March Madness Preview

Huge arenas, crazy student sections, loyal alumni, lovers of the game, energetic cheerleaders, devoted bands, defiant referees, passionate coaches, and the blood, sweat, and tears of some of the most talented college athletes in the world.

From emphatic dunks to buzzer beaters, college basketball rises to new heights and relevance once March rolls around, as the 68-team, single-elimination tournament that caps off the season always seems to stun the world.

The first ever NCAA basketball championship tournament took place in 1939. However, the term “March Madness” was not used back then for this tournament. It didn’t become the well-known term it is today until 1982, when prominent sports announcer Brent Musberger dubbed the tournament “March Madness”. By 1988, the NCAA had trademarked the term for the college basketball tournament.

March Madness caught fire immediately. In 1992, over 34 million people tuned in to watch the final game of the tournament between Duke and Michigan. In 2011, CBS signed a deal to pay about $771 million per year (through 2024) for TV rights to the tournament. To put things in perspective, back in 1982, CBS signed a deal to pay $39 million per year (through 1985) in present day value.

With the popularity of March Madness steadily increasing since then, more people began to join NCAA March Madness bracket pools. Participants fill out a bracket, predicting the outcomes of every game in the tournament, and bet money that their bracket will be the most accurate in the pool.

According to WalletHub’s website, in 2015, an estimated $9 billion was wagered on brackets, with an estimated 70 million brackets created by Americans. In comparison, Barack Obama only received about 66 million votes in the 2012 election.

The odds of predicting a perfect bracket are as low as 9.2 quintillion to one, and as high as 128 billion to one. Meanwhile, the odds of the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl next year are 225 to one, the odds of any Kanye West winning the 2020 presidential election are 100 to one, and the odds of being struck by lightning in a lifetime are 3,000 to one.

A perfect bracket is so unlikely that Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone who created a perfect bracket in 2014. According to NCAA’s website, the longest any 2015 online bracket went without getting a game wrong was 25 games. That bracket was only 38 games away from getting all 63 games right. No one has ever had a verified perfect bracket.

Every team is on upset alert in March. This year, the 68-team field will be announced on March 12, and the madness will begin on March 16, ultimately finishing with the National Championship on April 3 in Phoenix, Arizona.

I am hoping Michigan somehow finds a way to get into the tournament, but right now it’s not looking so good. To me, there aren’t any amazing teams this year that are clear favorites to win it all.

If I were to make a mid-February prediction, I would predict that Kansas wins it all. Kansas may not be the most talented, but experience and maturity goes a long way in March, and between Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham, the Kansas backcourt has quite the experience.

 

 

Super Bowl Sunday

This upcoming Sunday marks the 51st time people have gathered with friends, food, and drinks to watch funny commercials and the NFL Championship. It’s Super Bowl Sunday.

For a high schooler like myself, it’s probably the only sunday night that you’re looking forward to. Other than Super Bowl Sunday, sunday nights are just a huge sigh as you start thinking about the incredibly long week of school that will start the next morning.

On Super Bowl Sunday, family friends get together to enjoy a night that celebrates the game of football. There’s usually some betting, and sometimes the Giants, Steelers, or Patriots are in it.

In my community, this would mean someone at the party is both nervous and excited to see their favorite team take the field. This year, the Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons, who are quite the juggernaut that no one really saw coming.

With a coaching staff headlined by Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons cruised past the Packers with ease in the NFC Championship, making a crystal clear statement that the Patriots will get a run for their money.

The Falcons are in the Super Bowl for the 2nd time in franchise history, and haven’t been there since 1999. On the other hand, this isn’t Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s first rodeo. This will be Brady and Belichick’s 7th Super Bowl appearance, and they’ve been very successful other than the two times against my Giants.

This game is very hard to predict. It’s hard to pick against Brady and the system, but the Falcons blew threw the NFC with ease. Both teams are more offensive minded, but both defenses have been overachievers.

In the past, the Giants were able to beat Brady with pressure. If the Falcons can dominate the New England offensive line, it could be a long day for Brady. The Falcons have Vic Beasley Jr, who led the NFL in sacks this year and could be a difference maker on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Falcons offense has the weapons to gash any defense, and they’ve proved it. Between Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, and Mohammed Sanu, Matt Ryan has a handful of playmakers around him.

