March Madness is upon us. That time of year where all sorts of people fill out brackets, some in office pools, some in prisons, some at legitimate gambling establishments, picking the winner of a 68 team tournament to decide a National Champion for NCAA Men’s Basketball (why they won’t do this for football is beyond the Swami’s comprehension; having a computer decide is like having a waiter decide your meal; you are usually going to get people getting screwed).
We have two teams in the tourney this year, U of M, ranked #4 in the South Regional (and a high ranking for the first time since the Fab Five Scandal), and MSU, ranked #3 in the Midwest Regional. Before I go into breaking this down, let me ask this: WHO decides the regional placements? U of M in the South? Last I checked, they were farther north than Cincinnati, who is in the Midwest. The decisions have a worse alignment than the current NHL alignment (though that changes next year; see my last article).
U of M’s first opponent is #13 South Dakota State, a small school with a similar record, so don’t let the ranking fool you. South Dakota State went 25-9, placed first in the Summit League Conference, and trounced through the Summit League Championship Tournament. The Jackrabbits are a dangerous team, but they are also a small school, from a small conference, with little-known recruits. Then again, so was Kent State in 2002, who were led by a kid from a small Northern Michigan high school named Trevor Huffman. That Kent State team had several upsets on their way to the Sweet Sixteen, and I can see the same from the Jackrabbits, but not with the Wolverines as their first opponent. The Wolverines placed fourth in the Big Ten, behind Indiana, Ohio State, and MSU. The final AP Top 25 Poll put them at #6, and the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll placed them at #8. South Dakota State didn’t even get votes. They are not a powerhouse school, so expect a Wolverine win, one of the few times you will see me even admit that (I’m a Sparty). The Wolverines also have the advantage of a sort-of home start, at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they are in the same bracket as Kansas, who finished #3 in the AP Poll and is ranked #1 in the regional. They also have perennial favorites Georgetown (#2 seed) and Florida (#3 seed) in the region, so it would be a tough road for the Wolverines to even get to the Elite Eight, let alone the Final Four. I expect them to succumb to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
MSU kicks things off in Auburn Hills as well, facing off perennial powerhouse Valparasio, ranked #13 in the Midwest Regional. Valparasio finished first in the Horizon League Conference, as well as winning the League Tournament. Another small conference team, Valparasio has a similar record to the Spartans, but attracts better recruits than most small conference schools. They are in the brackets almost every year, and usually advance one or two games before hitting a brick wall from a much bigger school. Unfortunately for them, that school is the first game. MSU was ranked #8 in the AP Poll, and #7 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and were favorites to win the Big Ten Title, until upset by eventual winner Ohio State, who stunned everyone in the Big Ten Tourney. MSU feels they need to redeem themselves for the loss, and are hungry for another National Championship. Valparasio should fall in this game, easily outmatched by the bigger, stronger Spartans.
MSU has no easier of a time overall in the tourney though, being in the same region as #2 ranked Louisville and #6 ranked Duke, ranked #1 and #2 respectively in the region. While MSU might get past Duke, they will almost surely fall to Louisville in the Elite Eight in Indianapolis.
My Final Four picks are: Midwest: Louisville, South: Georgetown, East: Indiana, West: Gonzaga. Expect a Championship Game of the Hoosiers against Gonzaga, with the Hoosiers getting the upset.
Who is Matt Tuiasosopo?
Really, I want to know. I read his stats online. He has been sort of a journeyman of the minor leagues, drafted in 2004 by Seattle, spending time in their organization, mostly in the minors, until he signed a minor league contract with the Mets in 2012, then with the Tigs in December. His brief Major League stint stats are nothing outstanding: in 193 at-bats, he has batted .176, with 5 homers, 15 RBIs, and 70 strikeouts. He has played as a shortstop, first base, and outfield in the majors, while playing every position except pitcher and catcher in Triple A Buffalo last season.
In Lakeland this spring, he is the talk of the town as of late. His first 14 at-bats of spring training, he was 0-and-14, with eight strikeouts, but his last 20 at-bats, he has been on fire. 11-for-20, a .550 average, 5 doubles, 3 homers, seven runs, 8 RBIs, and only four strikeouts. Best of all he is a right-handed batter, what we need for the outfield. Just one problem: we haven’t SEEN him in the outfield in a Tiger uniform. Leyland has kept him in the infield. Apparently, he has played both in the past, but we need to see how he works with our other outfielders and infielders.
In March alone, he has batted .440 with a 1.000 slugging percentage, which is very impressive from this youngster. But it may not be enough; Jeff Kobernus is a Rule 5 pick that if he is not on the Opening Day roster, we have to send back to the Nationals.
Jim, Coach Leyland, PLEASE give him some time in the outfield. I am sure we will see it, due to Quintin Berry being day-to-day and now Andy Dirks now day-to-day. We will find out tomorrow, when the Boys of Summer face-off with Houston at 6:05 pm at Joker Merchant Stadium in Tigertown South.
Other News from Lakeland:
Avasail Garcia’s injury is a severly bruised right heel, injured in Saturday’s game because he took too long of a stride to try and beat out a hit at first. He may actually miss the rest of the Grapefruit League season, and miss out on the Opening Day roster, but expect to see him when he gets healthy later on in the season…Andy Dirks injury is a bruised right knee from running into the wall on Tuesday, and he is listed as day-to-day; his major competition for the left-field spot is Quintin Berry, who is also day-to-day with tendonitis in his left knee, something I don’t like hearing, because I have been a big fan of Berry since he got his first Major League hit last season, a bunt DOUBLE, in case you forgot. Hoping this youngster gets better soon, as do Dirks and Garcia; all three were instrumental during the run we made to win the division last season…Jeff Kobernus, our Rule 5 pick, leads the Tigers with 46 at-bats, as of Sunday. He is batting .239 this spring, and showing enough promise to at least make the Opening Day roster, if not just to keep him here in our system.
The Lions minorly restructured Calvin Johnson’s contract to free up $3.4 million of cap space for 2013, part of which was used to resign safety Louis Delmas to a two-year, $9.465 million deal. Now if they could just replace tackle Jeff Backus, who retired last week after a 12 year career with the Lions, during some of the franchise’s darkest days.
Johnson’s new contract looks like this, with his original numbers in parenthesis:
2013: $8.773 million ($12.2 million)
2014: $13.058 million ($12.2 million)
2015: $20.558 million ($19.7 million)
2016: $24.088 million ($23.2 million)
2017: $21.357 million ($20.5 million)
2018: $17 million
2019: $18.250 million
The final two years did not change because under current NFL rules, signing bonuses can only be pro-rated over a maximum of five years. But one must wonder what will happen in 2015, when he breaks the $20 million mark; if television revenue does not raise the cap by then, we could see restructuring for quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh as well.
See you next time!