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In Praise Of March Madness & Some News of Baseball, College and MLB

I must admit that I've come down with a real case of March Madness.  I don't bet, I don't intend to bet, and I don't make up brackets for either the men's or the women's tournaments. 


But there is something intoxicating about the winner-take-all atmosphere that will dominate the sports scene into the first days of April. I'm especially thrilled that my two favorite teams, Columbia women and Wisconsin men, are still alive and dreaming of advancing. 


I attended the Ivy League tournament this past weekend, held for the first time at my alma mater's Levien Gym that was pretty much filled to the rafters with almost 3000 people.  There was disappointment on Saturday afternoon when perennial Ivy League women's champion Princeton proved too much for Columbia, who shared the regular season title with the Tigers. On this afternoon Princeton dominated in a 75-58 whipping.


The crowd did its best, shouting "De-fense! De-fense!" in the first minute and reviving it even in the second half when the outcome was clear. The gloom over the next 24 hours turned to elation when Columbia was selected to play against Vanderbilt in a play-in game.


It will be on Wed Mar 20 at 9p on ESPNU (channel 370 on Spectrum in Manhattan).  It marks the first NCAA tournament appearance ever for the Lions who have come a long way under Megan Griffith, a passionate and talented coach now in her 8th year. She was a 1000 point scorer during her Columbia playing career and after playing as a pro overseas she served as a Princeton assistant coach. 


The Vanderbilt game gives the nation another chance at seeing Columbia's all-around senior guard Abbey Hsu. A four-year starter who has improved each season, she is a quiet leader who leads by example.  She has the kind of shot and follow-through that, as Griffith says, you will see it today and then three months later, it will look exactly the same.  


The earlier game this Wed at 7p on ESPNU will feature the Presbyterian Blue Hose from Clinton, SC, v the Sacred Heart Pioneers from Fairfield, CT.  The winner of Columbia-Vanderbilt will play Baylor on Fri at 6p on ESPNU. The Sacred Heart-Presbyterian winner will face overall number 1 seed the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks on Fri at 2p on ESPN. 


On Sat Mar 23 at 530p on ESPN2, Princeton will meet West Virginia at Iowa City. 

Earlier on Sat, Caitlin Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes will meet a play-in winner at 3p on ABC. 


In the second round a possible matchup looms between Iowa and Princeton.  The Ivy League champ has beaten top teams in prior tournaments so

Princeton will not be an easy game for any opponent. First things first in March Madness, win the game today!


On Sat at 130p on ESPN, the undefeated Fairfield Stags from Fairfield, CT  take on Indiana in Bloomington

30 minutes earlier, perennial contender/often champion UConn Huskies take on Jackson State in Storrs. 1p on ABC.


On the Division III side, the NYU Violets completed their 31-game undefeated season by bringing home the title to Greenwich Village with two impressive wins. They handled defending champion the Transylvania U. Pioneers, 57-42, in the semi-final, thereby breaking the Kentucky school's 64-game winning streak. The following night Sat Mar 16, NYU held off the Smith College Pioneers, 51-41, to win their first national title since 1997 and 2nd overall in the school's history.   


There is plenty of news on the men's side of March Madness. In the men's final of the Ivy tournament at Columbia, the Yale Bulldogs won the title in dramatic fashion by beating the upset-minded Brown Bears, 62-61. Conquerors of top-seeded Princeton, Brown could not hold a 6-point lead in the last minute. A deadly elixir of missed foul shots, two timely Yale three-pointers, and a lay-in as time ran out led to a very painful loss for the men from Providence RI.


Under longtime coach James Jones, Yale has won games in March Madness and they have enough balance to cause trouble for any team.

On Fri Mar 22 they play the Auburn Tigers, alma mater of Charles Barkley and football/baseball legend Bo Jackson, at 415p on TNT.


A special shout-out to Wagner College of Staten Island whose men will also compete in a play-in game:

Tues Mar 19 245p on CBS against Howard of Washington DC (a school named after Oliver O. Howard who was the first director of the Freedmen's Bureau formed after the Civil War - a little dose of history in this vital year of 2024 always seems necessary). 

The winner goes against formidable 4th national seed North Carolina on Th Mar 21 245p CBS.


Here's a kudo to the Wagner band that performed very capably during the Princeton-Columbia game.  It is a band for hire, I learned, and they completed a reamrkable week of playing in four other tournaments!  


The Wisconsin men Badgers have recovered from a ghastly 3-8 finish to the regular season to garner a 5 seed and will play the James Madison Dukes from Harrisonburg, Virginia on Friday night Mar 22 at 940p on CBS.  I had a chance to see them in person at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn but the upper deck at that dimly-lit home of the Brooklyn Nets is much too steep for my unsteady gait and balance to deal with.


