“Another damn NCAA column? How about some baseball? Must we all talk about college baseketball 24/7? Will nothing stop the (March) madness!!!”
There, I saved you the work of an angry comment about a non-baseball article. Hey, I’m the Twins Geek, so I feel your pain. But if the NCAA tournament isn’t the greatest event in sports today, it’s at least the greatest gimmick in sports today. You – yes, even you -can get into it, too. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll assimilate just fine. You might even enjoy it.
(And if you’re looking for a baseball angle, understand that most major leaguers are paying as much attention to their brackets as to the race for the last roster spot. Plus, there’s a Twins Take at the bottom. But only if you plow through the rest….)
Step 1: Take half of Thursday and all of Friday off work.
You may think you’re too cynical. You may thing you’re too mature. You may think this is a waste of time. None of these are true.
It is never a waste of time to watch a bunch of kids play under bright lights (many for the first and last time), pursuing a dream. You may believe that major college sports are thinly disguised professional leagues, and for half the teams this may be true. But there is NO WAY you can’t get behind a Central Connecticut State, or a team named the “Salukis”.
Unless of course, you didn’t pick them in your bracket. Which brings us to Step 2…
Step 2. Fill out a bracket.
Find someone – a friend, a guy at work, a web site – someone who is running a bracket pool and join the fray. You may not be an expert, but it doesn’t matter. For the next three weeks people are going to be talking about this thing, and it’s so much more fun it you have some stake in the outcome. Consider the entry fee a ticket to a social life.
Besides, it isn’t that hard to have a decent showing with just a few tips. Just the last tip below will likely put you in the top half of your pool. Invest an hour in the rest, and you could see your name hanging around the top of the standings for the next several weeks.
Tip: Find a nice short summary of each team – They’re in most papers, and they need to be written before the conference tournaments, so they’re more objective than most of the coverage you’ll see. Just put a “+” next to the teams that mention:
- good defensive reputations
- solid guards, especially if they have one with a lot of assists
- a lot of seniors
- a really good center
Put a “-“ next to the teams that have
- the words “run and gun” in their description
- haven’t played many other teams in the tourney
- have given up a lot of points.
Tip: Lose the hype – For the first round (and only the first round), put a “-“ next to a team if they won their tournament or if you see them mentioned anyplace as a sleeper or favorite. These are college kids, after all. They’ve been digesting this stuff, whether they want to or not, and are due for a let down. Alternately, if a team was supposed to win their tournament but failed, plan on a pretty decent first game for them. (But they may let down their guard in the second round).
Tip: Don’t get carried away with the underdogs – The rankings are pretty accurate. You need to really like an underdog to pick them, even in the first round. They want to pick them to go further, but understand that they almost never do. Maybe it’s the euphoria of the big win, or maybe the big programs become familiar with them after watching them play, but almost no underdogs make it past the Sweet Sixteen. The real key to a great story is knowing when to end it.
The Last Tip: Know your bracket’s scoring system – If you do nothing else than understand your bracket’s scoring system and pick accordingly, you’ll still end up in the top half of the pool. About 80% of all brackets greatly favor picking either underdogs or favorites.
If a bracket isn’t rewarding you, and I mean REALLY rewarding you for picking underdogs, then don’t pick many underdogs. If the big points come from the Final Four or championship, make damn sure favorites ends up in those spots. You’re allowed to work backwards in these things.
Step 3: Watch the first round with friends.
How many friends do you need? It depends on how hoops crazy they are. If they’re legitimately nuts, one will do. But more is always better.
I highly recommend starting at noon on Thursday, if for no other reason than you are sitting, watching basketball, and yacking with your friends at noon on Thursday. It’s just so deliciously slacker.
The bigger question is where you watch the games. There are 3-4 games at almost all times, and CBS will pick one for your market and then only go to other games if they are close. Ideally, you’ll want a place with at least three TVs and a satellite package that shows all the games. I prefer a bar, partly because I like to talk to the rest of the hoopheads about the games, too.
The bottom line is this isn’t a sporting event. It’s a week long party, culminating in a two-day celebration of youthful exuberance. Do yourself a favor and try and dig up some of your own. You won’t regret it.
Jeromy Burnitz, who played for the Pirates last year and replaced Sammy Sosa with the Cubs before that, retired on Sunday. Every spring there are veterans who don’t get offers and are forced to retire, and that’s been the case this season as well. Twins fans will remember Phil Nevin from the end of last season, and he’s being joined by past stars Eric Young and Brian Jordan.
But Burnitz had one thing going for him that none of these other guys did – he hit left-handed. His numbers dove last year, but he still hit 15 home runs against right-handed pitchers in 255 at-bats. With the 25th roster spot suddenly open, one can’t help but notice that biggest left-handed power threat on the Twins bench is Jason Tyner, who hasn’t hit a home run in 1052 major league at-bats.
I assume that the Twins have done their homework here, and that Burnitz really is finished. But for all the designated hitters that the Twins brought into camp, the only left-handed option is Garret Jones, who continues to be just miserable. I assume that neither of them are the answer, but the Twins would probably be better served by adding someone like them than a twelfth pitcher or second backup infielder.