March Madness: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

“Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

UVA made history. So did UMBC and so did Loyola-Chicago and so did Buffalo. UVA was the first No. 1 Seed to lose to a 16 Seed. Likewise, UMBC has the distinct honor of being the first 16 Seed to upset a No. 1 Seed. It’s never happened before, and we all thought that it never would. Correction: we didn’t believe it ever could. But it did.

Loyola-Chicago, an 11 Seed, defeated Miami, a Six Seed, and then turned right around and defeated Tennessee, a Three Seed. Madness.   Buffalo, seeded 13, THIRTEEN!, beat Arizona, a 4 Seed — in the first round. And that’s just for starters.

Xavier, another No. 1 Seed, is gone. North Carolina and Cincinnati, both No. 2 Seeds, are gone too, and so is Michigan State, a No. 3 Seed. Notice a trend here? Houston beat Michigan – no wait, Michigan actually won! And on a buzzer beater by a freshman, no less! Goodness! And it’s going to snow tomorrow night! Talk about March Madness. There was barely a bad game in the tournament. Yes some were tough to watch because of poor officiating and spells of sporadic shooting, but all in all, it’s seems to be the year of the underdog. We could talk all day about UMBC beating UVA, but how about Nevada’s win?

Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound for the tiebreaking basket with 9.1 seconds left as University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) erased a 22-point deficit in the final minutes of a stunning 75-73 victory over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. UNR’s stirring comeback — the second-largest in tournament history — came just two days after the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack rallied from 14 points down to beat Texas 87-83 for its first NCAA victory since 2007.

The Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday. Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed, never trailed until Hall’s tiebreaking basket but watched its lead disintegrate as it failed to make a basket in the final 5:45.

Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, there have been more upsets, comebacks and turnarounds than you can shake a stick at. We’ve seen epic victories, historic collapses, and a little of bit everything else in between. It’s so much like living in the Bible days, it’s scary. It’s almost as if the Bible is coming off of the pages, or up out of your smart phone. The holy writ says that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. That’s what we’re seeing here.

It’s so spiritual, it’s so mystical, and it’s so applicable to everyday life in general and to our lives in specific that we have no choice but to stop and take note. How are the teams who no one picked to win winning with reckless abandon?   

I submit that we must acknowledge the otherworldly dimension of sports. But before you dismiss this notion, hear me out.  Not everyone believes in prayer, but those that do believe that faith and works actually work together for good. Mix some elbow grease in with a good game plan and teamwork and a technical reason for how David defeated Goliath and, viola, you get Loyola-Chicago winning two games in this tournament, and  UBMC trumping over an overconfident and (shall we say overly arrogant?) Virginia team that swears by its “system” come what may.

Miracles do happen on ice and yes, on the hardwood. You may not be a believer, but after this weekend’s upsets, comebacks and turnarounds, I don’t see how you can’t be.


Every Team Needs A Sister Jean

Who is Sister Jean? Meet Loyola-Chicago’s Spiritual Guide and Biggest Fan

“It’s hard to call Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt an overnight sensation. After all, she’s been following basketball at Loyola University-Chicago for more than a half century and said she saw the Ramblers win the NCAA title in 1963. But thanks to television, the internet and social media, the 98-year-old nun has become a media darling.

With victories against Miami and Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, the Ramblers are hoping for more spiritual guidance when they face the winner of the Cincinnati-Nevada game in next week’s Sweet 16.

Here are some things you might not have known about Loyola-Chicago’s inspirational leader.

Praying for victory: As the basketball team’s chaplain since 1994, Sister Jean begins every prayer the same way: “Good and gracious God.” But if you’re thinking she does not invoke the deity for a little help to win, think again. “I ask God to be especially good to Loyola so that, at the end of the game, the scoreboard indicates a big ‘W’ for us,” she told The New York Times. She ends every prayer with an emphatic “Go Ramblers.” Judging from some of the shots Loyola-Chicago has been burying during this tournament — Clayton Custer’s game-winner against Tennessee comes to mind — these prayers have been answered so far.

She’s a Hall of Famer: Loyola-Chicago inducted Sister Jean into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2017, making her the 173rd member to be enshrined. Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball in high school.

