Specifically, my bracket ended when the Duke University Blue Devils dropped the Baylor University Bears 78-71 on Sunday night.
I had picked Baylor to move on to the National Semifinal, and having already lost my other Final Four picks - Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse – to upsets big and small, I was officially shut out.
Miraculously, I finished in a three-way tie for first place.
That’s right, this year’s edition of March Madness has had so many twists and turns that all six of my fellow poolies have been eliminated with three games still remaining in the tournament. Everyone picked Kansas to win, and most had the Jayhawks beating Kentucky in the Final.
As I’ve said in previous posts, my bracket strategy relies heavily on going with the favourites. I don’t know nearly enough about NCAA basketball to offer any kind of dissenting opinion to the experts or competition committee, so I just go with the flow.
Of course, this leaves me wide open for upsets wrecking my chances of victory. In that department, the 2010 tourney has been exceptional.
In fact, 18 of the 60 games so far have seen the lower seed prevail. By comparison, there were a total of 16 upsets in the entire 2009 tournament, including Michigan State (#2) overcoming Connecticut (#1) in the National Semifinal. The year before that, 2008, saw just 13 upsets.
Most surprising is that the only top seed left in the entire tournament is Duke, the team that all the experts had picked for an early exit.
In any event, this has been an incredible tournament, even if my stake in its outcome has been settled well before the whole thing is over.
The Canadian Hockey League’s post-season continues to roll along, with many first round match-ups being settled in the past couple of days.
There are now six series waiting to be resolved in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League.
The QMJHL’s two remaining series will be wrapped up Tuesday night as the Rimouski Oceanic host the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and the Gatineau Olympiques visit the Montreal Junior’s home ice in Verdun, Que.
Quebecois junior hockey fans should expect Montreal and Rimouski to prevail and move on to the next round.
The OHL’s quarter-finals are just waiting on the Tuesday night finale of the Frontenacs – Brampton Battalion series in Kingston.
Ethan Werek’s devastating knee injury on Sunday coupled with the triumphant return of the Battalion’s Cody Hodgson spells out defeat for the Frontenacs. Expect Brampton to meet the Barrie Colts on Thursday night.
There are three series still on the go in the WHL. I’m sticking to my earlier prediction that the Calgary Hitmen will be able to beat the surprising Moose Jaw Warriors.
The Silvertips should still be favoured to snuff out the Kelowna Rockets in Everett on Monday night and the Portland Winterhawks should be able to eke out one more win over the Spokane Chiefs.
Friday, March 26th 2010
QMJHL – Saint John moves on to QMJHL quarter-finals
The Saint John Sea Dogs advanced to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League quarter-finals with a decisive victory Friday night.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored in each period and added two assists as the Sea Dogs thumped the P.E.I. Rocket 7-2 in QMJHL playoff action. (See more...)
OHL – Spirit edges Rangers in physical playoff match-up
The Saginaw Spirit held on to beat the Kitchener Rangers 4-3 in a physical Ontario Hockey League playoff game Friday night.
The Spirit were up 4-0 when, at the 13:49 mark of the third period, a scrum broke out. When the dust settled, Saginaw's Tyler Murovich, Michael Kantor and Garret Ross had all earned game misconducts, while Kitchener's Micky Sartoretto and Andrew Crescenzi were also booted. (See more...)
WHL – Tigers top Ice, take 3-2 playoff series lead
Tyler Bunz came up big as the Medicine Hat Tigers took the lead in their Western Hockey League playoff series.
Bunz made 31 saves, including 17 in the second period, as Medicine Hat earned a 5-2 win over the Kootenay Ice in WHL post-season action Friday night. (See more...)
Saturday, March 27th 2010
QMJHL – Wildcats squash Cape Breton; advance to second round
Goaltender Nicola Riopel's stellar play is putting the Montcon Wildcats further into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and his name into the record books.
Riopel made 30 saves as the Wildcats mauled the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 4-0 in QMJHL post-season action Saturday night. (See more...)
WHL – Hitmen hold off Moose Jaw Warriors for win; force Game 7
The Calgary Hitmen survived a rally by the Moose Jaw Warriors to post a 7-3 win and even their Western Hockey League playoff series Saturday night.