I hope 7-foot Steven Crowl will want to shoot the basketball and grab the defensive rebound with two hands which he didn't do at two crucial points in the loss to formidable Illinois in the Big Ten tourney final on St. Patrick's Day. Normally a fairly reliable rebounder, Crowl on two crucial plays slapped at the ball, tipping it to where alert Illini players regained possession and converted key baskets in a hard-fought 93-87 victory that allowed Illinois to cut down the nets in celebration.


Ah the rituals of sports that we have lost touch with in this age of analytics where legions of young men and women are looking at computer screens and other new-fangled devices and losing sight of the powerful drama and the tactile pleasures of rituals.


On the positive side for Wisconsin, the return of an aggressive Chucky Hepburn has been a wonderful development.  He is a remarkable point guard, a junior from Omaha Nebraska who has had to deal with a personal tragedy - his best friend was killed during Hepburn's freshman season.  When he is looking to score as well as to pass and play his devilish "hand-is-quicker-than-eye" defense, he adds so much to the Badger cause.



Time now for some college baseball talk.  Kudos to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who returned from their pre-Big Ten season southern trip with a 13-6 record and a 3-game winning streak.  Shortstop Josh Kuroda-Grauer was named Big Ten player of the week for his stellar play.


Rutgers plays 6 games at home at Bainton Field this week, starting with:

Tu Mar 19 at 3p vs. Rider Broncs of Trenton NJ

W Mar 20 3p vs. Lafayette Leopards from Easton PA

F thru Su Mar 22, 23, 24 against Connecticut Huskies

     F at 4p, Sa at 2p, Su at 1p.

Tu Mar 26 3p NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology)


After a winless road trip to California and East Carolina (not uncommon in the career of highly successful Lions coach Brett Boretti who stresses playing a tough non-league schedule), Columbia hosts contenders Harvard and defending champion Penn the last two weekends in March.

Sat Mar 23 1130a and approximately 3p - twinbill against harvard,  Sun noon Mar 24 single game.  Sat weather looks rainy so checking with

gocolumbialions.com a good idea before you make the trek to Satow Stadium, just north of the Baker Field complex.


Sat Mar 30 1130 & approx. 3p Penn twinbill - Sun Mar 31 noon single game. 


More on the other college teams in NYC area including St. John's, Seton Hall, and Manhattan in the next posts.


As far as pro baseball in NY, the long 162-game season starts with Mets at home first against the Milwaukee Brewers

Th Mar 28 110p  After an off-day, they finish with the Brew Crew Sat Sun and then Detroit Tigers come in Apr 1-3.


The Yankees start on the road in Houston and Arizona and then open at home against Toronto. 

Opening Day Apr 5 at 110 and then no day off but a rare Sa night Apr 6 at 710 followed by Sun at 110. 

Marlins come in Apr 8-10 and Yankees are away until Rays come in Apr 19-21. 


With so many - too many, I say - teams eligible for post-season play now, our old great game aint what it used to be.

The Dodgers and Padres will be playing games that count in Seoul, Korea as early as Mar 20 and Mar 22.  They call it "growing the game"

and both owners and players are in agreement on this (although the players cannot like the huge amount of travel so early in season). 


I would love to see baseball return to its 154-game schedule or preferably less.  But no one is even talking about it and there is a limit to how

many windmills I can tilt against.  So let me conclude as I have done since the pandemic by urging "Stay positive, test negative," and

as always, there remains nothing as good as the advice:  "Take it easy but take it."    







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"Every Season Is Different": The Prince of Paranoia Opines On Orioles & Columbia Women's and Wisconsin Men's Basketball (expanded edition)

My last post introduced a new nickname for yours truly, The Prince of Paranoia, courtesy of eminent Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman whose name will be affixed permanently upon the Oriole Park at Camden Yards press box. 


When word came last Thursday on the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training that two key Oriole pitchers, Kyle Bradish and John Means, will start the season on the injured list, my gulp could be heard most of the way to Sarasota. 


Bradish had a breakout 2023 and would likely be the number two starter behind newly-acquired Corbin Burnes. Kyle has now been diagnosed with an UCL sprain (ulnar collateral ligament) that often leads to Tommy John surgery.  Means has still not recovered fully from his TJ surgery two years ago.


There is also news of the stress fracture in throwing elbow of Samuel Basallo, the Dominican catcher-first baseman who is not yet 20 years old. He is not expected to make the team this year, but he won't be playing in the field until later in the season.  Throw in a fourth, supposedly minor injury, the aching oblique of Gunnar Henderson the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year, and all those "experts" picking the Orioles for the World Series should be taking a step back.


It helps me to recall a great adage, "Every season is different". Last year's record means next to nothing in a new season. Nothing really counts for the Birds until March 28 when their regular season begins against the Ohtani-less LA Angels.  The Padres and Dodgers start 8 days earlier in Korea as part of the international "grow the game" philosophy that the owners and Players Association seemingly agree is a good idea.   