Good scouting: Every season, Sister Jean researches the boxscores of upcoming opponents, using her sharp eye for detail to point out flaws in the Ramblers’ next foe. Coach Porter Moser found a manila folder on his desk on his first day as coach, according to Sister Jean had compiled a scouting report on the Ramblers to help the new coach. “She lights up every room she goes into.” Moser told the Times. “She’s always smiling. She has an energy about herself. I connect with that.”

She has her own bobblehead: Loyola-Chicago held a bobblehead promotion night for Sister Jean in 2011.

Super sneakers: Sister Jean has a pair of maroon-and-gold Nike sneakers that she wears during each game. Two names are stitched on the sneaker’s heels: “Sister” on the left heel, and “Jean” on the right.

It’s been quite a ride for Loyola-Chicago, which has knocked off two highly touted programs. Now, the Ramblers will have to go against Sister Jean (they hope to prove her wrong) in the Sweet 16: She picked the Ramblers to lose in that round”. 

UVA Coach Tony Bennet: “You Enjoy The Good Times, and You Got To Be Able To Take The Bad Times.”

Once again, sports personifies our favorite professor giving us a sound lecture on how to live life.

UVA Coach Tony Bennett was gracious in defeat. And in defeat he needed grace. Critics derided him for the loss, saying he didn’t do enough for his team or say enough to his team as they went down in defeat to a red hot UMBC team that could do no wrong.

For as humiliating as this must have been for Bennett, the coach handled himself with dignity in the moments after the loss.

The fact is that Bennett was right on the money on this point: “when you enjoy the good times you got to be able to take the bad times.” Amen brother. Here’s the rest of the Coach Bennett post debacle, I mean post game, interview:

“A week ago, we’re cutting down the nets and confetti is falling,” Bennett said. “And then we make history by being the first 1-seed to lose. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy about that, and it stings. But, trying to tell the guys in there, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoy the good times, and you got to be able to take the bad times.”

And this wasn’t the first time Virginia struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.

“When you step into the arena and you’re in the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with that,” Bennett said in the interview with CBS. “That’s the job.”

And in another interview, Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse came to Bennett’s defense and balanced out the situation with these sage words:

“They pay this guy about $10 million, which they’re to renege on, which is great for a university to do, you have a signed contract with a guy and then say, well, he yelled at his players. That’s — 350 coaches are going to get fired tomorrow for that.

Come on, the tournament is — I’ve lost in this tournament, everybody has. I’ve looked at the list of bad losses, and I couldn’t believe we weren’t even on it. But Mike Krzyzewski has lost, I’ve lost, Roy Williams has lost, Bill Self has lost. Dean Smith lost. There’s nobody that hasn’t lost.

I think you could easily make the case that Tony Bennett’s way overachieved in the regular season and they played like they probably are in the tournament. You could possibly make that case. This year’s a little aberration, obviously. That was a bad — but the other losses, you know, it’s a tough tournament.

And really good coaches, good teams get beat. Tom Izzo is one of the best tournament coaches ever, and I sat there two years ago and watched Middle Tennessee beat them. They played a perfect game. We beat Middle Tennessee the next game by 30, by 30. It’s just basketball.

We lost to Vermont and the next day Tom Izzo, next game Tom Izzo beat Vermont by 20. It’s just the game. It’s a crazy game and the tournament’s a crazy thing. We all know that. We all say that, but then we don’t follow through on that.”

Well said, Coach. Well said.

Cinderella Lives! UMBC Defeats UVA 74-54


It has never happened before. It wasn’t supposed to happen ever.  And it certainly was NOT supposed to happen to this UVA team. And not like this. But it did. Little UMBC handed the second glass slipper to the prince and now they can go on to live happily ever after. Well, not quite, but close. 

The University of Maryland Baltimore County defeated No. 1 ranked Virginia and it wasn’t even close.  What made the win so stunning? UVA was utterly outplayed and out-coached and outclassed. It was a sight to see. The group text I sent to my sons long before the end of the game was this: “We’re watching history in the making.” It may well have been the most improbable upset win in sports history.  That’s ALL of sports. 

