“Sleeping giant.” That phrase makes me so nauseous now.
Ever since about 2005 — when the football team rebounded from a winless season to make a bowl game, men’s basketball was back in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, baseball was coming off an appearance in the NCAA regionals and new stadiums and state-of-the-art athletic facilities were on the horizon — UCF has basically been known as the University of Sleeping Giant. Just need to change the initials a bit.
Thus, UCF sports fans do feel a little entitled. Not like Tiger Woods entitled, but when you’ve heard all about how great your school’s sports are going to become very shortly, you expect the best. Burgeoning athletics, great location, 50,000+ students — let’s go!
But since 2005, the football team has been predictably inconsistent and the basketball team has experienced numerous disappointments once the regular season ends. The baseball team is close to irrelevant. The hottest stories about UCF athletics lately have been some that school’s don’t want to be known for.
Still, that expectation of reaching another level remains. When Kirk Speraw was let go as the men’s basketball head coach earlier this month after 17 years, rumors flew about whom UCF was considering for the job.
And whom took the job? Donnie Moore, err, Davy Jones, err, Donnie Jones.
Yes, Donnie Jones. Some people are upset about this hiring because he doesn’t have nationally known name. Well, at least not this Donnie Jones. The other Donnie Jones is a pretty good NFL punter and you all should know that by now.
I’m not sure why, but this spring training season has gotten out of the way pretty quickly. Last year, it seemed to linger forever. But we’re just six days away from the first regular-season game, seven days away from “opening day” and nine days away from the first 30-team schedule date. In anticipation of a new dawn for the greatest sport around — no arguments — I’ll be touching on each division with a not-so-thorough preview.
First up, the American League West. There’s no superior team, but it’s a division that could have a three-deep race into September.
1. Los Angeles Angels
There is plenty of reasons to be down on the 2010 Angels. They lost cornerstones Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey and Chone Figgins. They are depending on Jered Weaver to become the clear ace and depending on Brandon Wood to not become the next Dallas McPherson. They have very little lineup depth, especially for an outfield that has an average age of about 60.
And they are the best team in this division.
While it’s not exactly an outstanding staff, it’s definitely solid with the likes of Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro and Joe Saunders. That’s the best rotation in the division and it’s not close. Obviously, Santana and Kazmir need to stay healthy and more than anything, the Angels need some good defense from their infield since Pineiro and Saunders don’t strike anyone out. I don’t trust Saunders at all, but if he can be their No. 5, that’s not too bad.
In the bullpen, the Angels are certainly deep. Brian Fuentes will start the year as the closer, but Fernando Rodney is a great backup/eighth-inning man. Granted, he can also be a spectacular gas can. Scot Shields, who was one of the best set-up pitchers in the game before a knee-injury ruined his 2009 season, and second-half revelation Kevin Jepsen give the Angels a very strong relief corps.
The batting order is diminished with the losses of Guerrero and Figgins, but this team has enough pop with the likes of Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Juan Rivera and Hideki Matsui to go with table-setters such as Erick Aybar and Bobby Abreu. It’s not as complete of a lineup as in previous years, but it still has five or six very tough outs.
Don’t forget the Angels also have the best manager in the division. With so many people doubting his squad this year, Mike Scioscia might earn another Manager Of The Year award at season’s end. And at season’s beginning, don’t forget to get your Angels Snuggie.
You may have heard in the past couple of days that the Milwaukee Brewers have released pitcher Scott Schoeneweis. Schoeneweis is an 11-year MLB vet whom I vividly remember from his days with the Anaheim Angels. He never worked out as a starter but has stuck around as a decent lefty reliever.
But he feels jilted by the Brewers, saying on Tuesday that the team never gave him a chance to officially make it on board and that he doesn’t feel like he has to prove himself to any team, among other things. But in his departing shot, Schoeneweis delivered one of the strangest yet most concerning reasons as to why he was released.
“It’s just ironic that I can’t get a job because my wife died.”
Oh. My. I don’t know if I can understand the full gravity of such a statement.
- In my last post, I mentioned how my bracket was pretty conservative this year. Judging by that, I bet you can basically assume how my bracket looks right now. There is so much red it looks like the sequel to “Braindead”. Sunday was an especially tough day since I had Maryland, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh advancing. The final few seconds just didn’t go their way, but that is why we love this tournament. Even if I hate it tonight.
- With the remaining matchups, I think some picks are simple — at least to the eye. I am cautious in guaranteeing victories, but Syracuse should overwhelm a small Butler squad. Northern Iowa — bastards! — should beat a hobbled Michigan State team. But there are two games that I am really looking forward to, both of which are in the East region.
I’m filling out three brackets this March. It’s a low number for me, but it’s to protect me from myself. I end up spending so much time breaking down each matchup, listening to and reading every bit of information available, but it hardly does me any good. It’s true that going with your gut is the best way to fill out your bracket because no one knows what’s going to happen. So why think that you can unravel the mystery?
