The Big East: Breaking up is hard to do or is it?

Was that a chimney being installed on top of Healy Hall on Georgetown’s campus last week?  Perhaps a conclave of catholic university presidents were gathering, their mission: not to elect a new pontiff, but rather, to finalize the birth of a new league, the much talked about Catholic 7.

While this is likely the right move for these basketball centric colleges, unfortunately for us with this secession comes the loss of rivalries; the loss of traditions.

Many familiar names remain including several of the original members, the pillars of the Big East; Villanova, St. John’s and Georgetown.  Gone are Connecticut, Louisville and Syracuse. One has to wonder if the Catholic 7 really wants to roll out the welcome wagon for Brad Stevens and the always present Butler squad.

This week the Big East converges on NYC for their curtain call and we will savor every minute of play.  For we will miss them; those historical match-ups rich in tradition.

The hard fought Syracuse-Georgetown battles for Big East supremacy will be no more.  The decades of Thompson(s)-Boeheim classics that dominated college basketball but a memory.  From fist-a-cuffs and coach ejections to buzzer beaters, always a much anticipated and exciting match-up. As time went on, during those dark days before the arrival JTIII, Syracuse found other formidable foes in U Conn and Villanova drawing record breaking crowds in the Carrier dome whenever they played.  On any given night, anyone could beat anyone in the Big East.  Everyone was a legitimate contender.

This past Friday came the anticipated white smoke from the chimney and yes, it was “officially” announced the Catholic 7 will leave the Big East.  An era has ended.  It was proclaimed: college basketball must evolve.  We must move on.  There will be new rivalries, new opponents and new beginnings.  With stalwart teams weaned on tradition and dedicated to college basketball, the Catholic 7 will carry on.  They will continue to excite us with their gutsy play that so defined the Big East.  Sadly, The Big East as we know it…gone in a puff of smoke.




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Notre Dame: For Real?

It sure looks that way.

This past weekend, my 10 year old niece solicited my help as she sat at the kitchen table doing her homework.  She asked: “Aunt Smash Mouth Diva, what is a “collective noun”?”  I was about to do what most aunts and uncles do and just make something up, but my sister insisted that she needed to know the “correct definition” so instead of me confabulating we went to our usual reliable source: Wikipedia (my patients should rest assure that it not my go to reference when I can’t figure out what’s wrong with them, of course, except in the case of diseases of the thyroid).  There we found many examples of collective nouns, one of the first on the list,  a perfect example if you will…a  “team”.

That is the impression we get as we watch the Irish play throughout this past season.  They are playing like a team. Are they capable of stopping the swift and explosive offense of Oregon?  Maybe, or maybe not, but truth be told their play this past season has surely earned them the right (of course, Kansas State might have something to say about that).  There has been many a close game with much overtime play; they have been exciting to watch.  And even if in some cases, (call it the luck of the Irish if you will),  their wins weren’t pretty, but they still managed to win.

Coach Brian Kelly has brought leadership, discipline and perseverance.  He sits those who don’t play by the rules and those who don’t come to play.  He has them believing that they can beat any opponent; be it on the hallowed grounds of South Bend, or the unfriendly turf of Norman.  He sets his players up to succeed and plays to their strengths. This is most evident in how he uses his young quarterbacks.  He spreads the playing time around and has the depth of talent to do so. He freely alternates his quarterbacks, not as others are forced to do when faced with injuries to their starting QBs, but based on performance, merit and the needs of the team in that particular situation.

Their defense, lead by rock star and hopefully, Heisman candidate, Manti Te’o, is fierce and has won many a game for them this year.  Are you deserving of the opportunity to play for the BCS national championship because of defensive play? Well, if you keep your opponents out the end zone, maybe so.  However, as ND plays their last home game of the season today, all of this may be premature wishful thinking and we have painfully (and joyfully) learned over the years that “it ain’t over until it’s over”. And on any given Saturday anyone can beat anyone.  This is the beauty of college football.

Whether you are an ND lover or a hater, and whether you think Stanford was in the end zone or not, when the dust settles, ND is on the verge of the perfect season.  And they are the perfect example of a “collective noun”.

Dedicated to my 10 year old niece Lanie (we learned about collective nouns together) and my 6 year old nephew Ben, both of whom study like champions every day.

And to my irascible nephew Beau, a senior at ND: Suit up, bro, stay out of the drunk tank and enjoy the last home game of the season.

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New York Yankees: The Agony of De-feet

Each year post season baseball highlights the ushering in of fall,
We surely deserve something more from the Pinstripers who play ball.

The days shorten by the minute, the temperature does cool,
Not unlike the Yankee bats, the Tigers do school.

Lackluster, limp and yes, anemic; what is it about the Yankees post-season?
Sportscasters, bloggers and pundits pontificate without reason.

An emotional let down for us fans; our hearts do wrench,
Those that were sluggers throughout the season are now riding the bench.

