Monday, March 30, 2009

The Demise of Detroit Sports?

I was a strange kid. Even though I loved sports and music, my obsession was with numbers. I was the only 6th grader dying for the 1980 census to come out.

When I downloaded the information to my then full complement of brain cells, I learned that only six US cities boasted a population of one million or more: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, and Detroit.

But even then, when the American auto industry was still rolling and when Motown was still printing some serious vinyl, Detroit was a punchline.

"It was a rough place - the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It's worse than Detroit." - Ted Striker, Airplane!

Now the Final Four descends upon Ford Field in Detroit and the perception of The Motor City goes way beyond the butt of jokes, even if it came as a dirty text message from the former mayor himself. I mean, didn't The President just effectively fire GM's CEO?

But Detroit has always thrived as a sports town:

Ernie Harwell called Tiger games at "the corner" of Michigan and Trumbull.

The Pistons' "Bad Boys" were the last juggernaut before Michael.

"Hockey Town" is the preeminent US hockey town.

Joe Louis called it home. Thomas the "Hit Man" Hearns came up through the Kronk.

And where football is king, those loser Lions might be the favorite of them all.

I personally have worked 4 Motor City Bowls and they always drew - including 60,000+ for the epic Central Michigan-Purdue battle in 2007. (Purdue won a thriller 51-48)

In recent years, Detroit has hosted the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals, and now the Final Four. It currently owns the Stanley Cup. But can it survive as a major league town if its fans can't show up in this woeful economy?

Tigers' spring training in Lakeland is already a soap opera with Dontrelle Willis going on the DL with an "anxiety disorder" wait til' they break north and start playing in front of 18,000 at Comerica Park.

If the fan's hard money isn't coming in, then ownership will have to cut payroll. If they have to trade away their best players, the product suffers, and attendance dwindles even more. The public interest in the team may well go the way of Detroit Free Press home delivery.

Then repeat the cycle for Detroit's other major sports. They can hang on for a while, but the wait for a Tigers, Lions, or Pistons championship may be longer than the wait for Eminem's next album. Let's hope the teams can hang on long enough to find out. And defy the numbers.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Backtime's Bracket Bounces Back

Backtime remembers March 14 in Oklahoma City. Missouri handled Baylor easily (as I had correctly predicted) for the Big 12 Championship. Over a few postgame pints, I was feeling my oats and I threw out a few prognostications to several somewhat lucid colleagues:

>UConn (not Memphis) would get the 4th #1 seed.
>Syracuse would vault to a #3 based on their Big East performance.
>Tiger Woods would rally from the middle of the pack to a tie for 9th at Doral.

By 7 PM Sunday, all three were on the money. Tiger actually finished with a T-9 even though my point was he’d rally to crack the top 10.

At 8 PM Sunday, I filled out my bracket and posted it.

By 8 PM the following Sunday, Backtime’s bracket was #308 out of #308 in the network pool. Now that’s embarrassing.

I picked a few early upsets and missed on practically all of them, so the points deficit is likely insurmountable. But with 8 teams remaining, we’ve got 7 of them, along with only 7% of the entries.

The one I missed is Sparty. You’d think the years I lived in Michigan and all the trips to the Breslin Center would have tipped me off.

Michigan State looks better right now than my pick, Pitt. Are the Panthers now battle-tested or just lucky? Anytime you've got high-quality guys like Blair and Fields, and you've got a great shot.

My other finalists, the Missouri Tigers, clearly are not just lucky and have a great chance against Connecticut. Their defense focuses first on “shutting off the water…” which translates to the opponents’ lifeline. Once they have successfully flustered AJ Price, everything else will fall like dominoes.

Oh yeah…Tiger Woods will rally to take Bay Hill this weekend.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Some things fit right...

...Others don't.

Kentucky fired Coach Gillispie today. And most think it wasn't an X&O or W&L issue. It's because he wasn't the right "ambassador" for the blue-blood Wildcat nation.

Billy Clyde Gillispie is 49 years old, and spent most of that time in small towns and isolated cities in Texas. He grew up in Graford, pop. 494, and was part of a high school graduating class of 20.

After six years as Bill Self's main assistant at Tulsa and Illinois, Gilliespie took the UTEP job. Year one: 6-24. Year two: WAC champs.

For those who think BCG lacks interpersonal skills because of a couple of dismissive TV interviews, the late great coach Don Haskins said just a couple of years ago, "If I had a recruiter like Billy Gillispie on my staff, I'd coach in a wheelchair."

