Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Topes pitching staff taking shape

It's 13 days from the start of the Colorado Rockies season and 16 days from the start of the Albuquerque Isotopes opener. The pitching staffs for both teams are becoming more clear, although a couple interesting decisions loom.

A flurry of transactions over the last week have shaped the outlook. The Rockies, in a surprise move, released Jhoulys Chacin last weekend. Minor league free agent Buddy Bosher was also released. Cole White, a former New Mexico Lobo who I was penciling onto the Topes bullpen, decided to retire due to a shoulder injury.

The Rockies rotation now starts with Kyle Kendrick, Tyler Matzek and Jordan Lyles. Then it gets interesting. Chacin's release opens one spot. An injury to ace Jorge De La Rosa will likely start him on the disabled list and opens another spot temporarily.

Based on zero inside knowledge, I'm predicting the two spots will be filled by David Hale and Christian Bergman.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Irrational reaction: NCAA Round of 32 -- Duke 68, Aztecs 49

Well, that sucked.

There’s not a whole lot to analyze or breakdown. Duke exposed just about all of San Diego State’s flaws. The Aztecs exposed the rest of their flaws themselves.

It wasn’t close. It wasn’t fun. 

It wasn’t the fault of the referees. It wasn’t the fault of the food poisoning – or whatever stomach bug claimed Angelo Chol, nearly the entire coaching staff, and Uncle Ted on radio.

JJ O’Brien (2x10) was forced into taking a lot of bad shots. Aqeel Quinn (2x7), probably not 100 percent after his bout with food poisoning a few days ago, played probably the worst game of his career. Dwayne Polee was a non-factor. Trey Kell (0x6) missed a ton of shots. The Aztecs were 2-of-13 on 3-pointers, both by Malik Pope.

The Aztecs had no answer for Jahlil Okafor. Justice Winslow was everywhere on the court.

The only time it got interesting was early in the second half. The Aztecs cut the lead to seven, on the second of Pope’s triples, and got another stop defensively. Kell broke the full-court press penetration, and rather than setting up the offense, went all the way to the hoop for a shot. Kell missed a makeable shot, then Duke Wuinn Cook drained a 3-pointer to ignite an 11-0 run. There was a ton of dumb turnovers and missed shots in the run. That was the ballgame.

So ends another entertaining season for the Aztecs with a 27-9 record, a 10th straight 20-win season, a share of the regular season league title, a sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and a third straight Round of 32 game. The Aztecs went 7-0 against BYU, Utah, UNLV and New Mexico.

And so begins an intriguing offseason, where the biggest storyline is whether Malik Pope turns pro after one season, or returns for his sophomore year. If Pope returns, the Aztecs will be just fine. If Pope leaves, it gets a lot more interesting.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Irrational (pre)-action: San Diego State vs. Duke

Alright, here we go. San Diego State vs. Duke. The program that went from irrelevant (in the early 2000s) to become one of the best on the West Coast. The program that came from irrelevant (in the early 1980s) to become the premiere college basketball program in the nation. The rising regional power against the established national powerhouse.

The easy cliche is the Aztecs have nothing to lose and everything to gain. They're an eight seed. They are San Diego State. This is Duke and Coach K and all those All-Americans and all those banners and all that tradition. This would be a program-changing, legacy-establishing, shock-the-world victory.

But here's the thing. The Aztecs are not playing Christian Laettner, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Kyrie Irving and Grant Hill. They are not playing against the banners and tradition and rings. It's this year's Duke team, a very good team, a deserving No.1 seed, a team loaded with future NBA stars. The Aztecs are not playing Duke at a time when Duke just doesn't lose in the NCAA Tournament. Duke has failed to reach the Sweet 16 twice in the last three years, and four times in the last seven years.

This isn't David vs. Goliath. The Aztecs can win this game. Sure, they have to play nearly perfect and hope Duke has a bad afternoon. It's not like they are 30-point underdogs. The line is between 7.5-10 points, which is still a huge upset, but not monumental. It's JJ and Winnie and AQ and Sky and Polee and Shrigs and Chol and Trey and The Pope against Goliath.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Irrational reaction: NCAA Round of 64 -- Aztecs 76, St. John's 64

I'm glad the Aztecs are more calm than me.

