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4th and Maine Quick Take: Final Four, 'Zo, Celts, Twitter, and more

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2009 | Feedback | Comment

(AP) 4th and Maine: Possible National title match-up?

Well after 61 games and two weeks, we have eliminated 61 teams in the NCAA tournament and we are left with the final four: Connecticut, Michigan State, Villanova, and North Carolina. These four teams survived the first four rounds and will move on to Detroit this weekend and the final two rounds.

Michigan State will be right in their back yard as they are the sole two seed representative left in this tournament. They will surely have most of the crowd on their side as they square off against one of the final top seeds remaining, UConn. The Huskies have played extremely well in this tournament and have a lot of momentum even in the middle of all the allegations against the school and an agent who use to be affiliated with the school. The game will be played extremely close to Michigan State's home gym and it is expected that many of their fans will make the trip. However, UConn is a stories program and their fans do travel well, it will probably still be 75%-25% in favor of the Spartans.

In the other semi-final we have the other top seed, North Carolina, and the darlings of the tournament in my eyes so far, Villanova. The Wildcats got a little bit of home cooking in the first two rounds as they were able to play in Philidelphia, but hey it's not the first time a team has gotten a relatively easy road early, it happens. The Wildcats still had to go to Boston and dispose of both Duke and Pittsburgh, in what might have been the game of the tournament. They look to go to their first National Championship since 1985, the last time they took home the big prize.

But with the overall number one seed now out, it seems to be the heavy favorite now, if they still weren't before, would be the Tar Heels. They are coming off of victories over #4 Gonzaga and #2 Oklahoma and the National Player of the Year, Blake Griffin. The ankle of Ty Lawson appears to be holding up fine, and he only has two games left to get through. Tyler Hansbrough has been playing his typical hustle basketball, and even out shined against Griffin this past Sunday night.

So who is going to move on? I am going to go on a limb and say we are not going to get the #1 vs. #1 match-up and everyone wants to see. I think Tom Izzo is going to keep motivating the troops and getting the most out of his players when they lace em up in Detroit and play what will essentially be a home game. I think Thabeet gets into some foul trouble early in the second half, some of the three pointers fall for old Spartie, and Michigan State is barely able to score enough to knock off UConn and move on to the National title. Their opponent? The Tar Heels. Villanova has had a serious run and looks like they were a little under rated in the Big East this year. Then again with so many good teams knocking each other off, it's hard for all of them to go a whole season without flying under the radar a little bit. However, the run will end on Saturday and Villanova will not go to their first National title in twenty four years. Instead, North Carolina will be returning their for the second time in five years.

As far as the championship? I am also going to go with the Tar Heels. Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, and gang will complete their run and get Roy Williams another National title. I will have a more detailed preview as we get closer, just in case my final four predictions are wrong. Which isn't entirely out of the questions looking at my bracket in hindsight. However, I still do have a chance to get the ultimate prize, I did pick the Tar Heels to win the whole thing after all.

Other Notes:

*It looks like John Calipari may be leaving the Memphis Tigers to move into the Southeastern Conference and take the recently vacated job at Kentucky. Billy Gillesppi was fired a few days ago and the Wildcats have been looking to make a big splash actively pursuing both Billy Donnovan of the Florida Gators and Calipari of Memphis. It is being rumored by both ESPN and some of Calipari's staff that he is going to accept the deal and bolt from Memphis.

Smart decision? Why not. Kentucky is a legendary school and although a few people have had their problems their recently, the right guy can win there. The SEC also isn't overly strong on the hard wood, so building the program back up and being competitive in one of the "BCS conferences" may not take as long as it may have say he left for the Big East or ACC. If it is true and Calipari does end up in the blue grass state then Billy Donnovan, Bruce Pearl, and some of the other class coaches off the SEC better watch out. The coaching pool would get a whole lot deeper with this signing and some of Kentucky's tradition and credibility would be back over night. As a Gator fan this is something that makes me a little nervous.

*'Zo Mourning got his number retired last night, it was nice to see him so moved and touched by the ceremony. Mourning was a real good guy in the sports world and it's terrible some of the things he had to go though. He was a tough guy and was able to over come a lot of those to come back and make a return to the NBA. He def. deserved the ceremony and to have his number raised to the rafters. As far as the game went, D-Wade dropped 42 for the Miami Heat and they still lost by six points to the surging Orlando Magic. Dwayne Wade is certainly having an MVP like season, but on Mourning's night it sure looked like the Miami Heat could of used a big man much like himself out there on the court.

*If the playoffs in the NBA were to begin today the Magic would have the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. It kind of puts into perspective how much of a toll injuries and lack of depth off the bench have hurt the Boston Celtics. It wasn't long ago that they were the top seed in the East and fighting for home court advantage. Now if they playoffs were to be seeded the way they are now it would look like this:

#1 Cleveland vs. #8 Chicago
#2 Orlando vs. #7 Detroit
#3 Boston vs. #6 Philadelphia
#4 Atlanta vs. Miami

Seeing that and being a Celtics fan, makes me feel a little bit better. The 76ers in the first round wouldn't be a terrible match-up. Brand should still be out for the playoffs and if you are able to control Andre Iguodala, there isn't much else on the team to hurt you. Once the C's are into the second round they would have to face the Magic. Once you get past Dwight Howard, I don't think those three point shooters will hold up to lead them to the NBA championship. Then it would be off to Cleveland and a war with the Cav's. All bets would be off then.