Gillispie went to Texas A&M to turn around a team that was 0-16 in the Big 12. Year one: 8-8. Year two: NCAAs. Year three: Sweet 16.

College Station is where the suit fit the best. A small-town Texas guy had built up tons of relationships in the Lone Star state, and he was the savior of Aggie basketball. As a single guy, he could sit on a barstool and not be harassed.

Kentucky, after the departure of Tubby Smith, and a couple of fiascos trying to bring in someone bigger, reached down to Texas A&M and grabbed a can't-miss-rising-star head coach.

But they didn't think about whether the blue suit would fit. They didn't see the 2-hour late-season practices that surely wore his team down come tournament time. They didn't expect the curt treatment of the media. They didn't imagine that he wouldn't embrace the rabid fan base.

I was at Coach G's last two games this week: at Creighton and at Notre Dame. His team was in good spirits, they practiced loose and with lots of energy. They hustled their asses off. If they were playing for a lame-duck coach, you couldn't see it on the floor.

It's hard to call Gillispie's two-year term at Kentucky a failure. More like an incomplete, since the plug was pulled before the term was up. Now, where does Kentucky go from here?

It's got to be back to Billy Donovan. Coach D turned down Kentucky during his 2007 NCAA Championship run at Florida. After back-to-back titles, he may be bored with his back-to-back NIT appearances. Oh yeah, and he could be a little miffed that Florida only sold out one of their 20 home games.

If the former Kentucky assistant for Rick Pitino says "no thanks" to Kentucky again, the Wildcats will be back where they started, looking for the right "fit".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NIT-Picking: Final Four Lunch Spots

So your team didn't make the Big Dance. There's still a lot of good action in the second tier. Think about it, even the Music City Bowl and the Sun Bowl get great ratings. Basketball-hungry fans watch the NIT.

17,000+ saw Kentucky at Creighton on Monday. There were great scenes at Auburn, Notre Dame, and San Diego State. Since I work for a 4-letter network instead of a certain 3-letter March basketball entity, I get to cover it.

And you're still going to great college towns, and hitting great spots for a TV Dinner, known to most of Americans as...lunch.

So here's the Final Four sandwich joints in the 2009 NIT:

1. Lula's - South Bend, IN. Incredible soups and sandwiches. Today I had a gumbo and a grilled ham and cheese on multi-grain while enjoying a sped-up version of Trivial Pursuit. And washed it all down with an iced latte all for around $10.

2. Delice' - Omaha, NE. I used to live in Omaha and my wife asked if we could Fedex one of the fruit & cheese plates. Any place that serves a sandwich as the main dish and applesauce as a side has my vote.

3. Macado's - Blacksburg, VA. The best selection I've ever seen. If you can think of a sandwich, they probably have it on the menu with a cool name. Plenty of roasted red peppers and caramelized onions. It would likely be #1 except for Virginia's archaic go-ahead-and-smoke-in-the-restaurant laws. The local Hokies call Blacksburg a "drunk town with a football problem."

Editor's note: I live in a pretty drunk town too, but the Savannah drunk seems a little more distinguished - don't ask me to explain.

4. The Fraser Street Deli - State College, PA. I have a Penn State friend who says you can't spell Nittany Lions without N-I-T. Fortunately that means an unlimited sandwich menu, all named after legendary Lions. You could order All-Americans for a month and not get through it all. I love the "Lydell Mitchell" corned beef Reuben. Although the "Paterno" is a pretty simple tuna salad.

I work with a couple of announcer friends and we like to call the NIT the "victory lap." It's matchups that major teams won't agree to. We get good ratings. There's (relatively) no pressure. And great lunch.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Turning Back Time: Omaha, Nebraska

When I moved to Omaha in March 2002, I lobbied my College Hoops boss for Creighton home games. In March 2009, it took an NIT game against Kentucky, but it was finally delivered.

I've been back to Omaha since the 30 months I lived there. But this was my first event there, where I actually got to walk around. I stopped by the 13th Street Coffee Company and the barista remembered me, but not my drink.

I even stopped by the Skinner Macaroni Apartment building. It's a former warehouse where we were living when our son was born. My wife used to ride the elevator late at night and could claim to smell "the dead pasta people."

Anyway Creighton lost to Kentucky by 2 in a thriller. 17,000 fans braved the March Omaha elements just to get their hearts broken. And it wasn't just a little front coming through. Local stations had the full break-in-to-programming Tornado Watch going.
Off to Blue Sushi for lunch - the best fusion sushi you will ever find - and it's in a landlocked state.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Backtime Bracket Check: How You Doin?

