Thursday, December 20, 2012

Panthers Fans Outrage Refreshing

Well the open letter by disgruntled Panthers fans and PSL owners published this week in The Charlotte Observer certainly caused a stir, albeit not the kind those behind the letter had intended.  The firestorm from the media centered more on the group not signing there names to the letter rather than their frustration with the Panthers organization.  Let's put the group's choice to remain anonymous aside for the moment.  I'd rather focus on why they wrote what they did. 

I first moved to Charlotte in November of 2003 and in the nearly ten years since, that letter marks the first public outcry I can ever remember over a dissatisfaction with a local sports team.  Don't recall reading or hearing anything like this during the 2-14 season the Panthers had a few years ago and not when the Bobcats went 7-59 last year.  So while I find these fans timing to voice their complaints now -- during a season in which the Panthers could finish 7-9 -- a little odd, I applaud them for doing so.

During my time living here, my perception has been that fans are apathetic when the local teams don't succeed.  And if that perception is accurate then that fan apathy is my biggest criticism of the sports culture here in the Queen City.

Think about it, how many native Charlotteans do you know?  My guess is not many.  Even the locals I've met tell me they're a rarity.  Charlotte would seem to have become a transient city.  The Panthers or the Bobcats are everyone's second favorite team because most of the residents are from somewhere else.  Question, how many of you root on the Panthers or the Bobcats until your favorite team comes to town? 

So instead of blasting this group of Panthers PSL owners for remaining anonymous, why don't we discuss the valid point they make.  In the 18 years the Panthers have been around, they have just four winning seasons and none of them consecutively.  The Bobcats have made just one playoff appearance in its history.  Do you really think that track record wouldn't cause outrage in Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Dallas, Boston, Chicago, New York or LA?  Even Atlanta? Because until now, it certainly seems like it hasn't here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Panthers, Bobcats and more

Panthers fall to Kansas City, Bobcats are better, Duke going bowling, and a Movember update.


Mike Solarte

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Panthers lose another tough one, and more

Covering a couple different areas.  Panthers lose to Tampa Bay, Maryland checking out of the ACC, and saying goodbye to a good friend.


Mike Solarte

PS--here is that link that you could have written down.... Mike's Movember Link

Monday, November 5, 2012

Howdy all....lots of stuff in this video.  Panthers win, NASCAR, ACC football and more.

Give it a look.

Now that you are done chuckling at my early moustache, please feel free to click the link, and help raise awareness for men's health issues.


Mike Solarte

Friday, October 26, 2012

Panthers-Bears, Wake Forest and the NHL

The Panthers face Chicago, Wake falls to Clemson and the NHL ready to bury its season.

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 22, 2012

Panthers fire Marty Hurney

Panthers fans got their wish.  Someone had to pay for their 1-5 start, but did the Hurney have to go?

You've heard what Mike thinks.  What do you say?

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Monday night, late night

Covering some ground during an epic Peyton comeback against San Diego. Apologies to Denver fans...I didn't realize it had gotten as bad as 24-0. Wild stuff.

Mike Solarte

Monday, October 8, 2012

Panthers fall to Seattle, and more....

It takes a lot for me to get worked up over a Panthers loss.  I just don't see the need for me to get emotionally attached. The loss didn't bother me so much, but some fan reaction did.  Check it out below.

Big week ahead, check back for more.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Panthers suffer a crusher

Greetings....Carolina Panthers have to find a way to pick themselves up off the mat to face Seattle on Sunday....VLOG thoughts on that, and some golf below...


Mike Solarte

Monday, September 24, 2012

Panthers lose, Hamlin wins, and more...

Geetings!  A crazy weekend in the NFL, NASCAR, and more, and it's all contained in a tidy video for you to check out.

Enjoy, and see you at 10 on the Ford Sports Night!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The "code" in football, and more...

A look ahead to Thursday's Panthers-Giants game, the NHL lockout, and my take on the Bucs effort in the closing seconds of their game with the Giants in week 2.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 17, 2012

Panthers, ACC, NHL thoughts

Howdy!  A Monday Night football matchup that looked good on paper, didn't go so well in the first half.  Before it got ugly for Denver, and football watching fans everywhere, I knocked out a VLOG for ya.

More to come in the days ahead.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Panthers fall, Chase begins....

Miss me? Thought so. For your patience, a late night vlog.

Mike Solarte

Friday, August 31, 2012

Panthers Finish Preseason

It ended in a loss...but now the fun begins...

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Michigan football on drugs?

Thoughts on Ricky Berens and the newest revelation as to why Michigan lost to Appalachian State 5 years ago on the football field.

Nice first frame of video here.  Trust me, I am not in pain.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Don't sprain your shoulder, Augusta.... you pat yourself on the back.  Covering that, Sergio and the Panthers win over Miami.


Mike Solarte

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NHL Labor, Part Deux and more

As promised, unloaded some late night thoughts before heading home.

Would love your feedback in the comments section, or on our Facebook page!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From late Monday Night

Had trouble posting last night.  Thoughts on the Panthers loss to Houston and more...

Will likely have another later today.

Mike Solarte

Friday, August 10, 2012

Haven't been TOO fired up, until now...

Thursday's blog. It's a doozy.

I goofed the end (iPhone accidental trim), but I was just saying goodbye...

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Taxing Olympic gold medalists?

Yep, time to hit that, Panthers, Olympics, and AJ Allmendinger.

Mike Solarte

Monday, August 6, 2012

Team USA busts up Argentina....and more...

Video thoughts ranging from the Panthers to the Olympics, to Carmelo Anthony', just watch.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Otah cut, AJ released, USA wins by .... 83?

Skipped a day, and maybe that was a good update on a Thursday from the office.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The VLOG for July 31st

Quick Panthers and Olympic thoughts....check it!

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 30, 2012

Panthers and Olympics...need more?

Monday Night Blogging.  Won't draw Cosell, Gifford and Meredith, but hopefully you will give it a look.

Enjoy, and send those Point and Shoot videos in!!!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Panthers, Pucks, and Hoops

Covering some ground, but doing it from the desk!  Panthers talk, Bobcats, and Hurricanes news.
Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Panthers Chatter!!!!!

Hitting some Panthers thoughts with the start of camp just days away!  Got a thought or topic you'd like us to cover?  Send in your Point and Shoot videos to us at  We will put them on the Ford Sports Night, and answer your questions on the show!

Now....on to the Panthers!

Mike Solarte

Monday, July 23, 2012

NCAA clobbers Penn State...but is it right?

Today's VLOG covering Penn State, British Open, Hurricanes and more.
Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Vlog for July 18, 2012

Covering NASCAR, Penn State, and the Bobcats....thoughts? Send them to us in your Point and Shoot videos! Email them to Thanks! Comments are always welcome!

Mike Solarte

Friday, July 13, 2012

Heading to the Weekend

Hitting the Penn State mess, Bobcats hoops, and Dream Teams.....
Back on Monday!

Mike Solarte

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Charging for an autograph?

Thursday ramblings, and a reminder about sending in your Point and Shoot videos!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trying something different

Decided to take the head-first leap into my laptop.  A VIDEO BLOG!!!!  First run, so let me know what you think!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

NBA, NHL and more

Touching 'em all on a Tuesday...

The Charlotte Bobcats did pretty well in the NBA draft.  I liked the pick of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and to me, Jeffrey Taylor was a nice get inn round 2.  The Bobcats have plenty of needs to address, and while this draft didn't hit all of them, it's a start.  Free agency is underway, and I would look at the Bobcats to be active, but not in play for marquee names.  They will find guys that will help them be better than last year.  Of course, that won't be tough to do, but there will be more for new Head Coach Mike Dunlap to work with.

