Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hippodrome: March Madness Special Start-Time Edition

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 4:53 PM

Thank the good fellas at the NCAA Selection Committee for this early edition of The Hippodrome and get to reading. The Bruins tip off at 6:20.

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Opening Face-off

BC vs. Harvard : Suprisingly, in a way, the Titans cut ties with sometimes starter, sometimes backup, all-times quite nice Matt Hasselbeck.

The BC alum is part of the best small-world pro-sports story in Nashville: Hal Gill was a pretty good high-school quarterback in the greater Boston area back in the day and planned to go to Boston College. But BC had a couple of guys in the pipeline named Hasselbeck, so Gill went to Providence to become the world's most giant, lovable hockey-playing growth chart. Tim Hasselbeck married a lady who would co-host a show with Barbara Walters, and Matt is the new back-up to Andrew Luck. So that worked out for everybody.

Anyway. In terms of academics in Metro Boston, the Titans took a step up at back-up, having allegedly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, a Harvard man, to understudy for Jake Locker. As cool as that Harvard sheepskin is, Fitzpatrick isn't really all that great a football player. Indeed, the Titans front office explicitly said Locker's No. 1 goal is "to stay healthy."

And as long as Locker does stay healthy, this is a great move. Fitzpatrick is cheaper than Hasselbeck — nice guy though he was — and that frees up money elsewhere, money Bud Adams is willing to spend.

But if the Titans' improvements on the offensive line don't pan out and Locker does get hurt? Well. At least Fitzpatrick can probably do some serious differential equations.

The Week Behind

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Road Dogs : First the positives: Between Sergei Kostitsyn's epic blunder, the third biggest boner in Predators history and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's blatant disregard for the NHL's concussion protocol, this was the most GIF-able road trip in Predators' history. Another positive? It's over.

Since last we 'Dromed, the Predators lost at Calgary, at Edmonton (in part due to Sergei's gaffe) and, in perhaps the low-water mark of the post-Hamilton Predators era, at Columbus.

While there are the predictable shrieks blaming David Poile for bad personnel decisions and blaming Barry Trotz for system failures, the truth is neither one has anything to do with the fact the team's two best scorers — Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist — are injured or are Poile and Trotz to blame for crucial role players Hal Gill — who would certainly be in the correct position on the penalty kill if for no other reason then he doesn't move quickly enough to be out of position — and Paul Gaustad.

The Predators return with 12 of their final 18 games at home and four points back of the final playoff spot.

Shut Up, T.S. Eliot : April is not the cruelest month, not if you're an MTSU fan. No, that honor belongs to March, when indeed the Blue Raiders always come in like a lion and then go on the lam.

After a sparkling regular season, Kermit Davis' team of ancients faded under the glare of the tournament pressure, losing in the Sun Belt tournament, earning a play-in berth in the NCAAs nonetheless and then collapsing against St. Mary's — which, admittedly, is a good team that hadn't lost to a team not called Gonzaga since Christmas.

In every sport, there are teams and players and coaches built for the grind of the regular season but who fail to deliver in the post-season — see Bobby Cox's 1990s Braves teams, and to a certain degree, Barry Trotz's Predators. The Kermit Davis-era Blue Raiders, while playing the best basketball in the 'Boro since the late-’80s, seem to fit the mold.

Requiescat In Pace : Longtime Lipscomb Academy football coach Glenn McAdams died Thursday at 66. Tributes from all corners are flowing in, but my favorite came on Twitter from WPLN's Blake Farmer.

Garbage Time : Vanderbilt's bowling team upset No. 1 Nebraska and finished third in last weekend's Music City Classic. ... In the women's tournament, Vandy drew an 8 seed and will play St. Joseph's, the winner likely facing UConn. MTSU is a 12 seed, playing Louisville. ... Kevin Stallings did a helluva coaching job at Vandy, taking a young and under-talented team to nearly-.500 and reaching the SEC semifinals after beating Kentucky, the first team in history to knock the Wildcats from the tournament in consecutive years. ... Kenny Britt was found not guilty of DUI on his little trip to Ft. Campbell.

Halftime Entertainment

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We Could Float Among the Stars Together, You and I: For We Can Fly! : Former Vol Donte Stallworth must be one heckuva Fifth Dimension fan, but apparently he didn't listen to the whole song. Up up and away, Donte:

NFL free agent Donte Stallworth was hospitalized Saturday with serious burns after the hot air balloon carrying him and two other people crashed into power lines above South Florida, his agent said.

The 10-year NFL veteran won't suffer any permanent damage from the accident in Homestead, said Drew Rosenhaus, Stallworth's agent.

"He's going to be OK. He has some burns, but he's going to be fine," Rosenhaus said. "He will be able to continue his NFL career. The injuries are not to the extent they will jeopardize his career."

Tweet Of The Week : Chris Johnson: champion massage receiver. Maybe he just needed to relax, because he is not exactly thrilled about the Titans signing Shonn Greene:

“I have never been a big fan of the two-back system, so I don’t know how we plan on using him,” Johnson said casually. “I’m not afraid of competition, but I was thinking we’d maybe get a draft pick for the other back. And you don’t give a guy that kind of money to be just a goal-line guy and in tough-yardage situations. So we’ll see what happens.”