While each of my brackets will be slightly different, there is one that I consider to be my top choice. There is money league on Yahoo! with a little $10 buy-in that I’ve competed in for the past four years. $10 may not seem like much, but when you can get 50 or more people to join the pool, that means a pretty nice take for a first-, second- or third-place finish. The past two years, I’ve finished second and fourth, respectively. Does that mean I know what I’m doing? Of course not. I’ve probably studied the games more this year than in 2008 and 2009. But that over-analysis could easily lead to a busted bracket early on.
Still, I can’t help it. I have to know as much as I can. I fool myself into thinking that the more I know will give me an edge.
And then West Virginia loses in the second round and all this goes for naught. So without further ado, here is my best shot this year at predicting the unpredictable. (And I’ve already made an edit to the South region)
I can’t explaining it, but there is something so satisfying about brackets. So simplistic, they are attractive the eyes. It must be something about this time of year.
Let’s see how this year’s bracket will look.
2:40 p.m. So who’s on the bubble? Illinois, Minnesota, Utah St., Florida, Virginia Tech, Mississippi, Rhode Island, maybe even California and UTEP. It’s certainly a weak composition, but I don’t think I can remember a time when there were so many teams on the bubble and so much disagreement as to who is in and who is out.
2:43 p.m. I’ve been watching ESPN’s bracket guru Joe Lunardi go through his final bracket before the actual thing is released. Sure, it’s a complete time waster, but you notice how difficult it will be to judge teams such as Richmond, New Mexico, Northern Iowa, etc who will be the higher-seeded team in their first-round matchup, most likely against a team from a big conference. You know there are going to be upsets, but how it is an upset if a 10th-seeded Georgia Tech team beats No. 7 Northern Iowa?
2:53 p.m. I have no idea why the Big Ten has to play its final so close to the selection show airing. The Big XII got smart and moved their its final up to Saturday. What if Ohio State had to play another double-overtime game against a bubble team like Minnesota? That would have made the selection committee’s decision on the Golden Gophers interesting and controversial.
3:00 p.m. OK, let’s get the show on the road. I have about 20 brackets I need to fill out.
3:01 p.m. Kansas is the No.1 seed and my early pick to win the championship. They are more experienced than Kentucky and more impressive to me than Syracuse. Of course, I’m sure I’ll change that opinion as I start my paralysis-by-analysis week.
It took the Washington Huskies about 20 minutes to find their game in this year’s Pac-10 Conference Championship. Then they became the most impressive team of the week. Sitting firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble prior to this tournamnent, the Huskies needed a good showing and they left no doubt at weekend’s end. They deserve to be called Pac-10 champions.
The Huskies opened the tournament with a somewhat disappointing half against Oregon State, but you have to credit most of that to the Beavers just being absolutely on point from 3-point range. Then the Huskies employed the press defense and blew right past OSU. They dominated Stanford from start to finish the next night.
But we got our money’s worth during Saturday’s game. It began like a mid-80s NBA game, where neither team could miss. It was a lot of fast-paced action as both teams had more than 30 points with more than five minutes remaining in the first half. Both squads turned a mixture of cold from the field and sloppy with the ball to finish the half and the Huskies held a 41-37 advantage.
Both teams staged big runs in the second half, which set up an ultimate six-minute finish with Washington trailing, 66-63. The Huskies then hit six of their final seven shots and all four free throws. Meanwhile, the Huskies’ defense stifled Cal, which made just two of its final six shots. They forced a couple of critical turnovers late and took away the Golden Bears’ strength from 3-point range, where they made just 5-of-19 shots Saturday. In the end, the Huskies made the plays to become champs. They did it for the majority of the tourney and certainly did it Saturday. They didn’t run into any luck. They just performed better than everyone else. They looked like the most athletic team in the Pac-10 and shot better than 45 percent. Maybe the greatest news for UW fans is that only one player — Quincy Pondexter — won’t be back in for the 2010-11 season. The Huskies have eight underclassmen, none of whom have the ability to become the next Kevin Love or O.J. Mayo and ditch the Pac-10. They’ll be sticking around. But they do have the ability to make the Pac-10 exceedingly difficult for the rest of the league for the next couple of years.
- Other than the game, the most important thing from Saturday was stomachs. Media row for college basketball games is often right in front of the cheerleaders. That position gives you a lot of time to pick out your favorites. Mine at UCF was this girl who had a well-defined eight pack of abs. It was memorizing — and a bit intimidating. With that being said, I’m pretty sure I could fall in love with all of Washington’s cheerleaders. Six-pack abs must be a requirement for that group. Their stomachs are incredible. You can grate cheese off those things. I’m willing to try.
- Isaiah Thomas was named tourney MVP, but I would have given the award to Pondexter. He contributed about the same amount of offense and didn’t experience the dreadful quarterfinal game that Thomas had. Plus, he’s the team’s only senior. He deserved it enough. But it’s also his last go-around. Just give it to him.
- You might remember me complaining about the Washington band’s rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Thursday. Well on Saturday, the PA system played SLTS with a disco/electronica remix that made the Huskies’ band look like grunge kings. I’m glad Kurt Cobain is already dead because he surely would have killed himself after hearing that.