The first half of the tournament was technically over on Friday night, after 32 games were completed. The early standings came out from the "network" pool and Backtime's entry was 307th out of 308.

My only solace was that the boss was in last, the guy who sees more college basketball than anyone.

Now, after two rounds and 48 games Backtime is dead last. But we've still got 7 of our Final 8 left (minus the Mountaineers). There's still hope for the Backtime bunch to close respectably.

But where's the madness? Through two rounds, every #1, #2, and #3 seed is alive as well as two of the #4s. That is not a bracket I would ever pick because that's not what this time of year is about for me.

Fortunately, Syracuse and Kansas have advanced despite my dire projections.

Jon Scheyer's acrobatic behind-the-back-save-while-falling-out-of-bounds is the best image so far. It's even hard to hate Duke after a play like that.

Also, kudos to Missouri Frosh Kim English, who came off the bench to shoot free throws for the injured J.T. Tiller, and calmly swished both with 5.5 seconds left to lead the gutty win over Marquette.

A Pitt-Oklahoma-Louisville-Missouri Final Four is still in reach.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Big Stuff Ahead

That’s right, there’s a lot on the line this Sunday Night. Almost too much for one family to deal with, no matter how many spouses there are.

But Bill Henrickson doesn’t seem likely to crack under the pressure. He’ll look you in the eye and convince you of anything, especially that he’s telling you the truth. He’ll do whatever it takes to preserve his belief in “the principle” without the politics and corruption of the polygamist compound.

BIG LOVE was once a “dramady” like Six Feet Under, a premise so outrageous and quirky that it was more like a comedy with dramatic twists. Now the storylines branch out, and the branches have branches.

How about a secondary character like Bill’s brother? Joey’s second wife-to-be, was killed on the compound in an “accident” on their wedding day. He knows there’s some foul play involved after she testified against “the prophet” Roman Grant. Now he’s torturing himself with his lust for her twin sister, who happens to be married to his dad.

So many questions. Will Bill get his casino built in Idaho? Will Bill and Nicki be unsealed? Will the Greens release the abducted Kim Lee? Will the church hand over the letter that justifies polygamy?

Now the relentless tension ratchets up in every scene, and I consider it the all-time #4 HBO drama.

5. OZ

Getting ready for a lighter summer and the return of Larry David.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Backtime: Looking for a Summer Job

With one week left in my college hoop season, I thought that I could use some part-time work this summer and try to put a little extra scratch in my pocket in this economic climate.

The Savannah Sand Gnats are a single-A affiliate of the New York Mets. If you don't know what an actual sand gnat is, consider yourself lucky. They're about as frustrating as the Mets' recent finishes. For the hundreds of people who showed up, they had to deal with the sand gnats while trying to land some work for the Sand Gnats, all while hearing people trying out to sing the national anthem with varying degrees of success.

I figured I like baseball, why not spend some summer nights out at the ballpark? There might be some fun jobs to fit my skill set: Radio analyst? Video board producer? Promo writer? Team blogger? Gnate the Gnat? Scratch that last one. Wearing the bug suit may actually protect you from the bugs, but doesn't sound like much fun on the umteenth 90+ degree/90% humidity day of the season.

Reality set in: Scoreboard operator. Program sales. Usher. "Inflatable" Attendant (what the heck is that?). Now I wasn't really looking for the money as much as a fun diversion. But I'd still need to make more than our babysitter, who'd be watching the kids while I was out.

And while I'm trying to be funny, I'm not making fun. A job is a job in 2009, and lots of people need them. That's why there were so many people there.

So cross off baseball. What else do I know? Television! I looked across Victory Drive.

Do you think local TV stations are hiring?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Going Green isn't always healthy, Part II

This is my second year in Savannah, and my first year to experience the world-renowned Saint Patrick's Day Parade. Lots of great imagery and diversity. Lots of alcohol. Early in the morning. I had hoped to give an hour-by-hour synopsis full of revelry and wild anecdotes. But alas, the kids slept horribly last night.

Although there was still reason for hope.

Our 2-year old angel was running around and shouting from 3-to-7 AM, but crashed for a power nap and was pretty chipper.

Our 4-year old whirlwind was battling an ear infection, but was wide-eyed and captivated.

Dad was rocking the (in)famous "Riddler" green corduroys - suspiciously not pictured. I guess it's the one day of the year they didn't stand out. Anyway, I was on sangria #2 when mini-me threw in the towel.

