Sports Fodder: March is the most peculiar time of year
March 22, 2013
Sports fodder for a Friday morning . . .
The NCAA men's basketball tournament is always one of the most peculiar sports events of the year. Millions of people start paying attention to games they wouldn't have watched in January even if they were played in their own backyard. We mindlessly fill out our tournament brackets every March as if we know what we're doing. Think four fat guys sitting at a bar arguing who should be Miss America. The whole experience is sort of like buying three dozen lottery tickets and hoping one pays off. And two weeks after it's over we won't remember who we picked or even who won the tournament. You have to love it.
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If you think that Kentucky's loss in the first round of the NIT is going to change anything in college basketball, well, think again. Programs like Kentucky are still going to sell their soul to the best freshmen in the country. They will still treat juniors and seniors like 1985 Toyotas. A new crop of freshmen will be wearing Kentucky uniforms next year and the group this year will be pushed aside the way Miss America treats four fat guys at the bar.
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Kentucky's loss to Robert Morris, though, is the perfect example of why the NIT needs to disappear. Put that loss in the NCAA Tournament and ESPN would have already shown a 30 for 30 on it. But it was in the NIT and it warranted about five minutes of attention. Nobody cares about the NIT. Even the Nevada Wolf Pack, a program that has gotten past the first round of the NCAA Tournament just once in its 100 years, was depressed to be in the NIT last year. How do you think Kentucky felt? Garrett Morris, let alone Robert Morris, would have beaten them.
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The NIT to the NCAA Tournament is sort of like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to the Nevada Day Parade. The NCAA Tournament is Beyonce, giant hot air balloons of Kermit the Frog and Mickey Mouse and the cast of Annie, Hair and A Chorus Line. The NIT is the head of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce, the Minden Fire Chief and the mayor of Fernley waving to the crowd while sitting in a car from Michael Hohl Honda. It's nice. It's not just the same.
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If it wasn't for a pair of Carson High graduates, the Nevada Wolf Pack bullpen would be in serious trouble right now. Sophomore Colby Blueberg and freshman Adam Whitt have been two of coach Gary Powers' most trustworthy relievers so far. Blueberg is 1-0 with a 3.00 earned run average in 10 games. Whitt is 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in nine games. They are two of just three pitchers on the staff who have appeared in as any as nine games (closer Michael Fain is the other). Whitt has been a little wild (six walks, four hit batters) but he's allowed just seven hits in nine innings. Blueberg has struck out 34 in his 35 career innings. Don't forget that the last Pack team to make the NCAA regionals (2000) was boosted by a former Carson High pitcher (Darrell Rasner). This year could be a case of history repeating itself.
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We'll find out how serious the Wolf Pack baseball team is about winning the Mountain West regular season title this weekend when they play three games at New Mexico. And it might come down to whether or not Tom Jameson can stop the bleeding. Jameson, the normal Sunday starter, is 0-4 this year with an 8.74 ERA. The other two starters — Bradey Shipley and Tyler Wells — are 7-0 combined with a 2.64 ERA. Jameson is a quality starter (he was 7-2 last year). He'll turn things around. With Shipley, Wells and Jameson firing on all cylinders the Pack would win a watered down Mountain West in their first year in the conference. But they need to win at least one game this weekend in Albuquerque.
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Chris Ault likely did his successor a huge favor by sticking around two more years instead of retiring after the 2010 season. Had Ault retired after going 13-1 in 2010 with the greatest team in school history, well, his successor wouldn't have had a chance to succeed.
But Ault turned in two disappointing and frustrating 7-6 seasons in 2011 and 2012 which left the fan base bored and apathetic. That's why there really isn't much pressure on new coach Brian Polian at all as he prepares to open spring practices next week. Many Pack fans — especially those that haven't shown up at McKay Stadium in over a decade — actually seem to be energized by Ault leaving.