As for the rest of the NBA, things are a little crazy,.  New Atlanta GM Danny Ferry, only on the job a week, has deals in place to move a pair of huge contracts off the Hawks books.  Joe Johnson to New Jersey for five players and a draft pick, and Marvin Williams to Utah for Devin Harris.  Will this make Atlanta better?  Who knows, but they will be different, guaranteed.

In the NHL, free agency is also underway.  Some could argue it is pointless with labor talks being the big issue for the league.  That isn't stopping the Carolina Hurricanes.  Carolina picked up Jordan Staal on draft night from Pittsburgh.  The price seemed a bit high to me, giving up the 8th overall pick, Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin, but I learned a long time ago that Canes GM Jim Rutherford knows a thing or two about making deals.  I'll defer to his judgment on this one.  Staal comes in automatically as a top 6 forward, who can do great things in penalty killing situations.  He's versatile, and with a new 10-year, $60 million dollar deal in place, he will be a mainstay.

The Hurricanes aren't one, in my opinion.  Rick Nash is in play for them, although they may not be in play for him.  The Hurricanes could use a genuine scoring threat, and Nash is it.  Problem is, Nash would have to approve a trade to Carolina, and that does not seem likely, at least at this point.  Still, the addition of a Jordan Staal changes the Hurricanes dynamic, so maybe Nash would reconsider.  He has been buried in Columbus his entire career, and while Carolina is no Toronto (in hockey market speak), they have a Stanley Cup banner hanging from the rafters.  He could do much worse than Raleigh.

The linchpin in the Nash movement appears to be New Jersey captain Zach Parise.  Parise is mulling free agent offers from a number of teams, and many believe it is down to Chicago, Pittsburgh and New Jersey.  Parise would have been a monster fit in Carolina.  Once he makes his decision, the dominoes will tumble on Nash.  There is still no decision from Ryan Suter as well,  another player the Hurricanes took a shot at, but were rejected.

The rejections are puzzling to me.  I remember leaving the (then) Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena after a late season practice.  Was walking out to the car along with Canes captain Ron Francis.  On his way out, one of the Hurricanes equipment men, Bob Gorman, reminded Francis he had a conference call with the NHLPA that afternoon.  His job was to be the relay person for other players who were in line top become free agents, and talk to them about the pros and cons of his team, and market.  It's February at the time, and as we hit the door to go outside, the bright sun beams into our eyes, and the warmth of a 70 degree day wrapped around us.  He looked at me, knowing I had heard the instructions about the conference call, and said "why do I play here? THIS is why I play here," referring to the weather.  Mind you, Francis was only partially serious about his reasons to play for the Hurricanes.  The weather wasn't the only deciding factor.

The Hurricanes are a franchise that has proven itself a worthy competitor in the NHL.  I get they haven't been a consistent playoff threat, but in the NHL, that is not as easy as people think.   In the days of the 21 team NHL, 16 made the post-season.  You had to be DREADFUL to miss the playoffs.  In today's NHL, 14 teams miss the playoffs, and this year's Stanley Cup champion LA Kings were the 8th seed in the Western Conference.  It's not easy.

Free agents that pass on Carolina in this off-season may have some regrets come next spring.  Carolina is positioning itself quite nicely, and if they lean on some of their youth within the system (Zac Dalpe, Zach Boychuk, Riley Nash for example), Carolina could be a tough out in the Southeast division.

Hope the hockey talk helped cool you down a little during this current roasting spell we are going through!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wheeling and Dealing

The Charlotte Bobcats pulled a pre-draft deal with Detroit on Tuesday, sending Corey Maggette to the Pistons for Ben Gordon and a protected 1st round pick to the Bobcats.  Sound good?

Well, yes and no.  It's good because Charlotte moved an $11 million dollar contract off the books, and picked up a future first round selection in the process.  It's not so good, because Gordon's deal still owes him $25+ over the next 2 years.

The way I understand it, the protected first round pick likely means the Bobcats won't see that pick until 2015.  Things would have to work out well for Charlotte to see that pick any sooner.

Still, stockpiling first round picks isn't a bad thing, since the Bobcats are a long way from being good.  Charlotte still has things to address, namely the big contracts of Tyrus Thomas and Gana Diop.  New Head Coach Mike Dunlap feels his team needs more perimeter shooters, which he would be correct.  The Bobcats also lack interior threats as well.  As mentioned, lots to be addressed.

I wouldn't think the Bobcats are finished with their pre-draft (or night of) dealings.  The deal with Detroit tells me that GM Rich Cho has been given some clearance to make moves he deems will help the club.  That's a huge positive in that the Bobcats seem to be letting their key people make key decisions.  How this will all work out?  Anybody's guess, but it appears the Bobcats are serious about sticking to the plan.  In the past, the plan never seemed to have a hard edge.  This one does.  That plan didn't involve a 7-win season, of course, but given the team's desire to free up cap space to lure free agents, and adding draft picks to their future, the course appears to be established.

The future of the franchise is being decided with each transaction, only with this club, every move they make MUST be carefully calculated, and executed.  So far, it looks like that is what is going on.

Mike Solarte

Late night footnote: Congrats to the Charlotte Eagles on a fantastic run in the Lamar Hunt Cup. Their journey ended in a 2-1 defeat to Chivas USA early Wednesday morning, on an extra time goal.  The Eagles scored in the 89th minute to draw even at 1-1.  Chivas USA scored on a set piece to take the game, and eliminate Charlotte from the tournament.  The Eagles return home Thursday to face the Los Angeles Blues at 7pm.  The game will be played at Charlotte Christian.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A few things before vacation....

I'll be taking some time off beginning this Friday, so I am emptying my brain before I go.  Starting with....

The Bobcats coaching search.  Reports are out the Bobcats are down to three coach candidates.  Jerry Sloan, Brian Shaw, and Quin Snyder.  My gut says they go with Shaw, but I think Sloan is the right guy.  And for the record, these are only opinions.

All three have positives.  Snyder is young, and could be the spark to ignite a young team to get them going in the right direction.  Shaw has never been a Head Coach, but has been a solid understudy, and Sloan's record speaks for itself.

Here's the rub for the Bobcats.  They can not afford to miss on their next coach, or what they do with the number 2 pick later this month.  If this franchise is to move towards the goals set by owner Michael Jordan (contending for a top 4 spot in the Eastern Conference consistently, and threaten for a title after that), they have to hit it out of the park with every critical decision going forward.  That's a ton of pressure, but it is the reality.


Feel badly for NC State baseball in coming up short to Florida.  They may not have won the series against Florida, even if they had won game 2, but losing that second game the way they did was gut-wrenching.  I applaud Chris Diaz for being man enough to apologize for his actions after the called third strike (which was a mile out of the zone by the way).  Diaz showed himself to be a stand-up guy, a leader, and a true representative of what college sports are all about.  He showed passion, emotion, and as he felt he crossed the line, he manned up, and owned it, and apologized.  Me?  I didn't think the apology was necessary.  He had a legit gripe, the ump blew the call, and I likely would have done far worse.  Good on Diaz. 


Congrats to the Charlotte Knights on getting their assist from the City of Charlotte for a new stadium.  The Knights now face the chore of lining up remaining funding, getting a shovel in the ground, and putting a long overdue ballpark for Uptown.

If you follow me on twitter, you saw me going on and on about Monday's City Council meeting.  The one they voted in favor of the Knights funding.  That was the same meeting they voted down the city's budget.  I won't begin to try and explain all that is going on with the budget (not my lane), but when it comes to the stadium issue, I was amazed that Jerry Reese continued to stand behind a microphone, and lecture everyone about the need for a MLB stadium in Charlotte.

