Sports Today: March Madness is upon us

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 10:42 AM

Mid-court sign,
Mid-court sign, "The Road Starts Here" at the First Four at UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

The NCAA tournament field has been revealed, and the outrage meter seems to be lower than usual. 

Maybe that’s just me, though, because I don’t care about major-conference teams who get snubbed. 

RELATED: Knee-jerk reactions to the unveiling of the tournament field

I would have rather seen St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State in than Syracuse or Oklahoma, but I’m not losing any sleep over it. 

The seeding seems to have been less offensive this year, unless you’re a Michigan State fan, but overall it’s pretty solid. 

In my first take on filling out this year’s bracket, I went pretty heavy chalk and ended up with a not-at-all-fun Final Four of Villanova, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina. 

Upsets include St. Bonaventure, New Mexico State and, yep, Wright State. I also put Arkansas past Purdue in the second round. 

RELATED: Did Wright State catch a break with seeding? 

There are a few other matchups I’m intrigued by, but I can’t pull the trigger until doing a little research. That could also result in changing my mind on those aforementioned choices. 

It will almost certainly make my bracket worse in the end, right? 

Well, I’m leaving up my initial picks as an experiment to compare to the ones I make after I’m “more informed.”

Should be fun, right?… 

Sticking with basketball, congratulations are in order for a bunch of area high school teams. 

Springfield and Wayne are still on track for a meeting in a boys’ Division I regional final (if they both win Wednesday night in Cincinnati) while Central Catholic will play Marion Local in a D-IV regional semifinal Tuesday night at Trent Arena. That will also be the site of a D-II semifinal between Trotwood-Madison and Columbus South on Thursday night.  

»RELATED: Girls basketball state final four pairings

The girls’ basketball final fours include from our coverage area Bellbrook, Versailles, Minster and Mason

The girls’ state tournament begins Thursday in Columbus at cavernous Value City Arena. 

You can watch those on TV only if you subscribe to a particular cable operator, which continues to be a disappointment to me…  

Dayton basketball also managed to make the news on Selection Sunday, though not for the right reasons. 

Xeyrius Williams revealed he won’t be finishing his career with the Flyers. 

I have no inside information on this, but I don’t think it came as a shocker to anyone given his lack of a role on the team this season after a breakout 2017 campaign. 

Hopefully the Wayne grad finds a place he can excel in his last year of eligibility then gets a shot in the pros somewhere. 

With his size and 3-point shooting ability, he is sure to be a commodity.  

Roster attrition is inevitable with any coaching change, especially when roles change and minutes fluctuate they did in coach Anthony Grant’s first year on the job. 

I’m sure he knows that as well as anyone, and the key to his success will be getting better buy-in from more players than he seems to have this season. 

Adding a four-star point guard next year shouldn’t hurt, either… 

In other sports things going on right now, the Cincinnati Reds pitchers who are hurt a lot got hurt again

Anthony DeSclafani, we hardly knew ye. 

Brandon Finnegan? Well he’s just a mid- or lower-rotation workhorse anyway. 

The good news is there are still some exciting young arms to fill in for those guys… if they can stay healthy. 

Suddenly, finding spots for Amir Garrett, Tyler Mahle and Robert Stephenson just got a lot easier. 

The better news is Nick Senzel. 

Player movement season has started in the NFL. 

You can tell it’s March because Browns fans are excited and Bengals fans are not. 

I like what Cleveland has done. 

For now, we’ll have to wait and see on Cincinnati. 

This is a case where I find fan angst about the Bengals’ approach pretty justified. 

I was totally on board with their plans for building a team over the last seven years until they, you know, ended in failure. 

Now I find moving “forward” with the trifecta of conservative coach, average quarterback and hope the rest of the roster pans out to be pretty unpalatable, too. 

The problem with sticking with the first two is that it really raises the stakes on the last on the rest of your roster decisions. 

Having a dynamic quarterback (and to a lesser extent a coach who is a difference maker in the way he manages a game or at least gets his guys to play hard and not make numerous mistakes) can cover up for roster issues. 

Andy Dalton doesn’t do that, and at this point in his career there’s no reason to think he ever will. 

You can win a Super Bowl with a great roster and an average quarterback, but you probably won’t because it’s really hard to build a great roster and even if you do some of the players will be hurt by January. 

Of course, finding a great quarterback is no easy task, either, but it’s even harder if you don’t try. 

Other teams have learned finding gems in free agency is more likely than it used to be. 

Will the Bengals try to follow suit? 

We’ll find out soon. 

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March Madness: Another First Four team marches well beyond Dayton

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 11:26 AM

Where to watch First Four games

Syracuse kept up an impressive streak for First Four teams in the NCAA tournament by upsetting Michigan State on Sunday. 

The 11th-seeded Orange became the eighth team in eight years to win at least one more game in the tourney after prevailing in their opener in Dayton. 

That includes the Dayton Flyers, who topped Boise State at UD Arena in 2015 and made it to the round of 32. 

