Frankie O's Blog: It's a Man('s bracket) baby!

Frankie O's Blog: It's a Man('s bracket) baby!

Friday, March 18, 2011
9:33 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

That time of year again when one word takes over the lexicon of most adult (by age!) males in this country. The fact that we only use it now makes it more special. But like wearing white pants after Labor Day, I dont want to hear about yours, nor will I talk about mine two days after the Final Four is over. Enough is enough. For now though: Its game on!

I had a more difficult time than usual, since thanks to D-Rose and the Bulls, Ive watched a ton of pro basketball this year and that hasnt left time for a lot else. Not to mention the fact that I always try to watch the Heat when they play a good team so I can watch them lose. That never gets old! So my college basketball knowledge, while not always a strong-suit, is even less so this year. (Yes, even guys who go on TV wearing a red bow tie, have limitations!) This college basketball season did not seem to capture my, or most people that I talk to at the bar, attention. Sure, I have Jimmer Fever, but how many games against great competition did he play? At a time when we were all watching? Add to that, the local college scene is a mess. Illinois was all over the road, leading to a lot of Webber must go discussions (or should I say vents!) from the Illini unhappy faithful. This team had a lot of expectation, played well early, then tripped all over themselves for most of the second half. And they were the good story! DePaul and Northwestern are irrelevant, and most of the lesser-lights are rebuilding. For me, it got so bad, that I didnt once look at Joe Lunardis bubble!

Still on Selection Sunday, the competitive juices, along with the beers, started flowing. Contemplating your bracket is one of the rites of spring and an opportunity to win cash and bragging rights, not necessarily in that order. But most of the time, well almost ALL of the time, my efforts spent on my bracket are just an exercise in futility. I dont know if there is anything that I have spent a considerable time at over the years that has produced less results. I mean besides the diets that is. (Can I help it that the only places that sell food when I get done work sell breakfast, burgers or pizza only? Or that all said food types taste better when washed down by beer?) But hope springs eternal when you hit that send button and gazing at that freshly printed bracket in your hands is a living testament to your sports acumen. At least thats what you think when you go to sleep, the morningafternoon (I work nights!) will bring another reality.

This year, I took the tact of picking teams that I would like to see win, divided by their seed, times the lesser of two evils. Who said this wasnt an exact science? One thing Ive learned through years of paralysis from over-analysis is that, in the end, its whether you pick the winner or not. Style points dont matter. How many times has one of my genius picks played a great game, only to falter down the stretch and lose by a basket? A gazillion! Thats how many! Then I have to listen to chalk boy, who didnt think twice about the game, he just picked the better seed, tell me that he picked the winner. Ugh.

So I put it all together and came out with the number one over-all seed winning. What?! Chalk? Hold on! Along the way, I picked 10 lower seeds to win in the first 32 games. This included 3 12-seeds and a 13!! Who else, besides someone in Jr. high school, do you know who can say that? I didnt think so. Amongst my very Sweet Sixteen, I have a 13 and a 10-seed. After this point though, my common sense screamed to take over and I joined the chalk highway. I didnt go all President Obama and pick 4 number 1s, but I did take two. I finished with a Final Four of Ohio State, Kansas, San Diego State and, against my better judgment, St. Johns. 1,1,2 and 6-seeds. I think Ohio State will beat Kansas in the final. Anyone who knows me understands how difficult it was for me to type that, but I had to stick with my formula.

I understand that none of that is going to happen, thats just the way it is, but I do know, that I will watch every game that is humanly possible and root for the big upset whenever it presents itself. The story of Cinderella is what makes this tournament so great. Like everything else, its about the story and no story is better than one about over-coming adversity or a higher seed. Add to it that upsets blow-up brackets, and that connects all of us in two ways: Were all captivated by this tournament and all it offers. And, after cursing our misfortune, almost all of us can toss our bracket in the garbage, where it belongs and know it will be 11 stress-free months until we need to add the b-word to our vocabulary.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.