Monday, March 19, 2018

A fine smoking ruin

... is what your NCAA Tournament bracket looks like right now, I'm guessing.

The Blob's, of course, does not look like that at all, on account of the Blob didn't fill one out, for reasons it explained a few days ago. This means I haven't missed a game yet. Or it means I've missed them all. You can go either way.

At any rate, the Blob sympathizes with your spectacular failure, and asks if it would be OK if it grilled a few brats over the glowing remains of your bracket. Someone should take advantage of what was as Mad and memorable a first weekend as the first weekend of the Madness always should be.

You say you had all four No. 1s getting to the Sweet Sixteen, including Virginia and Xavier?

Sorry. UMBC and Florida State ruined that for you.

North Carolina?

Crushed by Texas A&M by 19.


Blew a 22-point lead against, um, Nevada.

Michigan State? Arizona? Tennessee?

Done, done and done.

This was true Madness at work, and perhaps karma. Some of those who got sent home, after all, seemed victims of a case of just desserts, if you looked at it a certain way.

Consider: Kelvin Sampson, a blatant repeat offender who somehow was allowed back into college basketball after blowing up the IU program 10 years ago, coaches Houston now. And of course Houston got taken out by Michigan in the cruelest way possible, on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

North Carolina?

Maybe getting laminated by A&M was retribution for getting away scot-free with one of the biggest academic scandals in NCAA history. Back to your fake classes now, Tar Heels.

Arizona, a sexy national champ pick fingered in the FBI's ongoing probe, got blitzed by Buffalo out of the Mid-American Conference. No soup for you, Sean "That Ain't My Voice On The Wiretap" Miller. And Michigan State, whose athletic programs (including, yes, basketball) seem to have a rather casual attitude toward sexual assault, got flummoxed out of the tournament by Syracuse and its fabled zone defense.

I don't know if the gods of the cosmos care about college basketball. But it sure seems like they did this weekend.

I mean, Sampson, Sean Miller and Carolina are gone, and Loyola and Sister Jean are still around. How do you not see some greater power at work in that?

Take me out to the gimmick game

The Blob will take a break this a.m. from the NCAA Tournament, except to congratulate Michigan for knocking Kelvin Sampson out of the tournament in the most painful way possible. A last-second 3-ball? Yes, please.

We'll return to your regularly scheduled Madness shortly. But for now ...

For now, gimmickry!

In other words,  baseball is finally doing something to speed up the game, which used to be played at a properly brisk pace and now is played at a pace somewhere between A) cement curing and B) grass growing in August. In other words, it's now the Waiting In Line At Disneyworld of sports, only more tedious.

This is even true in the minor leagues, where even untelevised games drag on and on and on. And so the minors have decided to speed things up with some fairly common-sense measures (a 15-second pitch count), and one spectacularly annoying one.

They've decided that extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.  

No. No, no, no ... no.

Listen. No one has pounded the speed-up-the-game drum louder than the Blob, which recognizes that doing so would only be returning baseball to its roots as a fast-paced game and not, like it is now, Still Life On Grass (especially when the Yankees and Red Sox are playing). But there are organic ways of doing it, and there are stupid ways of doing it. Manufacturing baserunners out of thin air is the latter.

This is because baseball, like most sports that aren't mixed martial arts, have rules and traditions that have stood the test of time. One of those rules and traditions is that a baserunner must earn his way around the bases. Simply sticking a guy on second willy-nilly is like driving past the house where Rules and Traditions live and throwing eggs at it. It's like leaving a flaming bag of poop on Rules and Traditions' front step, ringing the doorbell and running away.

I mean, can you imagine if this stupid idea had been around when they filmed that famous scene in "Bull Durham" where the manager yells at his young players?

SKIP: This ... is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.

SMART-ALECK YOUNG PLAYER: Except in extra innings, when we don't have to do any of that stuff.

Talk about diluting the message.

