Happy Birthday Gordie!

Gordie Howe, aka “Mr. Hockey,” turned 81 today and he’s still going strong. Frankly, his career, in terms of numbers, longevity, and class, speaks for itself. But here’s a story I found with a quick web search. It’s no secret that he played (and at a very high level) as late as 1980, when he was 51- yes he spent a number of years on the same team as his sons, Marty and Mark. Not only that, I found a video on YouTube from 1979 of Howe playing with a then-17 year old you might have heard of in an exhibition pitting the old WHA against Dynamo Moscow (in the days of Communism, games like that were a big deal because players from the Soviet bloc hardly ever came stateside). Note how, even then, Mr. Hockey thought this kid could be pretty good, uncertain only of what would happen at full physical maturity.

20 years later, Wayne Gretzky smashed quite a few of Howe’s records, not to mention those of other players.

Howe will be forever remembered for the concept of the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” Tonight, Zdeno Chara had one of those. As much as I despise Boston teams in general, that is a nice coincidence.

Sean Avery’s also done this in his career. The Rangers demolished New Jersey on Monday night but still have plenty of work to due in order to lock up a playoff spot, much less make noise once there. A few more please, Mr. Avery, so we don’t depend exclusively on our goalie?


Other Way Around

North Carolina didn’t completely hold down Willie Warren, as the previous entry suggested would be important. They did virtually silence Tony Crocker and nobody else could buy a basket. Ergo, game, set, and match.

Didn’t see the other game as I was at a party for my parents’ 25th anniversary. It actually falls on April 1st, and that’s no lie– although we’ll have to see whether the same can be said for the conficker virus. Things went pretty well, the food was good, and just as planned, we surprised them with my brother coming over from college in the midwest. But when I found at what Michigan State did to Louisville, all I could say is whoa. Good defensive team? Yes, like a few others in the Big Ten this season? Hold the Cardinals to 52 points and win by double digits? Maybe five people saw that one coming.

So now we get a killer Final Four. Michigan State and UConn, two teams that have played each other twice before in their histories. They split those meetings, and went on to win the national title in the same seasons. This time, the winner obviously gets to play for it on Monday. Beyond the aforementioned display against Louisville, Michigan State is a team nobody wanted in Detroit simply because in addition to the playoffs, the Huskies will face maybe 50,000 Spartan fans. Don’t be fooled by the limited ticket distribution (plus those given to students). The likes of StubHub will make it a very unpleasant environment for UConn. On the 30th anniversary of Magic and Co. In a city/state badly damaged by the Big Three’s uselessness and desperate for something good (besides the Wings, whose success is practically expected).

Source: Deseret News

North Carolina gets Villanova, and while they’re a better all-around team, they might have a tough time with the Wildcats D, Desire, and Determination. The bookies still apparently love the Tar Heels, and I do have them winning in my Beer Lodge bracket, but I think 10-11 odds are a little too overwhelming for a team that’s definitely human. Speaking of that bracket, I could possibly still move up from 4th into the top-3, but not sure about winning (even though I’m a point behind) because I only have Villanova and UNC left in play. Facebook bracket percentile is still nice, but probably even less potential to move up…

I’ll give my thoughts on the games later this week, but for now, some external previews. ESPN has thumbnails for each team if you subscribe to Insider, while Andy Katz has a longer preview for everyone. Dan Wetzel focuses on the very different angles each team has going into the weekend.

Saw most of the U.S.A.’s draw against El Salvador. Ugly first hour, nice comeback to save a point led by Frankie Hejduk and Jozy Altidore, and it could’ve been all three but for a goal-line clearance on Brian Ching’s late bicycle kick. Hejduk might be getting better with age, and he says going surfing has a lot to do with it. Altidore, of course, is probably America’s bright hope for the future, though he needs to get some more playing time at club level before he can expect to start, much less live up to the hype on a consistent basis.

Frankie Hejduk heading home the equalizer.

Frankie Hejduk heading home the equalizer.

Thanks to goal.com for the picture.

Oh, and as noted in the Tribune article and a press release, Henry Kissinger is now helping to lobby for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to be held in America. I’d love to see us host it, not least because we might be ready to win by then!

