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Ranking the Top Sporting Events

In Baseball, Basketball, College Sports, Football, Golf, Hockey on March 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Sports are a part of the fabric of American Culture. As the years have passed, sporting events have become bigger in terms of the level of competition and fanfare. While there might be great games played on a daily basis, there are certain events that we as fans look forward to each time they come around. These are the events that you call up your buddies to go have a few pops at the bar for. The kinds of events that you expect magic from each year and it rarely fails to deliver.

This list takes the best of the best in sporting events and ranks them on the amount of interest that each garners each time takes place. One thing I need to mention though, this includes both single-game and events as a whole, so it might have a few overlaps. File this under “obvious foreshadowing.” I know this list won’t be the same as everyone else, but it’s my list, damn it!

Before we get to the list, a few honorable mentions. These are in no particular order.

Accenture Match Play Championship
It’s golf meets the NCAA Tournament. The best players in the world all flock to one place and get after each other for five days. What I love the most is the unpredictability. It’s not unusual to see a 16-seed knock off one of the top players and make a run deep in the tournament. It’s also a chance to see some of the players that don’t play much on the PGA Tour, which for golf enthusiasts is a nice thing to see. And it’s a lock that once Tiger gets bumped in the second round, everyone tunes out. That knocks it off the list.

Triple Crown Horse Races
They take place close together each summer and every few years there exists a real chance that the next big horse could win the triple crown. The issue is that, it’s freaking horse racing. There is so much build-up to a race that only lasts a few minutes. Bonus point for the man that calls each race at the track though.

Home Run Derby
What we all love about baseball, the long-ball. To quote a good friend of mine when it comes to baseball, “If I’m going to pay $500 for a ticket, I want to see some ******* Home Runs.” Hard to argue with that, we like offense and we like watching a baseball sail in to the night. This is something I used to get REALLY excited for. I used to love getting excited to see Sosa, McGwire, Bonds, Griffey, etc. go out and swing for the fences. But much like other All-Star Weekend festivities, the stars don’t show up each and every year. And the guy that deserves to win doesn’t win each year (see: Hamilton, Josh).

BCS National Championship Game
Here’s one I bet you weren’t expecting. For a game that gets a month to gain as much steam as the sporting networks will force-feed the American Public, it loses points for the fact that so many people want a playoff system. There’s always some team that claims they got screwed out of playing for the National Title even though they play in a cupcake conference and easy non-conference schedule. This has improved over the last few years, but it never fails to piss someone off, each and every year. Add in that the game has only had a pair of really memorable games, and maybe those people that want a playoff  feel a little bit better at the end of the day.

World Cup
The world’s sport makes its presence felt on American culture once every four years in an event that even I was paying attention to last summer. Plus, it has Tommy Smythe on ESPN for a month straight. Even if you can’t understand a damn thing the guy says, still great TV. What keeps it off this list? IT’S SOCCER. If I want to see a game with no scoring and a bunch of athletes flop around like they just got shot, I’ll dial up Vince Carter or Vlade Divac’s greatest hits. Soccer sucks.

Now to the list.

10. NHL Winter Classic
Hockey in the elements. Rain, snow or shine, they play on. It’s been a revelation for the NHL since it’s inception in 2007. Great sporting venues such as Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have played host to what has become a New Year’s Day tradition. Add in the retro sweaters the players usually trot out and you’ve got yourself a great event. The only downside to this event is that it could become repetitious in terms of the teams that participate. Teams in warm-weather places wouldn’t make any sense playing in this game. Now if only I could manage to not be deathly hung over for next year’s game…

9. World Series
This one was so near to my heart for so long just because it’s baseball. While I still love tuning in to the Fall Classic every year, it is no longer as high on my list as it used to be. Can you remember the last time there has been a World Series that delivered in terms of drama and great baseball? Every Series since 2003 hasn’t been much of a competition. It was refreshing to see two teams that no one thought should be there last year (Brian Wilson helped), but there isn’t enough parity in the game to the point where you feel like anyone could win it each year. I want them to shorten the regular season (to avoid playing the games in freaking November) and add playoff teams. It’s a pipe dream, but hey, I can always wish.