Also, talk about driving obsessive baseball scorekeepers (Are there any other kind?) bat you-know-what crazy. How do you score a baserunner materializing on second out of thin air? Is it a stolen base? Two stolen bases? Do they count it as a walk and a balk? Two balks?

Or maybe the player will get to choose from several options to determine how he wound up on second:

1. A walk and a stolen base.

2. A walk and a balk.

3. A frozen rope into the gap in left-center for a standup double.

4. A frozen rope between second and third that the shortstop muffs and then throws into the dugout, allowing the baserunner to wind up on second.

5. An invisible airplane.

Me, I'd choose the latter. Just so my team could lead the league in the newest arcane baseball stat: RMWUISP.

As in, "Runners Magically Winding Up In Scoring Position."

Saturday, March 17, 2018


This is why we watch. This is why we pile into places with wall-to-wall TVs on a weekday afternoon, why the boss thinks we're just out on a sales call (Shhh!), why the first two days of the NCAA Tournament are an unofficial national holiday, and the best two days.

We watch because UMBC (which stands for University of Maryland-Baltimore County) 74, Virginia 54.

We watch because a 16 seed beat a 1 seed -- and not just a 1 seed, but the overall 1 seed -- for the first time in 136 tries.

We watch because that was history happening right in front of us Friday night, and the upset of all upsets. And upsets are why we watch.

Does anyone care when Duke crushes Iona? Or when North Carolina rolls over Lipscomb?

No. No one watches these games for that.

We watch them to see Duke get taken down by Mercer, or Kansas get taken down by Bucknell. We watch,  as happened yesterday, to see Wichita State get taken down by Marshall, and Michigan State get pushed to the wall by (again!) those feisty Bison from Bucknell.

We live for the upsets. We fill out our brackets, and then, when some mind-boggling upset turns our brackets into cinders, we secretly love it. We moan and groan, but deep down inside we love it.

Which brings us back to UMBC over Virginia, the splendidly nicknamed Retrievers over the Cavaliers, the "Ruh-roh" moment of the tournament for all the bracketologists. Many, many people, including people who should have known better, had Virginia in the Final Four. Some of them had the Cavaliers in the title game. A whole lot of them had Virginia winning it all -- even though, as the Blob pointed out the other day, Virginia almost always craps out in Da Tournament, so proceed with caution.

In any event, those people's brackets are ash now. And how great is that?

After all, in an event driven by the thrill of the upset, this was the thrill-iest upset of them all. It even had a certain symmetry to it; Virginia is now on the losing end of the two greatest upsets in college basketball history.

The first happened in 1982, when an NAIA school (Chaminade) beat Ralph Sampson and No. 1 Virginia 77-72 in the Maui Classic. The second, of course, was last night, when a hyphen school that two months ago lost by 44 to Albany beat the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by 20.

Shoot. A week ago, UMBC needed a last-second 3-pointer to knock off Vermont in its conference championship game. It was the first time the Retrievers had beaten Vermont in their last 23 meetings.

And now they whip Virginia right out of the box?

In the prison of the moment, some folks were comparing it to the Miracle on Ice, but it's hardly that. UMBC would have to have beaten the Golden State Warriors for a proper analogy to the Miracle. Frankly, I'm not even sure it's a more mind-blowing upset than Chaminade over Virginia, except of course in the circumstance.

 As lowly as UMBC is, after all, it's still an NCAA Division I school. Chaminade was an NAIA school. Think St. Francis or Indiana Tech taking down Kentucky or Duke and you're on the right track.

In any case, it's the biggest upset in this particular tournament's history. And it's what we came for. And now it's on to the weekend, where most of the provincial interest will be in 10-seed Butler taking on 2-seed Purdue tomorrow.

Purdue, which, just as Virginia lost its sixth man before Da Tournament, has lost the man through whom its offense runs, Isaac Haas.