The Week Ahead :

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A Very Special Episode : Our raison d'être for the early 'Drome is Belmont's first-round proper NCAA tournament game against Arizona. The 11 seed awarded to the Bruins is the best ever of their six appearances on the big bracket, a true testament to the growth of the program and the respect Rick Byrd has earned since moving up from the NAIA.

So will tonight mark Belmont's one shining moment in Salt Lake City?

Interestingly, this is one of only two 5/12 or 6/11 match-ups with a major conference school facing off against a mid-major (the other is fifth-seeded UNLV in a game against 12-seed Cal, in which the small conference school is expected to win), so it is indeed the sexy upset pick, and not just in Nashville. (Bracket-filling pro-tip: the smart play in this city is to pick Arizona to win because every poolie in the city is taking the Bruins; it's not personal, it's just business.)

Anyway.

Arizona is one of the worst teams in the tournament at defending the three-pointer with opponents shooting 36 percent from distance. Meanwhile, Belmont is one of the country's better long-ball teams, shooting at 40 percent, plus Belmont has Ian Clark, who hits threes decently and in order.

Belmont will need to exploit this weakness of Arizona, in large part because making shots will eliminate the Wildcats' prime advantage: size on the inside.

And if anyone has the formula for success, Rick Byrd does, tucked in the sleeve of his sweater vest.

We are go for launch.

Worthless Prediction : Give 'em heck, Belmont — 64-59.

Home Better Be Where The Heart Is : As noted above, the Preds return to Bridgestone Arena tonight for the classic thriller against Calgary, the start of an 18-game run, 12 of which are at home.

There are points available here. This week, the Preds get visits from apparent bugbear Columbus, the Oilers (who the Preds beat 6-0 in Nashville) and Phoenix. None of these teams are particularly good, though all have had success against Nashville this season. And none will be regular foes after next year's realignment.

There is a sort of weird consensus that 56 points is the magic number for the playoffs, which means the Preds would have to pick-up 28 points in their final 18 games — a record of something like 14-4-0 or 13-3-2. Personally, I think the 8th spot will be in the vicinity of 53 points, which doesn't seem a huge difference, but it allows for a little more margin of error: the team could go 12-5-1 or 11-4-3, for example, which seems a bit more manageable.

The other side of the coin is that missing the playoffs isn't all that big a deal. This is widely regarded as one of the deepest NHL drafts in history, and it's been eons since the Preds picked in the first round — which explains why the cupboard was so bare when call-ups were needed, resulting in Poile's trip around the waiver wire. Tanking, though, is a dangerous place to play and the very definition of moral hazard.

Worthless Prediction : If it's going to start, it needs to start now. Indications are Gill and Hornqvist may be back soon and either would help. Both would be a huge boost. Let's get seven or eight this week.


Overtime

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Smart In Retrospect : Once St. Mary's started to pull away from MTSU, the all-too-familiar shrill voices started proclaiming that it was obvious the Blue Raiders didn't "deserve" the at-large bid.

Hilariously, of course, many of these were the same voices who just days before were calling for Middle's inclusion, and more broadly, they are the same kind of people who obsess over mid-majors all year — until they flame-out, of course.

In this area, again, all too predictably, tweets and radio commentary asked the burning question: "Did the committee really believe that MTSU was more deserving (there's that word again) than Kentucky or Tennessee?"

By the way, Kentucky lost an NIT road game to a school named for a founding father no one really remembers, and Tennessee lost at home to Mercer, which no one has ever heard of.

What these scolds of the system fail to recognize is the plank in their own eye. The obvious failures of Kentucky and Tennessee aside — because, after all, major conference schools who slide off the bubble collapse in the NIT because of the dishonor and disappointment of not being chosen for the big dance; they don't "get up" for this minor distraction, which is fine, because if they had "gotten up" for their conference tournament or for five or six crucial games during the regular season, the point would be moot, as they wouldn't be playing in the NIT, but I digress — sometime in the next two days, a school from a BCS conference will lose to Directional State or Saint Obscura and no one will bat an eye.

No one will wonder if they deserved it more than Flyover State Baptist College or Charming Little Coastal Liberal Arts School or I Would Have Gone There If They'd Offered Me A Scholarship Because The Campus Is So Nice Tech. Of course, Massive State deserved it, the results notwithstanding. We won't spend hours discussing whether they did or not, because it's apparent, as any team who finishes in the top half of a BCS Conference deserves to play in March.

Hogwash.

Look — much as someone has to finish eighth in the NHL's Western Conference, someone has to be the last team chosen for the NCAAs. Sometimes, they play badly and go home — like Middle and scores of other schools before them. And sometimes — like George Mason and VCU — the last chosen is one of the last playing.

That's why we love it.

Emails to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. Radio on most Tuesdays from 6-7 PM on 102.5 The Game.

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