Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Houston, hello....

Once again, the NCAA Tournament does not disappoint. From thrilling finishes to unlikely survivors, the field of 68 (weird writing that), has delivered in a big way. U-Conn, Kentucky, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth make up this year's last four standing, and while the names U-Conn and Kentucky are familiar to this stage, Butler and VCU certainly are not. Yes, I know Butler made it to the final last year, but c'mon. Them being to back-to-back Final Four's is like putting me on the moon once. Just not happening.

The whole basketball universe knows of Kemba Walker and Jim Calhoun. John Calipari and Brandon Knight. They are even becoming familiar with Brad Stevens from Butler. They have been introduced to Shaka Smart and his VCU Rams (bigtime), as well.

One matchup is all marquis, the other is all Cinderella. I won't pick a winner in either, but I will say I am rooting for the eventual champ to come from the VCU-Butler game. That's where the best story is. It's not in the Huskies-Wildcats matchup. Who cares. Both have been there, done that, and have the banners to prove it. Give me a pair of young, up-and-coming head coaches who will bathe in the warmth of a Final Four spotlight. Give me an unheralded, unloved, and in the case of many, unwanted VCU team that has made the world take notice.

And while we're talking VCU, let's make this very clear. VCU was a play-in game team because the Selection Committee deemed them there. It's VCU that has taken that perceived slight, and the negative thoughts of many (myself included), that they didn't belong in the field, and turned it into this. Colorado had a better resume to earn an at-large bid. Don't believe me? Then where did you have VCU finishing in the tourney? Out in the second round, maybe the third. Only two people that filled out brackets had them in the Final Four. TWO. Unless you're one of them, you are like me. VCU done, go home, enjoy your tournament gifts.

Full marks to the players and coaches on that staff. They are the definition of glass slipper. They are hoping that they can keep playing as well as they have been, to keep the carriage from turning back into a pumpkin while in Houston. And why can't they? Rooting against them only makes them tougher. They are the Terminator of this tournament.

Will they have enough to beat the other upstart, Butler? I don't know. By definition, by the way, Butler is an upstart, in spite of last year's heroics. They are not a common visitor to this stage of the dance (over their history). Traditionally, Butler is the team that gets a 12 seed, and either beats, or scares the life out of a 5 seed in the early round. Then they usually go home. Not on Stevens watch. Good on them.

By family connection, I am a defacto Butler fan, thanks to my niece who is a senior there. I still, however, and rooting for the best story. Gimme Butler, or VCU. I don't care which.

And then let them cut down the nets on Monday, beating another Goliath.

Now THAT'S a story. Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Brackets, with barometric Pressure.

March Madness tends to bring all of the so-called "experts" out of the woodwork, and that's no different at News 14 Carolina. Mind you, I'm not lumping myself in as the resident Bracketologist, but there is one guy that thinks he's got the M.D. after his college hoops name.

Weather guy Joshua McKinney. Yeah, the weather guy.

Now, he knew I was gonna dig the needle in a little bit, but I will give him props for winning the News 14 Carolina bracket challenge a couple years ago, so in the interest of giving you more free advice for your brackets, Josh knocked out some thoughts about how he sees the field of 68 playing out. Enjoy.

Mike Solarte

"I know, I know! Why is a weather brain adding his two cents on the NCAA Tournament and attempting to forecast who wins? Shouldn't you just focus on the weather? Not like you get that right, so why are you weighing in on sports?

I get it. I'm out of my league and stand no chance to make the right picks. That's exactly where I want to be, overlooked like a lot of the field. Call me Villanova '85 edition, I'm Butler, compare me to George Mason that's perfectly fine in my book. I'm the epitome of a Cinderella thinker in a world of Ohio State and Kansas sports royalty at News 14 Carolina.

East Region: A chalk baller, but the top three seeds survive the first weekend. My only roundhouse right is West Virginia upending Kentucky in the second round. The second weekend will be appointment TV when Ohio State plays West Virginia and Syracuse squares off against North Carolina. The Mountaineers are not the same team from last year, so Ohio State marches on. A tough game to forecast, but I see Syracuse having all the right answers against UNC. Syracuse in a nail biter, but the energy spent winning the game takes a bite out of the Orange. Ohio State takes advantage of the UNC/Syracuse fight and proceeds to Houston.

West Region: I agree with Swami Solarte giving Duke and Michigan a date in the second round. However, I've spent a lot of time comparing schedules and notes. I keep coming back to the belief the selection committee has a devil for the details in this probable match up. I'm leaning upset here. Will I pick Michigan? Probably not since it's in Charlotte, but it's so tempting, stands out on my radar and is not getting a lot of national attention. I'm also on the Big Ten gravy train for Penn State. Can the Nittany Lions shock the basketball world and upend San Diego State? “Do you believe in miracles, yes!”. At the moment I have a partly cloudy vision of Texas and Connecticut in the Regional Final and UConn advancing to the Final Four.

