I keep an eye on what’s going on in spring training, but I don’t have much desire to watch any of the games unless I happen to be in Arizona and I’m in the ballpark with a beer in my hand. I do wish, though, that I could have seen some of the Yankees’ game yesterday. Pitcher Pat Venditte threw a inning and a third for the team in a split squad contest against the the Braves. What makes him stand out in a relatively dull matchup is that he is ambidextrous. He wears a six finger glove so that he can switch hands between batters. He can’t switch arms for one batter, but he’s like a manager’s wet dream when it comes to matching up to righties and lefties – especially in tight games down the stretch when a manager would likely run through the bullpen quickly to get the matchups he wants. He allowed two hits and a walk while recording four outs in the game. He put up decent numbers in Class A ball last year, and is due to start in Class A again next year. That means we aren’t likely to see him in the majors for a long time – if ever – but that doesn’t make him any less interesting or intriguing. Very cool.
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There were a couple of bizarre, unconventional hires in college basketball today – both signs of what teams will do when they are desperate. First, UTEP. After Tony Barbee left to coach Auburn after a very good season, the team had a chance to hire someone who could continue on the momentum they had build and help the team become a regular C-USA power before Memphis can fully re-establish themselves in that role. Instead, they hired Tim Floyd. Floyd was an assistant for a lot of years, so boosters are familiar with him and he is a popular choice among them. He’s a terrible choice, though. He underachieved with ridiculous talent at USC, then threatened the program for the long term with violations that he left behind when he left. Floyd is one of those guys who keep getting jobs for some reason, yet never has the results to back up that decision, or really to warrant getting another premier job. In the dictionary under overrated there is a picture of Floyd. On top of that, Floyd has little loyalty and is always looking for brighter lights, so if he doesn’t have some quick success he’ll just ride that to a bigger and better job. He’s just not what UTEP needs.
The draft picture got much clearer today – at least at the top. Sam Bradford had his pro day in Oklahoma and he was, by all college football handicappers accounts, brilliant. His throwing was crisp and accurate, there were no issues with distance, and he didn’t have any real flaws. The shoulder was a concern going in, but it’s not one now. Unless he tells the Rams that he’s an axe murderer between now and the draft he’s going to be the number one pick. I also think that he’s going to be a star – the Rams would be dumb not to pick him. In my books he’s the best prospect in a long, long time at pivot. I’d buy his stock.
A couple of solid if not overwhelming games to finish the path to the Final Four today. Michigan State squeaked out a close one, though for much of the game they looked like the better team – though not by much. The edge here, if you want to oversimplify things, came down to coaching. By that measure, a narrow Michigan State win was appropriate. Coach K and Tom Izzo have a unique ability to get the absolute most out of their team – and more – in March regardless of what has happened before then. Amazing. Speaking of Coach K, he benefited from playing a team that wasn’t as deep or nearly as experienced as his. Baylor played well enough, and for moments they looked brilliant, but they just couldn’t pull it off in the end. It never ceases to amaze me how the tournament works – teams can look brilliant and all but unbeatable for a game or two or three, but sooner or later they meet a team who is too much for them and they look mortal again. The tournament does an amazingly good job of sorting out the best teams from the rest – even if it doesn’t look like it.
It has been a strange, surprising, and at times frustrating couple of days of basketball. As they were played:
1. As I said yesterday, I didn’t see this Tennessee win coming. It’s not that I had counted out Tennessee or didn’t like anything in particular coming. It’s just that I couldn’t find a single reason to care about them. They won, though, and they earned it. They played very good defense, and were able to shut down and frustrate everyone not named Evan Turner in the second half. Now they are in their first Elite Eight in team history, and I still don’t feel any affection for them or give them the due they are probably deserved.
