March Madness 2011: Which Teams Will Reach Houston?

For the last few Novembers, my older brother Brian, my friend Lee, and I have shared our Final Four predictions with each other via e-mail. This year, we waited longer than ever before—I sent the initial e-mail yesterday afternoon and they sent their responses earlier today.

One reason for the delay is the growing importance of star freshmen. I never really considered picking Memphis in November 2007 because I hadn’t seen Derrick Rose play. Waiting until Thanksgiving gives me the opportunity to see what these highly-touted rookies can do.

Of course it’s still way too early to make confident predictions regarding potential Final Four teams. Even once the brackets are released in March, I struggle to accurately forecast more than two of the teams.

That doesn’t stop me from sending out the e-mail and leaving an electronic paper trail of my picks, so I figured I’d share them on this space as well. For the 2011 Final Four, to be played in Houston, I am going with Duke, Villanova, Ohio State, and UNLV.

Duke is the consensus top team in the country and the Buckeyes are currently ranked second. Nova, already a preseason favorite to reach Houston, received extra attention because I saw the Wildcats in person last week. I often see at least one eventual Final Four team in person during the season (last year I saw two: Duke and Butler), and while I could have gone with Tennessee, which I also saw last week, or Kansas, Memphis, Michigan State, Purdue, or Syracuse (teams I’ll see later this season), I’m confident in Jay Wright’s squad.

Coach K fills out his 2011 bracket, thinking long and hard about which other three teams to include. (Credit: Ahodges7)

The UNLV pick was obviously outside of the box. But I have high expectations for the Mountain West this season—San Diego State and BYU should be very good also—and UNLV already had two quality wins at the time of my prediction, having knocked off Wisconsin and Murray State. The Runnin’ Rebels (6-0) rewarded my confidence by beating Virginia Tech last night to win the 76 Classic in Anaheim.

While I went with the Buckeyes, another Big Ten team certainly can’t be overlooked: Michigan State. Tom Izzo seems to always have his team playing its best come Tournament time. Kansas State is also a chic preseason Final Four choice, but Denis Clemente was perhaps more important to K-State’s success than many realize. Kansas, Pittsburgh, and Kentucky are also in the mix, but all have flaws.

Feel free to use the comments section to voice your Final Four picks as well as any sleeper teams to watch this season.

Other notes:

  • I was extremely skeptical of Harrison Barnes’s inclusion on the Preseason All-America team. It had nothing to do with Barnes—like most high schoolers, I had never seen him play—but simply with the fact that he was a freshman. The top-tier talent in college hoops may not be as great as in past years, but that didn’t mean voters needed to turn to a kid who had yet to play at the college level. Sure enough, Barnes has underwhelmed so far this year, but it was nearly impossible to meet the expectations placed upon him.
  • I covered Iona last season and will try to attend as many games as I can this season. I saw the Gaels in their home opener against Richmond and was impressed. Siena dominated the MAAC the last two seasons, but I think Iona and Fairfield will make the top of this conference much more balanced.
  • I have connections to Wake Forest and would like to see the program succeed under new coach Jeff Bzdelik, so I was not pleased the Deacs lost to Stetson to open the season. Wake has too much youth and inexperience to be a competitor in the ACC this season, but don’t write off Bzdelik. Athletic director Ron Wellman has made a lot of good hires in his 19 years at the university; give Bzdelik some time.

Michigan Basketball Preview 2010

Expectations. In the case of the Michigan basketball programs they are extremely telling. Both head coaches—John Beilein (men) and Kevin Borseth (women)—are in their fourth season in Ann Arbor. The women are expected to be in the mix in a competitive Big Ten and the team’s goal is to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The men are projected to finish in the conference’s basement and an NIT bid would be a surprise.

How did we get here?

Both hires were lauded back in April 2007. Beilein had made a habit of turning around programs. While covering college basketball the last few years, I’ve heard nothing but great things about Beilein from coaches, fellow writers, and other basketball insiders. Borseth, meanwhile, brought a level of intensity and seriousness that the program had been lacking. He’d done nothing but win, building Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay into the dominant teams in their respective conferences. Here’s a closer look at the numbers:

John Beilein          Kevin Borseth
Pre-Michigan*              456-269 (.629)             441-159 (.735)
2007-08              10-22              19-14 (NIT)
2008-08              21-14 (NCAA)              10-20
2009-10              15-17              21-14 (NIT)
Michigans Previous 
Three Years
Men
Women
2004-05              13-18               5-23
2005-06              22-11 (NIT)               6-23
2006-07              22-13 (NIT)
10-20

*Includes Division I and II schools only. For Beilein this includes Le Moyne, Canisius, Richmond, and West Virginia (his most recent stops before Michigan). For Borseth it includes Michigan Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay (also his most recent pre-Michigan jobs).

My point is not to try and determine who is a better coach. Keep in mind that five of Beilein’s seasons were in what is often the toughest conference in men’s basketball, the Big East, while he was at West Virginia.

But some of these numbers are telling, including the fact that the men’s program posted consecutive 22-win seasons prior to Beilein’s arrival. Tommy Amaker certainly underachieved and his dismissal was warranted, but it’s not like Beilein was stepping into a mess. Borseth, on the other hand, was inheriting a program that had fallen into irrelevance. In his first season at Michigan, the Wolverines finished above .500 and qualified for a postseason tournament for the first time in six years.

Beilein has admitted that this season is a rebuilding year. Borseth and his players are basically saying it’s the Big Dance or bust.

Some believe Beilein has gotten a bit of a free pass since Rich Rodriguez and the football team are under so much scrutiny. That could be true, but nothing changes the fact that after Beilein took a big step forward in his second season, the Wolverines seriously underachieved last year and things don’t look too promising this season.

