Monday, February 27, 2006

CMass Playoff Predictions -- The Rest of the Brackets

In my previous, OED-length post, I revealed my predictions for the CMass Division III Girls basketball tournament. Here are my calls on the rest of the brackets, mercifully edited for length.

Girls Division II
#4 Millbury over #5 Clinton
#6 Uxbridge over #3 Nipmuc

#1 Oxford over #4 Millbury
#2 St. Bernard's over #6 Uxbridge

#1 Oxford over #2 St. Bernard's

Girls Division I
First Round
#6 Nashoba over #11 Burncoat
#7 Doherty over #10 Tantasqua
#9 Shrewsbury over #8 St. Peter-Marian

#1 Algonquin over #9 Shrewsbury
#2 Holy Name over #7 Doherty
#3 Westboro over #6 Nashoba
#4 Leominster over #5 Shepherd Hill

#2 Holy Name over #3 Westboro
#4 Leominster over #1 Algonquin

#2 Holy Name over #4 Leominster

Boys Division III
First Round
#3 Whitinsville Christian over #14 St. mary's
#4 Bromfield over #13 Parker
#5 Quaboag over #12 Hopedale
#9 Keefe Tech over #8 Bethany Christian
#10 Maynard over #7 Monty Tech
#11 Sutton over #6 University Park

#1 Bartlett over #9 Keefe Tech
#2 West Boylston over #10 Maynard
#3 Whitinsville Christian over #11 Sutton
#4 Bromfield over #5 Quaboag

#1 Bartlett over #4 Bromfield
#3 Whitinsville Chirtian over #2 West Boylston

#1 Bartlett over #3 Whitinsville Christian

Boys Division II
First Round
#4 Tantasqua over #13 Nashoba
#5 Northbridge over #12 Oxford
#6 Millbury over #11 Groton-Dunstable
#7 Southbridge over #10 Worcester Voke
#9 Auburn over #8 Narragansett

#1 Blackstone-Millville over #9 Auburn
#2 Hudson over #7 Southbridge
#3 St. Bernard's over #6 Millbury
#4 Tantasqua over #5 Northbridge

#3 St. Bernard's over #2 Hudson
#4 Tantasqua over #1 Blackstone-Millville

#3 St. Bernard's over #4 Tantasqua

Boys Division I
First Round
#8 Quabbin over #9 Doherty

#1 Westboro over #8 Quabbin
#2 Holy Name over #7 Wachusett
#3 South over #6 St. John's
#4 Milford over #5 Marlboro

#2 Holy Name over #3 South
#4 Milford over #1 Westboro

#2 Holy Name over #4 Milford

Saturday, February 25, 2006

CMass Playoff Predictions -- Division III Girls

This will be of no interest to anyone but me, but I'm going to spend a lot of bandwidth on it anyway. Here are my not-long-awaited, not looked-forward-to predictions for the Division III CMass Girls Basketball Tournament.

This is without a doubt the strongest Division III group in years, if not in the history of the CMass Tournament. Five of the top six seeds are threats to win the tourney. In fact, those five teams are probably five of the eight best schools in the district at any division. Four of those six teams defeated Division I playoff teams in the last week. Before I pick the games, let's look at the top six teams.

1. Hopedale (19-1). Hopedale was the first name out of the hat among the three 19-1 teams and received the top seed. While they swept a difficult Dual Valley Conference at 12-0, they did not play may games out of Division III. Their one loss came to Division I Milford, a team that did not qualify for the playoffs. They were 8-0 against teams in this tournament, had two wins against conference rival Nipmuc, who qualified for the D-II tourney, and won two games against EMass playoff teams. They were 6-1 in D-I or D-II teams.

Hopedale beat us in our district playoff game last year, 64-39. It was a classic small conference-big conference tournament game, where the small team hangs around for a while and then gets steamrolled at the end. We were still within four points with 12 minutes left and then poof, we were down 20.

2. Ayer (19-1). Ayer's 19-1 record is in part the product of a weak schedule, however they have a couple of very impressive wins to their credit as well, including a victory over D-I playoff qualifier Tantasqua in last week's Mt. Wachusett Tournament small-school finals. They are 5-1 against teams in this tournament, including a split against No. 4 West Boylston. They only played four higher-division teams, winning all of them. Of those four opponents, only the aforementioned Tantasqua squad has qualified for the postseason.

We played Ayer twice this year, and were not remotely competitive with them. Last year's SLA team was able to stay close for a while (tied at the half) in our second game against essentially the same team that Ayer is fielding this season.

