March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

The bracket is out.  At 6PM today, the Selection Show aired on CBS, revealing this year’s March Madness bracket.  Right after, I put together my primary bracket.  Throughout the week, I’ll be breaking it down region by region, starting with the East Region today.  Below is my official 2019 March Madness bracket:

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My final four is made up of:

  • Duke
  • Syracuse
  • Wisconsin
  • Kentucky

I have Kentucky winning it all this year.  But how will these four get there?  In these previews, I will look at each of these team’s paths to the Final Four.  Now, let’s get started with the East Region.  I have also included links to all articles in the series below (I will add links as articles come out):

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March Madness 2019: Regional Previews

March Madness 2019: Previewing the East Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the West Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the South Region

March Madness 2019: Previewing the Midwest Region

I will be previewing the Sweet 16 next week as well!

Round of 64 Preview

Columbia, SC: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019, at 7:10 PM EST on CBS

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils vs. Image result for ncaa #16 North Dakota State/NC Central

The Blue Devils put up a dominant season led by Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and R.J. Barrett.  Williamson was hurt for a little while, and Duke wasn’t quite as dominant during that time, but Williamson returned just in time for the ACC semifinals.  In this game, Duke took down UNC and they went on to win the ACC.  It is no longer unprecedented to predict 16-1 upsets after last year’s shocker, but it won’t happen here.  Duke is one of the strongest college teams in a long time.  They should easily grab a win here, even if they face NC Central, who earned their way into the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.

The Pick: Duke

#8 VCU Image result for vcu rams logo vs. Related image #9 UCF

UCF’s season was above average, but they did not have the consistent track record in the AAC that VCU had going in the A10.  VCU struggled mildly early in the season, but their season came together when A10 conference play began.  VCU may have struggled in the A10 tournament, but you should expect them to back up their strong regular season with a victory here.

The Pick: VCU

San Jose, CA: Games start Friday, March 22, 2019, at 7:27 PM EST on truTV

#5 Mississippi State Image result for mississippi state logo vs. Related image #12 Liberty

Mississippi State was competitive in the SEC, backing up a strong start to the season with a respectable finish.  They may have tumbled slightly towards the very end of the regular season, but they should be able to recover here and defeat Liberty.  Liberty will not be an easy opponent though.  They come in with momentum after a 28-6 season and an Atlantic Sun tourney victory.

The Pick: Mississippi State

#4 Virginia Tech Related image vs. Related image #13 Saint Louis

The Hokies also tumbled slightly late in the regular season, but they kept up with Virginia, Duke, and UNC in the ACC for most of the season.  However, Saint Louis comes in with momentum after early A10 dominance and a surprise A10 tournament victory.  Virginia Tech lost their momentum after their late season slip, so the Billikens could capitalize on this momentum and pull the upset.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Saint Louis

Jacksonville, FL: Games start Thursday, March 21, at 12:40 PM EST on truTV

#3 LSU Image result for lsu logo purple background  vs. Image result for yale logo  #14 Yale

Yale also comes in with momentum after a late season surge to the top of the Ivy League standings.  But LSU also finished on a good note as they began to catch up with Kentucky and Tennessee after finishing the SEC regular season with 5 straight wins, including one win over the Volunteers.  Expect them to outplay Yale in this game despite a close one led by the trio of Naz Reid, Tremont Waters, and Skylar Mays.

The Pick: LSU

#6 Maryland Image result for maryland logo  vs.Image result for ncaa #11 Belmont/Temple

I’ll tell you one thing for sure: the Belmont-Temple First Four game will come down to the wire.  Belmont may have lost the OVC championship, but their 5-loss season was enough to qualify them for an at-large bid.  They will take advantage of the opportunity.  But Temple will provide a challenge after an underrated regular season performance.  They are not as far behind their AAC rivals as it seems, and they may surprise people here as well.  Either of these teams is capable of defeating Maryland.  Maryland may have improved from last year, but could be upset prone after an inconsistent B1G performance and an early B1G tournament exit.