While I would like to see the Falcons shock the world, I would also like to see Tom Brady silence the haters once again. Brady went to Michigan, so he is automatically my boy. The best QB of all time is constantly debated, but I want Brady to solidify himself as the best ever.

Without Gronk for most of the year, Brady has led the Patriots to convincing wins with a receiving core consisting of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, rookie Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola. In the AFC Championship, Brady made Chris Hogan look like Randy Moss.

If the Patriots can beat the incredibly talented, well-coached Falcons on Sunday, the argument for Brady only gets stronger.

I can’t make a prediction, but I will say that I hope it’s a crazy game and Brady throws the winning touchdown in the final moments.

The Student Section

High school athletics means a lot of different things for different people. For some, it’s just an extra curricular to put on a college application. Some people just love being a part of a team. And for many, it’s a ticket to a better education than they could’ve ever imagined.

Whatever the reason, high school sports bring a bunch of kids together to represent their school, and ultimately their community. On the other side, it is the other students’ responsibility to show their support.

Going into this school year, there was definitely a lack of school spirit at my high school. In early September, the gym was quiet for volleyball games. It was boring, and it seemed like everyone was there only because they had to.

It wasn’t a good feeling, being an observing student. I can only assume it wasn’t the ideal home court advantage that the players hoped for either. So, my friends and I decided to start the official student section.

As the fall season went on, we began to see bigger and bigger crowds at volleyball, soccer, and football games. Realizing that our efforts were working, we wanted to expand even more. We decided to create a wild home court presence for basketball season.

In preparation, we made t-shirts that read “6th Man” on the front, with a cougar paw on the back. While there are five basketball players on the court from our school, we wanted the student section to be the 6th man that gave our team an advantage.

In addition, we didn’t even keep the profits. Only concerned with creating a sea of 6th Man shirts at basketball games, we donating the profits to a club that raises money for kids in local hospitals.

Then came the first game. Right after school we blocked off a section of the bleachers with yellow caution tape, went home to wait until game time, and hoped desperately for a good turnout.

A good turnout would’ve been an understatement. Sure enough, soon after the caution tape was taken down, the student section was born. Students flooded into the bleachers, a lot of them never having come to a basketball game before.

Not only was the attendance incredible, but the participation exceeded our expectations as well. Everyone joined in as we yelled, heckled the opposing team, and cheered for our own. We won the game, and from then on, the student section has given our team home court advantage.

Our basketball team boasts a 5-2 home record so far this season, both losses to top 15 teams in the state, a major improvement from last season. After all, 6 men is more than 5.

The Mental Part of the Game

As an exciting March Madness comes to a close, the 2016 baseball season kicks off. The transition from basketball to baseball also implies that the end of school is just around the corner, so life is good.

For me, leaving basketball behind has never been easy, even if it’s just for a couple months. But once April comes around, all I can think about is baseball: from eye black to short hair to sunflower seeds.

Baseball is a game of failure. The best hitters get a hit just three out of every ten at-bats. When you break it down, It can’t be easy to hit a fastball moving from 70-95 mph, let alone curveballs and change-ups. The tempo of the game puts pressure on the pitcher, batter, and fielders for every pitch.

Evidently, it’s not the easiest game in the world. It is the best feeling to be on a hot streak, when you’re just seeing the ball well out of the pitcher’s hand. On the other hand, slumps build up a ton of frustration.

Coming off a successful basketball season, I was reluctant to completely switch my efforts to baseball. When I started swinging a bat, eventually, nothing felt comfortable. During pre-season, I had my high points, but still wasn’t comfortable in the batter’s box.

In our last pre-season game, I capped off my performance in a blowout loss with a strikeout. I was furious, and I let my emotions get the best of me. Rather than leaving it in the past, I took my anger out onto the field the next inning, and made multiple mental errors.

Looking back on it, I am more disappointed in my reaction to the game than my performance. Fortunately, it was only pre-season, and I can learn from the experience.

Between pitches, every player on the field has to think and focus on their responsibilities for the next play. To succeed, you need to know what you’re doing, and to think you’re gonna do it perfectly.

I saw first hand what can happen if you can’t conquer the mental aspect of the game. Just as every baseball player should, going forward I will continue to improve at having a short memory, and focusing with a positive attitude.