8. The Masters
For my money, this is the biggest golf tournament each and every year. Every year, the tournament is held at the same place and every year someone carves their spot in history. Not many golf tournaments captivate everyone for four days each and every year. The biggest thing that keeps everyone coming back is that either Tiger or Phil always shows up. They may not always win, but they give everyone a show.

7. NBA Playoffs
While I have to admit, I had been sour on the NBA playoffs for a decade, they have redeemed themselves in the last couple of years. It all began with the epic Bulls-Celtics series back in ’09 and finished with a great Finals series last year between old rivals. This year, even I am excited with everything that could happen in the playoffs. With the Bulls competing for a top seed, to getting to see Kevin Duran t play, to the Big Three in Miami and how they perform. All this without talking about the defending champs in LA. I vividly remember as a kid in the mid-90s being captivated  by so many good teams. In the West you had Seattle, Phoenix, Houston, Portland, San Antonio, Utah and LA all being locks to make the playoffs. In the East, you had Jordan’s Bulls, Ewing and Riley’s Knicks, ‘Zo and Larry Johnson in Charlotte, Shaq and Penny in Orlando and Reggie Miller and the Pacers. That’s alot of talent and depth kids. It also saw numerous rivalries born as a result, something that isn’t near as prominent today. It slides down on this list because of the decade-long lull after Jordan retired.

6. Thanksgiving Day Football
What has become the best part of the holiday instead of dealing with the relatives you don’t see but once a year and have nothing in common with. What is better than eating as much turkey and stuffing as you can shovel into your mouth and passing out on the couch or in your favorite chair while the game is on? My money says not a whole lot. What doesn’t land it higher? The fact that they’re regular season games and always feature the same teams. Shame on the NFL for forcing us to watch a bad team and a hated team each and every year.

5. Baseball’s Opening Day
Another personal favorite of mine, the unofficial signal that summer is on its way. Every team starts with the same record and each team has hope that it might be their year. How many of us wouldn’t love to skip out on work or class to go to the yard, get a few dogs and beers and watch the spot we grew up watching with our dad or grandpa. Baseball will forever be the game that will make me feel like a kid, and that alone is what puts it this high on my list. Then my feelings come crashing back down to Earth because I am a Cubs fan and we employ some of the game’s biggest chumps. I’m looking at you, Soriano.

4. “Game 7”
This is one that might not be thought of as an event, but Game 7 grabs my attention NO MATTER WHAT. It gives the sports that have a best-of-seven format the feel of a super bowl. Do or die. Win or go home. All or nothing. I’ll stop with the cliches now.  Obviously my favorite is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but I’m not picky. Last year’s Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics series? Fantastic. Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals? One of the best hockey I have ever watched with a great ending. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

3. Stanley Cup Playoffs
For those of you that know me, the fact that this is on the list shouldn’t be much of a surprise. It might not be a popular choice because it’s not overly-popular in this country. I get all that. But this is hands-down the best post-season out of the four major sporting leagues. 16 teams take the ice and embark on a two-and-a-half month odyssey for the greatest trophy in sports. Players often play through anything and everything for their chance to hold Lord Stanley’s Cup. If they’re not in the emergency room, a player is going to suit up and do whatever they can to help the team win. The stars show up each and every year, and there’s always an upset waiting to happen. The fact that the last two President’s Trophy winners failed to get out of the first round means that any team can win at any time if a few guys get hot. In baseball and basketball, the lowest seeds aren’t given much of a chance to win. Hockey doesn’t work that way. What kept me from ranking this higher than third is the fact that it needs perfect circumstances to get any media coverage. With the Blackhawks winning last year and Montreal making a deep run, it got the sport some mainstream press. This needs to happen more often. The rivalries are (Chicago-Vancouver, Boston-Montreal, Pittsburgh-Philly) beyond fierce and magic can happen if those teams meet up. Not to worry, new rivalries can be born as a result of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and rivalries make a sport go. This year has been so wide open that it is almost impossible to predict how the Cup will be won. Probably by the team that scores more goals than the other. No expert, but that’s just my ethos.

