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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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Fun Galore In 24, My Motto for the Coming Year + Reports on My Favorite College Basketball Teams + TCM Tips

There is so much negativity in today's world that this blog tries to accentuate the positive. Fun Galore In 24 is my new motto (while being aware that there is an election in November in the USA that we should participate in.) 


As I await the arrival of pitchers and catchers to spring training in just a little over a month, I can report that my two favorite college basketball teams, Columbia women's basketball and Wisconsin's men's basketball, are on winning streaks. They offer genuine hope that league championships and post-season appearances are absolutely achievable goals. 


Both teams played tough non-league schedules which is always a good idea. "To be the best you have to beat the best" and Christy Mathewson's adage, "I've learned nothing from winning and everything from losing," may be cliches, but they are truer than most. 


In the fascinating landscape of rapidly growing women's basketball, Columbia is starting five guards, led by nationally acclaimed senior Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida. In high school, she was in an adjoining building when the horrible Feb 2018 school massacre occurred.  The following year her father was the first medical professional in the state of Florida to die from covid. 


The resilient Hsu has overcome these tragedies to become a co-captain and all-around contributor to Columbia's hard-driving, good-passing team. Her rebounding, assist-making, and all-around court awareness make her a complete player. 


Youthful Lions coach Megan Griffith, a 1000-point scorer in her years at Columbia, has recruited far and wide in building the program. Joining Hsu in the starting lineup are two athletic Australians, junior co-captain Kitty Henderson and her first-year sister Fliss Henderson.  With Kitty and Abby, Cece Collins, a junior transfer from Bucknell, has become another consistent scoring threat.


And let's not forget senior Nicole Stephens, finally healthy who is often playing key moments at the end of the game.  Only 5' 7", the Pickering, Ohio (near Columbus) sparkplug always seems to get key rebounds and even blocks at crunch time. 


As a lifelong sports fan, there is a special joy in watching players develop over their college careers. l know that the stubborness of the NCAA - it stood for Never Compromise Anything Anytime - has led to NIL opportunities (Name, Image, Likeness) for the most promising players.  There is also the transfer portal available for every player after every season, but there is something to be said for players and teams growing patiently. 


"The grass is not always greener on the other side" is another old cliche that still should be considered.  


Whether Columbia can finally beat Megan Griffith's former employer Princeton and win the outright title and automatic NCAA bid remains to be seen, of course.  As long as the Lions don't look too far ahead to the matchups with the Tigers - Sa Jan 20 at 4P at Princeton, Sa Feb 24 at 2P last regular season home game - there should be exciting times at Morningside Heights gym on Broadway and 120th Street. 


The Columbia men are showing improvement too and may have an outside chance of making the four-team post-season tournament that Columbia will host this year, over the Mar 15 thru Mar 17 weekend.   For more info on both teams, go to gocolumbialions.com


The Wisconsin Badgers and The Big Ten - becoming the Big 18 next season with the addition of four West Coast teams - are another story, of course. That is big time college sports these days and it is not likely you will watch teams grow patiently.  Gotta enjoy every season moment by moment because players can leave quickly. And not necessarily wisely. 


See under Davis, Johnny, who had one breakout 2021-22 season in Madison and left after his sophomore year.  The #10 first round pick of Washington Wizards has not established himself as a pro and may even be back in the G league.  The money obviously was too good to turn down, but there is something to be said for more experience in college ball before you enter the NBA which stands for No Boys Allowed.  


This year's Badgers are exuding hope. Veteran coach Greg Gard has brought back the entire starting lineup from last season's disappointing team that failed to make the Big Dance for first time in 20 years. They did show improvement in the NIT losing in the semis to eventual champion North Texas State. 


Seven foot center Steven Crowl and versatile forward Tyler Wahl are providing good front court work and even making more foul shots than last year.  Point guard Chucky Hepburn has improved his all around play and backup Kamari McGee has really stepped up his game.  And AJ Storr, a transfer from St. Johns, has done it all and is coach Gard's dream because he accepts the challenge to improve each day.  


The Big Ten is a 20-game mosh pit + a league tournament before the Big Dance.  This is the part of college basketball I've grown to loathe.  The extra games just for TV money.  To me, league titles should mean something.  No need to bay into the wind.  I must remember Fun Galore in 24. 


More next time about the arrival of the true hot stove season with the 57th Annual New York Pro Scouts Association banquet on F Jan 19 at Leonard's of Great Neck.  Tickets available through F Jan 12 via Billy Blitzer at BBSCOUT1@aol.com  


Can't resist this Memo to owners of LA Dodgers and their superficial supporters.  You can have too many All-Stars and you still have to win on the field.  

Staying positive, here's a tip of the cap to the classy retirement statement of Astros outfielder Mickey Brantley, 36, who applauded Larry Pardo, the area scout who originally signed him for Cleveland.


Kudos also to Adam Jones, now a podcaster in Baltimore, for his longtime tribute to area scout Tim Reynolds who signed him for Mariners with the

wise counsel, "You're only a number one draft choice for one day." 


Before I leave, here are some TCM tips for January. The sports themed films are few in January but here are a few:

Tu Jan 9 215P "Three Little Words" (1950) the story of the musical and personal friendship of Bert Kalmar and baseball-loving Harry Ruby

   with Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as Kalmar and Ruby and Keenan Wynn in a rare benign (and boring) role as their manager. 


Sa Jan 13 415P "Knute Rockne, All-American" (1940) with Pat O'Brien in title role and Ronald Reagan as the Gipper -

   dir. by workmanlike pro Lloyd Bacon


Tu Jan 23 1130A "You Said A Mouthful" (1932)  Joe E Brown as a swimmer with young Ginger Rogers/Preston Foster


Every Tuesday and sometimes spilling into Wednesday is Robert Mitchum Night. Check tcm.com/schedule although there are sometimes

    annoying gaps in the schedule and at times two films listed for virtually same time slot. 

Two classics are back to back on Tu Jan 23:  8P "Night of the Hunter" (1955) dir. by Charles Laughton

945p "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957) dir by John Huston with Deborah Kerr


Eddie Muller's Noir Alley is back Sa midnight or sometimes a little later and repeated at 10A Sundays. 

Jan 14 "I Died A Thousand Times" (1955) remake of "High Sierra with the interesting duo of Jack Palance and Shelley Winters


Jan 21 Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1950) with Jane Wyman/Marlene Dietrich/Michael Wilding


Jan 28 "Woman in Hiding" (1950) with Ida Lupino/Howard Duff (soon to be Ida's husband)/Stephen McNally who epitomized evil in "Johnny



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





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