Calling Charlotte "a minor league city," is about as insulting as someone who makes a living here can be.  The National Football League's Carolina Panthers, and National Basketball Association's Charlotte Bobcats are on line one for you, Mr. Reese.  Last I looked the NFL and NBA were not Arena Football, or the NBDL.  NASCAR would also like to talk to you as well.  It's not ARCA, or other lesser known racing series that only race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  It's NASCAR.  You may have heard of them.

He also claimed that Charlotte was bigger than 12 other MLB markets.  12.  Well, since I have no idea what numbers he is using in that regard, let me just give you some of my data.  Charlotte is bigger than five other MLB TV markets.  FIVE.  Charlotte is 25th, Baltimore 27th, San Diego 28th, Kansas City 31st, Milwaukee 34th, and Cincinnati 35th.  By way of comparison, Orlando (19), Sacramento (20) and Portland, OR (22) also do not have MLB teams.  So I guess Orlando with the Magic, along with PGA Tour events is minor league.  Sacramento (the NBA's Kings live there), Portland (the NBA's TrailBlazers are there) are also minor league.  Orlando, Sacramento, and Portland all have minor league baseball teams, too.  They would like to talk to you as well, Mr. Reese. 

Other wonderful cities would be minor league too, I guess.  Indianapolis (26), Nashville (27), Columbus (32), and Oklahoma City (44) are on the list without MLB teams.  All of them, however, are home to pro teams that have competed for (and in the case of the Colts won) league titles.  All four of these cities also possess a AAA baseball franchise.

Another point about MLB in Charlotte.  Filling the stadium that many dates in the season.  If you watch Sports Night (like I know you all do), there are nights we show highlights of an MLB game, or NBA, or NHL, and the stands aren't full unless it's the playoffs.  The Atlanta Braves had trouble selling out playoff games when they were in the 14 year run of division titles.  I'm not knocking Braves fans about that, I'm just trying to prove a point.  If a team that enjoyed so much success had trouble filling their own place for a playoff game, what is there to suggest a new MLB team in Charlotte will get close to filling a new place on a nightly basis?  Bobcats games do not sell out, in part because the team has had one playoff run in its existence, and that was more of a warm-up than a run, since it ended in four games.

I know, I know...trying to talk sense is pointless at times.  Would I love another big league team to call Charlotte home?  Certainly.  Makes my unbelievable job even better.  Do I think MLB would be the right fit?  Not at all.  Too many variables, costs too high.  Guess that makes me minor league, too, eh Jerry?

The time has come for Reese to simply go away, or come clean with what he stands to gain from a MLB team coming to Charlotte.  He isn't doing this for the good of the community, because he has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in lawsuits filed to prevent this park from coming up out of the ground, a delay of what, four years now?  I know he won't do that, but it's nice to at least ask.

Mike Solarte

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the writer, and do not represent the views of News 14 Carolina, Time Warner Cable, or anyone not named Mike Solarte.  If you agree, or even disagree with the blog, feel free to leave a comment

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Kurt Busch, NBA, and more

I said on Saturday, and I will say it again.  I want to see a former Cup series champion do well, but when he behaves the way he has, those feelings go out the window.  I am talking about Kurt Busch, a guy that can be as charitable and giving on one day, and down right ornery the next.

Busch is suspended this week after taking a reporter, Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News, to task after a question following the Nationwide Series race at Dover.  The question, regardless of Kurt's opinion at the time, was racing related, and Busch fired off a terse reply.  The reply was unnecessary, and unprofessional, and NASCAR called him on it.  Busch was on probation at the time, and that probation has been extended through to the end of the year.

Was Kurt wrong?  Absolutely.  Should he have been suspended?  I don't know.   In my opinion, Kurt did not threaten the reporter.  He just acted like a jerk.  There are no rules or laws in place for people behaving like the back end of a thoroughbred, provided no one is physically injured.  NASCAR is protecting its brand, however, and that is likely why Busch got the weekend off.

The harsh reality is this: Busch has moved from Hendrick Motorsports to Roush-Fenway Racing, to Penske Racing in his career.  Three highly respected organizations within stock car racing.  He left Hendrick to go to RFR to begin his Cup career, left RFR (on shaky terms to put it nicely) for Penske, and was let go by Penske.  He is burning bridges left and right.  Will another high profile organization bring him on?  Looking at it now, the odds are long that it would happen.

I want to see him succeed, but when he behaves the way he has, those feelings go out the window.  Kurt, shut the window for me.

The NBA playoffs have gotten to the conference finals, and at long last, we have outstanding action.  Oklahoma City and San Antonio have played some of the most entertaining basketball I have seen all season long.  Miami and Boston is turning into a grudge match, and that, too, is entertaining.  In the last post, I picked the Heat in 6, but I'm not so certain of that anymore.  Tied at 2-2 after four games, Boston is showing some veteran savvy, and Rajon Rondo has been exquisite.

In the west, Oklahoma City is on the brink of the NBA Finals, after handing the Spurs their first three-game losing streak since Gregg Popovich had dark hair.  OK, it's been more recent than that.  Still, the fact that the Thunder has responded the way they have could signify a changing of the guard in the West.  No, I am not anointing the Thunder as the next dominant team in the West, but the make-up is there for this team to be a contender for a while.

The NCAA baseball tournament has provided some thrills and spills.  First off congrats to Appalachian State on their best season in program history.  They finish 41-18, after falling to Oklahoma twice in the regional final at Charlottesville, Va.  The Mountaineers had an impressive year, and this could be the start of something very special on the mountain.  Also, congrats to North Carolina.  Their season came to a disappointing end, but credit Mike Fox and company for recognizing that their run over the past, say decade, has been nothing short of incredible.  Making it to Omaha is not as easy as they have made it look.  Props to the Heels on the direction of the program.

NC State remains alive, thanks to a performance that would have made Jim Valvano smile.  Trailing 7-3 into the top of the 8th, the visiting Wolfpack (on their home field--strange), managed a 3-spot in the 8th, and tacked on three more in the 9th for a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt.  The win keeps their season alive, and a weekend series with the Florida Gators is on tap.  If the Wolfpack can manage to upset the top seeded Gators, they head to Omaha.  Having known Elliott Avent for a long time, it's tough not to pull for him.  He's a good guy, and runs a good program.  Would be nice to see the Pack dancing in Nebraska in a few weeks.  First things first, the Gators.

Finally, the Los Angeles Kings are one win away from their first Stanley Cup.  I called it a five game series before it started, and now I fear it will be a sweep.  The Kings have been just a little better in all areas against New Jersey, and that was the difference in the first two games.  The 4-0 final in game three was all about Jonathan Quick and the Kings speed.  This has been an impressive playoffs for L.A.  They will be deserving champs.

Let's just hope that Game 4 isn't the last hockey we see for an extended period of time.  NHL labor talks have yet to begin with their Collective Bargaining Agreement set to run out in September.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kahne grabs 600, NBA thoughts and more

The month of May is the busiest on the Sports Night calendar.  In Charlotte alone, the PGA Tour stops for the Wells Fargo Championship, an international swim meet (Charlotte Ultra Swim) followed that, and then back to back weeks of NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway.  It's a hectic time, but when we pull off great TV, it's all worth it.  Some thoughts on some of these things, and more....

First NASCAR.  If you liked racing without wrecking, then Charlotte, and the Sprint Cup Series itself is for you.  Panther fans saw more yellow flags in one game at Bank of America Stadium, than NASCAR fans saw during Raceweeks.  And you know what? I'm ok with that.  The teams, and drivers had to be razor sharp to have a shot at a victory, considering so much was happening under green flag conditions.  Pit stops had to be perfect, drivers had to hit their marks EVERY TIME, and crew chiefs had to make the right call every time to give their car the best chance to win.  I'll admit, I like to see a fender-bender from time to time, but I also appreciate when drivers display their talents and keep the car off of another car.  Borrowing from the PGA Tour, these guys (and gals) are good.