Butler, which annihilated 7-seed Arkansas in its first-round game, and which lost by 15 to Purdue back in  December.


Friday, March 16, 2018

MAC daddies

Ah. There you are, you little rascal.

All day long we waited for the cataclysmic upset, the oh-my-God moment, that seismic ritual of the first day of the NCAA Tournament: The Rending of the Brackets. Finally it came, almost on the stroke of midnight.

Altogether now, people who didn't have the good fortune to attend a Mid-American Conference school: You do not. Ever. Sleep on the MAC.

Unfortunately for the Arizona Wildcats and their coach, Sean "That Ain't My Voice On The Wiretap" Miller, that was a MAC school, Buffalo, playing opposite them. And the MAC school ate them without even chewing its food. In a 4-vs.-13 matchup, the 13 seed didn't just win, it staged a lamination, wiping out the Pac-12 pretenders by 21.

This likely done ruint a lot of brackets, considering how many of the Rumored To Be Smart People had Arizona as a particularly dangerous 4-seed. At least one of the Rumored To Be Smart People, the relentlessly annoying Skip Bayless, picked Arizona to win the whole value meal.

So lovers of chaos had that to celebrate, too.

A few other observations from the not-very-Mad first day of the Madness:

* Apparently the 13-4 matchup is the new 12-5.

Which is to say, it's the matchup where ruinous bracket events lurk, or at least they did yesterday. There was Buffalo over Arizona. There was Texas Tech (4) having to come from behind to beat Stephen F. Austin (13) by 10. There was Gonzaga (4) having to gasp to the last to beat UNC-Greensboro (13) by four.

* Apparently the Pac-12 is the new MAC.

Which is to say, it's now a mid-major. UCLA didn't even get past St. Bonaventure in a play-in game. Ditto Arizona State vs. Syracuse. And, of course, Arizona, the league champion, got strip-mined by a MAC school.

This eliminated the entire Pac-12 contingent in one day. It's the first time since the creation of the Big 12 21 years ago that one of the major conferences failed to get a team to the second round of Da Tournament.

The good news is, perhaps the Summit League will extend an invitation to play a challenge series with its new fellow mid-major, the Pac-12.

The bad news: The Pac-12 would probably lose.

* All hail Davidson, South Dakota State, San Diego State, the aforementioned UNC-Greensboro.

Who put up great and noble fights as double-digit seeds before falling to higher seeds yesterday, lending at least a breath of madness to what was generally a numbingly chalk day.

* All hail Donte Ingram of Loyola.

Whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer from a long way off lifted the 11-seed Ramblers -- in the tournament for the first time in 33 years -- to a first-round win over 6-seed Miami (Fla.) in the only other real upset of the day.

Thursday's One Shining Moment moment. Every day has to have at least one, right?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

That Cousins guy

Sometimes there is this disconnect between the Blob and the wider world. I sense it most when I'm in my car, the miles unspooling across the emptied-out winter landscape of Indiana. The radio is dialed down to a low mutter. The usual yammering heads are yammering away ...

And suddenly I enter the Don't Get It Zone.

The yammering, see, is all about Kirk Cousins.

Whose signing with the Vikings as a free agent is imminent, apparently, and apparently for ridiculous piles of money ($84 million). It's a signature deal, because Cousins is going to get every dime of it guaranteed. Turmoil is going to ensue from this, allegedly. His new teammates are going to wonder how he got this deal and none of them did. Especially when you consider he's not Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but just Kirk Cousins.

And the Blob doesn't get it. Just doesn't get it.

I've looked up Cousins numbers, see. And what I've seen is this:

In the last three seasons, respectively, he's thrown for 4,166 yards, 4,917 yards and 4,093 yards.

In the last three seasons, he's thrown for 29, 25 and 27 touchdowns.

In the last three seasons, his completion percentage is 69.8, 67 and 64.3.

For his career, he's completed 65 percent of his passes. For his career, his QBR is 93.7.

