, 3-7 ATS; Wright State did win a play-in game last year.

— I’ll have a lot more on the tournament as the week goes on. 

Friday’s Den: Wrapping up my favorite sports day of the year……..

Thursday of Champ Week is my favorite sports day of the year; 14 hours of watching basketball from all over the country, mixed in with some spring training baseball and a movie or two at the end. It has been a fun day.

Big East tournament
— Marquette 72, St John’s 70 (OT)— In the last 20 years, no team has won the national title after losing their first conference tournament game. St John’s led this game by 14 late in first half, forced 19 Marquette turnovers, but Marquette survived, despite shooting 9-34 on the arc.

It is little odd that Marquette was #1 seed and had to play St John’s on its semi-home court in their first tournament game, but they’re the better team and they did what they had to do. 

— Georgetown fired Patrick Ewing as coach, after he led the Hoyas for six years; Ewing is the best player in Georgetown history, but the next coach will be a significant upgrade.

This was similar to when Clyde Drexler coached Houston for two years from 1998-2000; it just didn’t work, even though Drexler was a great player at Houston.

— Final Four of the Big East is UConn, plus teams from Cincinnati, Omaha and Milwaukee; how will kids ever pass Geography classes in school if they think those cities are in the East? 

ACC tournament
— Virginia 68, North Carolina 59— Tar Heels are 20-13, 12-10 in ACC games; bracketologists on the Interweb are all saying that North Carolina will miss the NCAA’s, after being the preseason #1 team- they lost 72-69 in the national title game last season.

— Clemson 80, NC State 54— Tigers with an emphatic statement that they belong in the Field of 68. Beating Virginia Friday night would remove all doubt.

Big X tournament
It will be fascinating next week to see how Big X teams do in the NCAA Tournament, after they beat up on each other all winter.

— TCU 80, Kansas State 67— TCU is an older team; #65 in experience, #3 in continuity. When the brackets come out Sunday night, I’ll be looking to see what kind of a draw they get. With Mike Miles (22 points Thursday) back healthy, TCU is a dangerous team.

— Iowa State 78, Baylor 72— Cyclones are 3-0 vs Baylor this season, 7-9 against the rest of the league. Baylor made 14-29 on the arc and still lost this game.

Mountain West tournament
— San Jose State 81, Nevada 77 OT— Tim Miles deserves to get votes for National Coach of the Year; this was San Jose’s first win in a conference tournament since 2011— this is their best basketball season in 40 years. 

As for Nevada, they’ve lost three games in a row and sit squarely on the bubble; they won’t be sleeping well the next couple nights.

— Boise State 87, UNLV 76 OT— Boise led 48-26 late in first half, but UNLV tied game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation; quite a comeback, but Rebels got outscored 14-3 in overtime- they still haven’t made the semi-finals of this tournament since 2014, and it is played in their home arena. Last time UNLV won this tournament? 2008. 

— Utah State 91, New Mexico 76— Aggies are red-hot, winning their last six games, scoring 91-86-91 points in their last three games. They deserve to make the NCAA’s, but losses to SMU and Weber State may out their status in a gray area.

SEC tournament
— Arkansas 76, Auburn 73— Two teams with good records but both have been struggling lately;  Arkansas blew a 15-point second half lead, but freshman Nick Smith went 1-on-1 and hit the winning hoop in the last few seconds, giving the Razorbacks their 20th win of the season.

Auburn is 4-9 in its last 13 games, after a 16-3 start; they’re a prime candidate to get beat in the first round of the NCAA’s.

C-USA Tournament
— North Texas 74, Louisiana Tech 46— Mean Green plays slowest-tempo games of anyone in the country; they’ve also won 11 of their last 12 games. Their game with UAB this afternoon is one to watch; the winner will probably play Florida Atlantic in the C-USA final Saturday.

The team that wins the C-USA tournament will be a live underdog in its first round game in the NCAA’s next week.

