Stop The Madness! — 2020 Edition

“So he changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard.”

1 Samuel 21:13

It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s senseless and nonsensical, ludicrous and illogical that a top 10 team like the University of Maryland Terrapins would suddenly play their worst basketball of the season at a crucial and critical time when everything matters the most.

The Terps are now 23-7.  They’ve lost three of their last four games, and they looked bad doing it every time.  They lost to Ohio State 79 -72 on Sunday, February 23rd. Then they barely beat Minnesota 74 -73 on a buzzer, beater prayer of a shot by Darryl Morsell after being down by 16 at the half. And if that wasn’t enough, Maryland hosted the ESPN show “Game Day” – GAME DAY!  — for the first time in decades at the Xfinity Center in College Part on Saturday, February 29th and STILL  lost 78 – 66 to Michigan State.

Most recently, as in Tuesday night in Piscataway, NJ, the Terps played Rutgers University. This was, or should have been, a “gimmie’ game, i.e., a win with little or no or not so much effort expended against a lesser opponent.  Rutgers is unranked and has not beaten Maryland in years. But it is the month of March, and here’s where the madness begins.

With the Big Ten regular season championship on the line, and the Big Ten Tournament looming, the Terps fell behind early, continuing another troubling trend, and trailed by as many as 11 points just past the midpoint of the first half. But by halftime, Maryland trailed by only six points, 35-29. The Terps could have stayed in the game with a few solid possessions. Instead, Smith missed a shot on the team’s first possession of the second half, and Cowan couldn’t hit an open three-pointer on the next. Maryland let Rutgers’s lead swell to 13 points less than three minutes into the half and never truly threatened again.

It’s March, and it’s time for madness. As part of the Wednesday morning melancholy mop up, the Washington Post posted this headline: “Maryland Is Left Searching For Answers After Another Dud Against Rutgers.”  Head coach Mark Turgeon said this about his team’s maddening performance: “It’s really frustrating that we did not match Rutgers’s intensity. I think it’s just the weight of everything. There’s been great weight on us all year. … But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to go get it.”

And that’s just it. Feeling sorry for yourself never works. So, get over your last loss, and get back up and get back going. Because repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result, is just  . . . March Madness.

Save The Best For Last

Bobby Knight and indiana_

Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes ’round the moon
Just when I thought a chance had passed
You go and save the best for last.

Impossibilities, yes, but then again, we believe in miracles.

And sometimes teams go unbeaten and sometimes winning streaks go unbroken as the best team of the season goes into the final weekend looking for lore and longing for more. The last time a college team went undefeated was 1976. Bobby Knight took his Indiana Hoosiers to the title and a perfect season.

“Save The Best for Last.” The song sung by Vanessa Williams is considered her signature.  And if the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament story pans out the way wishful and wistful fans furtively feign, the best basketball of the season will indeed have been saved for last.

But first things first. This is a Final Four; emphasis on FOUR. And so the favorite son’s not home yet.  Kentucky will need to be more than lucky to defeat Wisconsin, and if Duke can dash Michigan State, we’ll have the final folks are hankering and hunkering for.

Saving the best for last is more than proverbial; it’s theological. When I was young and my mother cooked all the meals, my younger sister Anne would eat everything on her plate and save what she didn’t like for last. Her strategy was to hopefully not have to eat that vegetable because if she saved it for last, it would be cold and tasteless. This was long before microwaves, and sometimes, but not all of the time, Anne managed to manipulate my mother out of eating those blessed Brussel sprouts or bleeding beets.

On the other hand, my method was to look over my plate and pick out the one thing I liked best. Once I had determined that, I proceeded to eat, but I saved the best for last. And that’s what God does. And that’s what we should do in life. The following is borrowed from Eamonn Brennan, Sports reporter for ESPN:

“The final weekend of the 2015 NCAA tournament appears to have been ordained by the basketball gods. And they said, let there be dream matchups, and there were dream matchups. And they saw that it was good.

The lone surprise, the one lightweight — Michigan State — qualifies only in relative terms. Because Michigan State has saved it’s best basketball for last. Oh, sure, you remember Selection Sunday. Oh, how you mocked the careless analysts. They would talk about all of the reasons why this Michigan State team wasn’t very good, or they’d skip over those entirely, but they’d always end with a hoary old cliche: ‘Then again, never count out Tom Izzo in the NCAA tournament.’