RELATED: So much for Ohio’s high hopes in the Big Dance

Syracuse is the fourth team to advance at least as far as the Sweet 16 but the first since Tennessee did so in 2014. 

Things did not go so well for the other 2018 First Four teams. 

St. Bonaventure, also a No. 11 seed, was crushed by No. 6 Florida in its round of 64 game on Friday. 

The No. 16 seeds that won in Dayton also lost over the weekend. 

Texas Southern lost to No. 1 seed Xavier 102-83 while Radford was no match for Villanova, falling 87-61. 

Of course, with Maryland-Baltimore County shocking No. 1 Virginia on Friday night to become the first No. 16 seed ever to win in the round of 64, you can bet next year’s 16 seeds playing in Dayton will have even more hope of pulling off their own upset if they move on. 

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Sports Today: So much for Ohio’s high NCAA tournament hopes

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 10:18 AM

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18:  Jarron Cumberland #34 of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts after falling to the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 18: Jarron Cumberland #34 of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts after falling to the Nevada Wolf Pack during the second half in the second round of the 2018 Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena on March 18, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I’ve been putting off starting today’s column because I want to try to write the perfect summation of an amazingly imperfect NCAA tournament weekend. 

Is that possible? 

If you didn’t have any beloved teams in the field  that had to be the most fun four days ever to be a sports fan. 

(Unless, of course, you take your bracket too seriously and actually thought you were going to win your office pool.) 

RELATED: Bet on NCAA long shot retrieves big payday for UMBC fans

The handful of ugly games were more than made up for by the drama and the surprises. 

But of course if you’re from Cincinnati or root for Michigan State or Virginia, well, it was probably the worst...

I’m really dumbfounded by the Queen City collapses.

Conference pride is dumb, but I do like state pride (unless it’s Cleveland, which is pretty much Pennsylvania anyway, right?) so I would rather see both the Bearcats and the Musketeers win than lose even though I didn’t grow up rooting for either of them. 

I can’t decide if it is more fitting or more weird that their losses Sunday night were so similar.

Big leads blown.

Costly foul trouble.

Terrible execution down the stretch.

Mick Cronin correctly called for a two-for-one in the last minute of UC’s loss to Nevada, but the execution was awful on both ends. So instead of getting two good shots, he got none — instead the Nevada got two looks and made the second one count. 

Chris Mack botched the end for the X-Men, bafflingly calling for a foul when he could have let his team play out the defensive possession then running a final play that didn’t involve his best player. 

So strange. 

What’s it mean for the city as a whole?

I really don’t know, but I’m not interested in curse talk or any of that fatalistic garbage. Let Cleveland sports fans continue to corner the market on that stuff. It’s dumb. 

Every team has disappointing losses.

No one has the market cornered on heartbreak.

Obviously some places know a lot more about how it feels to win, but let’s not get too dramatic here.

I mean what happened Sunday was bad enough by itself, right? No need to add some greater meaning… 

I did tweet that it’s never going to happen for the Bearcats, though. 

That was obviously a heat-of-the-moment thought, but there is good reason to wonder. 

I thought this was a team whose ability to score separated it from past Bearcat squads, but ultimately they looked completely clueless on that end of the floor as the game wound down. 

Cronin has done a great job rebuilding the program after the administration botched separating itself from Bob Huggins, but if he doesn’t continue to upgrade the recruiting, Bearcats fans shouldn’t bother getting their hopes up in the future. 

Grit and passion can only take you so far, especially since the efforts to improve freedom of movement were surprisingly successful over the past couple of seasons... 

Meanwhile, Xavier is in an entirely different boat. 

Recruiting has steadily improved over the years, and there’s reason to believe that could continue. 

The Musketeers obviously haven’t had as many legitimate Final Four contenders in their history as Cincinnati, but I would still buy stock in their future. 

That’s still true even if Mack goes elsewhere at some point because the program has already handled multiple coaching changes during its rise… 

Meanwhile, Ohio State fell victim to a more conventional problem: The Buckeyes lost to a team with a better seed and a better roster. 

New coach Chris Holtmann was playing with house money all year, and he came out way ahead even without making the Sweet 16. 

The Buckeyes still played two more NCAA tournament games than most people expected they would, so that’s got to be something to build on. 

He’s proven he can coach ‘em up like Mack and Cronin. 

His success will be dictated by how well he recruits… 

How about my bracket?

Yeah, it’s in pretty bad shape. 

I was actually still optimistic midway through Sunday because even some of the big early upsets didn’t hurt me much. 

I didn’t have Virginia or Michigan State in the Elite Eight, so those upsets hurt others more than they hurt me in the long run. 

READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

Then North Carolina got blown out, the Cincinnati teams choked and it’s pretty much over for me even though I picked Villanova to win it all. 

On the bright side, my “final answers” bracket is outperforming my first impressions, so I guess a little extra research wasn’t a total waste of time! 