To put it mildly, the offense is in quite a slump,
Joe tried everything to light a spark; ultimately, great ones he did dump.

Where is Granderson, Cano, and the one they call Arod?
At times looking uninterested; others got the nod.

Several sessions of group psychotherapy may be the offing,
Detroit in the driver’s seat, their fans do the scoffing.

And El Capitan goes under the knife surely to acquire a screw or two,
Came up lame, an untimely injury, there was nothing he could do.

Likely a subtle hairline fracture worsened when an ankle he did roll,
His loss did take away the Yankee heart and soul.

An unexpected bright spot, 40 year old Raul Ibanez, to NY by way of Scranton,
Exciting play in several games; he left the crowd a rantin’

This is likely it for Andy P., he will pitch no more,
Cashman and the Steinbrenners decide who stays; others will be shown the door.

The top of the seventh, unfortunately for us, the season is coming to an end,
Detroit with an easy sweep; we need time to mend.

To go out this way, after a strong year, it will always be a painful reminder,
Now to focus on fantasy football, they can’t put me in a binder.

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USA basketball: Nothing like gold

Reportedly, it’s worth about 220 dollars (street value about 600), yet to some it’s priceless.

Just the thought of winning one seems in itself to cause unexplainable supernatural things to occur.

Case in point, it can cause over paid millionaire professional athletes to give one another long heartfelt hugs.  I thought for a moment Haley’s comet flew by after Hades froze over when I witnessed Kobe and Lebron’s loving embrace on the sideline.

Fifteen strong.  All-stars.  Arch nemeses and opponents during the year. Smack talking at every opportunity…now all are one force with one mission.  Bring back the gold.

While we can wax on as to whether they are collectively better than the Dream Team (I am still not convinced), in the long run, does it really matter?  One thing is for sure, for the past 36 days they played as a team; they played as one with one goal in mind. They were on the same sheet of music, imagine that! They actually appeared to be having fun even as they attended and participated in practices and deferred to a college basketball coach (granted he is arguably one of the best college basketball coaches of all time) on how to execute plays as a team.

Yes, it wasn’t easy today.  No, they didn’t dominate as they had in prior games.  It was a bit of a dog fight.  Kevin Durant was on fire with 30 points but Spain’s Gasol brothers proved to be a bit of an obstacle and the officiating a bit suspect as Team USA was only ahead by one heading into the 4th quarter. But great players step up to do great things and who else but Lebron laid down a crucial dunk followed by a three point shot in the waning minutes. A win is a win no matter how close.  The gold medal is just as gold and the victory just as sweet.

It is yet to be determined what the future holds for Olympic basketball.  There has been much buzz about several things.  Will the Olympic committee continue to allow professionals to play?  What role will the NBA and David Stern play? Will they go through with a proposed age limit of 23?  Yes, things for another day.   Now for a brief moment, it is all put aside; it didn’t matter if they led the NBA in scoring or if they were on a playoff team during the season. Today, they played for one team and it was our team. 

At least for today, it was quite apparent that they were not playing for big bucks. It was about all about that 200 dollar gold medal.  They were playing for pride.  They were playing for us.

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Bryce Harper: No one sharper!

A Natural.

Unbridled talent.

The youngest player in the National League.

National League’s Rookie of the Month for the month of May.

Took the high road and didn’t flinch when intentionally beaned by  “veteran player”, Cole Hamels after only 8 games into his major league career.

Response: Payback time with his subsequent in your face stealing of home plate, while Hamels was busy with a pickoff move to first.

He doesn’t have to smack talk.  He does his talking on the field.

Calls out pesky reporters by refusing to answer their prying, irrelevant questions and redirecting them to matters at hand.  At such a young age, he is all about the business of baseball.

He handles himself beyond his years both on and off the field.

His feet are planted firmly on the ground…He is not blinded by the limelight; His signature thick eye black is more than to just cut the glare…it is his war paint…some would say a symbol of craziness, meant to intimidate…

With a batting average over 300, and currently on a tear, it is perhaps a little too early for an All Star position, but likely a write in option (at least by Nats fans). Whether it is a game winning walk off hit in the 12th , or a solo shot in the 2nd , the rookie phenom seems to always rise to the occasion.

Once again, it is nice to see someone not unlike Jeremy Lin, but in Harper’s case, he is a teenager; someone right out of high school, who doesn’t think the world revolves around him, who is respectful of the game of baseball and the people who play it.   He knows he has to earn his position and that time spent in the minors comes with the territory.  He is just happy to be in the show.

His supporting cast of Strasburg, Gonzalez, LaRoche and Desmond, of course, are no slouches; each well deserving of accolades in their own right.  Each have been instrumental in landing their team 4 ½ games in front of the Mets on top of NL East. 

Sweeping the Bosox, in Boston? No problem… Mixing it up with the Phillies, bring them on… But, alas the Bronx Bombers come to town this weekend for interleague play. This will be quite the test for the young Nats.  Harper is half the age of some of his opponents.  It’s doubtful he will be blinded by their light.  He likely will play with twice the heart.

