Welcome to Friday (or as we like to call it, Fri-yay!).
It has been quite the week – when will the new normal end? – but like I did yesterday, I will continue to produce a ‘Daily Noontime’ going forward with hopes of putting a smile on everyone’s faces during this unique time (and the life we’re living these days).
Alright, it is official: Tom Brady is officially a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Indeed, Brady will make an impact on the Bucs, who finished their 2019 season with seven wins and nine losses.
But doesn’t it seem strange (or bizarre) to think Brady will end his historic career with the Buccaneers? I mean, I think so, but Joe Montana ended his career, not with the San Francisco 49ers, but the Kansas City Chiefs. Again, this just seems weird, but again, we’re living in unusual times.
So, with no Brady under center, it is time to embrace Jarrett Stidham, but maybe we should also Jameis Winston, too. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler thinks (and believes) that the former Buccaneers quarterback could be an ideal replacement for the Patriots, but do we really want a quarterback that threw 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions last season?
In other National Football League (NFL) news, the “stay at home” order in California could impact the completion of SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. The new home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams was supposed to be ready for the upcoming season, but due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the “stay at home” order could mean a delay on the league’s new crown jewel.
1934: Babe Didrikson Zaharias pitched one inning in a Major League Baseball (MLB) spring training game for the Philadelphia Athletics. She gave up one walk but not hits in a single frame against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1965: UCLA beat Michigan in the 27th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
1973: Roberto Clemente was elected to the MLB11 weeks after his death in a plane crash.
1989: Baseball announced former Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose is under investigation for betting on baseball games.
1990: The Los Angeles Lakers retired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s number (No. 33).
As usual, please be well and be safe, take care of your family, and we’ll have more content on Brady (and some other topics) later today and this weekend!
Former Braintree High and Kimball Union star Nic Timberlake in action last year for Towson University. Timberlake is now a redshirt freshman for Towson this winter after last season’s injury-riddled campaign. (PHOTO COURTESY: Bob Whitney)
By Bob Whitney | @WhitneyBob
In case you haven’t noticed the 2019-20 college basketball season is off and running, highlighted by a nationally-televised doubleheader last evening featuring the top four teams in the men’s basketball preseason rankings: Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas.
For all of us veteran purists, it was hoop heaven, the talent was amazing but the quality of play was spotty at best given such a huge stage on opening night.
That aside, it is my pleasure to pen a weekly hoop column for the hard-working Matt Noonan and his many followers here at Noontime Sports.
I have covered one of the Power Five conferences – the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), to be exact – for the last eight seasons, but this year I will focus on a little bit of everything but the primary focus will remain on all that is happening in New England – and that is a lot!
No surprise that Amherst College is perched at the top of both rankings. They have been the gold-standard regionally and a regular participant in the NCAA D-III Tournaments for years.
Speaking of Amherst, the men’s program suffered a sudden jolt in September when legendary coach David Hixon (after 42 seasons at the helm) opted to take a non-health sabbatical to deal with some family issues. The big question is can the program move on without Hixon’s leadership?
Those close to the program feel that with the elevation of trusted assistant Aaron Toomey, who played under Hixon and helped win NCAA titles in 2012 and 2013, the transition should be seamless.
A game to watch (and to gauge how Toomey and his squad are managing the transition) is on January 10 when New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rival Middlebury College travels to Amherst.
ODDS AND ENDS
There have been a number of rule changes introduced with the most important one being the extension of the 3-point arc from 17 inches to the international standard of 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. Although testing of this change in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) last year found little change in shooting percentage, it was felt by the officiating honchos that it would alleviate congestion in the paint by forcing defenders to guard shooters further away from the basket. Stay tuned on this change.
All eyes will be pointing to Cambridge, Mass this season to see if the Harvard University celebrated senior class, led by awesome point guard Bryce Aiken, can finally win an Ivy League title, as well as earn an automatic tournament bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Better yet, the Crimson will have some home-cooking help in March as this year’s conference tournament moves from the storied The Palestra to Lavietes Pavilion, March 14-15.
The Ivy poo-bahs move to a conference tournament for men and women was a no-brainer – the atmosphere is pulsating and the quality of play is as good as it gets.
