Following a clean sweep in his battle for Week Eight supremacy, Sports Assistant Garrett Rasko-Martinis has spawned the latest questions for the Week Nine warriors. This week, Sports Editor Bobby Olivier, WTSR News Director Pat Lavery and correspondent Jon Dyer will decide which tournament team will gain Cinderella status, how the World Baseball Classic affects the MLB and whether Jay Cutler and Josh McDaniels will ever kiss and make up.
1. March Madness is in full swing and everyone loves a good Cinderella story. Who do you think has the best chance to pull off the upsets and go far in the tournament?
BO: As I write this on Saturday night before the second half of second-round games are played, my Cinderella pick for the 2009 NCAA tournament is Dayton. The Flyers soared above the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first round, a game very few picked them to win, and they are set to face No. 3 Kansas on Sunday. Although the Flyers are from the uninteresting and unchallenging A-10 conference, they have strong wins over ranked tournament teams Xavier, Marquette and Temple this season and are led by well-rounded offense, which will match up against a generous Kansas defense that allowed more than 66 points per game this season. If they win, they will likely play No. 2-seeded Michigan State University whose defense also is not its forte. An 11 seed reaching the Elite Eight? Cinderella here we come.
PL: I’m writing this after the field has already been narrowed to 32 teams, and there weren’t that many legitimate upsets in the first round. The second-round matchup that sticks out to me is No. 12 Arizona versus No. 13 Cleveland State in the Midwest region. If the Wildcats, who already beat No. 5 Utah, can get past Cleveland State, they would then most likely be headed for a Sweet 16 showdown with Louisville. And even though the Cardinals are the No. 1 team in the entire country, we could see a Cinderella turn from Arizona as they have the appropriate pedigree (25 consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, each one before this year coached by the legendary Lute Olsen) and personnel (the tough-to-beat trio of forwards Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger and guard Nic Wise) to get the job done. No. 6 Marquette (West region) could also make for a good story Cinderella, but my pick’s Arizona.
JD: The Dayton Flyers coming out of the Atlantic 10 conference are this year’s sleeper team. With regular season wins over fellow A-10 members and tournament teams Xavier and Temple, Dayton has proved that it can beat quality opponents. But what impressed the tournament committee and clinched an at-large bid for Dayton was it’s out-of-conference schedule. Wins over tournament-bound Marquette and notably snubbed Auburn proved that this small conference school can hang with the power conference teams. Dayton’s position in the midwest region sets them up nicely with a winnable first game against West Virginia, a second-round matchup with a young Kansas team, and a Sweet 16 game against the weakest No. 2 seed in Michigan State. Look for London Warren to play lockdown defense with almost two steals per game and Marcus Johnson to improve on his team high 45 three-pointers as Dayton flies through the tournament.
GR: Despite the fact I’m answering this after seeing how Dayton has lost and Arizona is in the Sweet 16, I’m giving Bobby 3 here for mentioning the weaker defenses of Kansas and Michigan State. While Arizona clearly had a more winnable game against Cleveland State than Dayton did against Kansas, I can’t see Arizona beating Louisville. I give Jon 2 here for also picking Dayton. Pat gets 1.
2. With the United States advancing to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), high-caliber players are still playing and not participating in spring training with their MLB teams. How do you feel about Derek Jeter, David Wright and Kevin Youkilis playing these games that matter?
BO: I am in complete support of the WBC and its competitive spirit. It is a wonderful thing to have these players put in competitive situations early, instead of watching them flounder through scrimmage after scrimmage and stumble into games that matter, desperately grasping for that fiery edge. The WBC provides that need to win, and as a fan, I love watching Jeter and Wright on the top step of the dugout, hooting and hollering like its October when in reality, the flowers that line Yankee Stadium and Citi Field have not yet bloomed. Sure, there’s the chance that a big-name player can get hurt in a non-MLB game but it comes with the territory. Those players are getting paid millions of dollars to entertain fans and win baseball games. If Derek Jeter stubs his toe rounding first for Team U.S.A. and misses opening day for the Yankees, so be it.
