Last night I stayed up “late” to watch the Oregon State Beavers win their second straight elimination game in the ninth inning to continue their run for another College World Series (CWS) title. They did not have a great 2021 season with 23 losses but managed to eliminate #6 ranked TCU and forced a second game with Dallas Baptist last night in Fort Worth, a team that had put them in the loser’s bracket two days earlier. These two meet again this afternoon to determine who goes to the Super Regionals. Meanwhile, the #10 ranked Oregon Ducks dropped only 15 games this season and face LSU for a second straight day in hometown Eugene, hoping to punch their Super ticket. The Ducks were an unprecedented 5-1 against the Beavers this season and haven’t gone this far in the postseason since 2014, losing then to Vanderbilt. Two years prior they made it to the Super Regionals but no further. 1954 was their only trip to Omaha, while 1957 was their last conference crown.
Watching the CWS brings back great memories of traveling to Omaha in 2018. (See Post #573). My good friend and I were going regardless of the fact that Oregon State might not even be there. Instead, they not only made the field but won the whole enchilada. Since then, I’ve religiously followed the college baseball seasons of both the Beavers and Hoosiers. This year, the Ducks have really stood out, while Indiana baseball faded down the stretch and failed to make the first round of the tournament. The Beavers were fortunate to get the nod, going 6-8 in May to finish the regular season and finishing a disappointing 6th in the conference behind Arizona, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona State. Indiana finished 4th in the BIG at 26-18, while Nebraska, Maryland, and Michigan got into the dance. Last year Covid canceled the event.
Nebraska, the BIG champion knocked off #1 Arkansas (Pig Sooie!) last night. They will play again tonight for the chance to move on. Michigan and Maryland both failed to advance to the Sweet 16. 8 teams will ultimately travel to Omaha and Ameritrade Field. It would be exciting to see both Oregon and Oregon State in the mix. Step one is tonight for both teams with the season on the line, along with the precious opportunity to continue playing in the CWS.
I’m back home again from Indy with a busted bracket, hangover, and little sleep. Not quite as bad as the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, but 34 years older and out of drinking shape. O’Reilly’s Irish Pub turned out to be our rendezvous spot between games. My friend who secured the hard-to-get tickets was following Illinois to their disastrous end, while my Indy buddy and I saw an assortment of teams live at both Lucas Oil Stadium and Banker’s Life. Purdue failed to please, falling to The Mean Green, as the sole representative of the state’s once-renowned round-ball heritage. IU stumbled once again and missed the Big Dance altogether. Oregon’s opponent was eliminated by Covid and the only other Beavs fan I met was due to a rest room break at a bar appropriately called The Wild Beaver. I was wearing my Oregon State baseball shirt.
The three flights in from Portland to Indianapolis went relatively smoothly but sleep was hard to come by. A 5:30 a.m. run through a nearly abandoned terminal at O’Hare got me through the night – that’s 2:30 a.m. Portland time! The first stop after the airport was The World of Beer where I enjoyed my first cold one. Former IU star Dan Dakich hosted a live radio show that was organized by another friend of mine. I tried my best to work in some of my oldest media pals into our fast paced schedule while I was in town, while grabbing some BBQ wings. The Day 2 lunch was at the Workingman’s Friend with other dudes from my past. Next, on the agenda were stops at The Yardhouse, Slippery Noodle, Harry & Izzy’s, and 10 West. For me, it was an exhausting trip down memory lane in the town where I spent 15 years of my life. I was proud that the Hoosier State could pull off this basketball extravaganza, but without the packed arenas and screaming crowds these efforts were futile.
Over the two night span, I got together with 7 fellow basketball buds and made a few phone calls to those who couldn’t be there. Everyone was curious about the unprecedented experience of all these games in central Indiana, but the crowds were disappointing and the venues seemingly empty thanks to Covid. Zip ties were used to disable seats that were strategically socially distanced. At first, it looked like you could move down to empty chairs closer to the courts, but you couldn’t sit in them. Entire sections were blocked off and the atmosphere was sadly sterile. Plus, the mask patrol was monitoring everyone on cameras and warning us of ejection. I’m sure the players were glad to have live supporters, but their voices were lost in the cavernous void. It was better to stay home and watch the action on TV, because the party crowds on the street or in the stands were sorely missing. A year ago downtown Indy was bustling with activity even on a normal day, but the tourney came off as a ghost town despite all these teams and fans in attendance.
One of my highlights of being back home again in Indiana was a bacon and maple cream long john, made by a popular donut spot. This was a late night surprise left on the doorstep of my good friend’s condo. His place is a bit far from the downtown action, so he did a lot of shuttling us around. We had a great time as always, bemusing about the miserable IU season and speculating on a new coach. March MADness took on new meaning with the anger we expressed in both 2020 and 2021. I’m home and back in the blog business, with lots of good weekend memories.