Yes the score was tied at the half, 21-21. Yes UVA was missing their star freshman guard DeAndre Hunter; and yes, everyone thought UVA would come out in the second half and take over the game. That’s what we thought, but that’s not what UMBC dreamed.  UVA was picked to win it all. Not so. UVA wasn’t just a No. 1 Seed, they were the OVER ALL No. 1 Seed. UVA never got on track and UMBC did. And they ran UVA right out of the gym. They won by 20 points. Twenty points! That wasn’t just a win, it was a beatdown.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County stunned the University of Virginia, 74-54, in the biggest upset in tournament history. The Retrievers were 22.5-point underdogs. Senior guard Jairus Lyles scored 28 points, as the Retrievers blew open a tie game at the half and outscored arguably the best defensive team in the nation 53- 23 after intermission. Before this loss, Virginia was 31-2 on the season and the top overall seed.

For many March Madness fans, the upset also breaks  and busts their brackets. Virginia was the most popular pick to win the tournament in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

The tiny Maryland school, which lost to teams such as Colgate, Army and Towson this year, relished the attention.  They believed in each other and listened to their coach, who after the game seemed like he just finished brushing his teeth. Coach, you just defeated a No. 1 Seed!  To him, it seemed like no big deal; he was so calm, cool and collected he had time to speak of the next game and winning that one too.  I like him.  I like this coach a lot.

Now UBMC will live in infamy as the ONLY No. 16 Seed to defeat a No. 1 Seed EVER.  And so, by faith, dreams do indeed come true.

And that’s why we love the madness of March.

Why We Love March Madness


Do uou really need any more madness? I mean really?  I mean, who needs any more madness? You would think that what you have is plenty enough, with room to spare.  With the job and the kids and the bills and the boss and all of the other stuff you’ve got on your plate, who needs any more madness?  I’ve got a crazy job and a crazier job situation (I’m looking, but you are too, right?) and I’m trying to multitask with more irons in the fire than you can shake a stick at. But the answer is crazier than the question. The answer is just a little more madness. March madness.

Somehow and for some strange, mysterious, mercurial reason, the weather in March and basketball in March are bosom buddies. Both are fickle and variable. Both are arbitrary and capricious. Both are warm and fuzzy one day and cold and callous the next. And we love and hate them both, depending upon  the day of the week.

Yes I love March Madness, and you do too.

Today is bright and sunny but it’s also cold and windy. The sky is blue but the air is icy. The trees are trying to bloom but old man winter doesn’t want to go away, just not yet. And that’s sounds just like life. We live in a world full of contradictions and ambiguities and paradoxes and enigmas.  Every day and along the way, our task is to trust God’s process, for His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Our task is to trust that the mystery of Godliness will somehow, someway work out for our good.

Am I talking about life or about basketball?  Good question. In other words, sports and life are one in the same.

This time of year, college basketball teams that we don’t think will win are upsetting higher seeds. This time of year, powerhouse teams that we picked to go far in the tournament are heading home after an unexpected and hurtful first round defeat. It’s called March Madness, and for good reason.  Case in point, a school called Loyola Chicago just won in dramatic fashion. Never heard of ‘em? You have now.

Yesterday in a wild and fircely contested first round NCAA Tournament game, Donte Ingram hit a 3-pointer from the March Madness logo (on the court) just before the buzzer, lifting Loyola-Chicago over Miami 64-62 in a Thursday thriller to celebrate its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 33 years.

Ingram’s long shot from well above the key came after Lonnie Walker IV missed a free throw with a chance to give the Hurricanes a three-point lead with 9 seconds remaining.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers (29-5) matched the school record for wins from their 1963 national championship team in their first NCAA trip since losing to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown in the Sweet 16 in 1985. They advanced to face third-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.

Loyola was boosted by a pregame prayer from its team chaplain, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. She’s held that post for more than two decades and, sitting courtside in her wheelchair, got hugs from the Ramblers when it was over.

“I said we wanted to get that big W up there, and we did,” she said in a postgame TV interview.

The sixth-seeded Miami Hurricanes (22-10) led most of the second half in their third straight trip to the tournament, but couldn’t pull away in the final minutes and lost in the first round for the second straight year.