There aren't half a dozen quarterbacks in the NFL with numbers like that. And he's done it largely without weapons for a dumpster fire franchise in Washington. In Minnesota, he'll have all the weapons he needs and more.

So why is he Just Kirk Cousins? Why does everyone say he's no better than a second-tier quarterback and barely an upgrade from Case Keenum?

I don't get it. Just don't get it.

Look, if Cousins is a second-tier QB ... well, second-tier is not only good in this era's NFL, it's great. Because once you get past Brady and Brees and Rodgers and Russell Wilson and probably Ben Roethlisberger, there are no top-tier quarterbacks in the NFL. There probably are no more than five or six second-tier quarterbacks. I mean, have you seen who's starting at quarterback in the league these days?

So, yeah, Cousins is more than Just Kirk Cousins. And if $84 million fully-guaranteed for his services seems outlandish, it doesn't when you consider the market for QBs in 2018.

Which is why I can't see it causing grumbling in the locker room, especially if his deal resets the market. You don't think Cousins getting fully guaranteed money opens the door for other guys to get fully guaranteed money?  Because that's how these things tend to work. And if that happens, do you honestly think Cousins' teammates are going to resent him for that?

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe today's players aren't as savvy about these things as I think. But I think they'll see the bigger picture here.

And if not?

Well, then I truly don't get it. So be it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


So I'm on the phone with my sister the other day, and she's trying to pull me back in. It never fails. March rolls around, and I'm Michael Corleone in "Godfather III."

"Come on, just for fun," she says.

"Nope," I reply. "One, I don't care that much. Two, I'm too lazy. I don't want to put that much effort into it."

"You don't have to," she says. "You always say you overthink it. Just don't overthink it this time."

"No," I say. "'Cause you'll beat me."

"Oh, I will not," she says.

"Yes, you will. So, no way," I say. 

And that's the end of it. Once again I've successfully fended off the Bracket Temptress.

I don't tell her that I don't fill out NCAA brackets anymore  because I know she will beat me, and then she'll never let me forget it, no matter what she says. Not only that, but the people who fill out brackets according to mascots, their favorite animals or school colors will beat me. I'll do all this research and make rational, considered picks, and I'll get beat by someone who picks Virginia because he likes the way Tony Bennett dresses, or Villanova because Villanova's in Philadelphia and he'd been to Philadelphia once.

"Hey, look, all these people are picking Michigan State!" Random Guy says. "They must be good. I'm pickin' them."

And then of course Michigan State will win it all and Random Guy will beat me, because I picked the Spartans to get knocked out by Duke. Or he'll pick Virginia and beat me because I don't think the Cavaliers can win with their sixth man out injured, and, besides, Virginia always craps out in Da Tournament.

I know this is how it will go. And I know this because it's gone this way so many times before.

One year I picked Iowa State into the Final Four because all the smart people were picking Iowa State to go deep, and I thought of myself as one of the smart people. And then of course the Cyclones lost in the first round and blew up my entire bracket.

I think that was about the time I stopped filling out a bracket.

Although if I had to pick a Final Four, I'd probably pick--

No. No. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Employer prerogative

So, you still think the relationship between high-end college athletics and those who make all the dough it rakes in isn't strictly employer/employee, except for the fact the employees don't get paid?

The Blog would like to enter this into evidence.

To summarize, the employees (Louisville's players) said they didn't want to play in the NIT, reasonably noting they were worn to a frazzle by all the turmoil swirling around the program this winter. The employers (UL's administrators) essentially said, "Sorry, we already accepted a bid conditionally (without considering your wishes, of course). So, because you're going to school on our dime -- and because, let's face it, we could make a little more jing off the postseason exposure, meager as it is in the NIT  -- you're playing."

Question: If this were truly about education and not commerce, and the workforce at places like Louisville were truly more students than athletes, would it have gone down this way?

Methinks not.