2. Super Bowl
The biggest sporting event in the United States has to be on this list somewhere. The current sport of the USA and its championship game is the one sporting event that everyone watches each year. Even those who don’t watch much football will tune in for the commercials. It also gives friends and family a chance to come together and enjoy each other’s company while throwing back a few beers and mowing down the taco dip. People clear their schedules for Sunday (and for some, even the day after) to watch a game that they might not even have a cheering interest in. It’s become the event that everyone gets excited for every year and even has people hoping that the day after become a national holiday. That alone puts it in front of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for me.

And the most exciting sporting event in the country today is:

1. Daytona 500
What can I say about this event that brings out the excitement in everyone… Ah, who the hell am I kidding?  There is NO WAY IN HELL that anything positive dealing with NASCAR will ever end up on anything I write. NASCAR sucks out loud. End. Of. Story.

My real Number 1:

1. NCAA Tournament
For anyone that disagrees, look at what has happened with this year’s tournament and tell me you haven’t been captivated by what VCU and Butler have done. Has the talent in college basketball been the best this year? Not even close. Does anyone feel like the best team in the country won’t be the one that wins the tournament? Absolutely, and I’m one of them. But it doesn’t matter because we all love the Cinderella story that VCU has pulled off in this tournament. And what happens when these magical runs don’t happen? You get some pretty damn good basketball being played to win a national championship by the best teams in the tournament.  All this and I haven’t even talked about the four best days in sports with the first two rounds of the tournament. Upsets happen, titans fall, the little guy proves they belong, buzzer beaters and overtime games until you end up in front of the TV completely exhausted and wanting more. And this happens over the course of three weeks. That makes the NCAA Tournament the most exciting event in sports today.

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Big Ten Buckets Will be Wide Open Next Year

In Basketball, College Sports, Uncategorized on March 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm

For those of you that don’t know what I’ve been up to as of late, I’m completing my internship for my Masters Degree in Indianapolis. One of the perks involved with my job is that I get to participate in both Big Ten Basketball Tournaments and the NCAA Women’s Final Four. Admittedly, I had taken somewhat of a break from closely following Big Ten hoops due to a lack of interest (see: The Todd Lickliter Era). At the same time, I was still excited to be a part of each of the tournaments.

The women’s tournament provided some really entertaining basketball and a chance to see one of the most talented players to lace up a pair of sneakers in Jantel Lavender. At 6’3, she created havoc in the post on offense and routinely drew the oppositions top guard on defense. Yes, I said guard. Amazingly quick feet on Lavender and a sweet touch around the bucket. She’s going to have a nice career in the WNBA, and sadly I don’t think anyone will notice.

But my biggest intrigue was during the men’s tournament. This was an outstanding display of talent and experience throughout the tournament. Ohio State took home the crown, but Penn State and Michigan State played themselves in to the big dance with their performances. I couldn’t help but notice the amount of seniors and underclassmen that would be able to get drafted in this year’s draft based on the weak talent pool in college hoops. That said, let’s take a look at each of the teams and what their next year might look like.

Indiana Hoosiers

Graduating – Jerimiah Rivers
Possibly Leaving Early – None
New Recruits – Cody Zeller (PF), Austin Etherington (SF)

I had always heard about the passion that the state of Indiana has for basketball. Living out here for the past two months, I can say it’s unlike anything I have seen. I would compare the focus for IU hoops to the likes of Yankees baseball on a much smaller scale. College basketball is better when the Hoosiers are good, but they still have a ways to go to return to prominence. The good news is they will have an experienced team (they only lose one senior in Jerimiah Rivers) with another year under their belt and a superstar recruit coming in in Cody Zeller. The bad news is that there are so many other teams in the league that more athletic than Indiana. Hopefully Zeller can give them an inside presence that they lacked this year. He chose IU over Purdue and North Carolina, so head coach Tom Crean worked some serious magic to get him. At guard, Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones give the team a nice punch, but they need to find a third and fourth guard to spell those two. This team may be another year away from making some noise, but Crean is already on a white-hot seat in the state and if there isn’t serious improvement next year, he may be gone.