The Pick: UPSET ALERT: Belmont/Temple

Des Moines, IA: Games start Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 12:15 PM EST on CBS

#7 Louisville Image result for louisville cardinals logo vs. Image result for minnesota golden gophers logo #10 Minnesota

The Cardinals were somewhat inconsistent for the second year in a row.  But they have proven that they can beat top teams, so I have a certain level of confidence in them.  Despite losing to them later in the ACC tournament, they did defeat UNC in January.  They also defeated Virginia Tech.  They may have gotten off to an underwhelming start and regressed a bit heading into the ACC tournament, but they should be able to take down Minnesota, who probably wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t made it to the B1G semifinals.

The Pick: Louisville

#2 Michigan State Image result for michigan state spartans logo vs. Image result for bradley braves logo  #15 Bradley

Bradley surprised many when they won the MVC.  Their momentum could have helped them make a run.  However, with the #15 seed and a Round of 64 date with Sparty, I can’t see it happening.  The Spartans made a miraculous comeback today in the final two minutes when they played rival school Michigan in the B1G championship.  They were led by guards Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid.  They come into this with more experience, far more quality wins, and just as much, if not more momentum.  It should be easy pickings for MSU.

The Pick: Michigan State

Round of 32 and Beyond

Here are my projected Round of 32 match-ups:

#1 Duke Image result for duke blue devils vs. Image result for vcu rams logo #8 VCU

#5 Mississippi State Image result for mississippi state logo vs.Related image #13 Saint Louis

#3 LSU Image result for lsu logo purple background  vs. Image result for ncaa #11 Belmont/Temple

#2 Michigan State Image result for michigan state spartans logo  vs. Image result for louisville cardinals logo #7 Louisville

Duke has a much better track record than VCU and their freshman trio should easily outplay the Rams.  The Rams just found their footing in January and February and could lose steam easily as the later rounds occur.  Mississippi State may have been able to take down Liberty, but Saint Louis is out here to prove something after nearly missing out on the tourney thanks to a late regular season stumble.  They will be highly motivated to win and should be able to take down an inconsistent Mississippi State squad.  Maryland was easy to get past, but LSU will provide a challenging match-up to whoever they face here.  I can’t see an 11 seed taking them down.  Sparty will put an end to Louisville’s run after a huge win over Bradley.

And the Projected East Champion is…

 Image result for duke blue devils #1 Duke

Michigan State and LSU will be fun to watch at the Eastern Regionals.  Whoever of the two faces Duke in the East championship will make sure Duke has to earn their Final 4 bid.  But Duke should easily defeat Saint Louis, and building on their momentum, I have this team winning in the Elite 8 to go to the Final Four.  At full health, this team has the potential to be legendary.  I cannot see them being dethroned for a while. We will at least have to wait until the Final 4 to see it happen if it happens at all.  But this tournament is called March Madness for a reason: anything can happen.

Next up, I’ll be previewing the West Region, where we may see madness in its most chaotic form.

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Massachusetts Pirates Blowout Steelhawks in Final Regular Season Game, Playoff Bound

Yesterday I attended the final Massachusetts Pirates game of the regular season.   I won the tickets in a Mark Fidrych Foundation raffle at the 2018 Make Your Mark Kickoff Event.  (NOTE: the Make Your Mark softball tournament will be held on August 18th at Casey & Memorial Field in Northborough).  I went to the game with my dad, my longtime friend Paul Alfonso, and his dad Tony.

The Pirates play in the National Arena League (NAL), one of many Arena Football leagues across the country.  The season takes place between April and August, ending right around the start of the NFL season.  I’ve been to one Pirates game earlier this year when they played the Maine Mammoths back in May, so I knew that although Arena Football has many differences from NFL football, it was still very exciting.