Big 14 tournament
— Ohio State 73, Iowa 69— Not often does a 13-seed beat the 5-seed; Buckeyes suffered thru a 1-14 stretch of misery, but now have won four of their last five games, upsetting Iowa here. Lot of bubble teams are rooting for Ohio State to get beat, so they don’t pull off a small miracle, win this tournament and steal a bid from a bubble team.

Pac-12 tournament
— Arizona State 77, USC 72— Sun Devils are a bubble team that is 6-3 in its last nine games; they play rival Arizona for third time Friday night. Will be a fun game to watch.

— Cal fired coach Mark Fox after a 3-26 season; they lost their last 16 games. Not even sure how good a job this is now, if the Pac-12 dissolves with teams bolting to greener pa$ture$, does Cal go to the Mountain West?

— Stanford kept coach Jerod Haase for next year after a 14-19 season; they went 9-7 in their last 16 games.

Big West tournament
This league is ranked as high as it has been since 2016; the teams are evenly matched and I enjoy watching them play late at night on ESPN+.

Cal-Fullerton 62, Hawaii’i 60 OT— Defending champ Titans have won seven games in a row, the last two in overtime; their game with Cal-Irvine Friday is must-see TV in my house. The other semi-final is Riverside-Santa Barbara; the four best teams made it to the semi-finals. 

Monday’s Den: Does success in conference tournaments predict success in the NCAA’s?

— There have already been several upsets in the mid/lower conference tournaments, which will put the teams who win those tournaments in the four play-in games in Dayton March 14-15.

SE Missouri State, Fairleigh Dickinson figure to be headed to Dayton; if Montana State wins the Big Sky, they’ll probably avoid a play-in game, but maybe not. If Northern Arizona wins the Big Sky, they’re definitely headed to Dayton. Kennesaw State might also be in a play-in game, in their first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Life figures to be a little easier in the first round this year, for the #1 and #2-seeds.

— When the NCAA Tournament brackets come out next week, how do you choose the four teams you think will make the Final Four? There are a lot of theories on this…….

Today, we’re going to examine whether success in the conference tournament leads to winning a national championship. This obviously only applies to the multi-bid, big $$$$ leagues; the mid-major teams have to win their conference tournament just to get in the tournament.

— Over the last 20 years, nine of the 20 national champs also won their conference tournament
— Only two of the last seven national champs also won their conference tournament.

— In the last 20 years, no team has won a national championship without winning its first game in their conference tournament.
— In the last 20 years, of the 80 teams who made the Final Four, teams went 70-10 in the first game in their conference tournament.

— In the last 20 years, the eventual national champ only went 12-8 in their second conference tournament game.
— In the last 20 years, teams that lost the national championship game went 12-7 in their second conference tournament
— In the last 20 years, teams that lost the national semi-finals went 26-5 in their second conference tournament game.

In the conference tournaments with Sunday finals, I’ve often thought that coaches aren’t all that heartbroken if their team loses on Saturday; playing on Sunday, then maybe having to play their first NCAA tourney game on Thursday is a quick turnaround.

Recent years (twice in last seven years) suggest that just because a team loses in its conference tournament doesn’t mean they won’t win a national title. Losing the first game of a tournament appears to be a pretty big red flag. 

— Anyone ever had lemon Oreo cookies? They were talking about them on the Duke-North Carolina game Saturday night, now I have to buy some to see if they’re any good, unless someone tells me they’re hideous. Early returns have been in favor of them.

— If you like college basketball, ESPN+ is a great thing to have; can watch ballgames and replays of games night and day, even obscure games.

— Furman 83, Western Carolina 80 OT— Last year, Furman lost the SoCon final 64-63 in OT, after leading by 12 early on, losing on a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer; it was a very devastating loss for a Paladin squad that has not made the NCAA’s since 1980. 

Sunday, Furman led this game by 20 early in the second half; they blew the lead, their best player fouled out in overtime, but they pulled the game out, and advance to the SoCon final against Chattanooga Monday night the same Chattanooga team that beat them in last year’s final.