PL: Obviously, the injury bug has hit the United States hard. Youkilis has already returned to Red Sox camp with an injury, and Mets manager Jerry Manuel was not pleased that Wright played hurt last week. Dustin Pedroia and Chipper Jones have already backed out, and Ryan Braun is banged up. I don’t necessarily buy the argument that these injuries would have still happened in spring training games because the WBC contests have a different intensity that makes everyone push themselves just a little bit harder. However, I do buy the argument – one I’ve heard several times – that the U.S. players are motivated to push themselves because Korea (2008 Olympics) and Japan (2006 WBC) are the reigning world champions in a game created by Americans. So, if Jeter broke his leg in the Final Four round, I wouldn’t be upset. I’m proud to be an American. Aren’t you?
JD: The WBC provides players their only opportunity to represent their countries playing the sport they love. The Olympic rosters of counties are filled with amateurs and the results of the games are not indicative of the talent within each country. Players invited to play in the WBC speak of the honor of representing their country on a world stage. These players alter their offseason workouts to prepare for real-game action instead of using a more passive regiment when preparing for spring training. Injuries will happen in spring training, in the WBC and even at home (Joel Zumaya missed three games of the 2006 ALCS from a Guitar Hero mishap). Let the players compete in the WBC if they want to. Playing in these games will be a memory they will have forever, and worrying about injuries rather than patriotism and the love of the game is ridiculous.
GR: It seems everyone is in support of the WBC so it came down to your supporting arguments to decide points. Bobby gets 3 here for mentioning the opportunity to see mixtures of players from rival teams on the same team for more than just the All Star Game. I also like how you mentioned it’s good to see players in competitive games during the WBC instead of going through the motions in spring training. I give Jon 2 here for bringing up that injuries will happen and citing Zumaya’s injury during the 2006 playoffs. Pat, I am damn proud to be an American, but I’m not sure where you stand on this debate giving supporting statements for both sides. You get 1 point.
3. The Jay Cutler and Josh McDaniels soap opera is getting worse and worse by the day. As time flows on, it seems more and more likely Cutler will not be a Bronco next season. If that happens, where do you see him ending up, or do you not see him leaving Denver at all?
BO: I wholeheartedly believe that Cutler will be better off if he leaves Denver for a place where the head coach doesn’t smack him in the face by going after Matt Cassell. I do not see the two ever going to Dave and Buster’s for a game of “NFL Blitz,” but I do not see Cutler leaving either. Before his latest meeting with McDaniels, Cutler’s agent Bus Cook said that Cutler was committed and wanted to be a Bronco. Eventually, this whole mess will wind down and Cutler will be back on the field, playing as the above-average, but never-great, quarterback he has turned out to be. It’s in his best interest to stay anyway. He’s got three years left of his bulky contract, he has an offensive line to protect him, an idiot-proof running package and a team that more or less knows how to win. If he’s smart, which he is because he graduated from Vanderbilt University, he’ll stand pat.
PL: As a fan of an otherwise playoff-ready team (the New York Jets) that desperately needs an experienced quarterback, I’d love to have Cutler . if we could muzzle him every week between games. But considering the way the Pro Bowl signal-caller has run his mouth with regard to the botched trade proposal by new coach McDaniels, he’d never last a day with the New York media. Cutler is a player who didn’t attend a premier football school (Vanderbilt) and who is totally unequipped for the big time, a contending team in a big media market. That more or less eliminates every NFL team not located in the middle of a mountain range. So for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, Cutler and the Broncos are going to be married until he can learn to grow up, because no team in its right mind will take him.
JD: Cutler will not be a Bronco next season. The Lions, Jets, Buccaneers and 49ers could all use help at quarterback. The problem with these teams is they have other holes that need filling, and selling out for a quarterback wouldn’t be smart. The team that needs Cutler the most is the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings defense ranked first against the rush in 2008 and star defensive back Antoine Winfield leads a strong secondary. Adrian Peterson is the most dominating rusher in the NFL even on a team with no passing attack to keep the defense honest. The only thing missing for this team has been strong quarterback play. With Cutler, the Vikings would have a respectable passing game, backing defenses off the line of scrimmage and allowing Peterson to run wild all season. If Cutler ends up with Minnesota, look for the Vikings to make some noise next season.
GR: Bobby gets the 3 for this one. I agree the Broncos and Cutler both want him to stay there and this will blow over eventually. Pat gets the 2 here for arguing how Cutler wouldn’t last long in a place like New York unless he cleans up his public image. Jon gets the 1 here. Even though you’re right about how a team like Minnesota could use a guy like Cutler to be the missing piece, I don’t think he is leaving Denver.
Bobby pulls off the sweep, 9-5-4