3. Quaboag (19-1). Quaboag is the strongest team in the bracket, falling to the three seed only because ties are broken randomly, not on strength of schedule or any other sort of competitive rationale. They have won the last three district titles and one state championship. Quaboag is 90-4 since the start of the 2002-03 season. Their only loss this season was to defending Division II state champion Hampshire. They have only played two games against teams in this tournament, beating #18 Bartlett both times. However, their lack of exposure to tourney opponents is because all of their 18 remaining games were against D-I or D-II teams.

Last week, Quaboag defeated defending WMass D-I champion Springfield Central and this year's #4 CMass Division I seed Leominster in back-to-back games. Including those games, they are 6-0 against D-I playoff teams.

SLA has never played Quaboag, thank God.

4. West Boylston (17-3). West Boylston has played in the CMass final four each of the last three years. They play in the Mid-Wach D with #2 Ayer, splitting the two games and a conference title with them, but have a stronger out of conference schedule. 12 of the Lions 20 games have come against playoff teams. West Boylston is 5-2 against other teams in this tournament, with a loss to #6 Lunenburg to go with the loss to Ayer. They are also 4-1 against tournament qualifiers in Divisions I and II.

West Boylston dropped SLA from their schedule after the 2004 season because they wanted to toughen up their non-conference schedule, and the 59-28 wins against us weren't doing the trick for them.

5. Parker (17-3). There is always at least one team that gets a high seed because they are the best team is a weak conference, and WCAC Champion Parker is it again. They did not play a Division I or II team this season, and were just 6-3 against teams in this tournament, losing twice to Ayer and once to Bromfield. Their only wins against tourney teams were sweeps of #7 Hudson Catholic, #8 Monty Tech, and #14 St. Mary's. They did add a victory over North Division IV Fenway Charter.

Parker beat us handily in both meetings, but every team we played that made the tourney can boast of that. More telling, they split with us last season and were a bit better team in 2005 than they are this year.

6. Lunenburg (16-4). The Blue Knights were a Division II finalist in 2005, and were moved down to Division III because of realignment in 2006. Instead of being one of the smallest D-II schools, they are the largest D-III school, and play nearly all upper division schools on their schedule. Three of their four losses are to Nashoba and Holy Name, two of the top six D-I schools in the district. The other loss is to St. Bernard's, which is ranked #2 in Division II.

They are 4-0 against teams in this tournament, with a sweep of #11 Narragansett (their first round opponent), and victories over #4 West Boylston and #15 Bromfield.

If I were to seed the top six based on who should win rather than on record, I would seed them:
  1. Quaboag
  2. Lunenburg
  3. West Boylston
  4. Hopedale
  5. Ayer
  6. Parker
In fact, Parker probably wouldn't even be #6, since I think there are probably three or four other teams better than they are, but I'm not going to break down everyone.

Now on to the picks...

Preliminary Round Games
#15 Bromfield over #18 Bartlett. Bromfield frequently comes from the middle or bottom of the pack and sneaks into the final four. Last year, they went to the semis as a 14 seed.

#16 Whitinsville Christian over #17 Sutton. Sutton swept both low scoring games in the regular season. Whitinsville is tough at home, though and has otherwise scored without trouble. They won't lose a third time.

First Round Games
#1 Hopedale over #16 Whitinsville Christian. WCS beat Hopedale three times last year. Hopedale returned the favor with three wins so far this year. This is a tough matchup for Hopedale as they are forced to play in their conference, but they should come out of it with a tough win. This will be the best first-round game of the eight.

#2 Ayer over #15 Bromfield. Another of four first round match-ups where the two teams faced each other at least twice in league play. Ayer won each of the first two. They were upset by Bromfield in the quarters last year and denied a chance to go to WPI. The avenge that loss in this game.

#3 Quaboag over #14 St. Mary's. Of all the bad draws, this is the worst possible draw for St. Mary's. As the #2 team from the WCAC, they weren't going to win a first round game against any of the top 6, but this is just brutal. Ayer is a great defensive team, but isn't so good on offense that they will obliterate an opponent. Hopedale is a great shooting team, but might give up a few points. Quaboag might be the best team in the district at any level. See above. St. Mary's will do well to keep the margin under 50.

#4 West Boylston over #13 Assabet Valley. Assabet did a nice job to get back to the districts after a number of years away, and they will be happy with that. This could also be a brutal game, should West Boylston want it to be.

#5 Parker over #12 Keefe Tech. A great draw for Parker. Had Lunenburg moved into the #5 spot and forced Parker into #6, they would have had trouble with Narragansett, but Parker defeated both of the CAC teams ahead of Keefe Tech and their full-court press will be too much for this CAC team too.

#6 Lunenburg over #11 Narragansett. Lunenburg won the first two meetings easily, and will cruise again.

#7 Hudson Catholic over #10 Valley Tech. Hudson Catholic is a good defensive team and relies on their two inside scorers for the few points they need to win. They should not have trouble here, although the final score may be closer than the game.