A player can’t succeed in the physical game of baseball without conquering the mental game first.

 

Looking Back on 2015

The past year of sports has been very entertaining, while teaching a few lessons along the way. The usual culprits continued to dominate, as Duke basketball won a National Championship, the Patriots won a super bowl, and Alabama football made the College Football Playoff.

Emerging powerhouses built on their success, with the Warriors winning the NBA Finals and the Royals winning the World Series. Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao, and the US Women’s National Team won the world cup.

Like always, there were blowouts, upsets, and heartbreaking losses.

It seemed like the Seahawks had the Super Bowl in the bag, being in the redzone with just seconds remaining, a few yards away from their second straight super bowl win. However, a controversial play call resulted in an interception by Malcolm Butler, and the Patriots stole the game.

I had the privilege of being present at the Michigan vs Michigan State football game. It seemed like the Wolverines had the game in the bag, all they had to do was catch a snap and punt the ball. What could go wrong?

A low snap, fumbled by the nervous punter. He tries to pick it up and get rid of it, despite being surrounded by Spartans. Jalen Watts-Jackson grabs the ball and runs all the way to the endzone as time expires.

I also had the privilege of being at Game 6 of the World Series. The Mets seemed to be unstoppable in the National League playoffs. In Game 1 of the world series, the Mets blew a lead in the 9th inning, and ended up losing in extra innings.

The trend continued, as the Mets gave up late game leads throughout the whole series. The worst was Game 6, when the Mets had their backs against the wall. Matt Harvey had pitched a gem, and received a huge ovation as he sprinted out to finish the 9th inning.

In that moment, being a part of that electric crowd, I felt like this could be the turning point of the series. However, I was soon drained of my hope and optimism. Harvey blew the lead in the 9th, and the Mets lost the series in extra innings.

There’s nothing worse than the feeling after a heartbreaking loss. I sat in the stadium, the silent Mets fans painfully listening to the small band of Royals fans celebrate their win. The silent Michigan fans astounded as Michigan State celebrated in the endzone.

These two experiences caused me to think long and hard in the quiet car ride home, as well as the days afterwards.

It’s just a game. After a heartbreaking loss, the only way to move forward is to forget about it. In most sports, it’s extremely difficult to succeed without having a short memory. In addition, this concept can be applied to everyday life.

If we continue to dwell on the past, it will be so much harder to improve in the future. It’s not about the loss itself. It’s how you respond from that. 2016 can be that more successful if we learn from our mistakes and keep the past in the past.

A True Fan

Every sports team has a loyal fan base, whether it’s the players’ parents or an entire city. Sports fans have their own reasons for why they cheer for that team. Some people like the Golden State Warriors, simply because they are the best team in the league.

Some people, including myself, like the teams that their parents like, which has (at times) been quite unfortunate for me. Everybody has their reasons, but what makes a real fan?

This has been a frequent topic of argument amongst my friends recently, always started by someone accusing another person of being a “fake fan”. This accusation is then followed by an exchange that may include a few words I wouldn’t repeat.

The most common scenario has been the conflict between fantasy football and the NFL. Can you rightfully cheer for a player on your fantasy team if they’re playing against your beloved Giants?

Another common situation has someone rooting for more than one team, or different teams based on their favorite players. Are you a true fan if you cheer for multiple teams?

It’s very obvious that being a frontrunner does not make a true fan. It’s easy to decide to root for the Panthers this year, because they have the best record in the league. Meanwhile, the true fans have been supporting the team for many tough, super bowl-less years.

I think the first pillar of being a true fan is having a valid reason to support that team. If a family member goes to college, of course you can rightfully root for that team now. If you live in St. Louis, it would make sense to be a Rams fan. If you were raised under the roof of Lakers fans, it would make sense to be a Lakers fan.

However, there comes a point when the line is drawn. If the 3rd string quarterback of the Panthers went to the same college as your cousin, that’s too much of a stretch to be a valid reason.

The second pillar is always putting your team first. For example, if you are a Steelers fan, betting against the Steelers is a big NO. If you have Adrian Peterson on your fantasy team, and the Steelers are playing Peterson’s team, you’re a true fan if you put Peterson on your bench.

The last pillar is commitment. To be a loyal fan, you have to be committed forever. A true fan doesn’t give up on his team, especially to the point where he switches teams.