Guess we'll have to have that talk on his 5th birthday.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Month in Oklahoma

The title of this post is a little deceiving. I didn't spend a month in once. But since Labor Day (the effective start of the college football season), I have spent 30 nights in the Sooner State. It doesn't sound great, but it really grew on me.

First of all, the college sports are excellent. Oklahoma featured both the Heisman winner in football, Sam Bradford, and the likely basketball player of the year in Blake Griffin (and possibly Cortney Paris on the ladies' side). Oklahoma State football was exciting, with electric offensive players Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant. And Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater for basketball is one of the best venues in the nation.

Oklahoma City now boasts an NBA squad, and a hit TV show, "Saving Grace" on TNT. And the Bricktown area in historic OKC is the home of many outstanding restaurants, saloons, and more sports. This was the view from my hotel room window:

AAA Baseball. Not too bad. OKC is also now the permanent home of the NCAA Softball World Series.

The state is a little more progressive than one might think. Of course I spent all my time in two college towns: Norman and Stillwater, and two legit US cities: Oklahoma City and Tulsa. I didn't spend any time in the bible belt, but I sure drove through it.

I remember the lyrics from a musical. Not the one you're thinking of though, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" has a song called "Oklahoma?"

And we'll motor into Tulsa for the weeken'-
Through the windows of the pickup we'll be peekin'-
Not a tree or a Jew to block the lovely view.
But diversity is really spreading. Check out this bumper sticker I saw on a pickup truck, only in Oklahoma:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Backtime Official Bracket

With all due respect to Mike & Mike who refer to their true bracket as their "sheet of integrity," one that is analyzed, sweated over time and time again, and then presented to the masses, there's only one real way to do this.

1) Print it the day it's released.
2) Free your mind of any personal prejudice.
3) Grab a pen, not a pencil.
4) Fill it out in 5 minutes or less, relying solely on your instincts.

Now that's an official bracket. I look over the damage I've done and have come up with the following observations:

I have definitely cleared my mind of personal prejudice (somewhat)

I have Syracuse and Kansas losing in the 2nd Round. Although I did witness Missouri methodically dismantle the Big 12 field for three days without fanfare or a spotlight. It was all business and defense and I have them reaching the final game before losing to Pitt, who has been my championship choice all season.

What about the teams touted earlier in the week?

VCU as an #11 drew a terrible 1st round matchup against UCLA. Then if they get by the Bruins, tell them what they've won: How about a 2nd Round date with Villanova in Philadelphia. Ouch.

North Dakota State - What do they have going for them against Kansas? Their nickname: The Bison. The same as Bucknell, who took them out in 2005. This Fargo story won't have a Hollywood ending.

I do not have Connecticut in the Final Four, just because they would face machine-like Missouri in the Regional Final.

Any real upsets?

Sure. Portland State in the Sweet 16. But mostly going with the power. My Final Eight has 5 Big East teams, 2 Big 12 teams, and North Carolina.

I like Oklahoma in a straight-up matchup with the Tar Heels. Blake Griffin dominates Hansbrough. There's plenty of live talent with the Sooners, and they have a Head Coach who isn't intimidated by Carolina Blue because...Jeff Capel is a Dukie.

Speaking of Duke, they'll say goodbye at the hands of Texas. USC over Michigan State. I don't have a single Big Ten team in the Sweet 16.

Final Thoughts

There it is. Official. Part of the public record. Though I may analyze, sweat, and deliver something different when there are actual chips on the table. But the Pitt Panthers will still join the Steelers bringing the hardware to the Iron City.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Big 12 Championship Preview: Leo Lyons, Tigers and Bears

Somewhere over the rainbow, the Baylor Bears are just 40 minutes from the NCAA Tournament. Where were these guys this season? They're not losing to Kansas anymore.

Baylor was picked 3rd in the Big 12 in the preseason. After reaching the NCAAs last season for the first time in 20 years, with a trio of senior leaders, expectations should have been high.

They jumped out to a 15-3 start with impressive wins (Providence, Arizona State, Washington State) in the non-conf before falling flat on their face in Big 12 play. But just as suddenly, they flipped the switch back on with upset wins over Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas on consecutive days.

Missouri quietly has taken off to a 27-6 mark, and are favorites to take their first Big 12 Championship. In this tournament, all 5 starters are averaging double figures. And the frontline seniors DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons should have a big edge over Baylor's guard-based attack.

Missouri Head Coach Mike Anderson stresses "shutting off the water" - if you take out the opponents' point/lead guard, the other guys can't drink. Holly Rowe will have more on that.