The Hitmen trailed the series 3-1 before winning Thursday and Saturday. The deciding seventh game will be Monday night in Calgary. (See more...)
Sunday, March 28th 2010
QMJHL- Tigres slip by Shawinigan 2-1 in OT; win series
Philip-Michael Devos was the overtime hero Sunday for the Victoriaville Tigres.
Devos scored on the power play 13:04 into the extra period to lift Victoriaville to a 2-1 victory over the Shawinigan Cataractes, helping the Tigres clinch their first-round Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoff series. (See more...)
OHL – Frontenacs beat Battalion to force Game 7
The Kingston Frontenacs tied their Ontario Hockey League playoff series 3-3, but lost captain Ethan Werek in the process.
Kingston scored twice in the second period to rally to a 2-1 win over the Brampton Battalion on Sunday afternoon, forcing a decisive seventh game in their OHL playoff series. (See more...)
Paul Quarrington’s novel King Leary is a funny, insightful look at the world of professional hockey in the early 20th century that would be enjoyable for fans of the sport or someone looking for a quick read.
It regained prominence in 2008 when the Rheostatics' Dave Bidini championed it for the CBC’s Canada Reads program. Bidini’s campaign saw King Leary become a best-seller and win the award 10 years after it first appeared on book shelves.
Narrated by Percival “King” Leary, one of the greatest professional hockey players to ever live, the story follows him as he travels from his retirement home to Toronto to shoot a ginger ale commercial with Duane Killebrew, the National Hockey League’s current scoring champion.
During the trip Leary recalls how he learned to play while at reformatory school and his complicated friendships with Clay Bors Clinton and Manfred Ozikean. He also touches on the fractious relationships with his sons Clarence and Clifford, as well as his wife Chloe and her sister Jane.
For the reader less familiar with hockey, King Leary will entertain with its amusing anecdotes and poignant moments. Quarrington is a masterful storyteller, subtly hinting at darkness that seeps into an otherwise humorous narrative.
At the same time, many of the characters are clearly based off other historical figures. Clinton is a mix of Conn Smythe and Harold Ballard. Killebrew is clearly meant to be Wayne Gretzky, with a passing reference to a player “down in Pittsburgh” that hints at Mario Lemieux.
Leary himself resembles a number of players, especially Toronto Maple Leafs great Francis Michael “King” Clancy.
The one disappointing aspect of the book is that although Quarrington is deft at the characterization of all of the main characters, supporting characters like Leary’s nurse Iain or the advertising executive Claire are painted with an extraordinarily broad brush. Their dialogue seems forced and unnecessarily flamboyant to the point that their characters are a distraction that clutters the page.
Aside from that, King Leary is a fine story. A quick reader could blow through Quarrington’s work in an afternoon, and would enjoy it regardless of their attachment to Canada’s favourite game. Definitely worth picking up.
Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be on the verge of another frustrating season. So I’m focusing on fantasy baseball.
Sure, I still have a seasons pass to all the Jays’ games, but it’s more satisfying to root for teams that I have some measure of control over, teams that won’t have to shed salary or ever let go of Roy Halladay.
Come late August some of my teams should be vying for a playoff spot. I can’t say the same for Toronto.
And I’ve got a lot of opportunities for championships as well – I’m now the commissioner of three leagues, with teams in another three pools.
The breadth and depth of my 2010 fantasy baseball experience will be pretty wide too. I’m in rotisserie leagues, a keeper league, an auction-style draft, an auto-draft as well as some good old fashioned head-to-head scoring.
For anyone who has never participated in fantasy baseball, I highly recommend Sam Walker’s Fantasyland. It’s an excellent introduction to the history and characters of the non-sport.
Walker is the senior special writer and sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal. He decided to give fantasy baseball a try after getting burnt out by the constant allegations of steroid use and exponential growth of salaries in the real-life game.
Taking a sabbatical from his day job, Walker put together a small front office comprised of a NASA statician, a head scout and an astrologer, all in an attempt to best the cream of the fantasy crop in the Tout Wars – a league for the experts who write the websites, magazines and books that the average fan consults.