In my opinion, having been amongst electric crowds, and playing with large crowds watching, the game is nothing without the fans. The players feed off of the crowd, which gives the game a whole new element of excitement.

It’s truly amazing that people with different backgrounds, living circumstances, occupations, and opinions can all go to one place with the same purpose and goal, helping the team they love win.

From Top to Bottom

With the autumn season coming to a late end, it brings a couple things. Frigid temperatures in Jersey, holidays, and a new year. However, the main attraction of winter for me is basketball season.

Last year I played freshman basketball for my high school, and I’d say it was a pretty successful year. We finished with a respectable record, and I led the team in multiple categories. I’m sure at the end of last season I was incredibly satisfied with that.

But now, after a week of practice with JV and Varsity, I am able to put last year in perspective. Yes, it was still a successful year. I made several big strides in the development of my game, and I really established myself as a good outside shooter.

But, as I see practice alongside the rest of the JV and Varsity players, I realize I still have a long way to go. The first week of practice was an entirely new experience, having to bust my ass in each and every drill or sprint.

As I think back to my freshman year, I realize I should not have been as content as I was. I had never been a main scorer for any basketball team, and that definitely affected how hard I worked everyday.

I became too satisfied with hitting a couple threes and finishing with double digit points. And now, looking back on that, I really wished I had put extra work into defensive drills and becoming more fundamentally sound.

With the first game scheduled in less than two weeks, I know that I’m going to have to work hard to earn every minute I can get in each game.

My mentality has changed since last year, and I wish I had figured it out before now. When you are one of the better players in the gym, it’s a lot easier to start to slack and lose tenacity in practice, knowing you are probably going to play a lot in the next game.

But when you’re in a gym with a whole group of players who may be quicker, taller, or even better than you, it’s not an option to give less than 100% during practice. There’s no guarantee of any minutes as of now, and I have to continue to work hard in order to be competitive with the rest of the players in the gym.

The leap from freshman hoops to the next level is more drastic than I thought, and adapting to it has not been easy. However, I know in the first week I’ve made good progress, and I know now that you can’t ever be satisfied or you won’t be able to play at the next level.

 

The Gym Teacher

Everyone has (or has had) that one gym teacher who is simply hilarious. Some have good senses of humor, while others are just hilarious. Our beloved high school gym teacher, for fitness, is quite the character. It’s impossible to leave his weight room without laughing, and you can always look forward to his class.

He’s a fairly short man, probably in his late 40s, with puffy black hair and glasses. He is a die-heart Green Bay Packers, and he clearly wants everyone in the school to know that. On a typical day, he will be wearing green or yellow Packers shorts, with a Packers jersey or shirt. It’s rare to see him without green or yellow on.

Aaron Rodgers, the Packers star quarterback, wears #12 on his jersey. So, for pushups, situps, leg presses, whatever it may be… we have to do sets of 12. It seems that he knows every Packers player ever, as he answers all of my difficult Packers questions correctly. He claims that he went to Green Bay a few years ago, and spent $800 at the Packers Team Store.

He also claims that he wakes up at 2am every morning, watches the movie Rocky, works out, then comes to school. His early morning routine never ceases to amaze and impress people.

He has a signature saying, and just about every student at my school has heard it. When he sees something that is dissatisfying, such as a student not dressed for gym or bad behavior, he will shake his head and say, “Summer school!”

Besides his signature phrase, he has a few other phrases that he throws out to every class:

  • “Hard work!”
  • “Gotta work hard to be hard!”
  • “When in doubt, do pushups”
  • “Stop texting, start flexing”
  • “Don’t be lazy get crazy!”
  • “Hustle, hit, and never quit”
  • “Burn it to earn it”
  • “Are you a man or a mouse?”

…and that’s all he says. He paces around the room, repeating those phrases, decked out in Green Bay Packers attire. He’s that funny gym teacher I’ll never forget.

The Dark Knight Rises

Baseball season has just begun. It’s been all positive so far, especially since my high school’s varsity team is 10-1. They have a sophomore pitcher whose fastball has hit 90mph, and rumors suggest he’s already been contacted by MLB teams. Speaking of the MLB, the unthinkable is occurring.

