Friday, March 13, 2009

it's that time of year, folks.

I love football, and don't get me wrong, there's not much more I would like to see than huge hits, mind-blowing moves, and touchdown-enabling blocks from a pulling guard year-round. However, I suppose it's only fair to, you know, not force football players to die extremely young lives on the gridiron by extending the season to 50 weeks. Sadly that time has passed us, and we'll have to wait until fall to see Hines Ward fined for playing good hard football. Soon we'll be left with the bane of my sports existence: summer. Don't get me wrong, it is fun to go to the ballpark and watch a game. It's the experience that does it for me with baseball. Watching baseball on TV is about as fun as being a blind person in an art museum. There's just not enough going on for me. I understand that it's a "thinking man's game" and that it's just all about the strategy, but all sports have strategy, and most of them manage to remain interesting to watch on TV. What's worse is the pace. You get maybe a pitch or two in a minute, and in between each pitch the batter has to step away from the plate and go through his excruciatingly long pre-at-bat warm-up. Then the pitcher takes another 20 seconds to decide what pitch to throw. Play the damn game.

I digress. It's SPRING! Ahead of us we have March Madness, The French Open, NHL and NBA playoffs, the conclusion of the Champions League, and college lacrosse playoffs, to name a few. Absolutely beautiful.

March Madness. Things are already heating up and the bracket hasn't even come out yet. In the last two days, 3 of the top teams in the country lost, which brings a whole mess of teams into the picture for a #1 seed. Teams like Wake Forest, Louisville, and Michigan State have been brought up in the discussion of #1 seeds. Let's get this out of the way: I'm a Michigan State fan. I grew up in East Lansing and go to Michigan. No my dad does not hate me for it. No it's not weird to go to Michigan after having grown up in East Lansing. However, I don't think that MSU deserves a #1 seed. They definitely deserve a #2 seed (best in the nation against the RPI top 50 at 12-2), but blowout losses to UNC and Purdue as well as losses against Northwestern and Penn State just do not look good. Dick Vitale was quoted as saying that he has a better chance of growing hair than MSU does of being a 1-seed. Probably true.

Does getting a 1-seed even really matter, though? 10 years ago being a one seed pretty much got you through to the sweet-16, now it only really gets you out of the first game. Fact: no number 1 seed has ever lost in the first round. The closest a 1-seed has come to losing in the first round? Georgetown vs. Princeton in 1989. Georgetown won 50-49 after Princeton led most of the game and the nation first witnessed the effectiveness of Pete Carrill's low-scoring, pass-intensive offensive scheme (which, ironically enough, was used by a former assistant to take Georgetown to the Final Four a couple years ago). Anyway. The point is to question how much being a #1 seed matters. This last week is a good example. 3 Possible 1-seeds (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Oklahoma) all lost early in their conference tournaments. It looks like any team can win on any day, which is part of the magic of college basketball. There's so much talent out there that it's always interesting (March MADNESS). As my dad would say, "That's why they play the games." In fact, I did a little research. It turns out that in the last 10 years, just under 42% of the Final Four teams have been 1-seeds (18/44). 10/44 were 2-seeds, 7/44 were 3-seeds, 3/44 were 4-seeds, 3/44 were 5-seeds, 2/44 were 8-seeds, and there was 1 11-seed, George Mason. From the looks of it, seeding is a good way to rank-order teams, but the difference between being a #1 seed and a #2 seed is not all that great. You can still make the Final Four or win it all if you're not a 1-seed.

Before long, I'll sit down and watch Michigan vs. Illinois. If the Wolverines can pull it out, there is no way we don't make it to the tournament for the first time in a decade. John Beilein is doing a fantastic job with the program, and things look to be on the upswing for the future. My only gripe is that we depend so much on the three ball (leading the Big 10 with just under 9 a game) that if we're cold we just won't score enough points to win. That said, if we play our A-game Michigan definitely has the potential to make the Sweet 16 and maybe even the Elite 8. I would love to see a Michigan-Michigan State game deep in the tournament, even though I would have to disown my friends for a day.

Switching gears, there's nothing that makes my heart flutter like soccer. I have a feeling that if I don't talk about soccer here, it won't get much attention, and we can't have that. When May comes around, you best believe that Greg and I will get some stuff about lacrosse on here, don't you fret. Even though I watch European soccer, I don't call it football. I live in America. It is soccer here. We already have our own football, although the European definition makes a lot more sense. It's unfortunate that a team like AC Milan is underachieving so much. They've got the talent to win every game (Dida, Senderos, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Inzaghi, Shevchenko, and Zambrotta). Somehow they found a way to not qualify for the Champion's League this year, and they seem content to sit behind Juventus and Inter. in the Serie A.

Speaking of the Champion's League, I can't wait for this to play out. I never saw Liverpool getting by Real Madrid, especially without Stephen Gerrard in the first leg (leads all scorers with 7). While we have to wait until May for the Championship, as the clubs are all still competing in their respective national leagues, Liverpool is going to win it if they keep up the momentum. Yes Bayern beat Sporting 12-1 on aggregate, but that was a David and Goliath-esque match-up. When Liverpool fires on all cylinders they're tough to beat, and beating the high-scoring defending champions of La Liga 1-0 and 4-0 in the round of 16 is a big momentum boost. Other top contenders in my book are Barcelona and Manchester United. In order for Man U. to win, they'll have to get Berbatov and Rooney playing at the same time, and Ronaldo's going to have to do some damage. This is an insanely talented team that can make the round of 4 coasting. To win it, though, they'll have to find their A-game. Barcelona surprises me. After losing Ronaldinho to AC Milan, I thought they were going to decline. But no! Lionel Messi comes into his own and Thierry Henry starts playing good ball again and suddenly they're atop the Spanish premiership. I was in Spain last year when they suffered the 5-1 drubbing from Real Madrid. The streets went crazy, but those days are no more.

All in all it's going to be a heated couple of months. I'll go into more depth on basketball and hockey, as well as lacrosse, when the time comes.

1 comment:

Sancho said...

Welcome to the blog, Sushifarm! Looking forward to your input on major american sports as well as some discussion on stuff that it less mainstream.

Agree with the thoughts on NCAA tournament seeding. I think that these days, if you are an 8 seed or better, you have about an equal chance to make it to the final four. Naturally, the lower half of every bracket has a harder first and possibly second round. But as you said, on any given day, you can win or lose, no matter how good you are on paper.

As for baseball - I understand that going to ballgames is way more interesting and a much better experience than watching it on TV. But as Michigan residents, we are fortunate to have two of the finest (read: ridiculous) baseball broadcasters in America in Rod and Mario. At the very least it makes the TV games worth watching just to play the drinking game they have indirectly started.

I am all for going out the the ballpark, but for me, TV is the next best thing.