Spending thousands of dollars on his staff, flights to the Grapefruit League and consulting with the actual players on his team, Walker guides the reader through the world of fantasy baseball.
It’s a really humorous and informative read as Walker takes an unorthodox approach to rekindling his love for America’s pastime.
I’m not as wary of baseball as Walker was, and I’ll never put that much into my fantasy teams. However, I am frustrated with some aspects of baseball, particularly the struggles of my local squad.
Fantasy baseball gives me a forum to follow other corners of Major League Baseball and channel some of my fandom into more fruitful avenues.
For the next two days I’ll be going over fantasy baseball kits and magazines and running mock drafts to try and get a feel for which players I should be taking and when. I’ll be putting together crib sheets and analyzing my opponent’s tendencies.
Opening Day is all about a renewed sense of hope, as all teams start on an equal footing. This year, however, I’ve got seven teams to follow, not just one.
Last week Major League Soccer successfully negotiated a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will last into at least 2014.
The new deal adds quite a few wrinkles to player contracts, including raising the minimum salary to $40,000 USD and creating limited free agency. By all accounts both sides consider the deal to be a victory for their cause.
However, settling this labour dispute before it became an actual work stoppage is the biggest win of all for the MLS and its fans.
Why? Because with the notable exception of recalls or other Enron-like debacles, removing a product from the public consciousness is bad for business. Keeping a high profile, particularly for a relative luxury like a spectator sport, is crucial.
It’s all about building consumer habits. If people know to turn on Seinfeld on Thursday nights, if they can rely on the fact that they’ll have 22 minutes of entertainment every week, they’ll keep coming back.
If fans know they can flip on the TV and tune in to Toronto FC every Saturday afternoon, it’ll be built into their personal schedule. Breaking that habit severs the relationship between the league and its consumers.
In particular, sports outside of the “big four” (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) have to do the most to protect their brand.
Fringe sports like soccer, lacrosse, and auto racing have to make sure that they deliver a high quality product consistently, since they are fighting against leagues that already have generations of fandom. They’re trying to overcome decades, if not centuries, of habitual fandom.
A TV blackout or, worse yet, a labour dispute would wreck any kind of progress the MLS has made in the North American market.
Timing played a big role in this deal. Soccer is poised to step into the spotlight with the American side a serious contender in this summer’s World Cup. Further, David Beckham, the league’s biggest name, is going to be injured for at least the start of the season.
They need to capitalize on the hype surrounding the World Cup as well as soldier on through Beckham’s time off. Missing even part of a season under those circumstances would’ve been disastrous.
MLS also dodged some potentially negative press.
The National Football League and the National Basketball Association seem destined for labour crises in the next two years, and there’s the very real possibility that sports fans are going to become pretty cynical about professional athletes.
There is, after all, a recession on right now. As the National Hockey League Players Association found in the 2004 lockout season, earning millions of dollars playing a sport that you love and asking for more is not a particularly sympathetic stance, even if it is in comparison to billionaire owners.
Distancing the MLS from these other disputes is the right play.
Most of the specifics of the deal haven’t been publicly announced, but just the fact that MLS is guaranteed four more seasons of maintaining and, hopefully, building their public profile is good news.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber is now poised to take advantage of the goodwill created by the World Cup, and maybe even take some of the NFL and NBA’s market share.
Just five days in to the NCAA’s annual Division I men’s basketball tournament and already Kansas - my pick to win the whole thing - is eliminated.
It’s not just me who has been rocked by the Jayhawks early departure – literally every single person in my pool had them as the champions. They were the prohibitive favourite for just about everyone I know.
Northern Iowa has become Death, the destroyer of brackets.
I’ve never seen a basketball game alter the mood in the city of Toronto, let alone an amateur match, but there was definitely a buzz in the air in the hour after Northern Iowa’s 69-67 upset of Kansas. Passing people on my way to work I could overhear talk about ruined brackets and disappointing efforts.
Most poolies are now relying on their Sweet 16 and Elite Eight picks to see them through. It’s a very different reality that’s now in place. After all, most people build their brackets around a particular team who will sweep through to the finals. Without that cornerstone, the whole thing falls apart.
Fortunately for me, I’m in good shape.