Arena football is an 8 on 8 game.  There are no designated running backs, but offensive linemen will sometimes run the ball.  Typically, the starting offense is made up of a QB, three wide receivers, and four offensive linemen.  The defense typically has three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three defensive backs on the field.  The Pirates fans are often called the 9th man, because like the Seahawks in the NFL, they are the league’s loudest fans.  The game is played on a 50-yard field rather than a 100-yard field and is often played in hockey stadiums.  Players will often be pushed into the boards which is considered out of bounds, but sometimes wide receivers dive over the boards to make catches and if they do, it’s considered a completion.  The downsized field makes for much higher scoring.  Although the uprights are narrower, kickers can often make it through the uprights on a kickoff from the opposite end zone, scoring what is often called a “deuce”, worth two points.  The smaller field also makes it so nobody ever punts.  On fourth down, teams will either go for it or go for a field goal.

The 10-5 Pirates were scheduled to play the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, the worst team by win-loss record in the NAL.  They had not won a game all season long, and they were 0-14 going into this game, their final game of the regular season.  The game was held at the DCU Center in Worcester, the home of the Massachusetts Pirates.  The stadium also currently hosts the Worcester Railers, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, and was formerly home to the Worcester Sharks (now the San Jose Barracuda), the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.

We all made score predictions on our way to the game:

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We arrived at the game, bought some pizza, popcorn, and soft drinks, and took our seats.  Before the game, the Pirates welcomed members of the Special Olympics of Massachusetts team, who were attending the game.

The game began and the Pirates got off to a fast start after the Steelhawks won the toss and deferred.  Pirates QB Sean Brackett was out with a sprained ankle but QB Darron Thomas was doing a good job filling in.  He completed a deep pass to WR Lavon Pearson to get the Pirates close to the end zone.  A Pirates o-lineman ran in the TD to put the Pirates up 7-0.  Steelhawks kicker Spencer Hotaling was off to a rough start.  He attempted a “deuce” on the opening kickoff and missed.  He also missed in a Steelhawks FG attempt, but the Pirates defense had shut down Lehigh Valley quickly in their first drive, making for a difficult kick.  Despite a nice catch by WR Charles McClain, the Steelhawks were shut down again in their next drive, and Spencer Hotaling’s field goal attempt was blocked.

The Pirates scored another TD on a huge catch by WR Mardy Gilyard.  He was being covered very closely by the defense, yet he still scored.  Although Pirates K Ali Mourtada missed the extra point, he scored a “deuce” on the kickoff, making it 15-0 Massachusetts.

To start the 2nd quarter, Lavon Pearson made a catch that set the Pirates up to score another touchdown.

The Pirates scored another one soon after on a one-handed catch by Lavon Pearson.  The Steelhawks did not make much progress offensively in the 2nd quarter, and they were so far behind that they had to start going for it every time on 4th down.  With little time left in the half, the Pirates had one more scoring opportunity.  Darron Thomas had one long pass that was deflected into the stands but completed a long pass on the next down to make it 1st and goal for the Pirates.  The Pirates tried to eat some clock before scoring in order to make sure the Steelhawks did not get another chance before the half.  But they lost the ball in a fumble, losing the opportunity to score.  However, they were up 29-0 at halftime.  The Steelhawks nearly scored on a nice pass just before the half but failed.

During the half, I enjoyed a mini football game between the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Fire Department.  More fans were rooting for the fire department but it ended in 14-14 tie.  Here is some video I took of this mini-game:

The Pirates scored another pair of touchdowns in the third quarter.  They scored one on a fumble by Steelhawks QB Patrick Ryan that was recovered for a TD by RJ Roberts, and the other on a deep pass to Lavon Pearson.  Ali Mourtada scored a deuce after that one to make it 44-0 Pirates.  Mardy Gilyard scored another TD just minutes into the 4th.  Here is Gilyard’s TD:

The Steelhawks scored their only TD of the game by recovering their own fumble. The ball was nearly recovered by two Pirates players but found its way into the end zone, where Jason Johnson recovered it for the TD.  The Pirates scored 2 more touchdowns before the end of the game.  Lavon Pearson scored on a long ball to make it 58-7 Pirates, and another Pirates TD was scored when Spencer Hotaling missed a long field goal that Pirates DB John Hardy-Tulieau returned for the touchdown.  Mourtada made one more deuce to make the final score Pirates, 67, Steelhawks, 7.  My dad came the closest to predicting the score but we all overestimated the Steelhawks offense.