Southwest Region: Rock, all chalk in this region. I'm thinking Kansas, Louisville, Purdue and Notre Dame in the second weekend. The Purdue, Notre Dame match up is a rivalry game and may be one of the most physical of the entire tournament. If this game pans out, it will be a battle! I'll lean Notre Dame. Kansas survives a close one with Louisville and will take down a rivalry weakened Irish earning a trip to the Final Four.

Southeast Region: Everyone is talking upset city in this bracket. I like the early match ups here, but believe Gonzaga lives long enough to meet Florida in the bottom of the bracket with Wisconsin facing Pitt in the upper half. Call it luck, or overall stupidity, but Pitt faces Florida with Florida (who is taking a beat down for being highly seeded) stealing a trip to Houston.

Ohio State vs Connecticut goes to Ohio State

Kansas vs Florida goes to Kansas

Kansas vs Ohio State... Drum roll please... Kansas as the 2011 NCAA Champion.

- Joshua McKinney

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dance Shall Commence

OK, college hoop fans, this is your time.

You've waited 11 months, and now, the absolute overload that is the NCAA Basketball tournament is just days away. And yes, I mean Thursday, not the Tuesday & Wednesday play-in games which the NCAA is dubbing "The First Four."

If you're like me, you have your brackets in front of you, and you're pouring over them, trying to find the gem of an upset that no one but you will find. The closest I have ever come to a perfect bracket wasn't close to perfect at all. Hope your picks go well, but, in case you need some help, here's what I have (which is subject to change between now and Thursday).

I'm not sure that North Carolina is ready for primetime. I know they were playing great basketball heading into the ACC Tournament, but back-to-back dreadful starts, followed by ridiculous comeback wins showed me that when they run into a team that has some degree of experience in those spots, the Heels are suspect. Like everyone, I have UNC beating Long Island, and then they face Washington. The 2-time winners of the Pac-10 tourney will provide a challenge. I think Carolina gets through to the Sweet 16, but once there, they likely face the test of Syracuse. I think their run will end there. East winner=Ohio State

Duke is the number 1, and after they dispatch Hampton, they'll likely get Michigan. Tennessee may get a case of the shakes coming back to Time Warner Cable Arena, having lost to Charlotte there earlier this season. Even if Tennessee advances, I think Duke is better anyway. Duke likely meets Texas in the Sweet 16, and I like the Blue Devils there, too. Getting to the Final Four could mean a date with Kemba Walker and U-Conn, and if the Devils make it out (I'm not sure they can against the Huskies), they will have earned the trip. West winner=Duke or UConn. And I am leaning UConn

Kansas is the top seed there, but Notre Dame is in the bottom half of the bracket with something to prove as the #2 seed. Notre Dame lost a tough one in the Big East tourney, and they never really got to show just how god they are. Plus, there is Louisville, Vanderbilt, Purdue and (yes, I am saying this) Florida State that could be problematic for this quarter of the field. Strange, but I see few upsets coming from this region. Southwest winner=Kansas

Pittsburgh is the top seed, but this is the one region I want no part of, if I am a high seed. Kansas State could be in for more than they know in the 5-12 game as they take on Utah State. Jimmer Fredette and BYU are here as well (facing Wofford in their opener). UCLA being a #7 could find the Bruins making a bit of noise. Perhaps the most dangerous team in this region is #6 St. John's. Get past the gift win they got over Rutgers in the Big East tourney, the Johnnies are playing well. Lots of gator traps in this region, so viewers, cross your fingers that Gus Johnson gets sent to that half of the tourney. Southeast winner=Florida

Again, I reserve the right to rip up this bracket and start fresh in the morning, but so far, I like the chalk.

Mike Solarte

Friday, March 4, 2011

Labor Talks head into OT

The NFL and NFLPA were able to reach agreement on, first a 24 hour CBA extension, and then a 7-day extension. The sides continue to talk (although they'll get the weekend off), in the hopes of reaching a deal.


If the sides are talking, they aren't locking out, or spewing venom. Both sides have done a good job of keeping the talks to themselves, and not spilling it into the media (which stinks for us inn the business). This is being done at the behest of mediator George Cohen. Both sides agreed to zip their lips, and have done that. That's fine. When it all gets settled, we'll all get the details. The point is, they are talking.


The fact that both sides knew the deadline was looking, and they did nothing to try and avert this situation while there was time. True, it is the nature of negotiations that things get done when the deadline draws near, but these sides are playing a high stakes game of chicken where more than their interests are affected if it all goes bad. IF there is a lockout that drags into the season, it's not just the players, coaches and owners that will feel it. It will be felt by vendors, the schools that depend on Panthers games for fundraising efforts, local businesses that thrive on gameday crowds. You name it, one NFL Sunday has a bigger impact on people than whether their favorite team wins or loses. None of that mattered to the sides with 2 years of knowing this was coming, so why would they use an extra 7 days to get a deal in place?

The ruling that went in favor of the NFLPA was key in forcing the owners hand a little more, but still, this thing could have been avoided.

Let's hope these two sides can reach an agreement that works for everyone. Fans, and folks that depend on the NFL deserve to be treated right.

Mike Solarte