#8 North Brookfield over #9 Monty Tech. This is a terrible match-up for Monty Tech. Tech plays a straight zone on defense with a diamond-and-one press, and North Brookfield is a run-and-gun team who can blow through the press and will shoot 25+ three-point shots against the zone. Unless they are terribly cold from the field, North Brookfield should have a huge lead at the half and win easily.

Quarterfinal Games
#1 Hopedale over #8 North Brookfield. Another matchup of conference rivals. North Brookfield will get up and down the floor with Hopedale, but isn't good enough defensively and can't quite outscore Hopedale. This will probably be a pretty good game, and Hopedale will win it.

#2 Ayer over #7 Hudson Catholic. Hudson Catholic's low-scoring style plays right into the hands of Ayer's swarming half-court matchup zone. HC may not score 20 points in the easy Ayer victory.

#3 Quaboag over #6 Lunenburg. This may be the best game in the entire tournament, and one could make the argument (as I did above) that these are the two best teams in the tourney. This could be a great game, but Quaboag is better. I expect that the winner of this game will be the district champions.

#4 West Boylston over #5 Parker. Parker's full-court press will be ineffective against WB's guards, and if they can't press, they will have a hard time scoring against an experienced front line. This should be an easy victory for the Lions.

Semifinal Games
#4 West Boylston over #1 Hopedale. This could be a classic game. West Boylston has been to the final four three years in a row, and that experience means something against a team going to WPI for the first time. Hopedale's best players are sophomores and they will probably be the odds-on favorite to win it all in 2007, but WB is a little better this year.

#3 Quaboag over #2 Ayer. The Cougars are quite a bit better than anyone Ayer has faced, and are patient enough offensively to counter Ayer's match-up zone. Quaboag will swing the ball from side to side until the forward steps out to cover the wing, leaving an O'Keefe with a one-on-one matchup against a center for an easy two. And they will do it over and over and over. And there is nothing anyone can do about it.

#3 Quaboag over #4 West Boylston. Quaboag has eliminated the Lions each of the last two years, and will do so again. WB has done everything it can to prepare for this game by toughening their schedule and playing up all year. But Quaboag has been doing that too in order to prepare for the states. WB will barely be in it at halftime, and won't be able to put together a run in the second half, losing by 15 or so to the now four-time district champs.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Medal Round

Michelle and I have watched almost every minute of the Olympics in prime time, and quite a bit of the rest of it on the weekends, and it's time for me to take a break. Despite non-stop coverage today, I'm going to catch a couple of basketball games at the Clark Tournament this afternoon, instead of watching the women's hockey medal games. In an effort to help me clear my head and prepare for the start of a new Olympic week, I've got to get some of this out here...

I'm having a hard time rooting for the US men's hockey team. I try, but I find myself rooting for the few Bruins in Turin instead of the Americans. Yesterday, PJ Axelsson (Sweden) found himself on a clean breakaway in a 5-on-3 shorthanded situation against the US and I was rooting for him to score. And it's not just that I root for the Bruins. I've hated Chris Chelios and many of the other US players for a long time as rivals of the Bruins and I can't bring myself to root for them now.

A part of me is glad that Lindsay Jacobellis lost the gold medal. Actually, I was happy to see it. Not that I was rooting against her--in fact I was rooting for her until the end--but I appreciate the few times when athletes who hot dog it get what they deserve. So many athletes would die to be in the position she was in. Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe had the best take that I read:
Miss Lah-de-dah comes from an entirely different world, one of individualism and solo accomplishment, as well as one that places momentary pleasure ahead of winning and losing. That doesn't make her a bad person. But her casual defense of an indefensible action inherently mocks the hard work and pride that so many other Olympians take in what they do. They would question her premise that ''It's just a race."

''I was just having fun," she said. ''I just wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up, and, oh, well, it happened."

She doesn't seem to understand that perhaps it's a good idea to ''share your enthusiasm" with the crowd after you cross the finish line. Even Chad Johnson and T.O. wait until they're safely in the end zone before acting up.

Yeah, she still got her silver. But it's one thing to get a silver, a bronze, or even a 15th if you feel you performed well and did your best, and it's another to throw away a cherished gold in order to satisfy a juvenile impulse.

She may not care what anyone else thinks now, but wait until she finds out that ''Doing A Jacobellis" has already entered the sports lexicon. Let's see how she likes that.

Speaking of which, boardercross is a great sport to watch. I have little use for most of the snowboarding events, because I don't think that events that need a judge to award points is pure sport. But boardercross is a race. First one down wins. No stupid style points.

