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Pitchers and Catchers Have Reported, but I Must Admit College Basketball Still Grabs My Attention

The Northeast has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. Well, "heat" is a bit of an exaggeration - temps in lower 60s - but I've been parading around my Upper West Side NYC neighborhood in my Cape Cod Summer Baseball League sweatshirt without need for an overcoat.

(The CCBL, by the way, should be on any baseball fan's bucket list: Games at no cost from early June to early August with some of the best amateur players in competition - many of them are on the cusp of pro careers. More info: check out www.ccbl.org)

The main thing about spring training is to get and keep everyone healthy before the season begins. In the days of the reserve system when players had to work in the off-season, spring training was a time for getting into shape and losing weight.

Today, the six weeks or more in Florida or Arizona might seem excessive because smart players stay in shape all year round. But who wants to give up the relaxed environment of warm weather climates?

Just don't believe any spring training stats esp. during the first few weeks of exhibition games. Yes, exhibition games were what they used to be called and should still be called. "Pre-season" sounds more serious and it allows ticket prices to reach the ridiculous $40 and $50 range and even higher.

Turning to the hardwood game, the Wisconsin Badgers broke their two-game losing streak with a much-needed home win on Sunday Feb 19 over the Maryland Terps.
The two big Badger frontcourtmen sophomore Ethan Happ and senior Nigel Hayes led the way in scoring.

But it was the second half return to form of senior leader Bronson Koenig that triggered the Badger victory. A calf injury caused Koenig to miss the loss at Michigan earlier in the week, but after not scoring in limited first half action Sunday, Koenig hit a couple of jump shots that really triggered the comeback win.

As Koenig goes so goes the Badgers is the short story of the 2016-2017 squad. He has much on his plate as he is also an activist in the native American movement against the Dakota pipeline.

I noticed today huge tattoos on his chest honoring his Ho-Chunk heritage. The team has been supportive of his commitment because there is no doubt that he remains a court leader in the Badgers' quest to go deep into the post-season.

Yet winning the Big Ten title and hoisting another banner at the Kohl Center home court means a lot to the team and to me as a semi-fanatical alum. Wisconsin is tied with Purdue in the Big Ten title race with Maryland a game behind with four games to play.

The Big Ten may be down this year according to the pollsters and the tournament seeding mavens, but the competition level remains high. I only wish the refs would use more restraint in their dishing out technicals to benches.

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon got one in the Wisconsin game, and it was nice to see his assistants calming him down to keep him from being ejected. The T did not affect the final outcome because Wisconsin controlled the game from the middle of the second half.

The T on the Michigan bench in the tough struggle against Minnesota at Minneapolis Sunday night basically determined the outcome. Though Michigan gallantly fought back to force overtime, the Wolverines would have won except for the technical.

In the Ivy League, home of my other alma mater Columbia, the Lions have lost excruciatingly close games the last two weekends. After an 0-5 start Penn has roared back into playoff contention.

The Quakers jumped ahead of the Lions for the fourth and last spot in the first-ever Ivy League tournament. It is coming up the second weekend of March at Penn's legendary home court the Palestra.

Columbia meets the Killer P's, Princeton and Penn, at home this coming weekend.
Odds are long now against the Lions but they will compete and compete hard. Of that I am sure. How well and how smart is another question that will decided on the court.

On the women's side, Columbia broke a three-game losing streak Saturday night by thumping Dartmouth 69-48. Picked for last in the Ivy League, the Lions under new coach Megan Griffith has won 3 games in the league and lost some very close ones.
They need one more win in their last four games to be assured of an overall winning record for the season.

Junior Camille Zimmerman is a legitimate Player of the Year candidate as a consistent 20-point scorer who tries her hardest to work within the team framework.

Perhaps the most optimistic event of the weekend was the play of first year guards Janiya Clemmons and Maya Sampleton. Rushed into action because of injuries to upperclassmen, they both performed with poise.

Clemmons has a chance to be an electrifying player because she always keeps her head up and is eager and willing to drive to the hoop, not afraid of making mistakes.
As long as the Lions keep playing outstanding defense, they have a real chance in future seasons to crash the Ivy League women's cage elite.

That's all for now - until the next time, always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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Super Bowl and Hoops Notes While Waiting for Pitchers and Catchers to Report

It was a thrilling Super Bowl. Only the most rabid and irrational New England Patriot-hater could not tip a cap to the brilliance of Tom Brady.

I was rooting for Atlanta but as a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers I was thrilled to see former Wisconsin running back James White have a great game and score the winning touchdown in overtime.

However, I do think the rule should be changed that both teams have a chance to score in overtime. I know it was with great reluctance a few years ago that NFL honchos made a change that if the first team with the ball doesn't score a touchdown, the opponent does get a chance.

But tell me any sport where the climactic game of the season is influenced so powerfully by a coin flip. Another reason why baseball and basketball are superior sports. And not as violent and injury-laden.

Speaking of basketball, I saw something at the start of the Columbia-Brown game on Saturday night that I never saw before. The five starters for Brown were listed on the scoreboard with numbers 1-2-3-4-5.

Hadn't seen such symmetry on a scoreboard since a baseball game in Minnesota over 20 years ago when the Indians were a dominant team and scored 1 run in the 1st, 2 in the 2nd, 3 in the 3rd, 4 in the 4th and 5 in the 5th (innings).

Columbia held on to beat Brown 83-78 and stay in the hunt for one of the four playoff spots in the first-ever Ivy League post-season tournament coming up second weekend in March. Brown's number 3, by the way, is senior Steven Spieth, brother of champion golfer Jordan Spieth.

Steven has been a solid contributor for the Brown Bears. But on Saturday, Columbia's smooth-shooting and defensively-improving senior forward Luke Petrasek and company were too much.

And a tip of my alumnus cap to seven-foot senior center Conor Voss. Coming off the bench he has become a reliable defender and an effective pivot in the offense.

By Valentine's Day all major league teams will have opened camps. It's a little early this year because the World Baseball Classic will take many players away from their teams for more than two weeks.

Many managers like Baltimore's Buck Showalter and Cleveland's Terry Francona have not been subtle about their opposition to the lost time for their minions. But the WBC is probably here to stay as an effort "to grow the game" internationally.

One last baseball note - I think the cumulative stats of Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines make their Hall of Fame election acceptable. I still believe that the H of F should be for the great and not just the very good.

I also question whether catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez merited election during his first year of eligibility.

I don't have a ballot but I needed to see pictures of how different Pudge looked during the age of undetected PED use and after. I remember seeing him running sprints before a Tigers-Yankees playoff game a few years ago. He was so fast and slim. I doubt if he looked that way a few years earlier but I have not seen the pictures.

Well,that's all for now. It is still a wonderful time of year with increasing daylight and spring training and spring itself on the horizon. So always: Take it easy but take it!
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