Kasey Kahne got his first win for Hendrick Motorsports, and now it seems, all that is left is to get Dale Earnhardt, Jr in Victory Lane.  Dale is having a good season, sitting comfortably inside the top 10 for the Chase, but a win would do wonders for him, and his team.  That monkey on his back, is now a full blown gorilla, and a win for him (he was close in Charlotte in both races too), would be a huge relief.  They have their stuff together, and now, much like Kahne needed, Dale needs a break.  It's coming.

The NBA playoffs are winding down, and while Miami is the pick of a lot of folks (including me) to reach the NBA Finals, I gotta tell ya, so much being made of five technical foul calls against Boston in game one of their series is a bit of joke.  First off, the referees are to blame for the "T's".  These refs working the NBA's conference final series' have to shut off the rabbit ears.  It's not December.  It's May (nearly June), and a title is on the line.  Emotions are high, and sometimes, you have to allow a guy to pipe up, and then tell him pipe down.  Reaching into the Bag of T's is NOT the way to handle it.

Now, before you go and call me a hater, let me also say the officials did not decide game one.  Boston's inability to defend (yes, Miami scored just 93 points), was the bigger issue.  The Celtics had one blocked shot in the game.  One.  Uno. Breadstick. A single.  That's not gonna cut it when LeBron is going for 32 points and 13 rebounds.  Boston can play better, but I am not sure they have the legs to stay with the Heat in this series.  I like Miami in 6.

Finally, I am sad because, at most, there are only seven NHL games left to be played.  I want to see all seven, but I am not sure that I will.  In fact, I will be lucky to get five.  Los Angeles takes on New Jersey for the Stanley Cup, beginning Wednesday in the Garden State.  Martin Brodeur is a great story, as the future Hall of Fame goaltender is making a strong run at another Cup, but I think the Kings are the better team.  Sure, the Devils bottled up the New York Rangers, but much like the Celtics, I am not sure the Devils have the legs to stay with the Kings.  Dustin Brown will finish 2nd in Conn Smythe Trophy voting (given to the playoff MVP), behind his teammate Jonathan Quick, and the Kings will collect their first Cup in franchise history.  And it will happen in just five games.

Thanks for stopping by the blog, and be sure to fire off a Point and Shoot video to us.  We take your sports questions on video, and play them during the Ford Sports Night.  Would love your thoughts on anything you see here, or something I may have overlooked in the blog. Be a part of the state's only NIGHTLY 30 minute sports show.  We'd love to have ya!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NASCAR chatter....

The NASCAR Sprint All Star Race was viewed in one of two ways. One: a snoozer, or Two: a mockery.  I wasn't in either of those camps.  For me, the All Star race was a night where NASCAR saw cars actually make passes (a rule change affecting the skirts of the cars made for simply better racing).  In the end, to me, the All Star race was just what NASCAR designed it to be.  In this instance, though, they didn't think of all the possibilities.

Jimmie Johnson won the first 20 lap segment, and in turn, earned the right to be the first car down pit road before the final 10 lap segment.  Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. also won segments, and earned the spots behind Johnson leading into the mandatory pit stop prior to the final 10 lap segment.

So what did Johnson do?  He took his car out of the hornets nest that can be quite wild in the All Star event, and laid back.  WAY back.  There was no penalty for doing that, the only potential danger was falling a lap down (which he was never in jeopardy of being in that spot).  Had he fallen a lap down, he would have lost his final pit stop privileges.  Johnson took advantage of the race setup, saved his car from potential harm (from wreck of overworking his engine), and in the end, a quick stop and go was what he needed to stay in front, and win the race.

Certainly, this was not what NASCAR envisioned when it changed the format, and in a conversation with Johnson afterwards, he agreed that it will likely change next year.  To call it a sham or a mockery, is unfair.  That was the way it was laid out, advantage to the winner of the first segment.

Michael Waltrip offered up a solution to this scenario on Tuesday.  You can see it by clicking the link here.  It's really not that far out of whack, in my opinion.

As for the Coca Cola 600, put me down as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. being a threat to win it, but I am not writing off Kyle Busch.  Of course, Johnson is viewed as the favorite, considering his work at Darlington, and the All Star race, but Dale Jr. was a factor in this event last year, leading on the 402nd lap (of a green-white-checkered finish), before running out of fuel.  His strong run during the All Star night is a little more support that a streak-snapping win is imminent.

Finally, let me thank the many that reached out to me last week, as I dealt with the passing of my mother.  Your condolences and prayers helped me through a difficult week.  I was, and continue to be humbled by all of you.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Bobcats start over. Again.

The Charlotte Bobcats are looking for their 5th Head Coach in franchise history.  Not surprising after a 7-59 campaign, that led them into the record books as the team that recorded the worst winning percentage in an NBA season.

What is surprising is the way that it is being perceived.  Here are the facts.

Paul Silas' contract was up at the end of the year.  He took the job with the Bobcats, knowing it was the only coaching job he would take.  After a year that saw the Bobcats go through a slew of injuries to their top players, Silas being let go was inevitable.  It's not that HE did a bad job, it's that the roster was so poorly pieced together, that Silas had no chance to succeed once the injuries started to pile up.  Remember, it was a 66 game schedule, in a compressed amount of time.  An injury that might have cost a player 5 games, ended up costing more than that.

I feel a little bad for Silas, as he won't have the chance to redeem himself as the coach.  He deserved a better fate than the hand he was dealt, but he also showed how to handle the mess with class, and grace.  He'll always be admired for that, at least in my eyes.

The blame falls at the feet of those that put the team together.  Those that signed the players, and pieced the roster together.  The Bobcats front office knew it would be a bad year, however, not in their wildest dreams (or nightmares) could they have envisioned what the 2011-12 season would become.

Now, they have to execute step 2 of the plan.  That means, building a team through free agency and the draft.  They have the cap space.  They will have a top 4 draft pick.  And they will have a new Head Coach to mold the players into his style.  The Bobcats haven't drafted well, historically. That has to change, and if they get the top overall pick, it likely will.

The Bobcats are at a point where every decision they make will be the most important one in franchise history.  It starts with their new bench boss.

Mike Solarte

Friday, April 27, 2012

Panthers take Kuechly

Quick hit on the Panthers selection of Boston College LB Luke Kuechly.

I like it.

At the 9 spot, Carolina would have been hard pressed to find a player with the skills, athleticism, and football smarts of Kuechly.  He will be a good fit to the Panthers linebacking corps.   Sure, there are questions about whether Kuechly will start, but in the NFL, to me anyway, starts are immaterial.  The 11 guys who start on defense do not play every single defensive snap.  Kuechly has versatility to move from the weakside to the strong, and of course has the middle in his repertoire as well. 

The Panthers questions are more about how soon Jon Beason will be back up to speed (last week, he pronounced himself 80% back), and if Thomas Davis will be able to stay on he field.  Davis is coming off of his 3rd ACL surgery on the same knee, so the odds are long that he will be able to contribute.  Davis had a solid pre-season as well as season opener in 2011.  He re-injured the knee in week 2 against Green Bay, but if he looks anything like he did before the Packers game, Davis will be a factor in the LB corps.

Two more days of the draft remain for Carolina, and it will be interesting to see which way they go to plug some areas of need on their roster.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Madness of the NFL Draft

First off, let me remind you, I am Mike Solarte, not Mel Kiper.

His job is to study the draft, and all things connected to it.  Me?  I try and worry about everything from football to hoops to golf....well, you get the idea.

I will admit, right off the bat, I have no clue who the Carolina Panthers will select with their first round pick (9th overall).  As of this blog, I am pretty sure even they don't really KNOW.  They have ideas and scenarios, but to think they are locked in on one specific player would be inaccurate.

