Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marquette -- and Nadels -- Sweet 16 bound!

1. Last weekend was among the most thrilling 3-day stretches I have enjoyed/endured in my 35 years as a Marquette fan.

The win over Davidson in the NCAA opener was -- in the understatement of the year -- fortunate. There obviously was skill in the way Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson suddenly started draining 3-pointers and then in Blue's game-winning drive, but Marquette received so many breaks along the way we officially gave up any right to complain about not getting breaks the rest of the tournament.

Two nights later, Marquette and Butler went at it in a spectacular college basketball game, the kind of sporting event that makes this time of year my absolute favorite. My lads again got a lucky bounce or three but mostly they imposed their will in the second half and thoroughly deserved the victory. Again, Blue was the star.

So it's back to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. Among the schools that can't make that claim: Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, UCLA, Wisconsin, Illinois, Syracuse, Michigan State, Arizona, UConn and Louisville.

In other words, it's a pretty special accomplishment.

Roberta and I have decided to celebrate the achievement by making the 6-hour drive to Washington to watch Marquette take on Miami in the Sweet 16. Just bought our tickets and booked our hotel. It was a spontaneous decision, the kind I rarely make, but what the heck? Maybe with us cheering them on from the nosebleed section of the Verizon Center, the Golden Warriors will advance on to the Elite Eight and the Final Four.

Whatever happens, it's been an amazing ride.

2. One of the linebackers the Bears signed to replace the departed Brian Urlacher was James Anderson, formerly of the Panthers. At this stage of their careers, Anderson is a better player. Also, less likely to get hurt. And less likely to say something idiotic.

3. Tiger Woods still has to win a major to prove he's TIGER WOODS! again, but he looks as good now as he did the last time he was great, 2008.

4. It's strange to be totally isolated from baseball. Spring training used to be one of my favorite assignments, especially after I became a columnist and could call my own shots. I doubt I could name 10 players on either the Cubs or White Sox now.

5. Marquette has authored just one of several crazy stories so far in the NCAAs. Top teams such as Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State and Miami have struggled to win ... but at least they did win. The same can't be said for Georgetown, New Mexico and St. Louis, each among the darlings of the supposed experts who try to forecast Final Four teams. Gonzaga, as usual, was proven a fraud from a weak conference. Oregon and Arizona have given the supposedly pathetic Pac-12 as many Sweet 16 representatives as the SEC and Big 12 combined. Either LaSalle or Wichita State will make the Elite Eight. Wow.

And Florida Gulf Coast ... are you kidding me? Have you seen this team play? Entertaining, athletic, fast-paced, high-flying and, most importantly at this time of year, victorious.

Here's a squad that has lost to Maine, Mercer, East Tennessee State, Stetson and Lipscomb -- twice! --  yet it absolutely destroyed Georgetown and handily beat San Diego State to be one of the 16 teams still standing. Ridiculous.

Can the Eagles beat Florida? Logic would say not a chance. But since when has logic meant anything in the NCAA tournament, especially this year?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bracket? I don't need no stinkin' bracket!

Ten years ago, I had the best NCAA hoops bracket of my life.

I correctly predicted 7 of the Elite Eight -- Marquette, Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Texas. I missed only on Michigan State (having picked Florida instead). I then nailed 3 of the Final Four -- Marquette, Syracuse and Texas (erroneously picking Arizona over Kansas in the West title game, which the Jayhawks won by 3).

And here was the cherry on top: Once the Syracuse-Kansas championship game was set, I made this prediction, in print, for everybody to see: "It says here that Carmelo Anthony will shoulder the load one more time. Syracuse, 81, Kansas 77."

Carmelo had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists as Syracuse won 81-78. That's right: I was off by exactly one Kansas point.

I should have walked away from predicting right then and there, just as Roy Williams walked away from Kansas.

It's been downhill since, as my Oscar pick of "Battleship" will attest. I think the only prediction I've gotten right in the last decade was that the Internet would adversely affect the newspaper industry.

