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Wisconsin and Columbia Cagers Provide Joy While Orioles Sputter in Spring Training

There is nothing like having one's team in contention for a title. Much was expected of the Columbia basketball team this season. Its four seniors brought a lot to the table and two were coming back from year-long injuries: forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins.

Combined with perennial All-Ivy shooting marvel Maado Lo and the versatile Isaac Cohen - who can impact a game positively without take a shot - an end to the Ivy League championship drought since 1967-68 seemed within reach. Unfortunately for fans of the Light Blue and White Lions, Yale and Princeton were just a little bit better this season.

Yet Columbia under six=year head coach Kyle Smith has done very well in the post-season College Insiders Tournament (a tourney so "inside" that very few people know about it). Blessed with two home games, Columbia trounced Norfolk State and came from behind to nip Ball State 69-67.

On Easter Sunday March 27 at 6p they will face NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) for the right to meet in the championship game on Tuesday March 29. Both games will be televised on the CBS Sports Network cable channel. NJIT's coach is a former Columbia assistant Jim Engles, something that adds a little flavor to the matchup. The Lions beat NJIT by 9 points in December.

Meanwhile out in Big Ten land my graduate alma mater University of Wisconsin Badgers has surprised all the pundits by making the Sweet Sixteen. Not once all season did they crack the Top 25 in the weekly polls. (Among superfluous ridiculous aspects in today's sports, those basketball-football polls rank very high IMHO).

Lots of heart-warming stories with this year's Badger team. High among them is coach Greg Gard earning the full-time job for his great work after taking over in mid-December after Bo Ryan's retirement.

Unlike Ryan who rarely used his bench, Gard has developed youngsters Jordan Hill and Ethan Iverson and Charlie Thomas into players who can provide key minutes while the impressive starters need a rest.

A third straight Final Four appearance seemed the unlikeliest of dreams a few weeks ago. It is still a long shot but how lovely it is to dream of it. Even to the point of writing about it just a few hours before the Badgers take on Notre Dame for the right to play either North Carolina or Indiana on Sunday.

All this basketball love has enabled me not to worry too much (yet) about how the Orioles will fare in 2016. If I were a pundit predicting the season, I would be hard-pressed not to pick them 5th in the 5=team AL East. Their starting pitching looks mediocre at best.

But fortunately no games count until Monday April 4 when they begin the season against the Minnesota Twins who swept them out of the pennant race last year with seven straight victories. Certainly the Birds are due for a win. So I will say with a wan smile channeling the late pitcher-pundit Joaquin Andujar, "Youneverknow, youneverknow."

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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