Going to the Big Dance

It’s that time of year….the NCAA tournament….dubbed the Big Dance a few decades ago. That tournament has many teams/schools/fan bases all riled up about the upcoming days. But…in a sense, others are having their own “big dance” with surprising mates.
….Let’s start with the NCAA , according to Vegas, the top 3 of the top 5 teams listed are(in order) Michigan, Illinois, Iowa. So most people are “dancing” with one of those five in their picks. But…wait a minute…the last time a Big 10 team won the NCAA title was Michigan State in 2000 (20 years ago). Prior to that, Michigan won it in 1989. The Big 10 isn’t the ONLY conference that struggles to win the NCAA…the SEC has won it 3x since 2000 (2012,07, 06). The Big 8..now the Big 12… has won it just once in the last 20 years (2008). Pac 10..or 12..whatever number it is…hasn’t won it since 1997. Sooo…which conferences are winning the title? The ACC has won it 8x since 2000 (Duke& N.Car-3x each, Virginia, Maryland back in 2002 as an ACC member). The Big East has won the title 6x—U Conn-3x, Villanova-2x & Louisville in 2013. Louisville has hop-scotched around in different conferences.
….the favorites this year are Gonzaga & Baylor. Top rated, Gonzaga competes in the West Coast Conference since 1979. While the conference has fed several players to the NBA, no teams from the have ever won the NCAA title in basketball. Gonzaga(26-0) has gone out this year to play some notable teams and notched wins against them early-Kansas, Auburn, Iowa & W.Va. W. Virginia was the ONLY team THIS entire YEAR to stay closer than 10 points to the Zags! I can’t see that happening in the tournament… and will the unusual “tightness” impact of tourney play impact the players & coaches. Baylor was in the Southwest Conf for years but merged with Big 8 to form Big 12. Baylor (22-2) also has played more high quality teams this year—Illinois, Texas, W. Va, Texas Tech, Iowa but lost to Oklahoma State in the conference championship game. Sooo… be careful in who you dance with in your brackets 😊
…this year is really, really unusual with all kinds of oddities—two teams who were picked LAST for their conference are going to Dance—Georgetown & Oregon State! For the 1st time in 30 years, neither Kentucky OR Louisville will be in the tournament! Rutgers breaks its 30 year streak (longest in the country) of NOT being in the NCAA tournament! Washington State now takes over the leading spot in that unwanted title—their last time in the NCAA Tourney was 2008. The conference tourney champions get automatic bids…it had been awhile for some teams—Oregon State & Texas had NEVER won the Pac 12 & Big 12 respectively. It had been 30 years since Alabama won the SEC tourney, 28 years for Georgia Tech in the ACC, 16 for Illinois in the Big 10 and surprisingly…at least to me..14 years since Georgetown has won the Big East Tourney! In case you’re wondering, the last time that the Billikens were in the NCAA Tournament was in 2019 under Travis Ford.
…still in the NCAA “dance mode”….in the games that I’ve watched lately. The Defensive post players are really, really at a disadvantage. Holding their ground, hands up, the shooter angles their body in the jump to draw contact. Almost 100% of the time, a foul is called on the defender. In my opinion, the foul should NOT be called….the defensive player should not be penalized for the offensive player jumping into him. It detracts from the beauty of the game– go up & down the court. In the 2nd half, if we see 5 straight times back & forth, it’s a surprise! Way too many ticky-tacky fouls called…let these talented players play. Let’s not dance at the free throw line so often.
…following up on the idea of easy fouls on the “big man”…you can’t just dance with 1 good big man. Ya gotta have 2 strong post players to dance in the Big Dance. Mizzou really struggles with Tilmon on the bench (usually foul trouble). Meanwhile, the Illini has 7-0 ft, 285 lb Kofi Cockburn straight from Oak Hill Acad (Frosh). His stats are very impressive 17.6ppg, 9.6 reb/gm. He’s a really BIG man in his body structure, yet powerful & accurate around the basket. He’s actually much more suited for the pros with his body-build. Meanwhile, behind him is 6-9 Giorgi Bezhanishvili. Giorgi plays more of the European style–more mobile, rebounds , passes crisply, moves w/o the ball, can shoot from the perimeter or put it on the floor to go by a bigger post player. He’s a strong complimentary player.
….the Cards seem to be dancing less with Harrison Bader these days. I guess 3 of 20, .150 at the plate in Florida would do that! Tyler O’Neill has been very impressive with his shortened, yet powerful, swing making much more contact while holding an unbelievable .481 mark early. He’ll definitely be a starter on opening day. Highly touted, Dylan Carlson has been penciled as a starter in the outfield also. Although, it must be noted, that many MLB observers…outside StL…don’t dance the “fast track” with Carlson that some in StL do. That 3rd spot has lots of “dancers” trying to get in the lineup–Lane Thomas who looked so strong in 2019 but slipped last year to .111 is batting .286 for the spring. Justin Williams has struggled in Florida with a .182 average. Yes..it IS spring training BUT if your spot isn’t already secure, you MUST hit! 28 year old John Nogowski is finding some dancing partners with his .333 batting mark and OPS of 1.000 in Jupiter. Frankly…with his age.. the Cards realize that IF he’s EVER going to “dance” with the Cards, it’s gotta be now! Right now its…O’Neill, Carlson, Lane.
…when talking about “All-Time Best” for the Cards at SS, most want to dance immediately with Ozzie or Marty Marion. I’d suggest that you consider as a #2 behind Ozzie, Edgar Renteria. Edgar played 6 years with the Cards. During that time he batted .290, .347-OB, .420-slug, was on 3 All-Star teams, won both of his Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Slugger Awards and was a key factor in the Cards reaching the playoffs 4 of his 6 years. 2003 was Edgar’s best year…He batted .330, .394-OB%, .480-slug, 194 hits, 100 Rbi’s! (the most RBI’s for a Card SS since 1899). As compared to all the Shortstops in Redbird history, Renteria is 4th in games (Ozzie, Templeton, Maxy are 1-2-3), 3rd in HITS, 3rd in Doubles, 2nd in HR (Paul DeJong is #1), 3rd in RBI’s, 2nd in Stolen Bases (Ozzie #1), 4th in Avg-.290, #1 in slug (500 games minimum)-.420. Marion played 8 years, Edgar-6 years in the Lou. Who would you dance with @ SS ?
….when reading about the NL Central projections…I’m surprised for the lack of support (outside the Lou) for the Cardinals winning the division. While many choose the Cards to win, it’s a “weak dance”. Some say the Cubs are due to rebound @ the plate. Others say the 2021 schedule, which returns to the 2019 style, makes it tougher on the Cards. The schedule isn’t so heavily loaded with only NL Central games. There are 60ish game against NL Cen & NL West teams. The 20 intra-league games will be against the AL Central teams—a break for the Cards– since the AL-Cent appears to be the weakest AL division. Nonetheless, one expert, picked the Cards to win the division….but have a record under .500. What does that say about the Cards….and the division? That would be ugly!
…the SEC always dances with their football rankings when they talk about the quality of their league, Why not baseball? In the latest collegiate poll, the SEC teams hold the 1 through 5 spots in the rankings! 1) Arkansas 2) Vanderbilt 3) Miss St 4) Ole Miss and #5) Florida! We all know the answer, 80,000 fans don’t go to the baseball games 😊
….well…I’m dancing myself to the sideline to sit it out. Your responses are always appreciated…go ahead…send me your Final Four, or just the NCAA Champ. Do it now….not in 3 weeks!

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