I still pledge that the Prince of Paranoia won't really get rolling until the games actually count.  And now I'm introducing a more benign nickname,

Captain Culture. This was bestowed upon me decades ago by a colleague at UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County), the late philosophy professor and world educator Thomas Luther "Tom" Benson.  


There is nothing like the arts opportunities in my overpopulated but very stimulating home town. About a week ago, Captain Culture was enthralled by a delightful NY City Ballet rehearsal of Jerome Robbins 1956 satirical ballet, "The Concert."   


It takes great talent to deliberately make mistakes in any art and this piece spoofs the inability of certain dancers to make the correct hand gestures and leg kicks. Adding to the hilarity is a dancing role for the pianist who plays wonderful Chopin throughout the piece but is hardly agile chasing with a net the dancers costumed as butterflies in the last scene.


There are two more chances to see "The Concert," aka "The Perils of Everybody," as part of the ballet program at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center:

Th Feb 22 at 730p

Th Feb 29 at 730p     Info on tickets at nycb.com  


I've always felt great athletes are like dancers in their grace, stamina, and technical prowess.  Yesterday Su Feb 18, I saw on ESPNU one of the most intense basketball games I ever saw.  The Columbia women's basketball team improved to 9-1 in the Ivy League with a grueling 71-63 victory at third-place Harvard (7-3). 


I had never seen a game where no team led by more than 4 points until midway in the fourth quarter when Columbia finally got some breathing room.  Outstanding team defense and balanced scoring were the keys to the victory with junior Cecelia Collins leading the Lions with 20 points, including six vital free throws in the last minutes.  (Collins, a Scranton PA native, is one of the best advertisements for a wise use of the transfer portal - she previously played two seasons at Bucknell in Lewisburg PA.)  


Columbia hosts the much-anticipated rematch with Princeton (10-0 in league, #25 in the nation) on Sat Feb 24 at 2p.  It's the last regular season home game for the Lions but the Ivy League four-team post-season tournament will be held in the same Levien Gym from Mar 15-17.  If you haven't seen Abbey Hsu, the senior sharpshooting guard who is in the running for Naismith Player of the year, don't miss these last chances.  Ticket info at



Establishing a "winning culture" - the phrase du jour throughout all sports these days -  is not easy, but Megan Griffith the youthful Columbia coach now in her 7th year, and her staff have done it. Everyone associated with the team contributes to a winning culture. 


One of the nice touches this year was earlier this month when Noah Dayon, one of the team managers, sang an excellent no-frills acapella National Anthem before one of the games. 


I was a manager of men's basketball for three years and never was asked to sing. Mercifully.  But I did hit a 30-foot jump shot in coaches-managers game in the old University Gymasium and 30 years later a jump shot in a media game at Madison Square Garden.   


One last word on Columbia sports - Brett Boretti's Columbia Lions open the home season very early this year because of unexpected cancellations.

Marist from Poughkeepsie NY visits for a four game series over the weekend of Mar 1 - with single games Mar 1 & 3 at 3P and twinbill Mar 2 at Noon.

Big Ivy League matchups come early this year - SaSu Mar 23 with Harvard and SaSu Mar 30 defending league champion Penn.  


The news is not as good for my other favorite team the Wisconsin men's Badgers.  They have lost 5 of their last 6 games and their seeding in both the post-season Big Ten tournament and the national tournament is plummeting.


It is hard to put a finger on one particular reason for the slide.  I always think back to former coach Bo Ryan, who is on the ballot again for enshrinement in the Springfield (MA) Basketball Hall of Fame, who once said, "We judge our players by what it takes to discourage them."   


It seems too many of the current Badgers can't put together consistent games. It will be up to current coach Greg Gard, Ryan's longtime assistant, to find the key to re-ignite a talented squad that looked so good and so deep in the first half of the season.


Although Gard's contract reportedly runs for three more years, Ohio State fired once-heralded coach Chris Holtmann after a loss last week to the Badgers in Madison.  The Buckeyes responded with a win at home yesterday over national title contender Purdue. 


I still am wary of quick fixes. But in this age of NIL funds for top talent at one end and the wide-open transfer portal for all players, it will take wise

leadership from administrators to navigate these new currents that were overdue but seem to border now on the chaotic.   


In closing sad notes - RIP basketball coach Lefty Driesell, 92, died Feb 17. Brought top-notch basketball to the University of Maryland and earlier Davidson and later James Madison and Georgia State. His Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech was a classic.   


RIP Don Gullett, 73, died Feb 14, outstanding southpaw with 109-50 career record.  Only pitcher in MLB history to win four World Series in a row, two with one team (Reds 1975-76, Yankees 77-78).  Injuries and illnesses curtailed career at age 31. Remained lifelong friend of Gene Bennett, the scout who signed him and projected his greatness from 7th grade on. I tell story of their heartwarming relationship in the Bennett chapter in my recent book BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES (University of Nebraska Press).   


That's all for now.  Take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative.

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