Look at those seeds makes one other thing very clear. Oh my how the Detroit Pistons have fallen. They look as if their six year run to Eastern Conference finals will surely be over, and they are only a game ahead of Chicago of eighth and dead last. They would mean a first round date with Lebron. Goodluck Detroit. Then again you are only three games ahead of the Bobcats, one big slide and maybe Mo Town misses the playoffs completely. Ah, got to love that Billups for Iverson trade huh Pistons fans?

*Mark Cuban was fined by the NBA Monday for making comments regarding NBA officials on twitter. This comes as just the latest in a slew of public new of NBA stars or public figures and twitter. Charlie Villanueva was fined a couple weeks ago for tweeting during halftime. A week late Shaq O'Neil, one of the widely followed Twitter stars, decided to do the same thing and proclaimed nothing would happen. It didn't. Suns coach stepped up and said as long as the big fella is putting up his numbers there isn't a problem. Cuban wasn't so lucky, his pocket will be a little lighter for the comments. It's ok guys, I still enjoy them. I am following all three of them on twitter and love it as a fan. Are you on twitter yet? You can follow me on the right hand of this website.

*Caught Lebron James on 60 Minutes this past Sunday night. Kind of made me realize just how big this guy is 6'9 and 260 pounds? Now that's a grown man. Hitting an under hand shot, first attempt, from behind half court? Simply amazing. Reminds me of the old Michael Vick commercial where he throws the ball over 100 yards in the air, except this looked real. Swish.

*And finally, is it freakin' time for NBA playoffs yet? Christ.

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I Smell Baseball: A Red Sox Preview

Monday, Mar 30, 2009 | Feedback | Comment

(AP) 4th and Maine: Kid says it all: YANKEES SUCK!

I smell baseball...

Opening day is just one week away. That's right the Boston Red Sox will kick off their 2009 campaign in just one week against the 2008 American League Champion, the Tampa Bay Rays. That's right we will have a rematch of last years ALCS for Opening Day. On April 6th, in Fenway the season will begin.

As all of the snow starts to melt here in New England, we are left with rain and waiting. Those days between the final meaningless spring training games, or the World Baseball Classic (whichever you prefer), seemingly take forever. Not until we see those nine guys run from the dugout in those home whites and storm the fresh green grass of friendly Fenway for the first time, spring is not officially here.

That leaves us a few more days before we can start to sit in front of the television and be comforted by the familiar sounds of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. Ah, I can't wait. However there are still a few burning questions with this team: like who will be the fifth starter?

This past week Red Sox manager Terry Fancona announced the top four to a very deep rotation. For the first time since he joined the Red Sox, Josh Beckett will be the teams opening day starter. He will be followed in the rotation by stud young lefty: Jon Lester, who threw a no hitter last year and won 16 games in 08. The third slot will be filled by Dice-K, who is coming off another strong World Baseball Classic, although he did throw a ton of pitches. The forth spot has also already been named, and surprising to some, it is going to long time Boston veteran Tim Wakefield. The knuckleballer is coming off of a 10 win, 11 loss season last year, one that saw him post a 4.13 era.

Terry Fancona also announced that stud young arm Justin Masterson, will start the year in the bullpen. This is a spot that Masterson really succeeded with last year down the stretch and I think it will be a good move. Masterson will be able to eat up middle innings when needed and also come in and get the team through some tough situations in a potential 7th or 8th inning. If Masterson does assume long relief duty, it would also keep is arm strong in case of any potential injuries to the staff causing them to need his services.

However, the way it looks now that will not be necessary. The Red Sox have three front of the staff type of guys all battling for the last spot in their five man rotation. The battle is being fought primarily between young phenomenon Clay Buckholtz, who presently has a 0.46 era in what likely will be all of the action he will see the spring. Buckholtz has arguably been Boston's best pitcher this spring. He is being opposed by long time Major League veteran and first year Red Sox, Brad Penny. Penny, who has sat out much of the spring resting his shoulder, threw three strong innings on Monday.

The Wild Card in all of this is John Smoltz. Smoltz, a sure fire Hall of Famer whenever he laces up the boots, is also a first year Red Sox and is looking to crack the rotation sometime in the first few months of the season. Smoltz is coming off of off-season shoulder work and the Red Sox brass has been bringing him along slowly. He will most likely not be a candidate for the fifth spot the first few go arounds, but he certainly will have something to say about it by mid-May or early June.

So the main question is Buckholtz or Penny? With Francona already solidifying Wakefield's spot, thats not really up for argument, I think he would be a valuable tool right there next to Paps, Okie, Kuroda, Masterson, and the other arms in the pen. Wake has been there and done that. But he is in the rotation or the argument goes else where.