As March unfolds, Missouri is a very dangerous tournament team with their balance and pressure defense. But for today, the story is Baylor because the shoe still fits.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Backtime Bracket Alert: Connecticut

First of all, I hope you all had your Tivo set for enough time to watch all SIX overtimes of the wildest game ever. It was the ultimate victory for good over evil, at least since Rocky IV. But now there's no easy way out, no short cut home for the survivors.

OK, let me put my inner Otto The Orange back in the closet with my diploma and get to the objective portion of this post:

Despite the grit displayed by both teams, and the resilience of Syarcuse, ultimately this outcome will be more beneficial to UConn. They will be driven by the sting of wanting a game so much and falling short. They will have two extra days to rest and get (relatively) healthy. They will most likely retain a well-earned #1 seed.

I was on the fence whether the Huskies were a Final Four team, but not any longer. The spirit that they showed in defeat will drive them possibly to yet another Championship. I know what you're thinking: Any idiot can pick Connecticut. Well, one just did.

Backtime readers (all 45 of them) generally have high IQ scores, so finish this sentence:

1999. 2004. Blank.

Looks like Coach Calhoun and company will be making more money for the University of Connecticut (a state-run public institution) again this March...and April.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Backtime Bracket Watch: Can the Big XII get VII ???

The Backtime editorial department is locked in on the Big 12 quarterfinals Thursday. Will we see some of the same historic stuff we did Wednesday?

Just don't turn the set off too early.

Baylor vs Kansas – 12:30 PM

You would think this would be the one to get your “Honey, do” list in. It’s a good gamble, but remember Baylor was ranked for 5 weeks this season. They’ve got 3 seniors who are closing out prolific careers and, at 18-13 they’re very much on the fence for the NIT. If the Bears repeat the form they showed whacking Nebraska in the 1st Round, this game could be as good as any of the day.

Texas vs Kansas State – 3 PM

This is the key game, and it’s what will have K-State coach Frank Martin more fired up than ever (I know it seems impossible). It looks like the strong late-season runs of Texas A&M and Oklahoma State have now made roll call for Selection Sunday.

But what of the Wildcats? No Michael Beasley. No Bill Walker. No Bob Huggins. All they’ve done is win road games at Texas and at A&M, while taking out Missouri at home, claiming 10 of the last 13. A second win over Texas with a semifinal date will serve more notice to the committee.

Oklahoma State vs Oklahoma – 7 PM

Bedlam, Part III – Oklahoma City edition. This will be a hot building.

Texas Tech vs Missouri – 9:30 PM

I had Texas A&M penciled in here. Especially with a 21-point 2nd Half lead. But that was before Red Raider Soph Mike Singletary (not that Mike Singletary) exploded for the most unexpected, ridonculous performance in Big 12 history with 43 points, including 35 in the last 13 minutes.

Will A&M lose their hold on a tournament bid? Yesterday’s news. Today is Coach Anderson’s pressure defense against Coach Knight’s motion offense (not that Coach Knight). And we’ll see how far the Big 12’s Cinderella can go.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Backtime Bracket Alert: Beware the Bison

Let's go back in time. Autumn of 1987. Syracuse, NY. Booth Hall. I was on Booth 7, today's Backtime guest columnist was Booth 5. How many current friends do you go back 20 years with?

He didn't have a current picture so I bent the rules and accepted one with (presumably) the same DNA. (Just kidding Leslie, simmer down)

Last night "Z" produced the first-ever live, nationally televised event from the state of South Dakota...Neil Armstrong, move aside.

By Jim Zirolli

The Summit league championship game was played Tuesday in Sioux Falls between Oakland (MI), and North Dakota State. When I arrived in Sioux Falls, it was a balmy 35 degrees (if you don't think 35 degrees is balmy in Sioux Falls, the amount of people walking around without coats on said a lot...), but when I woke up on gameday, we were in the midst of a blizzard! I have been in Winnipeg in December, Quebec City in February, and I live in the Northeast, but believe me when I tell you that it was the coldest I ever hope to be! My only saving grace was the first rental car I have ever had in 12 years of travel with a remote car starter (I may have to get one of those at home).

Undeterred, the fans from Fargo came to the Sioux Falls arena by the hundreds and it would've been more, but the blizzard was so bad that the highway from Fargo eventually was shut down, so if you wanted to just go for the championship game, you were out of luck (if you liked the movie, insert your favorite line from "Fargo" here).