I’ve made 29 of 48 picks, and have a possible 102 points still available. That showing puts me in the 55th percentile of all Yahoo! Fantasy Sports users. My bracket is literally not half bad, but it’s not much better.
Thank God there is some time off before the Sweet 16 gets underway. I know that it’s for the teams to try and rest and re-group, but at this point I think that the fans need it just as much.
I know that I am a neophyte NCAA basketball fan, but this is the most exciting March Madness tournament I’ve followed to date.
It started with the major upsets in the first few rounds, followed by the elimination of perennial mid-major powerhouse Villanova and then finally the shocking departure of the Jayhawks, the consensus pick to win the whole damn thing.
In any event, thank God for that break. Now we’ve got a chance to try and figure out what’s going on, and who’s going to win the championship. The Syracuse Orange? Duke? Northern Iowa?
I really don’t know.
What I do know, is that I can’t wait for the Madness to start up again. I’ll be watching every minute of it.
The Canadian Hockey League playoffs began in earnest this weekend, with many great storylines unfolding. By and large, the favourites are winning handedly, while the tight fourth and fifth seeds are dividing their series evenly.
The one exception is the Calgary Hitmen - a team I predicted to win the whole Western Hockey League – who are losing their quarter-final series 2-0 to the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Heading into the post-season Calgary had won 12 of their last 13 games, and collected a point in all of those matches. They were dominant defensively and offensively, rocketing up the standings with 107 points, the best record in the WHL.
That strong final push gave them the privilege of playing the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed, lowly Moose Jaw.
But the Warriors have had the Hitmen’s number thus far – dropping them 4-2 and 4-1 in their first four games. With the series moving to Moose Jaw for the next two games, things look grim for Calgary.
It’s a surprising turn of events. The Hitmen are the only team in the WHL to lose to a lower seed in the playoffs thus far. The other seven series have stuck to the script.
Goaltender Jeff Bosch is the key. He stopped 48 shots from tCalgary's attack in Game 1 of the series, and then turned away 29 in Game 2.
If the Hitmen have any hope of turning things around they’ll need to find a way to get past Bosch.
Friday March 19th 2010
QMJHL – Hinse has winner as Quebec nips Acadie-Bathurst in OT
Hinse had his second overtime winner in as many nights as the Remparts eked out a 5-4 result over the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs Friday night.
Quebec had edged the Titan 6-5 in overtime Thursday night. (See more...)
OHL – Flick’s penalty shot sparks rally; Majors double Petes
Rob Flick's penalty shot got things going for the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors Friday night.
Flick scored on a penalty shot to spark a three-goal, third-period outburst and lifted Mississauga to a 4-2 victory over the Peterborough Petes in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series in the Ontario Hockey League. (See more...)
WHL – Giants rally for overtime win over Blazers
It took an extra period but the Vancouver Giants rallied to a playoff win Friday night.
James Henry's goal 33 seconds into overtime gave Vancouver a 4-3 comeback victory over the Kamloops Blazers in the first game of their Western Hockey League opening-round post-season series. (See more...)
Saturday, March 20th 2010
QMJHL – Wildcats blank Screaming Eagles; Riopel earns record
Nicola Riopel and the Moncton Wildcats won a statement game in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs Saturday night.
Riopel made 26 saves as the Wildcats mauled the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles 6-0 in the second game of their quarter-final series. (See more...)
OHL – Whalers even up series with Greyhounds
Phil McRae and the Plymouth Whalers knew what they had to do to even their Western Conference quarter-final playoff series.
McRae had the eventual winner as the Whalers swam to a 5-2 win over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in Ontario Hockey League playoff action Saturday night. (See more...)
WHL – Moose Jaw shocks Calgary once again
The Moose Jaw Warriors continue to surprise in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
Jason Bast scored twice, including the winner, to lead Moose Jaw to a 4-1 win over the Calgary Hitmen in WHL post-season action Saturday night. (See more...)
Sunday, March 21st 2010
OHL – Nesbitt’s hat trick leads the way as 67’s drop IceDogs
Thomas Nesbitt provided all the offence the Ottawa 67's needed Sunday afternoon.
Nesbitt scored three times, including the game winner midway through the second period as Ottawa tamed the Niagara IceDogs 3-1 in Ontario Hockey League playoff action. (See more...)