A shoutout to former Marquette University assistant Brett Nelson who assumes the reins at Holy Cross after Bill Carmody‘s decision to retire from the coaching ranks.
Did you know that we have a number of the top coaches in the women’s college game led by the legendary Barbara Stevens, who ranks fourth in wins among college coaches at Bentley University, Harvard’s Kathy Delaney-Smith, Stonehill College‘s Trisha Brown, Springfield College‘s Naomi Graves, and Babson College‘s Judy Blinstrub. If any of you have a daughter that may be destined to play at the college level the price of admission to catch one of these coaches in action will help with a final decision.
In my eight years following ACC men’s basketball, I had the privilege to hear firsthand from some of the great coaches in the game, including Coach Mike Krzyseski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, and Mike Brey. Buzz Williams was a real stitch in the press room. But most impressive among this elite group of coaches was the University of Virginia‘s, Tony Bennett.
Obviously, Bennett’s run to the national title was the big news last year but most noteworthy was his recent decision to forego a well-deserved a big raise. Bennett felt that his family was blessed and thankful for what they have and felt that the money would be better spent in funding a program to help athletes transition to careers after basketball. Bennett is destined to be the voice of the ACC once Coach K and Roy retire.
A FINAL THOUGHT
Best wishes to Kristen McDonnell who left the Braintree high school girls basketball program after a ten-year run which included four D-1 state titles and a bunch of sectional crowns. McDonnell is seeking a new challenge as the Norwood high school boys head coach.
The Big Ten Hockey map could shake up the NCAA spectrum!
By Dan Rubin
The dominoes are already beginning to fall in college hockey’s realignment and reshaping. Within the next three-years, the nation’s college hockey landscape will look absolutely nothing like it will in the upcoming season, as teams are shifting and changing conferences with the air of desperation that was expected when Big Ten Hockey formed.
Here’s a look at the second part of hockey’s realignment that no doubt will continue throughout the summer and into the next season.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference was made official last Wednesday in a press conference in Colorado. The league, beginning in the 2013-2014 season will comprise, as expected, Denver, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth, and Miami University. During the press conference, the league made it clear that they were open to further expansion. Notre Dame, (who we discussed at length in Part One and will discuss again later here in Part Two) is examining membership, and Western Michigan is also expressing interest. Recent reports are surfacing that both Boston College and Boston University were approached by the future NCHC about joining, which were denied by the new league. BC and BU compete in Hockey East and are logistically nowhere near the NCHC schools.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Northern Michigan announced it was seeking membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). Two days after the announcement, the WCHA, which lost all of the NCHC schools except for Miami, (who was in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, or CCHA), accepted the Wildcats as its sixth member. The move will ensure the WCHA as a viable hockey conference with the six-school minimum guaranteed. As a side note, NMU has a history of shifting between the WCHA and CCHA, starting out in the central league in the 1970s before moving to the WCHA with Michigan Tech in the 1984. 13-years later, NMU rejoined the CCHA, making the NCAA tournament in 2010. Now, they’ll head back to the WCHA.
With the new conferences starting to create lower numbers, it became apparent that there now existed several new slots as they fight for survival. Minnesota State-Moorhead became the first school to jump on the opportunity, announcing it was roughly 40% through a goal to endow a Division I program. The chaos of the shifting conferences opened up some open slots for the conferences to fill, and the Dragons are securing their position to join the schools. It’s possible both the CCHA and WCHA could add the school, which will play its home games over state borders in nearby Fargo, North Dakota. The Minnesota State University system already sponsors hockey in Mankato, playing in the WCHA. The state itself is at the heart of the realignment chaos, with the heralded Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Big Ten and Minnesota-Duluth leaving for the new conference.
Rumors continue to abound for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are not staying in the CCHA, which is beginning to look more and more like the league that will be the biggest casualty. The WCHA and the NCHC have made general overtures to Notre Dame, but it’s starting to become very apparent that Hockey East is the likely landing spot. That potential move joins the school with Catholic rivals Boston College and Providence.
Expect Notre Dame hockey to play a significant role in the future of College Hockey!