This image was found on the U.S. Soccer Federation website.

The U.S. plays Trinidad & Tobago next in Nashville on Wednesday, and I’d expect an American win from this one.

My Bracket…

Is pretty much now wrecked. I had Louisville winning the region and ultimately the national title. Gotta give Scottie Reynolds major props though. He went almost coast-to-coast in five seconds for the winning floater with under a second to go. Not to mention that the whole Villanova team went 22-23 at the free throw line. That’s how you answer a physical team like Pittsburgh, that’s how you win close basketball games, and it’s even more impressive given the stakes. They’re a team I wouldn’t mind seeing win it all, although I could say the same for just about any team left in the tournament. All of them have shown the ability to play fundamentally sound basketball- when’s the last time we heard American teams described that way?

For UConn, it was about keeping poise. They only made eight field goals in the second half, but played stout defense, kept Missouri from capitalizing on the turnovers their traps caused, got a few of their scores at timely moments (i.e. to extend a 1/2 point lead to 3/4), and yes, made 10 straight free throws in the final moments. Kemba Walker (23 points, including a couple of amazing plays) and A.J. Price (18 points) stood out in particular at some of these phases. The fact that UConn did this without huge games from Hasheem Thabeet and their other big men does not bode well for either Louisville or Michigan State, one of whom they will face next Saturday night.

Speaking of which, Louisville vs. Michigan State and UNC-Oklahoma are gonna be terrific games tomorrow. Michigan State just found a way late to knock out Kansas last night, while the other teams demolished their opponents. In fact, after seeing what Oklahoma did to Syracuse, I could really see the Sooners beating UNC. As well as Tony Crocker played (28 points) in support of a typically outstanding effort from Blake Griffin (30 points and 14 rebounds, and what a dunk that was right after SU misfired on a try of their own), I still think the Tar Heels are just a little deeper. As this short blog piece notes, North Carolina had better stop Willie Warren. Allowing Griffin and Crocker to ‘get their points’ is one thing. Allowing three players to torch you is probably pushing it.

For Tom Izzo’s bunch, I think it’s simple. No track meets or else Louisville will tear them apart. A tough, relatively slow, physical game is exactly what the Spartans need, so the first few minutes will be crucial. If they have to chase a 10 point deficit early, the tempo could quickly become too fast for them.

As for that bracket, I wonder if I can even finish in facebook’s upper 30%, much less the top 10%…

Danimal Live!

Okay, not exactly. But you can see/meet me on the evening of March 27th at The Beer Lodge’s event in Manhattan. Make sure you say hello, and feel free to chat it up about whatever you like.

Sweet 16 Picks

First, a quick congratulations to Japan for successfully defending their WBC title. Good event, even if the basketball kinda took my attention away from the later rounds. Baseball is clearly growing as a global sport. I promise not to let anything other than work do that for hockey at the 2010 Olympics or the World Cup that summer! Also, Ken Davidoff’s idea of the Tokyo Dome hosting the next WBC final is a good one. Doing it in March would be an issue given the long flights so close to the start of a new MLB season, not to mention time zone differences which would hurt TV viewership in North America and the Caribbean. Maybe sometime in the not-too-distant future though…

Okay, time for picks, courtesy of my top-9%/34,790th place facebook bracket.

Midwest: Louisville over Arizona (I had Wake getting this far…) and Michigan State to beat Kansas (I expected the Spartans to play West Virginia but Dayton knocked the Mountaineers out in the first round). Louisville will win the regional final.

West: I nailed the four teams to make it to Phoenix. UConn will beat Purdue while Memphis takes out Missouri. Only Marquette’s win over Utah State denied me a perfect first two rounds in this region. I picked Memphis to beat UConn but I’m not so sure about it after seeing the Huskies dismantle UT-Chattanooga and Texas A&M. Memphis played well against Maryland too, but I think Connecticut may be peaking again at just the right time. Final prediction once I see the regional semis, but for now I will stick with my bracket and say Memphis pulls it out. Both teams are as complete as you can get.

