Wake up. It’s officially Spring. The fever has broken, the madness has dissipated and the college basketball season came to a muted and forgettable end last night in Phoenix. North Carolina won a 6th National title in its history, and third under Roy Williams. Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs made it all the way to the mountaintop but fell just short thanks in part to a missed out-of-bounds call on the baseline, down by 1 point with less than a minute to play. But we all know games are not decided by one single play, rather they are decided by many plays over the course of the game. Though 44 foul calls in a 40-minute game with only 73 possessions could have also played a part but I’m no expert.
I’ll let others go on a long diatribe about college refs (though I’m sure I could pull up old tweets about my hatred for ACC villain Karl Hess to support my opinion that they’re dogshit). I will also try to ignore the blatant corporate greed (See: outsized NFL stadiums for the final later rounds and the same three insurance commercials looped ad nauseam) and let’s appreciate the tournament for a minute. What it lacked in major upsets over the first two rounds it made up for by giving us an interesting Final Four which included two Never-Beens (Gonzaga, South Carolina) and one Been-Once-Pre-WWII (Oregon). North Carolina, despite being decidedly weaker than previous Tar Heel teams (including last year’s), showed that experience matters as they redeemed themselves from their devastating loss in 2016 at the hands of Villanova. I can take some minute bit of solace having picked a Gonzaga – UNC final in all my brackets but was only slightly hindered by getting the other 6 Elite Eight picks wrong. That’s the way the tournament goes. At least Duke lost on the first weekend again :).
Now that college hoops have come to a close you may be a little uncertain of the future. There may be a hazy sense of foreboding in the back of your brain, a leathery shadow at the edges of your vision that disappears when you try to look at it. It smells faintly of Miller Lite and pine tar. That sleepless malice is baseball season, the so-called national past time. Opening Day was yesterday and while many, many people are excited for six months of day games, night games, rain delays, and everything in between, I’m here to tell you that there are other ways to distract yourself from your inevitable mortality.
These are a few events coming up that can help break up the monotony of baseball season.
The Masters (April 6 – 9th)
Hello, friends. Welcome to Jim Nantz’s happy place. From mid-March to early April, Nantz announces the NCAA tournament, Final Four, and National Championship game, takes two days off and then uses his gentle Dad-voice to guide us through four rounds of short game tactics, bogeys, hazard saves. I’m not gonna lie to you and say I will be watching all four days, but when I get a notification on Sunday that Jordan Spieth got a hole-in-one on 12, I will most definitely be tuning in.
NBA Playoffs (April 16 – June 20th)
Some folks don’t like the NBA for myriad reasons, which is fine, but the one argument I take issue with is the supposed lack of parity in the league. That a Warriors – Cavs Finals is a foregone conclusion. With sevenish games remaining, I would like to direct your attention to the NBA standings as of April 4th. You’ll notice, those records tell a different story. The Celtics are a half game up on the Cavs and the Raptors are just 2.5 games back of Cleveland. Oh, and a surprisingly exciting Washington team is nipping at Toronto’s heels (1 game back). The Cavs have been in shambles lately (5-5 in their last 10) and at this point shooing them into the Finals seems a bit premature. The East is going to be a 4 team dogfight so strap in.
Now in the Western Conference, the Kevin Durant injury has leveled the playing field slightly with San Antonio just 3.5 games back of Golden State. Of course, playoff seeding can matter little once the playoffs actually start, and the best team almost always wins out in a seven game series, but all I’m saying is that Cavs – Warriors Round 3 is not quite a guarantee (Do I think it’s likely? Probably, but that’s not the point). And don’t forget James Harden and Houston. I have a feeling they too will have a say before it’s all said and done.
UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal (April 11th, 12th, 18th, 19th)
Only 8 of Europe’s best teams remain in soccer’s most important tournament. Defending champion Real Madrid face stiff competition in Bayern Munich while other tournament mainstays, Barcelona and Juventus, will duke it out in a rematch of the 2015 final. 2016 runner-ups Atletico Madrid are tasked with figuring out a Leicester City side whose style of play seems tailored to succeed in UCL. And lastly, tournament darlings Monaco go to war with Borussia Dortmund. If you want further context as to why Christian Pulisic is by far and away America’s best player, just watch him run amok in the midfield for his German club. It’s a sight to see.
The NFL Draft (April 27 – 29th)
I only add this in, because football season is still so far away and there isn’t really anything we can do about it except buy into the NFL’s insistence that the season never ends. The first round is usually the only interesting part of this drawn-out, overblown charade of a livestock auction, but it’s at least fun to watch Mel Kiper and Todd McShay’s barely contained contempt for each other as they break down the Browns drafting another bust at quarterback. Don’t worry I’m sure the Patriots will pick 3 future Hall of Famers in the 7th round again.
NHL Playoffs (April 16 – June 20)
Last summer, I basked in the glow of an unexpected Penguins Stanley Cup victory. It was a little surprising because the Capitals were a juggernaut all season and looked ready to finally win it all after several previous playoffs disappointments. However, the Pens beat them in the Eastern Conference semis and dominated an overmatched San Jose team in the Final. This season, there appears to be a similar situation shaping up. With four games to play in the regular season, the Caps are on track to win a second President’s Trophy and are once again the favorites to win the Stanely Cup. If everything plays out nicely we could see a Penguins – Capitals Eastern Conference Final showdown that could lead to the end of my friendship with DC & Risk. Columbus and Montreal will have their say about that prediction before it’s all said and done, while Chicago and Minnesota appear to be the favorites in the West. I say all of this, but then a Slovakian goalie I’ve never heard of gets hot and leads a wild card team to the cup. That’s just hockey.
EPL Stretch Run (April 4 – May 21)
I know we talk a lot about soccer on this site and on the podcast, but now as we enter April, the pressure is beginning to mount for not only the League title but also Champions League and Europa League spots. Today and tomorrow all 20 teams will play a mid-week fixture on short rest and then turnaround to play a third game in eight days this weekend. We could see a significant shift in the league table with the right results. As of today, Chelsea are 7 points ahead of Tottenham in second place. A Chelsea loss or draw tomorrow coupled with a Spurs victory over Swansea City could close the gap to five or even four points. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but if this last year has proven anything it’s that we should expect the unexpected.
Below Spurs sit Liverpool and Manchester City, and below them are Manchester United and Arsenal. With so few games left, the margin for error is razor thin. Losses and draws are unacceptable (especially for United and Arsenal). Any slippage by Spurs, Liverpool, and City could provide an opportunity for United, Arsenal, or even Everton to crash the party. If there was an ideal time to jump onto the EPL bandwagon it would be right now.