Sources close to Noontime Sports are reporting that, if Notre Dame decides to explore Hockey East, they would be accepted by the conference. That move brings the league to 11 teams, and while the reports say that the league doesn’t want to add a 12th team right away, they do want to keep the league at an even number. But, after Notre Dame, there isn’t really the type of quality opponent that Hockey East is looking for. The targets are boiling down to one of the six ECAC teams not considered Ivy League schools, a target from Atlantic Hockey or Bowling Green.
Bowling Green is a quirky, yet attractive offer that could be used to entice Notre Dame even more into looking east. One of the Irish’s major hang-ups is travel, since the move would place the school in a conference with schools that are not within a bus drive. But pulling Bowling Green into the league allows Notre Dame a “west coast” travel partner for Hockey East. According to BC Interruption.com, this, along with the fact that BGSU doesn’t need to raise scholarship numbers, factor into this possible decision. Furthermore, BGSU wouldn’t compete for a top slot in the league, which would keep the top slots secure for the traditional Hockey East powers, at least in the short term.
I heard a rumor about the CCHA. Bear in mind that it’s only a rumor, and that it’s neither confirmed nor reported anywhere else, so please don’t give this anymore credence outside of being a rumor. I heard that CCHA is looking at, specifically, Canisius, Mercyhurst, and Niagarafrom Atlantic Hockey. Niagara left College Hockey America for Atlantic Hockey as a reactionary move to the conference falling apart, when CCHA didn’t want it two years ago. Canisius, in Buffalo, NY, and Mercyhurst, in Erie, PA, are possible landing spots because they want to raise their scholarship limit from the Atlantic Hockey-maximum of 12, a move the eastern schools in the league essentially blocked. They could also bring a heated rivalry with one another developed over years spent in the MAAC, which became Atlantic Hockey.
Alabama-Huntsville is going somewhere. Nobody has any idea, but essentially, they’ll end up as a “stop-gap” for some conference that needs to fill a slot. The Chargers struggled last year to a [4-26-2] record, a year after they won the CHA Tournament. They would benefit from having guaranteed games against opponents, and it would ensure more home games for the team. Last year, they played only 12 home games compared with 18 road games, and the teams they played were predominantly power opponents such as Wisconsin, Ohio State, Cornell, Bemidji State, Colorado College, and Nebraska-Omaha. If they get any chance to join a conference, they’ll bite at the opportunity.
When Boston College won the Hockey East Association championship, I asked Joe Whitney and Cam Atkinson a fair, basic question in the postgame press conference:
Since the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, they have won the Beanpot, Hockey East, and NCAAchampionships. Then you come back this year and win Beanpot and now Hockey East. How do you manage to stay within yourself with the rising expectations on the team that you are expected to make another deep run?
Whitney replied very basically that they can’t look at the step ahead before they overcome the obstacle in front of them [paraphrasing, of course]. They had to take it, as he said, “one trophy at a time.”
That line will stick with me personally forever because I realize now how hard it really is to win as much hardware as BC did. Based on rules and technicalities, the Eagles were sent to St. Louis for their regional bracket. And they promptly lost their first game against Colorado College.
As an east coast college hockey person, I never paid much attention to the western teams. Maybe it was brute arrogance on my part, but based on the last few years, I never thought the east coast dominance would be challenged. The best eastern teams were some of the best in the nation, and, with the exception of RPI, I figured any team from an eastern conference could and would win.
Well such is the topsy-turvy way of college hockey.
The dust settles tonight on the 2010-2011 college hockey season. When either Michigan or Minnesota-Duluth hoists the championship trophy, it will provide an exclamation point on a season that resurrected the western teams and showed us that college hockey is ready for a great decade of competition ahead.
Here are some of the storylines we’re looking at tonight:
Storyline #1 – How Did We Get Here?
This Frozen Four provided some of the best upsets I’ve seen in recent history. Thanks to the way the NCAA scheduled the brackets (based on rules and technicalities), the best teams had decided disadvantages against lower seeds, with the exception of North Dakota. Indeed, the Midwest Regional was set up so the Fighting Sioux could crush opposition; and they did. North Dakota won both their regional games by an aggregate 12-1 count. They dropped six on Denver, and then promptly saw Shawn Hunwick stop each of their 40 shots in the national semifinal in front of a sellout crowd as Michigan shocked them.