— Houston 67, Memphis 65— Cougars trailed 56-51 with 6:34 left; Jamal Shead hit an 18-footer as time expired to give Houston a dramatic road win.  

The Final Four is in Houston next month, in Jim Nantz’s last year doing the tournament on CBS. Nantz is a Houston alum; he played on the golf team. Are the Cougars a team of destiny?

— Drake 77, Bradley 51— Drake scored 1.26 points/possession, led by 20 at the half, and won Arch Madness for the first time since 2008. Bulldogs start three graduate students; they’ve got a lot of experience/continuity. Plus, they shoot the ball well.

— NC-Asheville 77, Campbell 73— 7th-seed Camels led by 14 with 7:35 left in game, but couldn’t get over the hump and #1-seed Asheville wins its 9th straight game, making NCAA’s for first time since 2016. Asheville has won 18 of its last 19 games.

— South Alabama 75, James Madison 66— 8th-seeded Jaguars were 8-13 on January 26th; since then, they’re 11-2, allowing 62.7 ppg in first three games of this tournament. South Alabama is a thin team (#339 in bench minutes) playing for third day in row tomorrow; they’re #347 team in continuity- they play #2-seed Louisiana tomorrow night in the Sun Belt final.

— Kennesaw State 67, Liberty 66— Three years ago, Owls were 1-28; now they’re in the NCAA’s for the first time ever. Hopefully they’ll avoid a play-in game and get to enjoy their status for an extra couple days. Kennesaw played the A-Sun tournament at home; two of their three wins were by a single point. 

— Texas Tech suspended basketball coach Mark Adams for what the school calls an “inappropriate, unacceptable, and racially insensitive comment.”

From “Adams was encouraging a player to be more receptive to coaching and ‘referenced Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters.’ Adams apologized to the team after he found out the player was upset about the use of the Bible verse.”

Adams is 66 years old; he is 43-25 in two seasons as Tech’s coach. Tech made the Sweet 16 last year; they’re 16-15, 5-13 this year. Rich boosters like the Sweet 16 a lot better than they like a 5-13 conference record.

— Longwood Lancers are 20-12 this season; they have a player Michael Christmas, who wears number 25, which makes sense, seeing how Christmas is on the 25th and all.

— Bradley Braves were the #1-seed in the Missouri Valley tournament; this was the first time Bradley was the #1-seed in Arch Madness since 1996.

— North Carolina F Leaky Black is in his fifth year of college basketball; Saturday night was his 153rd game for the Tar Heels, which is a school record.

— More and more mid-major/low major teams seem to recruiting foreign players; Saint Mary’s has thrived for years thanks to recruiting Australian players. Teams who don’t get on ESPN a lot have to be creative where they get talented players. 

Saturday’s Den: Trends for conference tournaments, and other stuff

— Since 2015, there have been seven A-15 tournaments; seven different teams won those seven tournaments. Dayton/Fordham aren’t among those seven schools, so it could be eight teams in eight years after this year’s tournament.

VCU hasn’t won the A-15 tournament since 2015, which is surprising, since their regular season conference record during that time is 99-40. 

— Toledo won the first MAC tournament, in 1980; they haven’t won one since. Rockets are 47-9 in conference games the last three years; this should be the year they end their drought and get back to the NCAA Tournament. Four different teams won last five MAC tourneys.

— Last six years, six different teams have won the CAA tournament; three of those six teams were the #1 seed. Charleston is the #1-seed this year; last time they won the CAA conference tournament was 2018.

— In Conference USA, five different teams won the last five conference tournaments; Florida Atlantic is the #1-seed; they haven’t won any conference tournament since 2002, when they won the Atlantic Sun tourney. #2/#3 seeds this year are North Texas/UAB, who won this event the last two years. 

— In the Summit League, 10 of the last 11 conference tournaments have been won by either North Dakota State or South Dakota State; the event is held in Sioux Falls, SD every year.