Ice Dancing, on the other hand, has got to go. I have little use for figure skating, but at least they are out there doing sit spins and triple axles and lutzes and whatever. Ice Dancers twizzle. And they wear the most absurd costumes. Most of the time, the most fun in watching figure skating is to see the skaters fall (or to watch the judges cheat), but the ice dancing moves don't even include such difficulty that accidents are an option. Worse, NBC has decided that it's going to be figure skating and ice dancing all of the time.

And if it's not ice dancing, it's Apolo Ohno. Or Bode Miller. Or Michelle Kwan. Every single night, pounded into my head minute by minute. I hate to say it, but it doesn't bother me at all if NBC's darlings lose. Maybe if they keep on losing, NBC will stop covering individuals and actually cover sports.

Jerome Bettis showed up in the studio last night, and it might have been the most absurd thing I've seen all week. He said that he always traveled with his parents and that they had all come to Turin (well, he was on NBC so he said "Torino") . And then he camera flashed to his parents just sitting there in a corner of the studio watching their son being interviewed by Bob Costas. I was hoping he'd also brought along Bubby Brister's mother. Bettis tried to compare Jacobellis flop to his fumble against the Colts in the playoffs. He then joked that he was going to run out of money if he kept traveling with his parents (advice: stop). So Costas "offered him a job" with NBC's NFL coverage this fall. Couldn't they find a bobsled run or something to fill that 10 minutes. Yuck. For what it's worth, I think Bettis will be a decent analyst.

The two old guys doing curling for NBC (Don Chevrier and Don Duguid) remind me of the great Fred Cusick and Johnny Peirson of the Bruins broacasts from the 70s and early 80s.

I also enjoy listening to Mike Emrick (hockey), Dick Button (figure skating), and Tim Ryan and Todd Brooker (alpine skiing). If I never heard Al Trautwig (cross-country), Sandra Belzic (figure skating) and John Morgan (bobsled, can't stop yelling) again, I'd be much happier.

Finally, when I get to attend a Winter Olympics someday I plan on seeing speedskating just so I can sit among the Dutch fans. I think that would be worth the price of admission, regardless of the action on the ice.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Could Bode Miller be losing on purpose?

I've come to the conclusion that US skier Bode Miller doesn't give a damn about whether he wins or loses. He's made a ton of money in endorsements, is the most covered (if not the most popular) skier in the country, and it seems like he is taking to the slopes as an obligation to his sponsors, not in a quest for a gold medal. He doesn't examine the course before his runs, switches skis on a whim, and doesn't seem to care too much when he misses a gate, or skis slowly.

And I wonder just a little if the whole thing is a set up.

After failing to medal in the downhill, Nike started running commercials where Bode talked about not needing to win to be fulfilled, trying hard, blah blah blah. I assume they were just hedging their bets weeks or months ago when they filmed those spots, but is it possible that Nike decided it's "Bode loses" ad campaign is better than the "Bode wins" campaign?

What if the whole media push before the Olympics--the 60 Minutes piece, the cover stories in Newsweek and Time--was orchestrated to set up the "Bode as Free Spirit" theme so that the "Free Spirited Bode doesn't care if he wins or not" commercials will be perfect after he non-chalants his way through Turin?

Could there come a time when a sponsor like Nike--who is paying Bode (and many other athletes in many sports) much more money than they make for competing-- is better off having the athlete lose for the sake of the campaign?

Is that what we're seeing on the slopes this week?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Odds and Ends

Just a couple of items...

Scott's website is back online. Among the features at his site is a recap of our weekly poker game. In it, most players get pseudonyms to protect the foolish and incompetent...he gives me one for consistency's sake.

The Worcester County Athletic Conference has a website. I suppose that information would have been more useful a month ago.

Friday, February 3, 2006

"...the best team in the National Football League!"


It was four years ago today that the Patriots won their first Super Bowl. As Rams' receiver Ricky Proehl said to the NFL cameras as he ran onto the field before the game, "Tonight, a dynasty is born."

Here are a few images and sounds to get you through this Super Bowl weekend as you sit down to watch the Steelers and Seahawks fight for the right to borrow the Lombardi Trophy for a year.

At the right are the Boston Globe front pages from Super Bowls 36, 38, and 39. Click the photos to view them "full-size." For more memories, see the following links:

Super Bowl 36
Super Bowl 38
Super Bowl 39
For what it's worth, I think the Seahawks will win.

Pittsburgh will get off to a strong start as they have in their playoff games with the Colts and Broncos, and will lead 21-10 at the half. But the Steelers have become very conservative in the second half of each of the first two playoff games--nearly blowing the lead to the Colts, and allowing two scores to Denver--and that tendency will be trouble for Pittsburgh.

The Seahawks will make the right adjustments at halftime and score twice in the fourth quarter--including a game winning field goal in the final seconds--to win 27-24.


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