If ever there was a year to do exactly that, it was this one. The Spartans may have pushed Wisconsin to overtime in the Big Ten tournament title game; they may have even deserved to win. But they’d also been merely OK for most of the three months preceding it, matching each step forward with at least a half-step backward. These undermanned, talent-drained Spartans lost to Texas Southern at home in December, and sure, they got better. But they still finished sixth in a soft Big Ten in points allowed per possession, and fourth on the offensive end.

Naturally, in three straight March games, Michigan State dropped a onetime national title co-favorite (Virginia), the Big 12’s best defensive team sporting its conference player of the year (Oklahoma; Buddy Hield) and, on Sunday, in a heart-pounding overtime thriller, a surging, talented team brilliantly coached by one of the game’s grandmasters (Lousiville, Rick Pitino). Last season, when the Spartans were loaded, with seniors who were the only class in Tom Izzo’s career to never get to a Final Four — that was supposed to be the run. And now look. You’ll never mock the cliche again.

Once you accept that Izzo somehow just pulled off his greatest tourney trick ever, the temptation to pencil Duke in to Monday night’s national title game wanes — though only slightly. Michigan State came together at the right time. It seems, though, with the Spartans that happens nearly every March.

Now, Duke could go toe-to-toe with Kentucky. But before we find out, the Blue Devils have the small matter of an insanely hot Michigan State. And, by the way, the Wildcats have to get past the mother of all Final Four draws: Fellow No. 1-seed Wisconsin.

Two stars, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, have the Wisconsin Badgers back in another Final Four. Why did Dekker and Kaminsky eschew the NBA? To spend another year with friends, sure, but also because of the pain. A year ago, they had Kentucky beat, if only barely, when Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison sank that deep and downright spooky three pointer. Every day since, Wisconsin has been single-mindedly focused on returning to the Final Four — and, if need be, repaying the Wildcats once there.

Now they have their chance.

Of course, these are not last year’s Wildcats. Last year’s Wildcats muddled through a mess of a campaign before flipping some transcendent switch in March. This year’s Wildcats have never flipped that switch off. They’re undefeated, and maybe you’ve heard something about that. But of course you have, because from the moment the Harrisons and Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson (and more) all said they were coming back for another season, Calipari has stood above college basketball like a conquering general: surveying, deploying, dominating. His players, as he keeps saying, are his reinforcements: tanks coming down over the hill. It is, in case you hadn’t heard, 38-0 — two away from 40, two steps from immortality.

There has been only one question worth asking about the 2014-15 season: Who could possibly stop the Wildcats? The answers have always been halting and hedging. But they’ve always been consistent, too.

Wisconsin. And Duke. And just maybe, just maybe, Michigan State. Two of these teams stand in the way of the perfect season for Kentucky. If the Wildcats want those last two wins — and they very much do — they’re going to have to earn them. How epic is that?” http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/tournament/2015/story/_/id/12584844/an-epic-end-ncaa-tournament-awaits-final-four 

So save the best for last. Don’t eat up and woof down the desert before you earn the right to. That is how it was in John Chapter 2 when Jesus performed His first miracle. When Christ changed the water into wine at the wedding banquet, he taught us a valuable lesson. The master questioned why the bridegroom chose to save the best of the wine to serve last. We know that Jesus changed the water into wine, and this teaches us to do and save and be our best both early on and late in the game. Because the best is always better when saved for last.

Make Every Possession Count

Michigan State 2014

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12, RSV

Every possession counts. Slam dunks are a sure thing and lay ups are usually automatic. Mid range jump-shots that are “good looks” are acceptable and three-pointers from way back beyond the arc are good when they go. The point is, every possession should be prized and every trip down the floor should be treasured. Just ask Harvard.

Harvard is a brainy school with some brawny scholars that can really play some ball. Their coach Tommy Amaker has got them to the point where they play hard and they play smart. I mean they can really play the game. They came back from 16 points down in the second half only to lose to Michigan State.  It was a heart breaker. 

Harvard felt like they belonged in the Sweet 16 and they feel like they belong in the same conversation with other elite college basketball programs like Michigan State.  They’re right on both counts, but the Sweet 16 just wasn’t meant to be. Not this year.  Unfortunately, down the stretch, they didn’t make every possession count.