They came to watch the NDSU Bison accomplish something not done in close to 30 years. NDSU had made the transition from Division 2 to Division 1 and Tuesday became the first team since 1982 to earn an NCAA tournament berth in their first year of Divsion 1 eligibility. The Bison are 26-6, 16-2 in the Summit league. Playing in a "one-bid" league, if nothing else, focuses you on the task at hand, there are no at-large berths, RPI's, or tourney resumes to worry about. Win and your in, if you lose, there's always next year. NDSU started the same 5 that started every game for them this season, led by 4 fifth-year seniors who have basically suffered through the transition to D-1.

Oakland was the more polished team, had more weapons, their head coach is in his 25th season, they had been here before. When halftime hit, Oakland was up by ten, and it appeared the Bison were destined for the NIT.

But when Summit league player of the year Ben Woodside capped a stirring run for NDSU with a jumper with under 4 seconds left to take the lead, and after Oakland's last chance rattled out, NDSU had climbed all the way from Division 2 to a Division 1 conference championship and earned a ticket to March Madness at first asking.

When people ask whether 65 teams are too many for the NCAA tourney, remember this team who rose up and grabbed their chance to play against the big boys. Nobody will pick them to win a game (except that annoying person in your office who says that green beats blue, so OF COURSE North Dakota State will beat UConn). But they may get your attention next week, the Bison could be seeded as high as 13th, and will give some major conference team a hard time. Remember the Bison: they have seniors, confidence, they can shoot you out of the gym, and have nothing to lose, which is a dangerous combination come tourney time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Backtime Bracket Alert: Meet Your Maynor

In 2007, VCU's Eric Maynor burst on the scene as a sophomore when he closed out George Mason the year after the magical Final Four run to get to the dance. Then he took the show to the next level closing out Duke, before losing to Pitt in OT.

The Senior point guard led the CAA in scoring and assists en route to his second league MVP award. And he is the ultimate closer, averaging roughly 14 of his 22 points per game in the 2nd Half. In this year's title game vs Mason, he did the closing early, assisting on the first 3 VCU hoops before sizzling for 14 points in the first 17 minutes.

I've seen Sherron Collins play all year and lead Kansas to the Big 12 Championship. The senior Maynor may be different in body type, taller and not as likely to get to the rim, but the effect is the same. Get everyone involved early. Take over late.

And he has help. A 6'9" Sophomore owned the game inside with 18 points, 20 rebounds and 7 blocks in the clincher. Word is out on The Larry Sanders Show, hey now. He is a certain NBA pick, maybe even in the Top 15, whenever he decides to leave.

You got a 1-2 combo like that and you have some March Madness history, with the McMayn Man, and you're going to be on everyone's radar. I see VCU playing in the 8-9 game, but Len Elmore called the game, and he thinks they're more of a 12. Either way, this is a dangerous team to think about in your pool. For entertainment purposes only, of course.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Backtime Guest Column: Someone's Got TO's Number

Terrell Owens is a Buffalo Bill. But the honeymoon's over before it started. ESPN's most tormented Production Assistant explains.

By Jim Piscitelli

What’s in a number? As a die hard Buffalo Bills fan I’ve been tortured for years. Horrible teams in the 1980’s that allowed the Bills to draft the likes of #34, #78, #83, and #12. Those individuals got to four straight Super Bowls, including the first and most memorable that was decided by the foot of #11.

The next two #11’s in the Bills locker room didn’t have much success either. Rob Johnson was the starting QB the last time the Bills made the playoffs, but that was 10 years ago and he never became the superstar he was supposed to be. Then there was a savior from New England who, after two statistically successful seasons (no playoffs), was cut due to his declining skills and new management in Buffalo. Now the little WR Roscoe Parrish wears number 11, best of luck to him.

But there is a new guy in town. And he comes with more baggage than any previous player in Bills history. In that baggage is a San Francisco Jersey #81, a Philadelphia Jersey #81, and a Dallas Jersey #81. Looking down the roster there is already a #81 in the Buffalo Bills locker room. James Hardy the WR from Indiana, whose rookie season was cut short by an injury.

Many questions arise. Could this become the first “locker room” issue for TO in Buffalo? What should Hardy get to give up his #81? Or should Owens wear a different number on his back?

When Clinton Portis was traded to Washington he paid almost $40,000 dollars to get the number he wanted. Ahman Green basically bought a house to go to Jason Simmons charity in Houston. And Jeff Feagles the Punter for the New York Giants doubled up. When Eli Manning came to NY, Feagles got a family vacation for his #10. He switched to #17 and a couple of years later for that number Plaxico Burress remodeled his kitchen.