And so the lesson is clear. If you think you’ve got too much madness in your life, think again. Just look around and compare the weather report with what’s actually supposed to be happening outside. They don’t add up. And that should calm you down and pick you up and help you understand that what you’re going through is nothing compared to the madness all around you.

Every year, the games of the NCAA Tournament remind us of how blessed we really are. Just like the 64+ teams that make it into the tournament field, we are blessed to be invited to the big dance. And winning is icing on the cake.

So let’s be thankful for the little bit of madness that we have. Just think — you and I could have a whole lot more.

Virginia is For Real!

UVA Wins ACC Tournament

The University of Virginia won the ACC tournament with a convincing 71-63 win over Roy Williams and his North Carolina Tar Heels.  Virginia defeated North Carolina for the second time this season and snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Tar Heels in ACC Tournament play.

This season, Coach Tony Bennet led Virginia to a stunning record of 31-2. Along the way, the Cavaliers set a school record for victories, won the conference tournament for the second time in five seasons and will most certainly (actually they have) entered the 2018 NCAA Tournament as the No.1 overall seed, as the field of 68 was announced today.

Virginia has no rookie sensations, no “one-and-dones”– a.k.a., no sure-fire NBA lottery picks, and no players that everyone in the country knows by name. Nonetheless, Virginia is clearly the No. 1 team in the land and they’ve put together one of the most dominant seasons in the storied history of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.

Kyle Guy, Devon Hall and the Cavaliers won the ACC Championship regular season title and the ACC Tournament with sheer grit, finishing 20-1 against league competition. Not bad for a bunch that started the season unranked and picked to finish sixth in the ACC, the finest college basketball conference in America.

“I think we always knew this could be a special team,” guard Ty Jerome said.

And now that the Cavaliers are favorites. How will they do it? They try to out-underdog the underdogs. I love it. “You fight like you’re not supposed to win or nobody expects you to win,” he explained.

And so it’s true: UVA is for real. They’re the real deal, the real McCoy and are not to be taken lightly. And here’s the spiritual tie in: UVA this year represents what believers should be every year: respected and respectable.  We who believe in the God of Heaven should be at once and always noble and honorable, decent and proper, and, well, what we say we are. To use a tried and true truism, we need to practice what we preach. UVA certainly does.

The UVA defense is lights out. And they score just enough to be a respectable offensive threat. In other words, if you say you’re a defensive team, then don’t try to run when you know you can’t. They do what they do, and they’re proud of it, even if nobody likes it. We want offense. They know they can win with defense. And that’s that.  The UVA defense is the truth. They defend the perimeter and smother you on the interior so that opposing teams feel like they can’t even breathe when they’re got the ball. Offenses bog down and melt down under the UVA’s constant pressure.

So there.  UVA is my pick not only to go to the Final Four but to win the whole thing. 

Let the madness begin.

Another Reason To Hate Duke: Grayson Allen is “Trippin”

After yet another Grayson Allen dirty play last night against North Carolina in the 2018 ACC Tournament, (Allen hip checked – he actually intentionally extended his butt into the path of an opposing player and sent him to the floor) Allen was hit with a Flagrant One foul. I say that the “dirtiness” of this decidedly dirty player demands that someone do or at least say something about it. So here ya go.

God and Sports

Jimmy V ClassicCoach “K” got it wrong. The Duke Coach got it all wrong. Coach Mike Krzyzewski suspended junior guard and former captain Grayson Allen “indefinitely” and the indefinitely lasted a whopping one game. Allen was suspended for just one game for tripping an opposing player, not once or twice, but for the third time. And now Grayson Allen is playing again. Unbelievable.

I say again, this marked the third time that Grayson Allen intentionally tripped an opposing player in the past year. Allen intentionally stuck out his leg and tripped an Elon player Wednesday night, December 22nd, an incident he later apologized for. Allen was defending Santa Ana late in the first half of the Blue Devils’ 72-61 victory. Santa Ana drove past him on the baseline, and Allen stuck his right leg out, sending Santa Ana to the floor. Allen was assessed a technical foul. He then became overly emotional…

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