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.


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.

Majoring In The Minors

Braves Acuna
Atlanta Braves Outfielder Ronald Acuna

With everything that’s wrong, there’s still a lot in sports that’s right. Yes there’s a lot of improper and inappropriate and immoral (not to mention illegal) stuff going on in sports these days, but there’s still a lot of positives going on too.

With everything that’s wrong, how a young kid wears his baseball cap is not one of them. The Braves organization can’t be serious. I mean, the way Ronald Acuna wears his cap CAN’T be the thing a team focuses on in this young spring training season. It just can’t be. 

Right now in America we’re wrestling with politicians who favor less gun control and we have high school students marching for more gun control. We’ve had the Russians hacking our election process and we have coaches who’ve been accused of taking bribes. And that’s just for starters. So you see, there’s so much more important stuff going on in our Country and in our world; so focusing on the pitch angle of a kid’s cap is borderline ridiculous. You mean to tell me that a team is concerned about how a kid wears his hat?  Please.

We need to keep the main thing the main thing, and stop majoring in the minors. The sports fathers need to understand that they were young once too. The fact that the Braves organization is upset that their top prospect, Ronald Acuna, wears his cap slightly tilted to the side tells you everything that is wrong with MLB.

I say leave the kid alone. Let him wear his hat to the side. Let him live life and play ball without meddling and mucking with his head.  It’s not illegal and he’s not breaking any written rules. And herein lies the lesson: sometimes we major in the minors. Sometimes we focus on the twig in someone else’s eye instead of working on removing the tree trunk in our own eye. Sometimes, we lose sight of the forest to spite the trees.

And besides, the cap looks better on his head his way.

Lindsey Vonn: Love Makes No Mistakes

As we wake up this weekend, we’re all so sad and sore for a legend and the lore of Lindsey Vonn. Lyndsey lost in her first attempt at gold in Pyeongchang in the Women’s Super G.

Lyndsey isn’t hard to like. First, she’s not hard on the eyes. She’s an attractive blond with a pretty smile and a supportive family. And she simply adored her grandfather who taught her how to ski fast. Unfortunately, her grandfather, Grandpa Kildow, passed away this past November. And she wanted to win gold in honor of him. So what’s not to like? The interview that Mike Torico, the NBC Winter Olympics host, deftly did at her grandparents home in Wisconsin before he died was a tearjerker. The interview was the last time Lyndsey saw her grandfather alive.

“When Kildow died in November just weeks before the 2017-2018 World Cup downhill skiing season began, Vonn struggled to come to terms with his passing. She shared a heartfelt letter she wrote to her grandfather on her Instagram page, giving a sense of just how much he truly meant to her:

Dear Grandpa,I still can’t believe you’re gone. No words can describe how much you mean to me and how much i love you. I wish i had more time with you but i will cherish the memories we had. You taught me to be tough, to be kind, and above all, to ski fast. Now, every time i ski down the mountain I know you’ll be there with me. I’m proud to be your granddaughter and I will think of you always. I will race for you in Korea and I will try as hard as I can to win for you. Please look out for me.

I love you Grandpa.


And it doesn’t look as though time has lessened her admiration for her grandfather; during an interview in PyeongChang on Friday with NBC, Vonn had a hard time keeping her composure as she talked about Kildow.”

Wow. It doesn’t get any better or more touching than that.

Lyndsey’s first event in 2018 was the Super Giant Slalom, and it didn’t go as well as she had hoped. First, she had to be the first skier down the hill and that, unfortunately, was a distinct disadvantage. Yes it was her lot to be first down the hill and no, this need not have been a handicap, but it was. She had no notion of how the course laid out before her because trial runs were not allowed.

Lindsey’s run was fast and clean at the top. But towards the bottom of the hill she took a turn too wide and it cost her dearly. She made just one mistake, and it was one mistake too many.