Who do I THINK they will take?  BC linebacker Luke Keuchly or UNC DE Quinton Coples.  Those are the guys I THINK they would select.  And it would take two different scenarios for each of them.  Keuchly at 9, if the Panthers don't trade down.  Coples at 16 if they work a deal with the NY Jets.  Keuchly's resume is solid, and Carolina could use a guy like him as both depth and insurance.  The Panthers are watching for Jon Beason and Thomas Davis to return from season-ending injuries in 2011.

As for Coples, there is the now-famous knock on him, that he takes plays off.  He doesn't try hard all the time.  I would like to remind the Court of Public Opinion, the same was said of Julius Peppers when he came out of college.  He was so terrible with the Panthers, that many fans hated him when he left after spending 7 seasons in Carolina, and refused to sign a long-term deal.  Yes, I know he wasn't terrible.

The NFL Draft is as inexact a science that you will find.  For every 6th or 7th round gem, there are 1st and 2nd round washouts.  Tom Brady, Terrell Davis come to mind as late round gems.  Ryan Leaf and Eric Shelton come to mind as early pick washouts.

My advice:  on draft night, whether you watch at home, or at a sports bar with buddies, enjoy the ride, and the night.  The Draft signifies one thing:  the new season is rapidly approaching.

Had to add this in.  Former Charlotte Bobcats Head Coach Larry Brown took to the airwaves of the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday and basically told anyone listening that while Michael Jordan was brilliant, he is surrounded by idiots.  The idiots are also "yes" men who can not tell His Airness "no."

OK, so if that is the case, why is it Bobcats fans had to wait for Brown to be fired before seeing Gerald Henderson get quality minutes?  Not saying Henderson is a star, but how do you know what you have if you don't play him?

Why did Brown lobby so hard for Tyrus Thomas to get the big contract he got?  Thomas has proven nothing in this first year of the big deal, other than a reported altercation with Head Coach Paul Silas.  Maybe Brown was hoping for a tussle with Thomas himself.  Who knows.

For every gripe of Brown's, there are questions that can be fired back in his direction about his run in Charlotte.  In the end, Brown sounds like a jilted girlfriend.  While his knowledge of the game is tremendous (he's forgotten more about the game than I will ever know), this instance makes him look petty, which is sad.  Brown is the ONLY coach to win both the NBA Title and an NCAA Championship.

You can add Travelling Whiner to that list as well.  Is there one spot that Brown left in better shape than when he got there?

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Panthers schedule and Pucks

First things first, Carolina Panthers schedule was released at 7pm Tuesday night, and here's how it looks:

Sun. Sept. 9 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium 4:15 p.m. FOX
Sun. Sept. 16 vs. New Orleans Saints Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. FOX
Thu. Sept. 20 vs. New York Giants Bank of America Stadium 8:20 p.m. NFLN
Sun. Sept. 30 at Atlanta Falcons Georgia Dome 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 7 vs. Seattle Seahawks Bank of America Stadium 4:05 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 14 Bye
Sun. Oct. 21 vs. Dallas Cowboys Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Oct. 28 at Chicago Bears Soldier Field 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Nov. 4 at Washington Redskins FedEx Field 1:00 p.m. FOX
Sun. Nov. 11 vs. Denver Broncos Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. CBS
Sun. Nov. 18 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Mon. Nov. 26 at Philadelphia Eagles Lincoln Financial Field 8:30 p.m. ESPN
Sun. Dec. 2 at Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 9 vs. Atlanta Falcons Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 16 at San Diego Chargers Qualcomm Stadium 4:05 p.m. * FOX
Sun. Dec. 23 vs. Oakland Raiders Bank of America Stadium 1:00 p.m. * CBS
Sun. Dec. 30 at New Orleans Saints Mercedes-Benz Superdome 1:00 p.m. * FOX
* - Subject to flexible scheduling.

Two national TV games, one at home, one on the road. And those only the guaranteed ones. A hot start would make Carolina eligible for the flex scheduling in the back end of the campaign. Two divisional games highlight the final month of the season, which means the Panthers will have to make hay early on in the NFC South. Also of note, the 4:15 start times while on the east coast, one against Tampa on Sept. 9, and one at home against Seattle (of course that is for the west coast audience benefit).

Next, the Stanley Cup playoffs have been riveting, and making headlines, but not for the hockey. The headlines are being made for the after-the-whistle stuff. Read, the fights.

Folks, I'm here to tell you, this is the round that this sort of thing takes place. It will happen like this every year. This year, it is amped up because there is a rivalry series in Pittsburgh v. Philadelphia, and there are a couple of teams trying to assert themselves against members of the NHL's Original Six (Nashville v. Detroit, and Ottawa v. NY Rangers).

Winning a championship isn't supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be difficult, and in hockey, a game where emotions are on the razor's edge every second of the game, it is going to boil over. Having been on both sides of the on-ice equation, as both a player and referee, I get it. I understand what it means to be playing in those games, and understand what it means to be officiating those kinds of games (not at the NHL level, but to hockey players, the stage doesn't matter).

For those folks complaining about it, I offer you this: give it a week. The rough stuff will go away, as teams are a step closer to winning a title. Fighting becomes more of a hindrance than a help for teams chasing the ultimate prize. It will stop.

For me, I'll watch whether they duke it out, or skate it out. It's just hard for me to sit and listen to people who have NEVER played that game (or any other in some cases), constantly trash it. If only they could experience the joys of teamwork, and camaraderie. What it is like to know the player next to you on the bench is with you, working for the common goal. Sometimes, especially in hockey, it gets rough and it gets messy. It's just part of the gig.

Mike Solarte

Monday, April 9, 2012

Augusta National. My first trip.


Having only seen the Augusta National track on TV, I was amazed at how much television makes the course bigger than it really is. The fairway on 18 on my TV looks to be some 90 yards wide. In person, it was far narrower. The 18th green? Not nearly as big as it appears in the coverage.

The beauty? Well, TV doesn't do that justice either. The place is incredible. It is the perfect mix of man and nature. The way that the golf course is manicured, and maintained, is hard to believe. The practice areas are in better condition than the course I grew up playing on. Everything about the golf at Augusta is first class. Everything.

If you follow me on twitter ( then you know I am attached to my iPhone. I tweet a lot. However, phones aren't allowed outside the walls of the media center. Makes it tough to tweet. I was forced to unplug. A little unnerving at first, but after a while, it was rather liberating. It forced me to look around and fall in love with the game of golf all over again. And I was only there for the weekend.

Bubba Watson's win of the Masters is one for the ages. Watson's run of birdies on the back nine created a new set of roars, ones which are reserved for Georgia's favorite sons. And by way of his college days, he is a Georgia son. Bubba is the every man golfer, that the every man wants to be. He swings for the fences, he wears his hair long all over (a rather impressive salad if you enjoy long hair), but most of all, he wears his heart and his emotions on his sleeve. Wide open, for all the world to see, Bubba Watson is exactly who you see on TV. He is fun, funny, a self-proclaimed 33-year-old child. He is a devoted husband, a doting new father of an adopted son, and a man deeply rooted in his faith.

Bubba represents a lot of good in the game of golf, and it hard not to root for him. You don't have to, of course, but you would be forgiven if you got a little choked up watching him after he realized he had won his first major championship.

I had the honor and privilege to see that drama unfold, and I was about 30 feet away from Watson as Charl Schwartzel slipped that green blazer over Watson's shoulders. As a journalist, I got to witness Watson realize his dream.

As a golfer, I got choked up wishing it were me.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Masters Week...and more

A tradition unlike any other...The Masters.

You'll be hearing that phrase a bunch over the next four days. The Masters tees it up on Thursday, and Phil Mickelson predicts a "birdie-fest," if rains continue to soak the golf course. Still, the first major of the year always seem to bring out the very best play, from the very best players on the planet.