In yesterday’s post I mentioned that my strategy for NCAA pools relies heavily on picking the favourites. After all, at least on paper, they are the better team. You might recall that I even mentioned that the tactic often costs me when there are major upsets, particularly in the first round.
So when there were no less than five shockers yesterday, you could imagine my delight. Further, the three upsets I did pick (UTEP, Florida, San Diego State) managed to lose. All told, I am now ranked sixth (out of six) with only half of my picks correct. Yikes.
My one saving grace is that I still have a possible 180 points available to me, third best in my league. Nonetheless, I need things to go well for me today if I’m going to recover.
At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed all the games I watched yesterday, especially the upsets. Yeah, it was killing me in my pool, but they were incredibly entertaining.
Villanova’s match with Robert Morris is the perfect example. For my bracket to stay alive I desperately needed ‘Nova to win. But despite myself, I was cheering for the boys from RMU. It’s a cliché, but I just loved their hustle.
Of course, this is what makes March Madness great. That sense of desperation, that swelling of emotion with each shot, each steal, every made basket. Even an impartial observer gets wrapped up in the action.
That emotional investment does a lot to gloss over a lot of the problems with the level of play. There are glaring errors made by all the teams in the tournament, particularly when it comes to defence. I can’t tell you how often I caught myself yelling at the TV yesterday as I saw an ill-advised double team. Discipline is also always an issue with such young players, so tactics quickly fall apart.
But it’s that reckless play that makes March Madness so fun to watch; it’s completely unpredictable and usually has a wild finish. You never know when a team is going to fall apart.
I’m looking forward to seeing how day two plays out. Hopefully it’ll be as exciting as yesterday.... only with things going my way.
Here is my official March Madness bracket, thanks to the good people at Yahoo! Sports and their PDF generator. Click the link to see my rather uneducated guesses. No, I am not sponsored by KFC.
That’s when, like everyone else in the civilized world, Canadians become obsessed with the NCAA’s Division I basketball tournament. However, unlike our neighbours to the south, we can come at it from an oddly objective place.
Let me explain.
Obviously, there are no Canadian schools in the tournament. There are rarely Canadians to root for, either. Like following the National Football League we’re left to our own devices to figure out which teams to pick. We are unfettered by any kind of loyalty or regional bias.
Really, in general, Canadians are blissfully ignorant of college basketball until about early March. There’s little coverage on Sportsnet or TSN. Only hardcore basketball fans who seek out games on the Score or online have any real knowledge of the NCAA game. Everyone else gleans what they can from American shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn. Our focus is, and always will be, hockey.
Does that stop Canadians from participating in March Madness pools? Not even a little. Practically everyone I know has at least one bracket, and suddenly basketball is on all kinds of TV channels. After all, there is no better way to while away the time once your NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs.
My only NCAA allegiance is to Syracuse University Orange. Not because of Carmelo Anthony, but because of their lacrosse team. After all, that’s where Gary and Paul Gait went. Not to mention the Powell boys. Also, it’s kind of local to Toronto. I guess that's nice.
Aside from that small preference for the Orange, I can enjoy the tournament bias free. Heck, I’m even indifferent to Duke University which, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, people hate.
Personally, I enjoy the fact that as a Canadian I can operate from a point of objective ignorance: It means that I rarely over-think things. My judgement is never clouded by preference or conflicting sources of information.
If 75% of users are picking a team online, it sounds good to me. I’ll never be tempted to pick an underdog, since, hey, I don’t know anything beyond the seeding. Historical trends? Don't know, don't care. It’s wonderfully liberating.
My strategy is to pick teams I’ve heard of, relying on the assumption that if they're on my radar up here in Canada, they must be good. Failing that, I go with the higher seed. If two well known teams meet at some point in my bracket, I follow the lead of my fellow online users. When I feel particularly daring I’ll take an underdog (usually a 12 seed over a five) but that’s as wild as I get.
It’s actually a pretty good system. It leaves me open to upsets, but that’s rarely a problem beyond the Sweet 16.
Now I can just sit back and enjoy the show, along with my free health care. The beauty of being Canadian.