It’s March and on the last two days of the regular season I don’t have a dog in the fight. I.U. was the first to be eliminated. Their season is mercifully over. Purdue was beaten a few days ago by Ohio State. The undefeated Zags easily won their tournament a few days ago so they aren’t playing this weekend. The Beavers beat the Ducks in basketball, while the Ducks prevailed in baseball, a rare flip-flop of program strengths. My four most hated teams are battling it out for the BIG bracket title, a tournament that I.U. has never won since inception. Not much to look forward to over the next few days except the tourney draw.
When I get to Indianapolis next weekend, I will struggle with allegiance. The Ducks and Boilers will get another chance for post season glory, while the Zags should cruise through their first two games. Oregon State will only get in, despite three straight Pac12 wins, if they beat Colorado today, a team they’ve lost to twice. The number 12 has been added to their jerseys as a reminder that they were picked to finish last in the conference by the pre-season pollsters. They could win the Pac12 tourney for the first time in program history. Now that’s a fighting Dog!
The Hoosiers were the worst kind of dog, finishing with six straight conference losses, rather than peaking for a March Madness run. They face an off-season of uncertainty as Archie Miller’s fate is determined. Trayce Jackson-Davis will not be back though I don’t see much of a future for him in the NBA. He certainly got to the free throw line frequently but the rim doesn’t favor his short game and he can’t shoot well from the charity stripe. He could be a star if he stayed in college two more years, but Archie is not a teaching coach. The G-League is his certain destiny. The only guy that did hit free throws this year, Al Durham, could come back for another year – but probably won’t. I’m not at all looking forward to next year without the shooters, big bodies, or innovative coaching that can effectively compete in the BIG. Unless there is change, my hapless Hoosiers are nothing but a barkless dog without a fight!
It’s depressing irony that four Indiana basketball schools will probably be playing in Dallas or done for the year while the NCAA tournament takes place in their back yard. Only Purdue will represent what was once the greatest basketball state in the nation. Indiana, Butler, Ball State, and Notre Dame will all end the regular season with losing records. Will the NIT even have them? Indiana will probably finish 10th in the BIG with the first nine likely going to the Big Dance. Notre Dame is looking at 11th in the ACC, just behind Duke that still has a slim chance of making the field. Butler sits at 10th in the Big East and Ball State 8th in the MAC. It was also a bad year for Valparaiso (10-18) and Evansville (9-16). Indiana State topped both of them in the Missouri Valley conference at 15-10 but tourney winner Loyola and runner-up Drake will probably get the nod. Could Dallas also be a destination for the Sycamores?
The #4 seed Boilermakers got a March Madness double-bye in the BIG battle and have a chance at favorable NCAA placement in their home state if they win on Friday. I will support them once I.U. has officially been eliminated, which will probably be sooner than later. Purdue will sadly be the sole state representative once the Big Dance starts next week. I hope to see them in person, fully vaccinated, when I travel to Indy on the 19th. Boiler Up and Go Ducks!
#10 seed I.U. plays #7 Rutgers tonight in the BIG tournament, facing the possibility of going 0-3 this year against the Scarlet Knights. If the Hoosiers can pull of the upset, they would face Illinois on Friday, who also swept them in the regular season. As poorly as the Hoosiers have played this year, two big upset wins could get them in with a 14-14 overall record, although they’d have to win at least one more to assure a .500 season. The conference games are in Indianapolis, after all, and maybe the rims will be kind for once. Fat Chance!
It’s a New Year with hopes of an I.U. Outback Bowl victory. Last year, they fell short against Tennessee with a late game letdown. With last night’s Ohio State Sugar Bowl domination of Clemson, this Hoosier team is even stronger than I thought. We came so close against the Buckeyes, plus Northwestern throttled Auburn, so the BIG 10 has proven to be a very formidable league, especially against the highly touted SEC. Indiana can add to the 3-0 conference bowl record today with a victory over Old Miss in Tampa. This would set the stage for more respect when next year’s postseason slate is determined.
The Hoosiers should have played in the top tier Citrus Bowl instead of Northwestern but fell in the final rankings to #11 despite a convincing win over Wisconsin, the other BIG bowl representative. Clearly politics played a role, just as Notre Dame was awarded a playoff spot despite the Clemson blow-out loss. Coach Tom Allen has vaulted the I.U. program into the upper echelon of a powerful conference. They can prove their worth today! My other team, #25 Oregon, plays #10 Iowa State later today in the Fiesta Bowl.