Through 12 games, the New York Mets have the best record in the National League. They are undefeated at home (6-0), and have won seven games in a row. It’s about time. They’re hitting extremely well, as Michael Cuddyer, Lucas Duda, David Wright, and Travis d’Arnaud lead the offense.

Meanwhile, the pitching has been incredible. The team ERA is 2.74, which is 3rd in the MLB. Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, and Matt Harvey all have multiple wins already. Matt Harvey’s return has been particularly good for the Mets.

In late October of 2013, Matt Harvey (known as the Dark Knight) underwent Tommy John surgery. This was a huge blow for the 24 year old, who started the All-Star Game for the NL at Citi Field earlier that year. He would miss the entire 2014 season, recovering from surgery.

Featured image

No one was sure he would come back the same. The Mets, with high expectations this year, needed him to pick up right where he left off. And that’s exactly what Harvey has done. He’s 2-0, with 17 strikeouts in two starts.

But, that’s not even what made me fall in love with Harvey again. It was the 5th inning, Mets vs. Phillies. The Phillies pitcher had hit two Mets previously in the game. So what does Harvey do? He throws a 95mph fastball that drills the Phillies no. 3 hitter, Chase Utley.

Most pitchers don’t retaliate when their teammates are hit, but not Matt Harvey. He’s willing to do whatever it is for the team. He is the face of the 2015 Mets, who look to be very competitive and successful through the rest of the season.

The Dark Knight of Gotham is finally back.

The High School World

Through less than a year of high school, I have been introduced to a whole new world of sports. I mean, I would be clicking through channels, and pass over every televised high school sporting event. But now, I find myself desperately searching for a high school basketball game on TV.

The home games at my high school are more of a social event than professional or college games. For example, our school lost every home football game this past fall. And even though I attended all four, I couldn’t tell you the score of any of them the next day. I doubt any high school student could.

Then basketball season came around. I didn’t really think I’d go to a lot of games, but freshman ball got me engaged. I started in every contest, averaging a stellar 10.6 PPG while logging the most minutes per game on the team.

I was very well-known after getting a shoutout on the morning announcements from the principal. She informed the whole school that I had set the record for most 3-pointers in a quarter at our high school.

As you could probably predict, I was completely immersed in high school basketball. That’s how it began. I started to go to my high school’s home games. Last year, the high school team was undefeated at home. This year, not bad, but definitely not undefeated.

Regardless, the games were fun so people went. Definitely better than homework. My first ever high school game (as a student) was Columbia vs Irvington. Irvington won, led by a 6’5” freshman. This kid was insanely talented, using a smooth jumper and throwing down some huge dunks.

After the game, a scout for a Division III college approached a different Irvington player, and they exchanged information. So, I went home and researched this guy, and watched videos of him play. I began to look through all of New Jersey’s high school prospects.

That’s when I realized how cool high school basketball was. Future college players playing against kids I go to school with everyday. I became an expert on NJ high school players, and knew who to watch for in every game.

For example, my high school played its rival, Seton Hall Prep, a few weeks ago. SHP was led by junior guard TJ Gibbs. You could tell he was the best player right as he stepped on the court. Only a junior, Gibbs has offers from esteemed programs such as Uconn, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Virginia.

In fact, there was a scout from Virginia’s coaching staff in the gym. It was so cool to see future college players play at this level. More recently, St. Anthony’s came to play my high school team. Coming into the game, they had four players with Division I offers.

The final score was 91-44, in St. Anthony’s favor. One of their seniors, Markis McDuffie, had already committed to Wichita State, while another, Jagan Mosely, was being scouted by Louisville. Mosely threw down an insane alley oop in the game, which was caught on video.

Of course, I had that video sent to me immediately. I tweeted the video, tagging Mosely. Thirty minutes later, I check my phone, and find that he retweeted my tweet. After all, he’s just another high school kid. Pretty cool.

I’ve found a new love for high school sports, especially with the local talent. The highest rated high school point guard in the country, Isaiah Briscoe, plays 15 minutes away! He has already committed to Kentucky, and John Calipari attended a tournament that my high school played in, back in December.

And now I find myself obsessed with recruiting, whether it’s Jim Harbaugh’s targets for Michigan, or just monitoring the offers/commitments of local NJ players. Heck, I watch more high school basketball than NBA basketball.

High school has opened up a whole new sports world, one that is entertaining, cheap, and very fun to watch.