March Madness and the Boys of Summer |

March Madness and the Boys of Summer

You’ve got to give me credit. I had Bucknell over Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament.My bracket sort of went downhill from there. I had Utah State coming out of Chicago; Pacific out of Albuquerque; Stanford coming from Syracuse and the aforementioned Bison out of Austin.Yes, I am a sports editor and that was my Final Four. If you know me, Pacific and Stanford could have been offerings to my Northern California heritage.But there is a method to my form of madness. My teams advanced by having the highest graduation rates, according to The New York Times, compared to their opponents. For the record, it’s Bucknell vs. Utah State, both schools with 100 percent rates, in the final.As breathtaking as the first two weekends of the tourney have been and, as sports fans, how good the Final Four should be, we are talking about the National COLLEGIATE Athletics Association tourney.That point seems to be quite lost on everyone during March Madness. The coaches have expensive contracts with their schools and corporate sponsors. The conferences get more and more green when their teams advance. The money pours into CBS with advertising rates. And, don’t forget the dollar signs in the eyes of these so-called student-athletes as they see their NBA stock rise or fall.Then, there’s the biggest money of all associated with the tourney – gambling. March Madness is gaining quickly on the Super Bowl as the most wagered-upon event in the country, be it in Vegas or in your local pool.It’s all about the dinero when it comes to the NCAA Tourney. Just remember that when CBS airs its saccharin “One Shining Moment” highlight reel at the end of Monday evening’s game. That having been said, I’m glad to say that in my real bracket I have North Carolina winning it all.– n n Since filling out an NCAA bracket involves the crystal ball, let’s look in the aforementioned ball for some baseball predictions.– NL West – San Francisco. Yes, a homer’s pick and a good one. First of all, never mind Barry Bonds’ hissy fit last month. He’ll be back in uniform by May 1. Roids, no roids, he still hits a good 30-45 homers, depending on how often they pitch to him. The Giants addressed their three most pressing needs in the offseason – someone to hit behind Bonds (Moises Alou), a closer (Armando Benitez) and defense (Omar Vizquel and Mike Matheny). Even if Bonds misses more time, it doesn’t matter. The Dodgers ripped up their offense and they will rue the day they signed Derek Lowe. The Padres will hang around early, but be a nonfactor. The D-backs are improved, but still have a long way to go after 111 losses last year. And, just pity Todd Helton that he has to play on the wretched Rockies.– NL Central – St. Louis. The Cardinals rolled through the NL, but their pitching staff was finally revealed against the Astros in the NLCS and exposed by the Red Sox in the Series. Mike Mulder will definitely help here. The Cardinals will miss Edgar Renteria, but still produce plenty of runs to win this division.Roger Clemens, why did you come back? The Astros let everyone else go. Houston went from one game away from the Series to also-ran over the winter. If Ken Griffey Jr. stays healthy, the Reds are a contender. But that’s a big IF.The biggest IF, however, is the health of the Cubs’ staff. If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior can get healthy, the Cubs are a contender for the crown. Doubtful.Question? Are the Brewers and Pirates still in the league?– NL East – Atlanta. Yes, the NL East is improved. Yes, it’s the deepest in baseball. But the Braves just reload, instead of rebuilding. Division title No. 14 is in the offing, as is the Braves’ traditional postseason choke. The Marlins are the trendy pick in the East. They will only go as far as their pitching does. They’ll battle it out with the Dodgers for the wild card.The Mets were very active in the postseason, but don’t seem to have learned their lesson. You can’t buy a team. Carlos Beltran is a good pick up. Pedro Martinez? See Derek Lowe. Both of these former Red Sox cashed in on Boston’s World Series ride. Philadelphia should be in the mix with a more stable clubhouse sans Larry Bowa. Ninety games-max wins this division.Welcome back to the bigs, Washington, D.C. Enjoy the cellar.– AL East – Please note that we started the NL with the West. We are starting the junior circuit with the AL East because the AL is a two-team race, starting in April. The regular season will simply determine whether the Yanks or Red Sox have homefield for the ALCS.Both teams are even offensively. Boston has the better bullpen. But Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano are better than David Wells and Wade Miller. Toss in that Curt Schilling begins the season on the DL and the Yanks will win the division.We hope that the Orioles, Blue Jays and Devil Rays enjoy the race via a periscope.– AL Central – Does it really matter? No. The Twins have the best pitching outside of Yankee Stadium and Fenway so they’ll take the storied AL Central title. But the Twins have never shown the ability to beat the Yankees in the postseason.Cleveland? No pitching. White Sox? They may have pitching now, but after catcher A.J. Pierzynski gets through with the Pale Hose staff, bye, bye. Detroit is digging its way out of its 2003 hole, but is about two years away. The Royals are a sad shadow of a once-proud franchise.– AL West – The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Orange County Southeast of the City Limits of Los Angeles. Whatever you call them, the Angels are the class of this division. Oakland’s Big Three is now the Big One – Barry Zito. Seattle is improved, but there’s only so much Adrian Beltre can do. One word about Texas last year? Fluke.– Playoffs – Cardinals over the Dodgers (wild card) and Giants over the Braves. Cards beat the Giants (sob) in the NLCS. Yankees over the Twins and Red Sox (wild card) over the Angels. It’s the Evil Empire over the Sox in the ALCS and the Cards in the Series.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614 or, Colorado

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