At long last, the city of D.C. is a buzz with non-political excitement.  Yes, win and they will come.  Washingtonians thought Christmas came a little early with the much anticipated arrvial of RGIII …could it possibly get any better?

Now, “that’s a clown question, Bro”…

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Kentucky: Unbeatable? Maybe?

Will they fall?  According to Sir Charles Barkley only the Toronto Raptors have enough talent to knock off the ferocious Wildcats.

Kansas, the underdog and come from behind second half team, likely has other thoughts on the matter.

Though arguably not playing at their best, troubled by Kidd-Gilchrist’s early foul trouble and Pitino’s full course press defense and offensive rebounding, they looked to the leadership of their all-star freshman Anthony Davis and senior Darius Miller to pull away to a win after a Cardinal surge.

Louisville fought a good fight.  Of course, we should never count Rick Pitino out, no matter what team he is coaching.  Crush-worthy, hot at 34, handsome at 59, a sartorial and coaching genius, he orchestrated an impressive run through the Big East and on to the final four where his pesky Cardinals finally succumbed last night

Kentucky, the prototypical transition team, is armed with many weapons.  With plenty of balance, talent and depth, they spread the wealth around and truly play as a team with all of their starters averaging double digits per game.  However, no one would argue that it is the 19 year-old phenome, Anthony Davis, who makes them great.  Mobile and agile, the NCAA player of the year dominates a both sides of the court.  He is a game changer who will be matched up in the finals against the Big 12 defensive player of the year, Jeff Withey who had an answer for OSU’s Jared Sullinger’s inside game.  It should make for an interesting battle round.

And then there is Kansas…A team no one expected to be there (except Kyle P., who is currently winning our basketball pool) in the end including their coach, Bill Self. 

Sure they knocked off an injury laden Tar Heel team, but I must admit I dozed off at half time for a bit after the Buckeyes had a convincing 9 point lead and I was about ready to circle OSU as the winner in my bracket.  But in true Jayhawk fashion this season, they rallied in the second half.  Another turn around, another come from behind win, thanks to a 17-4 run and OSU inability to score deep into the second half.  Led by Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson, Kansas out-scored and out-rebounded OSU in the second half.

Are they beatable?  Pitino thinks so but in his words it is going to take a team who has an A-plus game.  Can the Jayhawks do it?  Well, they have shown us throughout this tournament that they can.  Even if it means they come from behind, they barely win, or they win ugly, it doesn’t matter they win and are in the finals.  That being said they haven’t come up against the likes of Anthony Davis and the versatile Wildcats.  One thing is for sure, this ain’t no April fools’ joke…. They had better bring it and it better be their A game.  No, wait, better make it their A-plus game.


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Shaka Smart: Something to say about loyalty

His time will come.

Yes, he will move on to a powerhouse.  It is a matter of time.  It’s not time yet. 

He is young, dedicated and above all, loyal. 

It is a trait that was never learned by some.  Others are so passionate about what they do and grateful to those who have mentored them, nurtured them, helped them along their way, that they can be loyal to a fault.

Can you truly learn to be loyal?  I am not sure.  I think it might be something in your DNA, something innate, you either got it or you don’t. 

And then there’s Shaka.

Illinois came a calling with 2.5 million or so a year.

He opted out of the big money, the big school, the big opportunity (at least for now) because he has some unfinished business at VCU.  

It’s a house that Shaka is building, one brick at time. 

What he has done for this program in just a few years cannot be denied. He has put his blood sweat and tears into it. He is building a program from the grass roots up, a program still in its infancy.  His underclassmen are players he recruited.  He saw something in them; something that he has.  Word will soon be out, he will be the draw, young players will want to play for him, want to be coached by him, and want to experience the “havoc”.  

It speaks to his character.  Never a disparaging word about his opponents or his players, he exemplifies sportsmanship.  

He did this year what no one expected.  They thought last year was a fluke. Though ousted in a close game after a few crucial missed free throws against the Hoosiers, he is not done.  He’ll be back.  He believes in his coaching and his young players’ potential.

Loyalty: a feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection.  I am a sucker for it. 

We don’t see much of it any more.

Colleagues are quick to throw one another under the bus to get ahead on a daily basis in every profession; selling out for the big bucks or to make themselves look better.  Then you have those people who are not loyal for other reasons, those that really want to do the right thing but who over compensate so they are not perceived as showing favoritism or in some cases, nepotism.

Some will say it was a bad move on his part and for his coaching career to not take this opportunity.  He will likely need to win his conference every year to make it to the big dance.  Yes, big schools will come calling again.  Shaka knows this.  He also knows deep down it is not his time.  No, it is not his time to move on.

If I were a returning VCU player, I would be even more inspired to play for this coach. His actions speak louder than his words.  He has shown his commitment, dedication and his determination.

Shaka Smart embodies loyalty.  That’s what makes him great.



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