During the game, I noticed a man with a laptop sitting near us.  I gave him my business card and it turns out that he was writing a recap on the game for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.  His name was Bill Gilman.

The Pirates, who finished the season 11-5, will play at home in the NAL semifinals next week.  They will host either the #3 seed, the Carolina Cobras, or the #4 seed, the Columbus Lions.  It all depends on whether the Jacksonville Sharks beat the Maine Mammoths tonight.  If the Sharks win, the Pirates are the #2 seed and play Carolina.  Otherwise, the Pirates are the #1 seed and host Columbus.  The Steelhawks missed the playoffs after a 0-15 finish.

After the game, they allowed fans to walk onto the field for an autograph and photo session.  Paul and I took plenty of pictures on the field, some of them with Pirates players.  I gave the players and a couple fans my business card as well.  Paul got his Pirates football signed by all the players we took photos with.

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Me and Paul in the end zone
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With OL Cornelius Lewis
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With WR Mardy Gilyard
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With OL Bill Vavau
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With DL Kaelin Burnett
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With DB Cheatham Norrils
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With OL Thomas Claiborne

I even met Special Olympic powerlifter Joe Morrill, Team Massachusetts’ only powerlifter at the USA Games, on the field.  He had his USA Games medals with him.  He won two golds (combo and deadlift) and two silvers (bench press and squat).  He had roomed with Tyler Lagasse in Marlborough before.  Speaking of Tyler, I am meeting with him and his family at APEX tomorrow to celebrate his silver medal win at the USA Games, where I will go live on Facebook with Tyler and compete with him in simulation golf, go-kart races, Olympic bubble hockey, candlepin bowling, and other games.

I had a great time at the Pirates’ final game of the season.  Arena football is fast-paced and very exciting.  The rule differences from the NFL give football fans a nice indoor viewing experience during the NFL offseason.  I’d like to thank Ann Fidrych, Jessica Fidrych, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation for making this amazing experience possible.

My 2018 NHL Playoff Bracket

I have finished my predictions for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is my bracket:

The Bruins have a very tough road ahead. They will face a tough Maple Leafs team in the first round, and will likely see the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, another tough team. Their defensive struggles will definitely hurt them in the later rounds, especially if they face the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, or the dominant Nashville Predators. I do think the Bruins will win in the end though. If they can stay healthy from here, they have a lot of talent that is capable of keeping the offense going. The defense should be alright without Brandon Carlo, especially if Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, and Torey Krug do well in the playoffs.

Here are some other notes about my bracket:

  • I have picked most of the higher seeds in the East besides the Bruins and Penguins. But in the West, I have picked several upsets. The Golden Knights were the league’s biggest surprise this year, but they are inexperienced in the playoffs, and regressed down the stretch after appearing to be the league’s best team in the early months. I think the Kings will give them a rude awakening and Vegas will struggle under pressure.
  • The Sharks will also go deep. I think they have a better roster than the Ducks and will outmatch them head to head. They will top the Kings, a lower seed after LA shocks the Golden Knights and advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Kings will win in Round 1, but do not expect them to go any further. But the Predators are too good for them. I also picked the Wilds over the Jets for similar reasons.
  • I think the Bruins would’ve been much easier off against the Devils. The Lightning will dominate in New Jersey. I think the Florida Panthers, who just missed the playoffs and a lot of other teams would have given their opponents a bigger challenge than the Devils.
  • In my opinion, although the higher seeds in the East will win in the 1st Round, lower seeds like the Maple Leafs, Flyers and Blue Jackets will give their opponents a good challenge. As I said earlier, I think the Devils will be the easiest first round opponent.

That’s all for my NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions. Stay tuned for more coverage.