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Bet on NCAA long shot retrieves big payday for UMBC fans

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 2:34 PM

The UMBC Retrievers were not the only happy campers after their victory against top-seeded Virginia. A group of bettors cashed in handsomely.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The UMBC Retrievers were not the only happy campers after their victory against top-seeded Virginia. A group of bettors cashed in handsomely.(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Eric Barger figured he was throwing his money away when he and a group of friends bet on a No. 16 seed to upset a top-ranked team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But the group’s $800 bet on the University of Maryland-Baltimore County men’s basketball team paid off big when the Retrievers shocked No. 1 Virginia 74-54 on Friday.

>> Read more trending news

No. 16 seeds had been 0-for-135 against No. 1s, but UMBC’s win was lucrative for Barger and friends, who cashed a $16,800 winning ticket at The Venetian in Las Vegas, ESPN reported. 

"I go with my boys to Vegas every tournament, and we did pretty well on Thursday," Barger told ESPN. “Me and my buddy Dan went to UMBC, so we spent all day talking up how much we were going to bet.”

Barger said he did not think he had a winning ticket.

"We, of course, thought we were throwing our money down the drain," Barger, 42, told ESPN. “We expected to be down pretty quickly, but we hung in there, and they won by 20. It was surreal.”

Feeling lucky, Barger said he and his friends took $200 each out of their winnings and gambled it on a game of roulette. Their number hit, so they collected an additional $1,900, ESPN reported.

Barger said his group will bet on UMBC again in the Retrievers’ game Sunday night against Kansas State.

“With odds at about 5-to-1, we'll have at least a couple hundred on the game,” Barger told ESPN. “How could we not?"

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Minster girls celebrate another Wildcats state championship

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:55 PM
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:55 PM

            Minster’s Ivy Wolf launches. Minster defeated Ottoville 63-48 to win the D-IV girls state basketball championship at OSU’s Schottenstein Center on Saturday, March 17, 2018. ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR
Minster’s Ivy Wolf launches. Minster defeated Ottoville 63-48 to win the D-IV girls state basketball championship at OSU’s Schottenstein Center on Saturday, March 17, 2018. ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR(ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR)

“Rat 1” and “Rat 2.”

That’s what Minster junior Courtney Prenger affectionately calls freshmen basketball teammates Ivy Wolf and Janae Hoying. They’re always in the gym.

“That’s what they are,” Prenger said. “That’s the best kind of rat.”

Thanks to 15 points from each freshman Saturday, Minster rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to close with a 16-0 run en route to winning the Division IV state final 63-48 over Ottoville before 4,968 fans at the 43rd annual OHSAA girls basketball state tournament inside Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

»RELATED: Girls state final four results

Hoying played 23 minutes, was 6-for-6 from the free throw line and had two steals. Wolf had six rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes.

The state title is Minster’s third and first since 2004. The Wildcats (26-3), ranked No. 1 in the computer rankings, were also state champs in 1998.

Minster beat Ottoville 55-54 during the regular season. At that time Hoying was playing junior varsity. She has since made an ascent.

»RELATED: Boys state final four pairings

“Early in the year we knew that in order for us to make a run with the talent we had in our junior and senior classes, Janae had to be a part of it as an extra guard,” Minster head coach Mike Wiss said. “We already had Ivy up. We started to work Janae in in mid-January and it’s continued to grow. We needed to add her to our mix to make this run. This is how it turned out.”

Wolf and Hoying combined to go 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final 1:08.

»RELATED: Boys regional results

“I knew it would be hard,” Hoying said. “We just had to be able to push through and control the pressure. We got it under control and settled in. You have to have the right mindset.”

Prenger, a Xavier commit, led Minster with 17 points. Senior Taylor Kogge (Ohio Northern recruit) added 12.

The state title is Minster’s 33rd overall as a school and extends a recent run. Wiss coached Minster’s baseball team to a state title last spring, while the Wildcats girls track team finished state runner-up. Last fall, Minster won state titles in football and girls cross country.

“I got some texts (Saturday) morning saying we got our rings, go get yours,” Kogge said. “It highers the standards for everyone.”

Standards are also high at fellow Midwest Athletic Conference member Versailles. The school houses 17 state titles.

Playing in its fourth D-III state final in five years, Versailles fell 53-47 to Columbus Africentric on Saturday. Attendance was 3,572.

Ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps computer rankings and AP poll, the Tigers finish 28-2.

Down 30-21 at halftime, Versailles outscored Africentric 26-23 in the second half and held a 43-42 lead with 5:06 left on a Lindsey Winner bucket.

Senior Kami McEldowney scored a game-high 16 for Versailles. Senior Danielle Winner had seven points and eight rebounds. Lindsey Winner had eight and nine, respectively.

Versailles’ senior class ends with 101 wins. The Tigers claimed the D-III state title in volleyball in November.

“I can’t remember any athletes at Versailles that have 100 wins in their career and these girls do,” Versailles head coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “That’s an incredible feat considering the games we play and the strength of schedule we have.”

The MAC owns 126 total state titles among member schools.

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