East: I expect Pittsburgh to beat Xavier (I predicted Florida State would be the Panthers’ opponent, but Xavier won a pretty good second-round game with the Seminoles). It will be an all-Big East affair as Villanova beats Duke to get to the regional final (I thought Texas would beat Duke with their interior game… oops). Another great regional final, and while a Villanova win wouldn’t shock me because of their workmanlike attitude (mixed with Scottie Reynolds and co.’s pretty good talent), I do think Pittsburgh is better with their core of Levance Fields, Sam Young, and DeJuan Blair, so they will prevail.

South: Again, I correctly picked the four teams who would make the regional semis down in Memphis. As that city’s legend would say, Thank you, thank you very much. Okay, moving on from the predictable joke, North Carolina should beat Gonzaga. Good game because Josh Heytvelt of Gonzaga is a strong inside player to deal with Tyler Hansbrough, but unless UNC switches off its intensity or Ty Lawson’s toe injury flares up again (he expects to play), they simply have too many options for the ‘Zags to counter all of them. Meanwhile, Syracuse vs. Oklahoma might be the game of the round (so fittingly, we come to it last!). Not quite a head-to-head matchup between Blake Griffin and Jonny Flynn because they play different positions, but two teams playing really well right now. I picked Syracuse in my bracket because of lingering momentum from the Big East tournament and the favorable draw they got for the first two rounds (which didn’t tax them too much). But Griffin continues to play at a high level, and Syracuse’s multitude of big men might not stop be able to stop him even if they were all on the court at one time. So it will probably come down to how well both teams’ guards play. Flynn and Eric Devendorf have played inspired basketball throughout the Orange’s run, and I’ll stick with them to pull it out again. Not so in the regional final, however. UNC knows neither Syracuse nor Oklahoma would be an easy opponent, but this is what they’ve been thinking about all year. A chance to get to another Final Four, avenge last year’s ugly performance against Kansas (which was over before halftime), and send Hansbrough and the other potential NBA-picks out in style. They might fall short of the title next weekend, but I do think they’ll at least get there.

Day Old, But…

You must be joking.

Probably not the type of audience she was expecting.

Probably not the type of audience she was expecting.

While I don’t have an issue with Rep. Cantor or anyone else in Congress not watching Obama’s press conference– I did watch and thought he did alright, but also recognize that not too much of substance came out- I just can’t see what someone like him would be doing at a Britney Spears concert. Certainly can’t imagine he’d be accomplishing too much business with clients with the loud music and crowd screaming. Taking one of his children would be a bit different, but we haven’t heard any indication that he did that either.

Since one of his staffers made a comparison to President Obama (and in theory, others in both parties) enjoying a night at Washington’s Verizon Center, I will say that seeing a basketball game or certain other singers/bands seems socially acceptable for someone like members of Congress or the President. Britney? It would take pretty unusual circumstances…

Honestly, I really don’t think it’s “being cool” in this case. It just gives me the creeps, especially coming from one of the leaders of a party which talks a lot about traditional social values (and I’m not a liberal on some of those culture wars).

End tangent, back to more enjoyable matters.

Update: CNN posts an explanation from Cantor.

Who Knew?

That you could be in almost 35,000th place on facebook and still be in the upper 9% of brackets. I guess that’s what happens when there aren’t many upsets. And a couple that I predicted might happen didn’t materialize.

Still, it means we’ll get some monster match-ups in the Sweet 16 and probably beyond. Does UConn-Memphis or UNC vs. Oklahoma or Syracuse grab you? Also, Darren Rovell reports that nobody will be winning the big jackpot I mentioned over the weekend. So I’m not going to have to imagine that I could do what somebody else actually did, even though apparently someone on facebook still has a chance to get a perfect bracket.

More good news from a friend. Apparently, I’m definitely still ahead of the president, which Jake Tapper confirms (I doubt ESPN’s contest is too different from the ones CBS/Facebook or Yahoo are running). Come the end of the tournament, I wonder how many people will make facebook groups poking fun at that sort of stat? Hopefully, while his bracket scores may improve with all the high seeds he had getting this far, his and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s plan to deal with the banking crisis does even better.

Sweet 16 and Elite 8 picks coming next time, plus a review of the World Baseball Classic final.