I'm going to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of my dream bracket by doing something radical, something unique, something profound.

Something un-American.

I'm not going to fill out a bracket this year.

The reason? I don't feel like it.

Of course, this means having to hear about everybody and his uncle's brackets and not even being able to follow up by saying, "Yeah, but I had Valpo over Michigan State."

My favorites are the dudes (and dudettes) who fill out multiple brackets. The reason for this is what? To be the Mitt Romney of sports prognostication?

What would me filling out a bracket prove, anyway? Either I go with my heart and predict Marquette to win it all ... or I go with my head and pick against Marquette. In the latter case, if I really care about being right, it would mean rooting against the only sports team I love. What sense would that make?

One reason I had a great bracket in 2003 was that I predicted Marquette to reach the Final Four. It wasn't a crazy pick. The Golden Warriors did have Dwyane Wade, two other guys who would go on to play in the NBA (Travis Diener and Steve Novak) and the best big man to play there in a quarter-century (Robert Jackson). Still, it was hard for me to claim it was an objective pick.

That year, Marquette just so happened to play at the same subregional site as Illinois. I was covering the Illini so, as a bonus, I got to watch the first two Marquette tourney games. Holy Cross, the 14th seed, had Marquette beaten until Diener -- not Wade, who was ordinary at best -- went nuts from 3-point range. I didn't cheer from press row. I NEVER cheered from press row during my entire career. But I did bury my head in my hands in frustration at one point. At another juncture, I had to get up from press row and take a short walk into the hallway because I couldn't take the idea of our best team since the Al McGuire Era losing its NCAA opener to Holy Freakin' Cross.

My buddy, then-Southtown columnist Phil Arvia, later told mutual friends that "Nadel was going crazy" -- suggesting I was ranting and raving on press row. Truth is, I was going crazy, but only inside, and very quietly. Damn you, Arvia ... I'll accept your apology any time.

The Missouri game was a wild OT affair, with the Golden Warriors outscoring the Tigers 21-12 in the extra session to finish with a preposterous 101 points. Again, it wasn't Wade who stole the show. Novak, then  the team's freshman sixth man, introduced himself to the nation by hitting approximately a gazillion 3-pointers.  I was really into that game but, again, not outwardly.

Anyway, I digress. Even though this Marquette team isn't nearly as talented as that one was, if I was picking a bracket I'd have to say my lads would win the national title.

Or I'd have to fill out a second bracket with Louisville, my actual pick, doing so.

So why bother?

I've been called many things over the years, but Mitt Jr. has never been one of them.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Winning championships is fun!!!


From Vander Blue's fingertips to the Big East championship!

Everybody loves a trophy


Saturday, March 9, 2013


To win a share of the Big East title in the final year of the conference as we have known it ... well, it's beyond cool.

It's especially amazing given that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year.

Onward and upward!


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fly the friendly skies with knives ... but drop that hair gel!

My favorite story this week is that the TSA has changed rules to allow pocket knives, ski poles (yes, the ones with the sharp points on the ends), pool cues and hockey sticks.

"Frankly, I don't want TSA agents to be delayed by these," TSA administrator John Pistole tells Bloomberg News.

Absolutely, because the requirements that we remove our shoes and take our laptop computers out of their cases cause no delay at all. Besides, I'd hate to see anybody clubbed over the head with a Macbook.

As for the knives and various sporting sticks, agency spokesman David Castelveter says: "These are popular items we see regularly. They don't present a risk."

Of course not. One look at the typical NHL player's face proves that hockey sticks are completely incapable of inflicting damage. Those guys didn't want teeth, anyway.

Leave it to flight attendants to be sticks in the mud, claiming that the changes will endanger passengers and employees.


It's not as if the TSA is allowing passengers to bring truly lethal weapons such as Dasani, Head & Shoulders and Skippy through security!