We all have personal markers for the arrival of spring.
Mine include seeing Middlebury College baseball and softball scores show up from Florida or Arizona against schools I’ve never heard of, (McHenry County?), trash-talking at our annual fantasy baseball draft, (it did not go unremarked-upon that our defending champ bought non-Cy Young candidates Doug Fister, Vin Mazzaro and David Pauley), and second-guessing winter high school all-star teams (no Carl Leduc on the boys’ Lake Division stars, and no Tiger skaters on the Free Pressteams?)
Another sign of this time of year is that things fly in 1,000 different directions.
The Panther winter and spring seasons overlapped. The women’s hockey and men’s basketball squads both reached final fours and with a couple breaks could easily have been NCAA Division III champions, while the lacrosse teams were already outside on the turf.
The high school seasons start next week, when the following teams spring into action: Otter Valley Union softball, baseball and boys’ lacrosse; Middlebury girls’ and boys’ lacrosse and tennis; and Vergennes boys’ lax.
Meanwhile, the NCAA D-I men’s and women’s hoop tourneys are each down to the final four, Major League Baseball spring training is wrapping up, and the NBA and NHL seasons are in the home stretch.
And who can resist the high drama of seeing how much money the billionaire NFL owners can rip off from their millionaire players? While making them play more games for less money? Such a deal. I hope fans know whom to blame if the season doesn’t happen — it’s 100 percent the owners’ fault.
But rather than rehash those particular gory details, here’s a few thoughts on NCAA hoops and the pro sports scene before the upcoming headlong plunge into local spring sports.
First, a tip of the hat to President Obama. He won’t win the ESPN pool after VCU whacked Kansas on Sunday, but until the men’s final four games he will remain in the 94th percentile of the 5.9 million brackets filled out at espn.com. Of course, he might have gotten some inside advice from brother-in-law Craig Robinson, the Oregon State men’s hoop coach. On the other hand, the guy does have a busy schedule, and deserves some props.
I haven’t seen all the games and didn’t fill out a bracket, not having watched a lot of college hoop before the tourney. Now, I like UConn. When Arizona got its dunkfest rolling on Duke, the Blue Devils folded like the Tunisian government. Under the same circumstances, UConn’s body language, said, “That all you got? Now it’s our turn.” They just walked the ball up, ran their offense, and won the game. That’s a tough-minded group with a championship look.
Nor have I watched enough women’s hoop to have an informed opinion, but I have seen UConn a couple times. And Coach Geno Auriemma is right: His team won’t scare anybody in the final four. They only go six deep, and rely on young players once you get past all-world Maya Moore. We could see Texas A&M, Stanford, UConn or Notre Dame cut down the nets. The upsets of Tennessee and Baylor in the quarterfinals just reinforce Geno’s point that anything can happen. That said, look for Stanford-UConn in the final.
As for the NHL, I’m still waiting for the real Bruins to stand up. Are they the group that went 7-0 on a road trip, or came home and laid a 1-5 egg? The team that thumped Montreal, 7-0, or lost, 1-0, to the Rangers in their next game? I still see them one scorer short, which is about where they’ve been since 1972.
The Celtics? Some games they just look old. Other games they just look bored, which is weird given the value of home court in a potential Eastern final vs. the Bulls or semifinal vs. the Heat. Other games they try hard, and look out of synch. The trade of Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic (who sports the strangest, pulled-forward comb-over in league history) works on paper and in the long term, but the Cs have had the blahs, especially offensively, since the deal. And is Shaq really the answer in the postseason? Right now it’s hard to feel hopeful about the Green Team.
Ah, baseball. Even one local Yankee über-fan, a guy who proudly wore an A-Rod jersey to Tiger football games even after the steroid admission, recently said he was off the bandwagon and ready to hand the American League East to Boston.
It has to be a trap. He’s just trying to get Sox fans to lower their guard. Something’s up.
Anyway, he’s wrong.
The Yankees have at least as good a lineup as the Sox in the field, even if the wrong guy is playing shortstop, and a better bullpen. Sure, the Sox have a better starting rotation on paper, but C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes are fine, and A.J. Burnett could bounce back. With that offense and bullpen the fourth and fifth starters just have to stay afloat for a few innings, and who’s to say the Yankees won’t go out and find (translates to “buy”) a better pitcher or two in a couple months?
No, it’s way to early to write off the Yankees, and I wouldn’t call Boston’s Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka and Papelbon exactly locks for great seasons this summer, either. And Tampa Bay may have better starting pitching than both their Northeast rivals.
We’ve got ourselves a horse race.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]