Illinois Fighting Illini

Graduating – Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole
Possibly Leaving Early – none
New Recruits – Mycheal Henry (SF), Mike Shaw (PF), Nnanna Egwu (C), Tracy Abrams (PG), Devin Langford (SF)

The Illini were one of, if not the most, bipolar team in the nation this year. A team that could play with anyone but only turned it on when they wanted to. Case in point was their loss to Michigan in the conference tournament in which the Wolverines finished the game on a 17-2 run. Gone will be the team’s three top scorers from this year in Mike Davis, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale, and for some Illini fans that can’t come soon enough. As always, Bruce Weber has signed a great recruiting class, but Weber has yet to take a team of his own kids to the promised land. Weber played D.J. Richmond, Brandon Paul and Jereme Richardson in big minutes this year, and they will be the main focus for the team next year. I for one wouldn’t be shocked in the Illini miss the dance next season, but Weber always seems to get his team in the tournament.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Graduating – Jarryd Cole, T.J. Sayre
Possibly Leaving Early – none
New Recruits – Josh Ogelsby (SG), Aaron White (PF)

Year one of the Fran McCaffery era may not have looked promising on paper, an 11-20 record hardly would. But as a long-time Hawkeyes fan, this felt different. The team was a young one that had to adjust to a new coach and a new system after three tough years under Todd Lickliter. The Hawks looked really good at times, and very young and inexperenced at others. They had Michigan St. on the ropes in the Big Ten Tourney but couldn’t close them out. Losing Jarryd Cole going forward is going to be hard, as he was the heart and soul of the team. But coming back is going to be a lot of perimeter scoring and guard play with Matt Gatens and Bryce Cartwright leading the charge. The Hawks will also get Cully Payne back after his season was ended by herina surgery, giving the team another ball handler. Devyn Marble, Eric May, Zach McCabe, Devon Archie and Melsahn Basabe will be a year older and have more time to physically grow. Basabe has some superstar qualities, but was absent at points during the season. The team has to get a big man to be competitive, but they should finish around .500 next season. I could talk about this team more, but you’ll have to ask me personally to do so.

Michigan Wolverines

Graduating – None
Possibly Leaving Early – Darrius Morris (SG)
New Recruits – Carlton Brundidge (SG), Trey Burke (PG)

What could be one of the most dangerous teams in the league next year, Michigan loses no one, has star power in Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr., and a team that gets up and down the floor and scores quickly. They need another big man to play along side Jordan Morgan, but along with Iowa, no one has more coming back. The difference between Iowa and Michigan is that Michigan could challenge for one of the conference’s top spots. Should Morris stay, and it’s hard to believe he won’t, this is a potential sleeper team next season.

Michigan State Spartans

Graduating – Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Mike Kebler, Cory Lucious
Possibly Leaving Early – Draymond Green
New Recruits -Branden Dawson (SF), Brandan Kearney (SG), Duwan Anderson (SG), Travis Trice (PG)

The Spartans lose a lot of experience and scoring in Lucas and Summers and possibly Green. The good news for them is that they’re run by one of the best coaches in the nation and that they have given some of their young players big minutes this year. Delvon Roe, Derrick Nicks, Garrick Sherman and Adriean Payne have all seen time this year, and if Green stays, they’ll have serious depth down low. If they can find some help for Keith Appling and Austin Thornton at guard, they’ll be at the top of the conference again.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Graduating – Al Nolen, Blake Hoffarber,
Possibly Leaving Early – Trevor Mbakwe, Ralph Sampson III
New Recruits – Andre Hollins (SG), Joe Coleman (SG), Julian Welch (SG)

The loss of Al Nolen all but signified the end of the Gopher’s season. With Nolen and Hoffarber graduating, a major void opens up in the back-court. The key to the season will depend on whether Mbakwe and Sampson stay. They stay, the Gophers remain competitive with those two and Rodney Williams down low. One leaves, Minnesota could be looking at a tough season. Tubby Smith’s job security is also in question, as rumors say he’ll leave if the right job opens up.