Tiger Woods is the pre-tournament favorite, but there are about 30 other players in this field that can be slipping on a green blazer at the end of the week. Rory Mcllroy likely feels like Augusta owes him one, Hunter Mahan won last week in Houston, Webb Simpson, Bill Haas, and others could be the ones taking advantage of soft greens, thanks to the rains that have fallen there already.

On a personal note, I'll be making my first ever trip to Augusta for this event. Will try to capture my visit with words, as photos are not allowed to be taken on tournament days.

NASCAR gets this weekend off for Easter, and that's a good thing, since so many drivers were unhappy with David Reutimann in Martinsville. It's a tough spot to be in. Reutimann is driving the Cup series ride on weeks when Danica Patrick is not, so keeping that car in the top 35 in points is vital to keep it locked into each week's field. Reutimann was doing all he could to nurse a wounded car around the 1/2 mile track, but it finally gave out. Should he have been sent to the garage for not maintaining minimum speed? Absolutely, but he tried to make it. His breakdown (the car just stopped on the track) ended a dream scenario for Hendrick Motorsports, as 3 of their 4 cars were in the top 3 with just a few laps left.

Ultimately, NASCAR should have stopped Reutimann when he wasn't maintaining minimum speed. Period. It's not NASCAR's job to keep a car in the top 35, that falls on the team and driver. To an outsider, it would look like NASCAR bent as much as they could to try and help Reutimann stay on the track, but not for himself, but for the chance to keep Patrick locked into the field when she runs in Cup again. NASCAR knows the bang Patrick brings to racing. They realize the coverage NASCAR gets when Patrick is there, and her missing the race is bad for business. Business, however, should never overtake the competition side of NASCAR. I can understand why someone would accuse NASCAR of trying to keep Patrick's in the field. I don't think that's what happened here, but only NASCAR knows for sure.

A couple observations on the baseball season:

1-It started last week in Japan. Yeah, I know you missed it too. Sadly, the start of a professional league season went completely unnoticed by everyone except the two teams that played. It was Seattle and Oakland, by the way.

2-The Miami Marlins unveiled their new ballpark Wednesday night in the stateside MLB opener. What a building. Absolutely gorgeous on TV. I didn't like the pre-game though. Here's why.

Muhammad Ali was brought out in pre-game in a golf cart. The champ's health has been in decline for years. Seeing him sitting there, shaking uncontrollably is not the way I wish to see one of America's greatest sports icons. I was sad watching him. I don't want him to be put away or anything, but teams trying to capitalize on their big events by bringing Ali out just seems wrong to me. I remember Ali as the original trash talker, and as one of the most amazing heavyweights ever. He'll always be The Greatest.

Another thing that "struck out" with me, the National Anthem, as performed by Jose Feliciano. Wonderful artist, but the song wasn't written like that. Same goes for "The Fray" at the NCAA final. C'mon people, ya gotta have some respect for the song that represents the country in which you live. I know I have railed on this in the past, but two bad ones in a week? There is only one, and I mean ONE artist that is exempt from my criticism of Anthem performing.

Jimi Hendrix. Period.

Mike Solarte

Monday, March 26, 2012

St. Louis sends UNC home empty

I had to recall a conversation I had with our very own Brad Broders after UNC's exit from the NCAA Tournament in 2011, and I told him these exact words:

"If UNC can stay healthy, they will be a Final Four team in 2012."

Sadly, prophetic.

UNC's guards were decimated by injuries with Leslie McDonald out before the season even started, Dexter Strickland's knee injury, and then Kendall Marshall's wrist. Then add in John Henson dealing with a wrist issue, and then an ankle issue against Kansas. That's a lot to overcome.

Before you start saying I am making excuses, I am not. UNC had to go with the bodies they had, and while Stilman White performed very well, the vibe with Marshall at the point is just different. In the end, injuries cost UNC their Final Four shot, and leaves many to wonder "what if."

They will also wonder "what's next?" The only senior Carolina loses of substance is Tyler Zeller (which is a major loss), but Marshall, Henson, and Harrison Barnes are all able to come back. Will they try to do it one more time? I think this group enjoys playing together, but the NBA beckons. All three would be selected, but would they be lottery picks? I am always an advocate for staying in school, but I also understand the reality that a pro sports career window is not guaranteed to be a big one. Personally, I would love to see the underclassmen all return, and watch this team play one more year together. Even if they don't win it all, their NBA stock would be through the roof. If they decide to go pro, I wish them well.

Austin Rivers has decided to head to the NBA, he will hire an agent, and thus end his college career. How ready for the next level is Rivers? Between now and the draft, the word "upside" will be (over)used to describe every underclassman worth anything heading to the Draft. I am not sure Rivers body is ready for the rigors, but he won't be thrust into a starters role right out of the box (at least that is my guess). He needs to add some muscle to his frame, but if you ask his father, Doc Rivers, Austin's game is ready. Doc telling our cameras on Monday night that the decision could have gone either way, and that he is proud of his son. He should be.

Back to the NCAA Tourney, as for the remaining teams, I had Kentucky winning it all before the dance started, and after watching them blitz through their first four games, I see no reason to think they won't be cutting down the nets next Monday in New Orleans.

Hope to see you contribute to our new segment on Ford Sports Night. We call it point and shoot, and here's how you do it!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Saints apparently have dirty halos

The NFL came down on the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, penalizing them for running a "bounty" program. Defenders were paid for hits that knocked players out of games, or had them carted off the field.

Those are the crimes. The punishment was stiff:

-Head Coach Sean Payton suspended without pay for a year (beginning April 1).
-GM Mickey Loomis suspended for the first 8 weeks of the season, also without pay.
-The Saints were fined $500,000 dollars.
-Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the alleged architect of the program, was suspended from all NFL activities indefinitely.
-The Saints had 2nd round draft picks in 2012, and 2013 taken away from them.

Steep sanctions to say the least.

Good for the NFL.

I say that, because the idea of placing a bounty on the head of another player in pro sports is ridiculous. The same players that know full well they are one play away from possible death are going to put money in a pot to see who can injure another player? The mere notion of that is disgusting.

Football is a violent enough game when players are simply trying to play the game hard. Reading posts from players and former coaches on Twitter made me scratch my head. Former Head Coach Jimmy Johnson tweeted (through his verified account): "Bounties have been around for years throughout the league on a much smaller basis...lot of hypocrites out there." So that makes it ok?

The players that I have been in contact with in my days covering the NFL seem to be the kind of guys that would not take part in a program like that. I may be wrong, and if I am, then so be it, but the guys I have spoken to are players that value their careers, and respect the careers of others. Sure, they play hard, and they play tough, but they play fairly. Injuries occur on their own, and do not need to be helped by guys trying to be RoboCop on the football field.

Again, good for the NFL.

Elsewhere, the Charlotte Bobcats finally parted ways with forward Boris Diaw, after he and the team agreed to terms on a buy-out of his contract. It had been a rather stormy 2 weeks for the two sides in this. Nuts and bolts of it, Diaw wasn't playing hard enough for Head Coach Paul Silas' liking, Silas benched him (eventually deactivating him). Diaw is loaded with talent and ability, but it means nothing if it isn't applied. I liked Diaw, and wish him well, but the ending of this marriage was messy, to say the least.

In the end, everyone is happy. The Bobcats are out from under a big contract, Diaw will likely sign with a playoff-bound team for a bargain price, and the drama is removed from a locker room that needs to focus on hoops, and nothing else.

Mike Solarte

Monday, March 19, 2012

52 down, just 16 remain

Yep, already torched my brackets, much like the free world, considering Norfolk State and Lehigh blew up plenty of prognostications. Wait, all prognostications. While I bemoan my failed attempts at a perfect bracket, I re-emphasize my absolute love of the tourney.