I had North Dakota tabbed as the national champion after BC went down. This team was just plain solid all-around, ranked #1 in the national polls despite a #3 ranking in the computer. But they ran into the hot team at the right time when Michigan clobbered them.
Those Wolverines are an enigma. They played themselves right out of a #1-seed in the CCHA Tournament, ceding that position to Miami. But maybe that was good news for Michigan, since Miami was forced to go east and play UNH in Manchester, which resulted in a Wildcat win. The Wolverines, meanwhile, won a hard-fought overtime game over Nebraska-Omaha before taking care of Colorado.
Duluth took care of the ECAC, beating Union and Yale on the road to the Frozen Four. What was even more impressive than that was the way they did it. They outmuscled the Dutchmen in a shutout win, and then watched the Bulldogs self-implode like a drummer from Spinal Tap in the regional finals. They then knocked off a Notre Dame team that got to the Frozen Four in equally surprising fashion.
Those Irish had won two games that were essentially road games, winning in Manchester, NH over Merrimack [34 miles away] and UNH [36 miles away]. Their goaltender, Mike Johnson was a wall, and I’m tabbing him as the name you’ll most likely see at some point in the NHL in the next few years.
In a year typified by shocking wins on the basketball bracket’s side, hockey provided some equal thrills.
Storyline #2 – Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth
I bring up the point about Notre Dame winning “road games” because the Wolverines will deal with the same in the national title game. All four teams traveled great for the Frozen Four, and both games on Thursday were sellouts. But Duluth is only 150 miles [that’s 2.5 hours in Minnesota highway speak, as opposed to Massachusetts… which puts you in New York] from St. Paul. They averaged 6,000 people per game in a home arena holding 6,800. If you don’t think Bulldog fans will make the drive to the Twin Cities, you’re crazy, especially where the first two games were sellouts.
Michigan went [6-2] on neutral ice and [16-2-1] on home ice. When playing true road games, the Wolverines went [7-6-3]. Don’t discount the fact that this game is being played in Minnesota against a team from Minnesota.
Storyline #3 – Tickets? Selling tickets?
That last point brings me to this point – this is the year that attendance figures soared for college hockey. The sport is generating more interest than ever before, and they did so in the wake of a Frozen Four last year that was utterly disastrous.
It was a great idea to move the national championship weekend to a football field last year. The state of Michigan hosted the infamous Michigan-Michigan State game on a football field that sold out to the tune of 75,000+ people. The NCAA, capitalizing on that popularity, granted its Frozen Four last year to Ford Field, thinking the right matchup could generate a ton of interest.
Instead, the Frozen Four resulted in the football field being divided in half with temporary seating and end zone bleachers. Yes, the games drew over 30,000 people, which is a national tournament record for hockey. But it did not translate well on television, and the games were blowouts. In addition, the field seemed utterly cavernous, since 30,000 is only half of the actual capacity. There were plenty of empty seats as a result. And the games just weren’t that great, even though I was thrilled Boston College won the crown.
This year, the national championship weekend moved back to an NHL arena. It also generated the right matchups, just as the 2009 weekend did when BU made its mad-dash comeback for the ages on Miami to win the crown. When it makes great television, it makes for an increase in popularity.
Storyline #4 – Tupac > Biggie
As an east coast hockey fan, I tend to think that my teams have the best support in the nation. I tend to be very arrogant about the quality of Massachusetts hockey, from the high school level on up. I look at my high school, Malden Catholic, which won the Super 8 state championship behind a first line going to BC, BU, and UNH. I think that we have the best hockey from youth leagues on up in the nation.
But MC finished the season ranked #14 in the nation… behind 13 schools from Minnesota. I would’ve put that MC team against any team, anywhere, for any game. I still would.