For the sake of the way things have been shaking out I would give Clay Buckholtz the nod for the initial few starts. I think Brad Penny should be treated a little bit with kid gloves and kind of lead down the same path as Smoltz. The Sox invested a little bit of money in both men, and should of eyes on having them throw meaningful innings in August and September. Clay has shown his arm is feeling good and he has been throwing extremely well. I think they should allow him to make a few starts while bringing Penny along in an extended Spring Training or in a few simulated games. If Penny progresses well, then you can bring him in a few weeks into the season and then Buckholtz and be sent down to AAA or if Wakefield falters at all, perhaps they look at the bullpen as an option for him.

Either way, I think Buckholtz has at least earned the opportunity to have a shot. He has thrown extremely well and it seems he would love to have the opportunity to make up for a disappointing 2008 campaign.

4th and Maine's Projected Red Sox Opening Day Rotation:

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
Tim Wakefield
Clay Buckholtz

Projected End of the Year Rotation:

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
John Smoltz
Clay Buckholtz

As far as the lineup goes, Terry Fancona has been pretty tight lipped. The biggest questions in the order are between the five and seven holes primarily. The three men that are being shuffled around by all the local papers and television shows are J.D. Drew, Jason Bay, and Mike Lowell. It looks as though the most likely order would go in the order previously so the opening day lineup should look a little like this:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Dustin Pedroia 2B
3. Kevin Youkilis 1B
4. David Ortiz DH
5. J.D. Drew RF
6. Jason Bay LF
7. Mike Lowell 3B
8. Jason Varitek C
9. Jed Lowerie SS

The 5 and 6 holes will probably be a constant work in progress as J.D. Drew seems to be J.D. Who until we get to October. Whatever, I'll take the constant days off in the summer months for clutch home runs in the American League Championship. I feel fine with Jason Bay in the five hole as I feel he will put up big numbers in his first full year in Boston. I also fully expect Kevin Youkilis to have a career year home run wise and possibly belt 35-40 dingers.

Like I said before, bullpen looks strong with Delcarmen, Okajima, Saito, Papelbon, and Masterson. Javy Lopez is a little bit of a question but the pen would only get stronger with the additions of any of Wakefield, Buckholtz, Penny, or Smoltz.

The bench is a little light but the strong points are Rocco Baldelli and Julio Lugo. I feel both of these guys will strive with sub-roles and coming off the bench. The is if Julio Lugo can accept that.

Overall not too much of a turn over from last year, feel the team if overall a little stronger and just stacked with arms. There are a couple waiting in the wings in the minors as well. I have no reason to believe the sox will not contend and should make the playoffs, and you shouldn't either.

Prediction: 96-66

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4th and Maine Quick Takes: WBC, A-Rod, Celtics, more

Wednesday, Mar 11, 2009 | Feedback | Comment

Well, the World Baseball Classic is in full swing and there have been some terrific games thus far in the tournament. Most notably last night when the Netherlands upset the Dominican Republic for the second time in the first round of the tournament. They pulled it out with two runs in the bottom of the 11th and claim victory 2-1. The United States has also advanced to the second round with two victories already. They will finish out first round pool play today Wednesday March 11th.

The second round will start in a few days and hopefully the action will be as hotly contested as the first. This is a nice breath of fresh air into a stale spring training season and makes me very anxious for the start of the MLB season. I think more of the top stars should take the World Baseball Classic seriously and it should be played every two years instead or three so more of the major stars have a chance to play in more annual Classics. It gives guys that sometimes have no chance at playoffs and big at bats in the majors have a chance to really come up big. It's fun stuff.

I am also glad to see A-Roid decide to have surgery. I wish it was the bigger and more serious surgery but I'll take even 6-9 weeks. I just hope karma sticks around and we needs the bigger surgery later to end his season.

The Sox pitching looks like it will be strong this year even if they hold out John Smoltz until June and just get marginal performances from Brad Penny. The bullpen looks alot deeper and the back end of the rotation should be a little bit better then last year. The offense doesn't look as strong as in the past but the way Bay and the Greek God of Walks are hitting so far in the Classic, they should still be able to score some runs.

Off baseball for a second, T.O. to the Bills? What exactly is the point of this besides T.O. just getting the most possible dollars? He doesn't care about winning or Buffalo. He's just going to where the money sings. I as a Pats fan am not worried about the pickup at all and I am glad that the Pats didn't make a play on this. However, I would like to see them at least negotiate with Harrison. I know he is in the later stages of his career but as a third or fourth wide out for Tom Brady that could pay big dividens.

The Celtics are still in second place in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half behind the Cavs going into a game tonight with Miami. I hear alot of the C's will be out tonight, so with the kind of heroics D Wade has been coming out with lately, they could fall to two games back. I'm not too worried, there are still 20 games left and Garnett should be back soon. If they don't over take them in the regular season they are fully capable of doing so in the playoffs I think.

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