This is why we watch. We watch for the little guy slugging it out with the big programs. Syracuse almost made dubious history with their opener against UNC-Asheville (yes, UNCA outplayed Syracuse all the way, just had some bad breaks late). That history, of course, would have been the first 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in their opening round game. The gap, by the way, is beginning to narrow a bit.

Hats off to UNC and NC State on making the Sweet 16. First the Heels. They are deep enough to get by Ohio in their game on Friday, should Kendall Marshall be ruled out. Marshall underwent successful wrist surgery on Monday. Will he play? Anybody's guess on a Monday night. If he is doing ANYTHING basketball related on Wednesday or Thursday, I don't know how Roy Williams doesn't play him. Mind you, I am speaking from the outsider perspective. I would say this: If Marshall can play Friday, he will,but in limited minutes. If UNC wins that one, and plays for a Regional title, that experience will help him there. It's not an easy spot to be in, but UNC is equipped to handle it. To a point.

As for NC State, I am proud to say I had them through to the Sweet 16 in my brackets. If State was playing with house money when they beat San Diego, they are on a high-roller's weekend in the Gateway City. No one, and I mean NO ONE, expected NC State to be a Sweet 16 team this year, with a new coach, ideas,etc. Yet, down the stretch, they played their best basketball, and got the attention of the selection committee. All they needed was a chance. They got it, and have taken full advantage of it. They are confident, and facing Kansas may seem like a horrible assignment, but the Jayhawks barely got to St. Louis. The Pack have a legit chance to beat the Jayhawks.

Duke going down may seem like a bad loss, but factor in the great guard play of CJ McCollum, and the absence of Ryan Kelly in the Duke lineup. Right there are two key factors in a five point defeat. Not making excuses, as Lehigh played great, but Duke was not themselves, and simply couldn't overcome Kelly's loss, along with stop McCollum. In the end, Lehigh was the better team on that night. End of story, and Duke will be just fine going forward.

I won't make any predictions regarding the Sweet 16, as I am already down two of my Final Four picks, but I will say that my National Championship teams are still alive.

Kentucky and North Carolina.

More in the days ahead.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, March 15, 2012

NCAA Tourney - Day 1

Rather than throw out my region-by-region selections, I'll just provide some recap thoughts for the tourney.

But since you asked, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Carolina, and Missouri. Kentucky wins it all.

OK, Day 1:

Tough day for Davidson to go cold from the field, shooting 35% against a Louisville team that could be had. I shouldn't completely discredit Louisville, the Cardinals did a nice job of denying Davidson their preference of running after made buckets. Louisville played good defense, and did what they needed to. Davidson will be back in this field next year, losing 3 seniors, but returning their top eight scorers.

VCU continues to turn heads, the 12 seed knocks out Gregg Marshall and Wichita State in the 5-12 game. I saw this coming, and yet failed to pick it correctly. I know better than to trust a Marshall coached team, and I am pretty sure the South Carolina Gamecocks learned a little something too. South Carolina looking for a new Head Coach after firing Darin Horn. Not sure that Marshall tops their list after this one.

I still don't believe Murray State is THAT good, but I give them credit for holding serve against Colorado State. The Racers have just one loss this season, and I still maintain they haven't played anybody of substance, save for UAB, Memphis and Dayton. Sure they won those games, but I am not convinced. If they make the Sweet 16, I might be, but they have to knock out Marquette to do it.

I'd be remiss if I left out the brutal knife-job UNC-Asheville got against Syracuse. Yes, the Orange are more talented, but the Bulldogs were the better team, played better, and deserved a better fate. Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach wouldn't say it, so I will say it for him. The officials denied UNC-Asheville a chance to write their names in the history books. A lane violation whistle, which when you watch it, is mind-boggling, and then the in-bounds alleged foul call in the dying seconds of a three-point game. It's horrible to see a team have their chance denied by the stripes. Alas, it's part of the game, but I don't let that crew work another game in this tournament. That's just me.

Waiting in the wings, NC State, who feels nothing like an 11 seed, takes on San Diego State on Friday in Columbus. North Carolina meets Vermont and Duke takes on Lehigh, both games in Greensboro. I like the NC teams to move through to the next round, and I actually think NC State gets through pretty handily. If any team is playing with "house money," in this thing, it's the Wolfpack. The final team placed in a region (via the Selection Show), this team felt like the last one in (even though they weren't). They are returning to the tourney after a 6 year hiatus, and playing much better of late. Credit the players and Head Coach Mark Gottfried for finishing strong, because without that, they are NIT bound.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big Dance Breakdown with a chance of Raining 3's

It is slowly becoming a tradition here at the Sports Night Blog, and who am I to change tradition?

Well, I run this blog, so I guess I could, but I won't.

News 14 Meteorologist Josh McKinney has laid out his thoughts about the upcoming NCAA Tournament. These are his thoughts and predictions, so they should be taken with the same degree of certainty as his 7-day forecast (had to get at least one zinger in there, J-Mac!)

Here now, the Hoop Thoughts of a Weatherman.....

Forecasting the Road to the Final Four…

First and foremost, I want to thank the News 14 Carolina Sports team for allowing a weather nerd the chance to weigh in on the 2012 NCAA tournament. It’s not often the guy on the far end of the bench gets the nod to sub in.

From top to bottom, this is an outstanding field assembled by the selection committee. There’s a tremendous amount of depth and skill from each conference, but it wouldn’t be a shock if higher seeds fly into Louie Armstrong International before getting ready to hit the floor at the Superdome. Only 3 teams passed the baton at the top of the AP poll throughout the entire season and all three earned number one seeds: North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky. The final number one seed is a pretty tough squad and a team UNC defeated at the Carrier Classic on Veterans Day last November in San Diego.

Must See Game, Second Round:

The last team to hear their name called to the Big Dance was NC State. San Diego State is a great draw for the Wolfpack and it’s a winnable game for ‘em. Momentum from the ACC tournament should carry over, leading to a great game. The deciding factor here will be free throws and foul trouble! I believe the tournament committee rewards a team with a decent third round if they can get past the first game. This is a perfect example of this ideology. If Mark Gottfried and his team can capitalize on a game one win, I see NC State making it to the second weekend and the Sweet 16.

Lucky #7: Florida

After a couple looks at the bottom half of the west, Florida jumps off the screen as a team ready to make a run. Why? Virginia is beatable; Missouri and Murray State have great shooting guards, but lack size in the interior. Florida has a lot of balance when compared to other teams in that half of the draw. Billy Donovan and the Gators have all the ingredients to reach the Elite 8, and maybe the Final Four.

That’s a lot to take in and I’ve still got to get my picks on the blog… So we’ll take a tour of the South, West, Midwest and East.

South: Committee message to UK, if you’re the best- prove it!
Second Round Winners: Kentucky, UConn, Wichita St., Indiana, UNLV, Baylor, Xavier, Duke
Third Round Winners: Kentucky, Wichita St., Baylor, Duke
Regional Finals: Kentucky, Baylor (No rematch with Duke, 20 years after “the shot”)
South Regional Champion: Kentucky

West: Higher seeds on upset alert?
Second Round Winners: Michigan St., Memphis, New Mexico, Louisville, Murray St., Marquette, Florida, Missouri
Third Round Winners: Michigan St., Louisville, Murray St., Florida
Regional Finals: Michigan State, Florida
West Regional Champion: Michigan State

Midwest: A few early upsets…
Second Round Winners: North Carolina, Creighton, Temple, Michigan, NC State, Belmont, St. Mary’s, Kansas
Third Round Winners: North Carolina, Michigan, NC State, Kansas
Regional Finals: North Carolina, Kansas
Midwest Regional Champion: North Carolina

East: Chalk of all regions early on.
Second Round Winners: Syracuse, Kansas St., Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Florida State, Gonzaga, Ohio State
Third Round Winners: Syracuse, Wisconsin, Florida State, Ohio State
Regional Finals: Syracuse, Ohio State
Regional Champion: Ohio State

Final Four: Kentucky vs. Michigan State / Ohio State vs. North Carolina

National title game: Kentucky vs. North Carolina

National Champion: University of Kentucky

Monday, March 12, 2012

Before Tourney Talk...