So we’ll all be rooting and cheating for Lyndsey in her final two events at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as these Olympics will be her last. And win or lose on the skiing hill, Lyndsey will always be a winner in her grandfather’s book.

Go Lyndsey! Win one for Grandpa Kildow.

Why Aren’t You Watching Mikaela Shiffrin (and others) in Pyeonchang?

Mikaela Shiffirn 2018 Gold

Even Shaun White could hardly believe it.

Shaun won the gold medal in the men’s halfpipe with a near perfect run in a dramatic finish. He was in first place until his closest competitor scored a 95.25.  That bumped Shaun down to second, with only one chance left to retake the lead. On his last run, White scored a 97.75 to pull ahead of Hirano, who landed back-to-back double cork 1440s of his own ( I can’t explain what that is, but whatever the term, it looks amazing when they’re in the air turning every which way) . I’m so happy for Shaun White, especially to win the way he did.

And not to be outdone, here comes Mikaela Shiffrin.

On the night after the aforementioned snowboarding legend Shaun White won the 100th Winter Olympics gold medal in United States history, Mikaela Shiffrin made it 101 as her legend grew. America’s next big thing in skiing picked up the second Olympic gold medal of her career and her first in giant slalom. Shiffrin’s combined pair of runs in giant slalom on Thursday clocked in at 2 minutes, 20.02 seconds, usurping 34-year-old Italian Manuela Moelgg for the top of the podium. And Mikaela, like Shaun, saved her best for last. She took first place on her last run which was her last chance to get the gold in this event. Whew!!!

Both victories came at the 11th hour, on fourth and goal if you will, (a.k.a. Nick Foles and the Eagles pulling off the Philly Special!) when both athletes had to have their best performance, ever. And if that doesn’t send shivers down your side and goose bumps up your spine, I don’t know what will.

Then, if that wasn’t enough to get your juices going even more, the German ice dancing pair that had vied for gold for what seems like forever finally broke through and won the pairs gold medal. They were sobbing – SOBBING- for joy, and I was too.

Aljona Savchenko is a Ukrainian who has skated in five Olympic Games for two different countries and with three different partners. In PyeongChang, she finally realized her Olympic dream of winning gold. Together with partner Bruno Massot, Savchenko, who skates for Germany, was in fourth place after the short program. But she and Massot were the only couple among the top three to skate a clean free program, which vaulted them to the top of the podium. Their scores were the highest ever recorded for the pairs long program and it was enough for gold. After earning two bronze medals at previous Olympics with another partner, Savchenko said of her first, long-awaited gold: “I never give up. I keep fighting.”

And that’s the lesson: Never give up. And Keep fighting. Just keep fighting and never give up. It’s the lesson we keep hearing and seeing and need to keep believing until our quest for gold comes true, too.

Shaun White Is Gold!

  Shaun-White Wins Gold

Shaun White did it!

Here’s how ESPN reported his epic come from behind win in the half pipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongyang South Korea:

“The pressure was real. So were the tears — of joy, relief, redemption.

This is why Shaun White keeps going. This is why the snowboarding superstar keeps coming back to the Olympics, a journey that’s seen him evolve from teenage phenom to global brand to living legend. One with a perpetual target on his back and impossible expectations to meet. Standing atop the halfpipe on a gray Wednesday morning at slushy Phoenix Snow Park with his hopes for a third gold down to one final shot, White never wavered.

 ‘I honestly knew I had it,’ said White, 31.

‘I knew I had to put it down.’ The stakes left him little choice. Rising star and heir apparent Ayumu Hirano had snatched the lead out of White’s hand during the men’s halfpipe final, throwing a spectacular epic second run to vault into the lead and put a portion of White’s Olympic legacy at risk. Not that it mattered.”

He knew.  Going into his final run, with the gold medal on the line, Shaun knew what he had to do. And he did it.

And Shaun’s victory gives us hope and heart and help to know that we can do it too. Whatever “it” is for you, you can do it!