Meanwhile, basketball continues to struggle, but did manage to pull-off an OT win over Penn State. Another W against Maryland next week and they can even their BIG record after an 0-2 start. Basketball used to be the big sport on campus in Bloomington, but surprisingly football has proven to be more successful in recent years. In the Bob Knight era it was “The Magic of 60.” If the Hoosiers got to 60 before their opponent victory was eminent. However, with the addition of the 3-point shot, 70 is now coach Archie Miller’s defining number. With his leadership, in conference play (including the B1G tourney) the Hoosiers are 18-7 when scoring 70 or more points and 10-30 when scoring below 70 points. 70 is the new 60 going forward.
Purdue basketball is off to a 7-4 start, but 2-2 in the conference. They play #15 Illinois this afternoon, after losing to #14 Rutgers. It would be nice to see a ranked Purdue or Indiana program. Unfortunately, both rivals will be in the lower half of the BIG since the league is loaded with 7 nationally ranked teams. Here on the West coast, the undefeated Zags are still the #1 team in the country while the Oregon Ducks (6-1) stand at #21.
On the baseball front, the Cubs continue to clean house with the trade of Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres. Yu has been the pitching leader for the last two years, with Cy Young consideration. There’s also talk of dealing my favorite and IU alum, Kyle Schwarber. Rizzo and Bryant will soon become free agents, so the World Series Champions of 2016 are seeing their winning foundation deteriorate. Today, however, my concern is football the Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl.
With the cancellation of the Bucket Game, I was able to focus on Oregon vs. USC for the Pac12 title. USC may very well be I.U.’s Fiesta Bowl opponent but will now appear in that game without an undefeated record. The Ducks saw to that with a 31-24 victory at the nearly empty LA Coliseum. it will give Oregon an opportunity to extend their season with a 4-2 record. It also ends their two-game losing streak. Coach Mario Cristobal’s had his contract extended prior to the game. USC still has the best record at 5-1 in the conference but the Ducks take the title.
As a Bucket consolation prize that does at least stay in Bloomington, Indiana basketball won a Crossroads Classic game over state rival Butler this morning. In all fairness, the Bulldogs were riddled by both injuries and Covid. I.U. tried to give them the game with turnovers and poor shooting, but prevailed in the end, as Butler literally ran out of gas. Next up for the Hoosiers is the daunting BIG 10 slate starting with Northwestern. I have my doubts if they are built to handle the bruising conference challenge, considering their lack of size. They were once again 35-30 outrebounded by Butler, as was the case in their first loss of the season against Texas. After the Wildcats, come the #13 ranked Illini with a huge front line, and then the Nittany Lions to round out 2020. The #15 Hoosier women start their BIG campaign against Nebraska, Minnesota, and Illinois.
The new year for I.U. athletics will start with a bowl game and then basketball against Maryland, #12 Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue, #4 Michigan State, #5 Iowa, #19 Rutgers, and #25 Michigan. I.U. will be lucky to end this stretch with a .500 record. Maybe they can at least get a victory over a Top-25 team? I’m much more confident about getting a Hoosier bowl victory. I.U. men’s basketball is in danger of another mediocre BIG10 season and I’m worried!
It was another dark, damp, cold morning run #4,370. The radio was promoting the annual Union Gospel Mission homeless campaign, so when I got back home I made a donation. It’s hard to imagine being without shelter in winter weather like this, even though it’s mild compared to other areas I’ve lived. By the same token, the colder regions don’t have the homeless problems that we do. We try to leave food and supplies on neighborhood benches and hand out some cash whenever possible. For the most part, they stay to themselves but we have encountered angry, belligerent drunks. The situation has obviously worsened with the shutdown of area businesses.
There were more strange Covid developments regarding area sports when the PAC12 announced that Oregon will be replacing Washington in the conference football title game. The Huskies could not meet the roster minimum of 53 healthy players. The Ducks will meet undefeated U.S.C., hoping to use this opportunity to salvage their season and move on to a bowl game if they win. You need a scorecard to keep track of all these twists in scheduling. It gives me something else to watch on the TV screen, in addition to the James Bond-athon that has occupied my time these past few weeks. I’ve now crossed Never Say Never (#14 1983), Octopussy (#13 1983) and Living Daylights (#16 1987) off the list. There are 25 titles in total with the 26th, No Time To Die, now further delayed until April 2021, also due to Covid.
It will be good to get back in the movie theaters again. Covid has taken away “Matinee Mondays” and has moved “Meatless Monday” to later in the week. “Leadership Fridays” sadly no longer exist, along with “Date Night.” Nothing is sacred in these troubling times. This just in: Bucket Game canceled for the second time this week. Thankfully, only ten days until Christmas and sixteen to finally put an end to a Topsy-Turvy 2020.