So what could Terrell Owens give James Hardy for the #81? How about a couple of days in his hyperbolic chamber to heal that leg or maybe some personal training sessions in his driveway with some push ups and sit ups. As a Bills fan, I’d settle for a playoff game.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Backtime Guest Columnist: Turtle's Taste of the Town

This is a response to Fran Fraschilla's Top 5 "Franchise" restaurant chains.

These are the places Fran would only go if he a) needed to use the restroom or b) conveniently forgot his wallet while out with the group.

Without further ado, the best "one-of-a-kind" places to eat in the Big 12:

By Anthony DeVita

1. Hullabaloo Diner - College Station, TX

This is as old school as it gets...But when you try and bring a bunch of hungry people there on your lunch hour, make absolutely certain it's open. (Closed Monday & Tuesday) There's no beating the Roman Sausage Sandwich, topped with peppers, onions and smoked provolone cheese with a red marinara sauce on the side (which is key for me...Nothing is more disappointing than soggy bread). And if you walk in and see the Italian Pork Sandwich on the specials board, do yourself a favor and order it...It's the best you'll find outside of Tony Luke's in Philly.

2. Magnolia Cafe - Austin, TX

This is the kind of breakfast I wish I could have everyday. The omelets are big and fluffy (I had the Popeye - Spinach, bacon, red onion, cheese and topped with a bit of sour cream) Homefries are a big favorite of mine and they do it right here...Kept on the flattop grill until a nice crust forms on the outside. But the real stars here are the pancakes...Your options: Buttermilk, Whole Wheat, Cornmeal or...Gingerbread -which are amazing, like biting into a big warm buttered cookie.

3. Adriana's Deli - St. Louis, MO

*Not technically a Big 12 town, but you have to land somewhere on the way to Columbia.

The Hill in St. Louis is an Italian neighborhood that feels like what I imagine Brooklyn in the 1950's to have felt like. I just picture games of stickball and block parties clogging up the streets when the weather gets warm. And right down Shaw Street is a lunch only gem called Adriana's. When you first walk in the first thing that hits you, besides the fact that there is not an open chair to be had, is the smell. Authentic Italian. The list of sandwich combos are endless but all the usual suspects are represented. All of it served on their house baked bread, which makes all the difference.

4. Gian-Tony's - St. Louis, MO

Once you've put away the lunch at Adriana's, it's time to start thinking dinner, and on the Hill, you've got a lot of choices. The locals favor Gian-Tony's and it's easy to see why. Again, this place has the feeling of old New York about it. I had to look around to make sure Michael Corleone, the Police Captain and Sollozzo weren't dining at a nearby table. The Baked Ziti has something special about it, like grandma is in the back cooking just for you. And if you're going to have a successful Italian joint, the meatballs better be good, and Gian-Tony's have obviously served a few in their day.

5. Mama's 39th Street Diner- Kansas City, MO

Another classic diner on the outskirts of Kansas City. The name refers to its former location on 39th Street which had to be ditched for a larger, more accommodating location on Waddell Street a few blocks away. Again, breakfast is king here. You have about 80 omelet combos to choose from. And if they're all as good as the corned beef/bacon/cheddar, you'll be one happy diner. And any place that puts Frank's Hot Sauce in a traditional ketchup bottle right at the table is always going to hold a special place in my heart.

6th Man Award - Bleu - Columbia, MO

Try the Shrimp Cobb Salad...It's good all week.

While I've found many great places in my travel through the cities of the Big 12, you'll notice there is not one mention of BBQ. And I LOVE BBQ. And maybe it's because I haven't hit the right place yet, but overall my Big 12 BBQ experience has been moderately good at best. No one place stands out as being anything extraordinary. Maybe I just need another year of...research.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Backtime at Bedlam

Those of you who follow college sports know that "The Bedlam Series" refers to the intense rivalry between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. So that "state of uproar and confusion" is Oklahoma.

If you're a football fan first, you might think that this isn't much of a rivalry because the Sooners have won six straight on the gridiron and lead the all-time series 79-15-8. But if you're a wrestling fan (that doesn't even get a chuckle out here in these parts) you will point to the Cowboys' 34 National Championships and the overwhelming edge the Stillwaters have over the Normans on the mat.

Then there's hoops. It's a much more evenly balanced deal, with plenty of shifts in the balance of power since they began hooping it up in the 1907-08 season. Each home court is a zoo on these occasions.