The Round of 64 victory over St. John's was exhilarating, exasperating, worrisome, typical, inspiring and stressful. Yet it was a 12-point victory, and even if I was still stressing out until the final two minutes, the CBS announcers were going to "garbage time" material about five minutes earlier.

Exhilarating: the Aztecs scored. A lot! They scored 40 at the half and finished with 76 freakin' points in regulation.

Exasperating: the first half was like the Aztecs installed Paul "Guru of Go" Westhead's offense in the five days leading up to this game. The frenetic pace was entertaining, maddening, and not the sanest strategy. Somehow, it didn't hurt the Aztecs. It might have even helped them. This is a team with so much depth and athleticism, I always want them to push the tempo. They have the thoroughbreds. But suddenly playing this style against a team that only plays that style was, in theory, playing into St. John's hands. The Aztecs transition defense was dreadful. Their transition offense, mostly, was effective. The game was won, however, once the Aztecs displayed the right balance of 'poise vs. push' about halfway through the second half.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Irrational reaction: Aztecs regular season recap, NCAA preview

A week in Arizona for spring training did not prevent me from watching the beloved Aztecs of Montezuma Mesa at the Mountain West Conference tournament. It did leave me nowhere near a computer to irrationally react after each game.

Let's call this post a reflection on where the Aztecs have been so far this season, and what is next. We'll start with my predictions on November 14.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How to avoid being a douchebag while watching March Madness

The headlines says it all and I love lists. So here we go.

1. Don't complain that "my bracket is busted" on the first day, especially during the morning round of games, unless all of your Final Four picks were eliminated. Everybody probably had the same favorite advancing deep. It's a long tournament. Don't be a douche.

2. Stop complaining about how hard it is to find Tru TV. It's pretty easy actually. It's on basic cable. You have an on-screen guide. Use it. Or google it. Don't complain the games are on Tru TV. Thanks to CBS/Turner, every second of every game can be watched in its entirety. It was not always like this. It wasn't that long ago you were at the mercy of some CBS suit deciding which games to watch, and when to cut to another game. Rejoice at the world we live in. Don't be a douche.

3. If you're going to hate Duke, that's fine. But don't complain that "Duke always wins." They've actually been upset in the first round two of the last three years. They've only been to the Final Four once in the last 10 years. It's still perfectly acceptable to hate Duke. But know your facts. Don't be a douche.

4. If you're at a bar or casino, and you see a group of fans seated together who are doing the same rituals they do at home games, don't make fun of them. It's March. It's their college. It's fun. Don't be a douche.

5. If you correctly predicted a double-digit seed for an upset in the first round, you're only allowed to brag about it if you made that pick on all your brackets. If you submitted four brackets, and had that 14 seed losing in three of the four, don't take credit for your genius pick. Don't be a douche.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Irrational reaction: Aztecs 67, Nevada 43

It was more of a court meandering than a court storming, which was the appropriate reaction. The Aztecs clinched the share of the Mountain West regular season title. This was not like a year ago. There was no dramatic comeback against New Mexico, a fierce rival and the second-best team, in a winner-take-all game.

This was a blowout against Nevada. The outcome was never in doubt. Even though a banner will be raised and this will count as a title, I think a lot of Aztecs fans agree with me that this feels like second place. Boise State shared the same record, but won both head-to-head matchups, including the stunner at Viejas Arena the week prior that I still can't believe happened.

As a result, the MWC Tournament means more to me than it usually does. Unless you're a bubble team and need to win a conference tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, I normally can't get that excited about a conference tournament. Ordinarily, I'm actually just fine if the Aztecs lose in the semifinals. I've rather they have a rested legs and a chip on their shoulder entering the NCAA.

This year, due to those losses against Boise State, I want a tournament title. I haven't wanted a tournament title since the 34-win season of 2011, when SDSU lost to Brigham Young twice in the regular season (their only losses of the season at that point) and avenged them with a convincing win in Las Vegas. I don't just want to win the MWC Tournament. I want Boise State in the finals.