1. The adoration of Northern Iowa makes me uneasy. I get all the reasons we are supposed to count out the Spartans – inconsistency, the Kalin Lucas injury, and so on. I also get why Northern Iowa is worthy of praise – woefully under-seeded, stunning upset of best team in the tournament, and so on. I just don’t feel great about the degree to which the action is on the Panthers – the game opened at MSU -1.5 but can now be found at pick ’em after almost 60 percent of bets have gone on the No. 9 seed. I do believe that that Northern Iowa can win this one. I just don’t think that this line movement reflects Michigan State’s superior talent even without Lucas, or the fact that Tom Izzo, one of the true kings of the tournament, has had five days to dissect this contest and spot what Northern Iowa does well and how to deal with it. I’m not even sure that I am picking the Spartans, though I am definitely leaning that way, but I just don’t think that this line or this movement is appropriate to the situation.
What a freaking game!!! That’s why college basketball is such an incredibly great sport. I’m crushed that Xavier, I team I couldn’t respect more, lost that game, but it’s easier to deal with given that the game was an instant classic. That was seriously as good as basketball can be. Jordan Crawford is such an incredible, incredible player. Unreal.
Great, great story out of, of all places, Edmonton last night. The Oilers’ starting goalie is out of action. Yesterday morning their second string goalie fell sick and had to be quarantined. That left them with just one goalie on the roster. A team can’t play without two, and they had a game last night. That meant that they had to scramble to find a warm body. Their was no time to get a player from their farm team. They own the junior team in Edmonton as well, but their season was over and no players were around. Several other options were either not available or had contract issues – a player can only sign an emergency contract once in their career. They got to the point that they had to look to university hockey. University hockey isn’t a pro development league. It’s mostly where guys with no real future in hockey go to extend their career and get an education after they have played junior hockey. The University of Alberta, which is in Edmonton, was leaving for the national championships hours before the game, and they were taking all three of their goalies with them. That meant they needed to look to their neighbors in Calgary – three hours south. The starter and the backup were unavailable for various reasons, so they wound up with the third stringer – a guy who had played parts of two games in two seasons – and then only because one goalie was hurt and the other got suspended. The guy was in class, but when it ended he checked his phone and saw that he had a million messages and texts looking for him. Long story short, he threw on a suit, grabbed his gear (and got a big ovation from his teammates who were working out in the process), jumped on a plane, and got the best possible seat to watch an NHL game. This morning he was back in Calgary and back in class. I don’t know what the Oilers paid him, but they did get him a bunch of tickets for friends and families, and he got to keep his jersey. Love that story.
This whole Zydrunas Ilgauskas situation, now that it has officially come to pass, make me want to shower. It’s slimy. Just one day after he became eligible to rejoin the Cavs he has a new deal in place for the rest of the year. He joins Antawn Jamison – the guy that he was traded for. The only real cost to the Cavs in this whole deal was that they had to live without Ilgauskas for 30 days, but that’s hardly a big deal for the team because they were already extremely secure in a playoff spot. They could have used a backup center as it turned out, but they still went 16-4 without him, and now they have a rested veteran to join them for the playoffs, and they get him at a very low cost. This absolutely should not be allowed in the NBA. It’s a total joke.
We’ll talk about the tournament lots more this week of course, but for now we’ll use the break in the action as an excuse to look elsewhere to see what’s been going on:
I was very intrigued by the comments coming from Mike Tomlin that he is worried about Ben Roethlisberger – both personally and because of the potential impact on the team. He obviously should be concerned, but that doesn’t always translate to what coaches say publicly. There are a couple of reasons to be concerned. First, the current legal problems could evolve into a situation that keeps him out of games for an extended time, and that would leave the Steelers in a big hole. Second, the fact that he keeps getting himself into bad situations is a pretty good sign that the guy just doesn’t think. It’s hard to know if he’s just a moron or if he has an attitude problem, but the Steelers are unquestionably built around the guy, and it’s scary to be built around a guy who is too stupid to keep himself out of trouble. Just ask the Falcons.