We interrupt March Madness with these statements from UNC brass in the wake of the NCAA handing down penalties to the Tar Heel football program. Sanctions which include a 2012 post-season ban (including the ACC title game), a reduction of scholarships (15) over a three-year probation period, which began today (March 12, 2012) and ends on Mach 11, 2015. The following statements were sent out by the University.

Chancellor Holden Thorp:

“It’s been almost two years since this investigation began, so getting the NCAA ruling is a big step in moving forward. We approached this investigation the way that you would expect of Carolina – thoughtfully, thoroughly and with full cooperation – and that was the right thing to do.

We self-imposed a number of penalties in the fall that we thought were appropriate based on the facts in our case. The NCAA has given us additional penalties, and the sanctions are more severe than we expected. The ruling is disappointing for our new coaching staff and our student-athletes.

We considered an appeal. But given the timing and the record that other schools have had with appeals, as well as the fact that penalties are suspended during an appeal, we’ve decided it’s best to accept our sanctions and move forward.”

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham:

“North Carolina has always represented so much that is good about college athletics. The last year and a half has been difficult for everyone who loves UNC from both an academic and athletic perspective. It’s time for us to move Carolina Athletics forward to help restore that reputation of integrity and respect for which the University has been known.

We can’t guarantee people won’t make mistakes in the future, but we can give our collective best effort to prevent a repeat of what brought us to this day. College athletics evolves daily and the high profile nature of intercollegiate athletics demands that we remain vigilant and accountable for the coaches, student-athletes and staff who represent our great university.

It is our aspiration that Carolina will be better in the future as aresult of what we have gone through and everyone associated with our program will strive each day to make our students, faculty, alumni, fans and staff proud to be Tar Heels.”

Former Director of Athletics Dick Baddour:

“From the first day that we began to learn the facts of this case, we set out to do a thorough review, and that is what we did. Every step we took throughout the investigation was to get to the facts, be fair to the people involved in the process and preserve the integrity of the University.

Carolina is well positioned to move forward and be an even better athletics program in all areas. I have great faith that Bubba Cunningham and Larry Fedora and their staffs are committed to maintaining a football program and athletics program that we all can be proud of.

I do want to thank our fans for their continued support. This has been a long and difficult time and our fans have stood with us and been extremely patient. I know the University is appreciative of that enduring support.”

Head Football Coach Larry Fedora:

“Now, more than ever, we need the entire Carolina fan base to come together and support our current student-athletes as we embark on a new era of Tar Heel football. We will face this adversity head on and work to be a better football program.

I was aware of the NCAA case at the time I was named head coach. Bubba Cunningham and Holden Thorp were forthright and honest with me throughout the hiring process as I made the decision to take the job.

I chose Carolina because this is one of the best schools in the country with high standards of academic and athletic excellence. In so many ways, Carolina has exceeded my expectations.

My only regret is for the current players, especially the seniors, who will not have the opportunity to compete for an ACC championship and go through the experience of a bowl game in 2012.

We will do all we can to make every game this year a special experience for our seniors and fans.”

UNC President Tom Ross:

“The NCAA’s investigation of the football program at UNC-Chapel Hill began nearly two years ago. This has been a long and arduous process. The Chapel Hill campuscooperated fully with the NCAA from the beginning of this matter and has accepted responsibility for mistakes made. While I believe that the self-imposed penalties announced by the campus in September 2011 are fair and reasonable and am personally disappointed bytoday’s decision, the NCAA had complete discretion to impose additional sanctions and saw fit to do so. Nonetheless, we can now close this chapter and move forward.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Touch 'em all

Sorry, baseball fans, but "touch 'em all," is referring to me hitting a variety of topics. Here we go.
I can't wait to see what the NFL does to the New Orleans Saints, based on the investigation that turned up a "bounty" system for the defense. Nuts and bolts of it: if a Saints defender caused an injury to an opposing player, the Saints player collected cash, depending on the severity of the hit and injury.
Despicable? Yes. Are the Saints the only ones? I highly doubt it. The Saints just got caught. The bigger problem is that this type of thing goes on at all. The NFL has bent over backwards in order to try and make the game safer for its players. Introduction of new rules, fines for dangerous plays, you name it, the NFL has tried to implement it. Some of their measures go too far, in my opinion. Grazing a quarterback's head should not be a roughing the passer penalty, but I suppose there has to be a line somewhere. Still, the league has tried to make things better for the players, and then we hear that the self-appointed new version of America's Team is engaging in tese typoes of behaviors?
Head Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis apologized for having this going on "under their watch." While I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, I just can't. loomis, maybe, but not Payton. How does a Head Coach not know these things are happening? Based on what I know about the Carolina Panthers team schedules (and no, Carolina is not involved in a "bounty" system, at last that I know of), it nwould be IMPOSSIBLE for a defensive coordinator to not mention something like that to the Head Coach. They meet far too often. They watch films and evaluate game video. I don't buy for a second that this went on without Payton's knowledge. The fact that they have apologized for it changes nothing. The NFL will (and should) hand down some enormous penalties to the Saints, Payton, and any player they confirm took part in it the scheme. Football is a dangerous enough game without adding the "intent to injure" element.
The Indianapolis Colts are parting ways with Peyton Manning, and while it is the unpopular thing to do, it is the right thing to do. There are too many questions surrounding Manning and his health (a neck injury forced him to miss the entire 2011 season), and the price of keeping him is way too high with so much uncertainty. Manning is due to collect a $28 million dollar roster bonus by the end of the week, should he remain with the team. Too pricey for a player that, while he has proven to be among the best in the game, has too many unknowns about him playing this season, or even again for that matter.
Me? I think Manning will play somewhere in 2012. If he is physically cleared, he'll be on an NFL roster. NO, CAROLINA, IT WON'T BE AS CAM NEWTON'S BACKUP. If he isn't cleared and has to retire, then football fans should be glad they got to see one of the game's greats work his magic for so long.
NASCAR rolls the dice in Las Vegas this weekend, and with two races in the books, it's hard to figure anything out just yet. The one thing I have noticed is that Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) is causing teams a little trouble. I won't even being to try and say I understand it all, but I do know this: introducing EFI to the teams this season created a whole new world of problems for crew chiefs and drivers in NASCAR's series. Maybe problems is too extreme. How about a whole new world of unknowns. Tony Stewart had trouble with fuel pick-up in Phoenix, and finished 22nd. Teams will figure it out, but until they do, I would guess that there will be plenty of reason to keep an eye on who wins each week. Teams that find victory lane on a consistent basis may have the EFI figured out, along with the other normal race day issues that can pop up.
Finally, the ACC Tournament tips of in Atlanta on Thursday. I know I am going out on a limb here, but it would be hard for me to pick anyone to win it other than UNC. Carolina got such a confidence jolt by running Duke out of Cameron Indoor last Saturday, that they look to be a steamroller now. Duke will likely face UNC in the title game on Sunday, and stopping UNC won't be easy with Ryan Kelly out for the event due to a sprained right foot. Kelly suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday. Don't get me wrong, Duke is a solid club, but UNC just appears to be more talented at every position than everyone else in the league.
We'll get into NCAA Tournament talk next week!
Mike Solarte