This year, Oral Roberts is clearly the best team, going 18-0 in Summit games, five games better than anyone else. ORU won this event as the #3-seed three years ago. #1-seed won the Summit tournament five of the last eight years.

— Iona Gaels won five of the last six MAAC tournaments, actually five of last seven- they lost in the 2020 tournament, which was never finished because of COVID. Iona jogged to another regular season title this year; they’ll be favored to win in Atlantic City next week.

— #1-seed has won the Pac-12 tournament five of the last seven years, with Arizona winning four of those tournaments. UCLA will be the #1-seed this year; they haven’t won the Pac-12 tourney since 2014, USC hasn’t won it since 2009.

— Big Sky tournament has been won by the #1-seed 10 of the last 11 years; Eastern Washington won as the #2-seed two years ago. EWU is also the #1-seed this year; they lost their last two games, after an 18-game winning streak. #2-seed Montana State is clearly the next best team; they won the conference tournament last year. 

— #1-seed has won the last nine Southern Conference tournaments; four different teams won the last four. Wofford in 2014 was the last non-#1-seed (#3-seed) to win the event. Furman/Samford tied for first place in the regular season this year; neither team has won the SoCon tournament in this century.

— In the ACC, four different teams won last four ACC tournaments; Virginia in 2018 was last #1-seed to win it. North Carolina hasn’t won the ACC tourney since 2016; Duke won in 2017, 2019.

— In the Big 14, #1-seed has won only one of last five conference tournaments; four different teams won the last four. Purdue is going to be the #1-seed, despite going 3-4 in their last seven games. Right now, there is a 6-way tie for second place in the Big 14, with one game to go.

— Jay Wright’s Villanova team won five of last seven Big East tournaments; they were the #1-seed in three of those five years, but Wright is working on TV now. Villanova is the #6-seed in the Big East this year, in Kyle Neptune’s first year as coach. 

Marquette will be the #1-seed this year; Shaka Smart has won three conference tournaments in 12 years as a head coach, the last one with Texas two years ago.

— In the Big West, five different teams won the last six conference tournaments, with Cal State-Fullerton winning in 2018, 2022. #1-seed won two of last five tournaments. Irvine and Santa Barbara are tied for first with one game left in the regular season, with three other teams just a game behind those two.

— Loyola, Chicago won three of last five MVC Tournaments, but they’ve moved on to the A-15; Bradley won in 2019/2020- they won their 11th game in a row Friday, are the #1 seed in this year’s edition of Arch Madness. 

— #1-seed won four of last six Mountain West tournaments; San Diego State won it only once in the last four years, despite going 55-15 in conference games those four seasons. Aztecs figure to be the #1-seed again this season.

UNLV hosts this tournament; they haven’t won the Mountain West tournament since 2008, back when BYU/TCU were also in the Mountain West. 

— Colorado State 92, New Mexico 84— Lobos were the last unbeaten team in the country; their first loss was January 3rd, but now they’ve lost 8 of their last 11 games and will need to win the Mountain West tournament to make the NCAA’s.

— BYU 82, Portland 71— Portland led by 13 at halftime, got outscored 52-28 in second half. Cougars advance to play LMU Saturday at Orleans Arena.

— Campbell 81, Longwood 68— #7-seed Camels upset #2-seed Longwood in the Big South quarterfinals. During the season, Longwood beat Campbell twice, by 24-25 points.

— Toledo 87, Ball State 81— Rockets win the MAC regular season title; they won the first MAC tournament in 1980, haven’t won one since— they’ll need to win the tournament to make it to the NCAA’s. 

— Missouri Valley tournament
Drake 74, Murray State 62
Indiana State 94, Belmont 91

Big fish, small pond, that’s the secret to being a winning mid-major program. So many of these teams have success, then the administrators’ eyes get bigger than their stomach, and they move up to a bigger league, trying to join the big boys. It doesn’t work very often. 

Murray State/Belmont were the big fish in the Ohio Valley; now neither one made the semi-final in their new league, a much better league.