But it was very humbling to hear that Minnesota high school hockey is that much more popular and that much more talented. And now, with the way this Frozen Four has shaken out, it’s time to admit it – the west coast is back. This was the first time since the mid 2000s that no eastern team made the Frozen Four, and it breaks a string where the last three national champions came from Hockey East [and, more importantly, from Commonwealth Ave]. It’s forced me to admit that the west coast is back, and it’s made me, [albeit begrudgingly] state that this year belongs to the western conferences.
This will be the west’s finest hour, with the national weekend coming from its two power conferences, and the announcement coming in the past couple of weeks that Big Ten Hockey is on the way. A conference is about to form with some of the best programs in the nation’s history, and the college hockey landscape is about to change. Hockey East’s supremacy is definitely being challenged right now, and it’s place as the greatest conference in college hockey is going to have a great argument when a conference forms from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and the newly-debuting Penn State.
Storyline #5 – Who’s Going To Win?
I’m picking Minnesota-Duluth basically by pulling their name out of a hat. But the real winner of the weekend is the hockey fan, who can look to the next decade with a wide-eyed look that will provide some of the best action in the nation.
After an exciting finish, George Mason keeps on dancing!
By Dan Rubin
Every year, storylines within the March Madness bracket develop, take shape, and ultimately define teams’ seasons. Teams are defined by performances, shots, images that capture what it means to be a part of the tournament. Each year has its Christian Laettner, Bryce Drew, Hampton, Cornell, George Mason, and Butler.
This year is no different. With one day in the books, tweets and Facebook statuses lit up with news of Louisville’s defeat at the hands of Morehead State. They erupted in cheers of Butler’s buzzer beater against Old Dominion. Clickers hustled through games, most of which came down to the wire. And that was without any Gus Johnson.
Here’s a look at Day 2, as we get set for the Second or Third Round of the NCAA tournament this weekend:
Game Of The Day: Villanova vs. George Mason. Gus Johnson was back in a big way. When GMU trailed the Wildcats by six late, I got an email from a coworker saying, “Well there goes Mason’s season. Nova opening this one up.” My reply said simply, “It’s a Gus Johnson game. The Law of Gus.” Needless to say, I won that one. GMU came back from down six to tie the game, and then take the lead on Mike Morrison’s thunder dunk put back. Almost immediately, Corey Fisher gets fouled on a three, hits all of them, giving Nova a one point lead. Back the other way, three ball side pocket for Luke Hancock. Gus’s head is on the verge of exploding. Corey Stokes loses the ensuing possession, and the game gets punctuated with Hancock feeding Morrison for a major league dunk that exploded my iPhone.
Upset Of The Day: As of when I stopped watching the games, every single high seed won their games. So that makes my job stink. But if I had to pick an upset, I’d go with Michigan creaming Tennessee. I picked Tennessee, so it was an upset for me, but I don’t think anybody saw an 8-9 games to have a team win by as many as the Wolverines did. The Vols scored 16 points in the 2nd half, and Michigan won by 30. Maybe that doesn’t count as a major upset, but that’s the closest thing we have other than Marquette upending Xavier. Now watch…Indiana St. will beat Syracuse because I stopped watching.
Stat of the Day: Tyler Zellers dropped 32 in North Carolina’s win over Long Island in a very low-key way. Up until I saw his final total, I was ready to give this to JaJuan Johnson for his double-double in the Purdue victory over St. Peter’s. But anytime a guy can drop 32 points AND help people get free biscuits from Chik-fil-A, he gets my award (Chik-Fil-A gives free biscuits out every time the Tar Heels score 100).
Looking Ahead to Tomorrow: The second round. This is where the men start to separate from the boys. At least one low seed will move on, when Morehead plays Richmond. And then the Cinderella stories can start being written in earnest. It’s also where the top seeds historically start to falter. It’s easy to dominate a 16-seed if you’re the top seed in the tourney. Now try to do it against a team from a bigger conference, or at least a team with some more talent on their roster.
Games to Watch: Gonzaga-Brigham Young; Florida-UCLA; Wisconsin-Kansas State.
Special mention to UConn-Cincinnati. It’s a 3-vs-4 matchup, and I have UConn in the national title game. But they’re meeting an extremely tough challenge when they go head-to-head with the Bearcats.