Hopefully a little bit of everything today as we settle in for a big, fat, bloated, overstuffed, super size, Sam’s Club cheese ball barrel weekend of sports:
I’m rooting for Florida in the NCAA tournament. I know I’ve said that I picked Florida, and that’s certainly a big part of it, but this team — and more specifically, some of the players on this team — symbolizes all that college basketball once was and hopefully once again could be. Gator standouts Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford could have bolted for the NBA after leading their team to the 2006 title. With millions of dollars waiting for all three of team once they declared eligible for the NBA draft, many would say they were crazy not to. But the three friends and teammates chose to stick together — despite health and money problems for Corey Brewer’s family that could have been wiped away faster than Jim Belushi can say “I Love This Game” — and come back for their junior season. The decision not only favors them, as they become not only better basketball players but better citizens by furthering their education, but favors the game of college basketball, which every year gets diluted by the best players leaving early to go pro. So I’m pulling for Florida. Plus I picked them in my bracket. Did I mention that?
The NFL owners have been talking about overhauling their overtime rules, although it looks like nothing will change in the near future. But at least they’re talking about it. I don’t hate the NFL overtime, but it does place way too much emphasis on winning the coin toss. But at least it’s not the abomination that is the college overtime. If the head coaches of both teams were to engage in a dance-off Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo style to determine the winner of a game tied at the end of regulation, that would be more in keeping with the rules of football than what the NCAA does now.
So what do you know about the team that will face Wisconsin in the WNIT Championship Game this weekend, the Wyoming Cowgirls? What? Nothing? You mean you don’t follow Mountain West Conference women’s basketball? I suppose next you’re going to tell me that you don’t have time to follow arena football, either. Jeez. Always letting the spouse and kids and job suck up your free time. Well, on paper — which is all we have to go by, because the teams have never played — Wyoming and Wisconsin look pretty evenly matched. We’ve got first team All-Big Ten player Jolene Anderson; they’ve got first team All-Mountain West player Hanna Zavecz. They’ve got second team All-Mountain West player Justyna Podziemska, we’ve got Honorable Mention All-Big Ten player Jansese Banks. They’ve got a coach in his fourth year; we’ve got a coach in her fourth year. But here’s where the differences favor Wyoming: They are 64th in the RPI rankings; we are down at 86. More imporantly, this game will be played at the Arena Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming, which seats 15,000, and which sold out within 12 hours of the Cowgirls reaching the final. Sounds like the Cowgirls have a more rabid following than our lady Badgers, a rabidness that could make the difference on Saturday.
Now on to baseball, which I’m sure I’ll be writing about a lot more in the next several months. Everywhere you look, the Milwaukee Brewers are a sexy pick to make a playoff push this year. But you know what? Seems like they’ve been a sexy pick for the last couple of years. Hasn’t worked out before, and I’m afraid until I can be proven wrong, I have to say I don’t think it will work out again this year, either. Look at the stats: Last year the Brewers finished 14th in the National League in hitting, 15th in the National League in pitching, and 13th in the National League in fielding. And the National League by and large stunk. (Yeah, yeah, the Cardinals won the World Series. I know. Doesn’t make up for all of the lousy NL teams out there.)
So how do the Brewers hope to improve on last year’s disappointing campaign? They hope. They hope Ben Sheets can stay healthy. They hope Derrick Turnbow’s miserable second half last year was just a fluke. They hope Geoff Jenkins can return to form. They hope Rickie Weeks can improve upon his lousy fielding. They hope that they can avoid the injury bug. They hope that Ian Ziering wins Dancing with the Stars. (Oops, that’s my hope.) Look, hope is great, but a team can’t win 85-90 games (which some are predicting for the Brewers) on hope alone. Yes, thanks to the addition of Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee’s starting rotation should be better. But that won’t be enough to make the Brewers a playoff contender. Hey, I hope I’m wrong.
The NL Central at a glance: The Cardinals will win it (again). The Astros will surprise and finish at their normal second. The Cubs will disappoint (again) and finish well below Carlos Zambrano’s expectations in third place. The Brewers will take fourth and the Reds fifth. And the lowly Pirates will be way, way, way, down in the cellar at sixth place. But hey, fans of the Pirates will always have the memory of Pops Stargell rounding those bases to the fly sounds of Sister Sledge. Unless they’re younger than 40. Then they’ve got the memory of Randall Simon beating on the Italian Sausage at Miller Park. Ah, memories. Pressed between the pages of my mind. Memories. Sweetened through the ages just like wine.