It will be Senior Day and the last home game for Austin Johnson and Taylor Griffin, and effectively Blake Griffin, who will most certainly never see the light of his Junior season. Oklahoma will be a little surly, losing 3 of 4 after a 25-1 start. Oklahoma State looks to be on the good side of the NCAA fence for now. But they are still looking for a signature win for their resume and they have a relentless Senior Guard in Byron Eaton.

The alternate Webster definition for "bedlam" is lunatic asylum, which almost always refers to the TV truck housing the crew covering the game, and is occasionally outdone by manic home gyms - like the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman will certainly be this Saturday.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Playoff? A Shout in the Dark

Another attempt has been made to get this mythical crystal trophy away from college football's bluebloods.

The Mountain West Conference submitted to the BCS a proposal for an 8-team playoff, which may actually reward teams for their season and not their conference affiliation.

It's a move that is clearly symbolic at best, like firing a flare gun at a steamroller. Especially from a conference that has seen one of its members (Utah, twice) go undefeated, win a BCS Bowl , and not be considered for a national championship.

Surely the BCS will remain steadfast as Rush Limbaugh against the ever-growing populace thirsting for change. But how long will the power-brokers continue to be unreceptive to popular opinion? Simply, forever.

There is no motivation, financial or otherwise, to change anything. The major conferences make a ton. The TV ratings for second and third tier Bowls have never been higher. People have Bowl confidence pools and time on their hands and Holiday parties to attend, and they will take the football in whatever package you hand them.

But there's got to be a way to decide a champion who worked their way through a tournament. It's the way that every other sport does it. And the perfect specific system isn't the issue anymore. This has been pondered by big-time entities and logistically it can happen. It's having the clout to actually push this through. Maybe it will have to come from the President, or maybe from Notre Dame, or even Limbaugh himself.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Every Crew Needs a Bubba and a Turtle

Meet the “glue” guys from the Big Monday crew. They’re top-notch character people, teammates whose sense of humor and attitude makes life on the road so much easier. Being good at their respective jobs is just a bonus.

The man on the left is our Associate Director. Robert Slawsby aka “Bubba,” is a 40-year old father of two based in Riverside, CA. Bubba’s trademarked line of “just happy to be here” has been kind of his fortune cookie through life.

Slawsby’s non-descript career as a football player at the University of Rhode Island led him through a simple twist of fate to the movie set, where he was a football consultant and an extra on the film, School Ties. There he bonded with a couple of up-and-coming actor types (Matt Damon, Ben Affleck) and wound up as their roommate in Hollywood. Bubba’s late 90s Oscar party stories are epic.

While his friends blew up after Good Will Hunting, Bubba got married and moved inland, and swapped his fledgling acting career for a stopwatch and a headset. He spent several years in various capacities on Fox NFL coverage, working on crews with the likes of John Madden, Troy Aikman, and most recently as Tony Siragusa’s sideline producer.

Bubba is a loyal colleague who’s got a legendary appetite. He’ll never hesitate to reach into his wallet to hook up a friend, especially when he’s partying like it’s 1999. I can best describe him as a cross between James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and Jonah Hill (the fat kid from Superbad). The likeable tough guy/clown.

Bubba is a lifelong Pats and Sox fan so he hasn’t had much to be bitter about in recent years. Maybe one day he’ll tell you the story of how this post’s writer cost the Yankees the 2004 ALCS, and changed the balance of power in baseball.

Robert Slawsby works on ESPN College Basketball, ABC College Football, and many of the big UFC fights.

The shadowy figure on the right is Anthony DeVita, aka “Turtle,” our 27-year old Associate Producer. The Turtle moniker came about a few years ago because of his resemblance to the Entourage character. Since then, he’s lost about 70 pounds, but the nickname remains. Unless you refer to him as I do, “Tortuga” the Italian turtle.

DeVita is based in Connecticut at Worldwide Leader HQ. It’s a great location for him, because it puts him driving distance for two teams that he holds tickets for: his beloved New York Mets (also a Jet fan – talk about a glutton for punishment) and Boston University hockey, his alma mater. DeVita also played golf for the Terriers. He admits his game has “slipped” since the college years to an ugly seven handicap.

Turtle’s also a card shark. His father is a professional poker player and has competed in the World Series of Poker. Turtle says he’d consider playing professionally if he had the bankroll.

DeVita is a human encyclopedia for all things Seinfeld and Springsteen. You’d figure a renaissance man like this would have the ladies ringing him off the hook. But for all the single women reading this out in cyberspace: there’s still room inside Turtle’s shell.

Anthony DeVita has worked College Football, College Basketball, and Grand Slam Tennis expertly for ESPN, where he now is a lead graphics guy.