Northwestern Wildcats

Graduating – Mike Capocci, Jeff Ryan, Michael Thompson
Possibly Leaving Early – None
New Recruits – Tre Demps (PG), Michael Turner (PF), David Sobolewski (PG)

Next season should be one that determines Bill Carmody’s future at Northwestern. The Wildcats will remain a phenomenal shooting team with John Shurna, Drew Crawford and Alex Marcotullio on the outside. But the loss of Thompson is critical to this team in terms of what he brought on both ends of the floor. Luka Mirkovic returns as the team’s only threat down low. But in order for the Cats to finally get in to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, they desperately need help down low. Perhaps Turner comes in and fills that void, but that’s asking an awful lot for a freshman.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Graduating – Jon Diebler, David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale, Eddie Days
Possibly Leaving Early – Jared Sullinger, William Buford
New Recruits – Shannon Scott (PG), Amir Williams (C), Sam Thompson (SF), LaQuinton Ross (SF), Trey McDonald (C)

The Buckeyes should be stacked once again next year despite losing those three seniors and probably Sullinger. Buford may not leave, but he’s got the stroke to be a shooting guard in the association.  Should they all leave, there’s still talent there to keep the Bucks competitive. Aaron Craft and Jordan Sibert each showed that they’re capable of playing big minutes throughout the season and Deshaun Thomas was an absolute force off the bench in the Big Ten Tournament. Add in the usual outstanding recruiting class Thad Matta brings in (highlighted by Shannon Scott), and the Bucks will have the talent to compete for a third Big Ten title next year.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Graduating – Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones, David Jackson, Steve Kirkpatrick
Possibly Leaving Early – None
New Recruits – Ross Travis (SF), Pat Ackerman (C), Peter Alexis (C), Trey Lewis (PG)

I’ve gotta admit, it was fun watching the Lions make it to the Big Ten final in this year’s tournament, even if their game against Wisconsin was the worst basketball game I have ever witnessed. What happens next year is anyone’s guess. The loss of Battle, Brooks and Jackson accounts for most all of the Lions’ scoring and Jones could work the glass well. Next year might be a setback for the Lions, but they have a good young point guard in Tim Frazier. I was happy to see this year’s squad get into the NCAA Tournament.

Purdue Boilermakers

Graduating – JaJuan Johnson, E”Twaun Moore,
Possibly Leaving Early – None
New Recruits – Jacob Lawson (PF), Donnie Hale (PF)

Lots of experience coming back for Purdue next season, but the losses of Johnson and Moore are going to be huge. You don’t simple replace two guys that have meant that much to that team for as long as they have. The good news is that Robbie Hummel got another year of eligibility and will be a guy the team can lean on. The Boilers have Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith at the guard spots, and each can light it up from the floor. Travis Carroll also saw big minutes as a freshman and could take a step towards replacing Johnson. Purdue will see a slight drop-off from where they were this year, but will still be a big player.

Wisconsin Badgers

Graduating – Wquinton Smith, Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankavil, J.P. Kavinski, Tim Jarmusz, Brett Valentyn
Possibly Leaving Early – Jordan Taylor
New Recruits – Jarrod Uthoff (PF), Frank Kaminsky (C), Trevon Jackson (SG), George Marshall (PG)

The Badgers lose a lot of punch after this year with Leuer and Nankavil guaranteed to leave, and Taylor to possibly leave for the NBA. Bo Ryan has always been a guy that gets a lot out of a little with each of his teams. However, it could be a rebuilding year if Taylor flies the coop. This team struggles away from their home floor and has trouble scoring at times. The 33 points they scored in the travesty of a basketball game they had with Penn St in the Big Ten Tournament would tell you that. But add in the fact that Taylor and Leuer combined to go 12-37 in that game tells you how much scoring depth this team  currently has. Someone will step up. They always do. But like Purdue, there will be a setback next year.

That’s all for the outlook for next year in the Big Ten. Lots of new faces, new stars created, and another year of the best basketball in the country is a given. But with the losses of stars for Penn St., Purdue, Ohio St., Wisconsin, Michigan St. and Minnesota means that teams with experience like Iowa and Michigan could make a little noise. After my experience at this year’s Big Ten Tournament, I will be dialed in all season next year and will hopefully be able to make it to the Big Ten Tourney next year.