Harvard did make every possession count, but only for half of the second half. Up by two with about 8 minutes to play, Harvard took their first lead of the game, 62-60, and it felt as if the little guy would score one for all of the other little guys and pull off an upset for the ages. But it wasn’t meant to be.   Somehow, once the Spartans lost the lead, they started playing better. Go figure.

Unfortunately for Harvard, their leery lead lasted a lean 18 seconds; just 18 seconds. The rally that raised their hopes and dashed their fears ran of gas.  And the thing that got them the lead slipped right out of their hands – they outscored and out hustled and outplayed Michigan State because they made every possession count.

Michigan State, down by two, was on the ropes and in so doing had raised the hopes of the Harvard faithful. But Michigan State mustered all of the mental metal they had and put together a rally of their own. From that point onward the Spartans made every possession count. A three pointer here, an inside pass and a lay-up there, and then another three pointer from way beyond the arc, and low and behold, the favorite put together an 8-0 run and was back up and back out of trouble. 

Harvard and Michigan State gave us a game to remember. So remember that every possession counts. Every word we whisper and every whim we wonder, our sayings and our doings, our actions and our articulations, they all count. It all matters. Every idle word we speak and every errant sound we sputter is heard in Heaven and etched in eternity. And that’s how God deals with us.

God doesn’t waste words or toy with time. God doesn’t waste possessions.  God redeems the time and he wants us to do the same. We may not be perfect, but as the old saints say, we should be perfectly striving. So let’s make every possession count, all during the game and especially down the stretch. In life that means all day every day and especially at “crunch times.”  Let’s not throw away our days or fritter away our ways; let’s make every word and every act and every deed and every discussion meaningful. Because in the end, it all adds up.

 

Smellin’ Like a Rose

Small_Red_Rose

The Michigan State Spartans won the 100th Rose Bowl, and emerged from the game smellin’ like a rose. They defeated a good Stanford team, but had to overcome a bad looking blemish to get the win.

The rose petals started to fall off the flower when quarterback  Connor Cook threw a horrific pass to the wrong colored jersey late in the 2nd quarter that put his team down 17 – 7.  The interception was dreadfully bad because it was clear to all watching that he shouldn’t have thrown the ball, but throw the ball he did, and it was an easy pick-six for Stanford. That ugly mistake stunk up the joint and could have cost the Spartans the game. Yet the final score was 24 -20, meaning the Spartans came back from 10 points down and held the Stanford Cardinal to just 3 points in the second half. In essence, it was a rosy win.

USP-NCAA-Football-Rose-Bowl-Stanford-vs-Michigan

Roses look good, and smell better. All roses vary in size and shape and are usually large and showy.  We are enraptured by the beauty and the fragrance of the rose. And that is how our lives as believers should be. We should look good and smell good too, and the world should be captivated by our beauty and aroma. Spiritually speaking, our lives are to be beautiful to the eyes and wonderful to the nose; a stunning sight and a sweet-smelling savor unto the Lord.

Roses are a pretty red; at least our favorite roses are. The rose-red blood of Jesus, the Rose of Sharon, was the purchase price for our salvation. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb.  His rose-red blood ran all over that old rugged cross, and ran down that hill far away called Calvary.  Jesus is the beauty of holiness and the perfume of Heaven.  His red blood washed our dirty, filthy, stinky sins away.

Without the blood from the Rose of Sharon, we would stink up the house.  In so many words, Jacob said that the heinous act of his two sons “stank to high heaven.” His exact words to Simeon and Levi were, “Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land” (Genesis 34:30). Simeon and Levi viciously avenged the rape of their sister Dinah by Shecem. While Shecem was wrong for taking Dinah unlawfully, the sons of Jacob were doubly wrong for taking matters into their own hands. And as all of our mothers have told us time and again, “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Our lives are to be like the rose. We are to be “spices for anointing oil and for sweet incense” (Exodus 25:6).  Jesus offered his life as an offering for our sin, and became a sweet smelling sacrifice unto the Lord.  We are to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour” (Ephesians 5:2).   

So live your life like the rose: be easy on the eyes and wonderful to the nose, not a stench or a stink, not blot nor a blemish.  “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15 (New Living Translation).

With Christ, we can come through every trial and come out of every tribulation smellin’ like a rose.  We can overcome every bad pass and every dropped ball; every fumble and every foible, every miss-step and every mistake, because of His efficacious blood.  No matter what the test, whatever comes your way, in 2014, you can come through smellin’ like a rose.