Borseth’s bunch bounced back from a disappointing 2007-08 to reach the semifinals of the NIT last year. The key will be how well the Wolverines fare in the rigorous Big Ten. They twice came within one possession of beating Ohio State last year and also dropped a close game to Michigan State—the teams that finished 1-2 in the league last year and are expected to battle for the top spot again this season.

This year, close losses won’t be good enough. The Michigan women have to win some of those games if they want to finish above .500 in conference for the first time since 2001.

Of course, expectations are often proven wrong. It’s unlikely too many thought Borseth could get the Wolverines to the postseason in his first year; just as many thought they’d build off the momentum the following year. The men exceeded expectations in Beilein’s second year and then disappointed the next.

Currently, the women are 2-2 and the men are 3-0. Both teams have several challenging non-conference games in the next month—including this weekend, when the women will play Texas A&M in Cancun and the men take on Syracuse in Atlantic City—before Big Ten play begins. Here’s hoping the women living up to the expectations and the men exceeding them.

Iona Gaels Beat Richmond; Tim Cluess Gets First Win

NEW ROCHELLE—Tim Cluess is a first-year coach. This was the fourth game of the season. So it was surprising to hear him say this after Iona’s 81-77 win against Richmond last Thursday: “We needed [this win] for the kids’ psyche. My concern was that if we came in here and laid an egg, I could lose them this early in the year. They’d say, ‘We worked really hard, Coach, and we still didn’t win.’”

He was completely serious, which almost makes you wonder, just for a moment, whether he was joking when he laughed and said, “I figured if we lost this one I’d have to see if I was still working here come Monday.”

It was no secret that it was a critical win for Iona, even though it likely didn’t have postseason implications for the Gaels. The 0-3 start at the World Vision Classic in Cleveland was horrendous. Iona had late-game breakdowns against Kent State and Bryant, which posted a 1-29 record last season. The Gaels lost by a combined three points in those two games and shot 32/54 (59 percent) from the free throw line.

Many fans started to doubt Cluess, some of whom likely didn’t care for the hire to begin with. Cluess had coached—and won—a lot of games, but until Thursday he hadn’t won at the D1 level. Cluess still believed his style, his schemes, and this group of players could turn it around. “They worked so hard when we came back (from Cleveland),” he said. “After that road trip I said, ‘As beat up as we are, we’ve got to practice. We’re not going to get better unless we do that.’ Guys were hurting, but they didn’t complain; they worked their butts off. I knew they had it in them.”

They responded with an exhilarating double-overtime victory against a team that reached the NCAA Tournament last year, returned the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year, and was picked to finished third in the conference this season.

Scott Machado led the way with a career-high 28 points to go along with six assists, five rebounds, and three steals. “As we keep learning the offense and trusting in it, we’re going to get better,” Machado said. “We have to buy into it.”

Even in this photo you can tell Scott Machado is fast.

Part of Cluess’ strategy against Richmond was to shorten his bench. Or, more specifically, limit the reserves’ minutes. Senior Rashon Dwight, who started 25 games last season and two in Cleveland (averaging 21 minutes per game), didn’t play against the Spiders. You’ve got to imagine he’ll be worked back into the rotation, but in what was essentially a must-win game, Cluess decided Thursday was not the time to let Dwight shake his 6-for-22 shooting slump.

Each of the five starters—Machado, Jermel Jenkins, Kyle Smyth, Michael Glover, and Alejo Rodriguez—logged at least 37 minutes; all but Smyth played at least 44. Nine Gaels saw action, but only guard Trinity Fields reached double-digit minutes. Others were simply used to give the starters a quick breather.

These two big men, Alejo Rodriguez (under basket) and Michael Glover, were instrumental in Iona’s victory

“Conditioning is what got us through the game—us working hard every day in practice,” Glover said. The Gaels also converted the important foul shots. Machado hit all four of his attempts in double-OT, the second putting his team ahead for good. “Coach emphasized free throws,” the junior said. “We needed to knock down our free throws down the stretch. That’s what messed us up in Cleveland.”

This one game doesn’t vindicate Cluess or this year’s Iona team, just as the first three didn’t seal their fate. But Cluess’ postgame sigh of relief could be heard in Mount Vernon.

College Football Blind Resumes: 2002-2010

Below is a chart (click to enlarge) showing the win-loss record, winning percentage, number of BCS bowl appearances and BCS bowl wins, and win-loss record in bowl games between 2002-2010 (this season counts towards the overall record).

This is just a snapshot, but it shows 10 programs that have great college football tradition or have been incredibly successful the last decade. I could have chosen 10, 20, or even 50 more teams, but I think even this small sample size is interesting.

There may be nothing here that surprises you, but the “blind resume” helps remove biases, if only for a few seconds before you realize which teams are represented. Strip away the jerseys and helmets from some of these prestigious programs and they simply don’t compare to the truly elite programs of the past decade.*

*I didn’t go back to the start of the decade because I didn’t think it was necessary. In 2002, current college seniors were around 12 or 13 years old. Kids in next year’s incoming class were 8 or 9 at that time. The following chart shows how 10 well-known programs performed during these kids’ football-watching, “where should I go to college?” years.

The obvious:

  • Team A’s winning percentage is unreal.
  • Seven BCS appearances in the last eight years is unbelievable, too, and Teams B and C both did it.
  • Speaking of BCS appearances, if you rank them by that category, suddenly Teams A and D, who are near the top as far as winning percentage, sink to the bottom.
  • 9-4 equates to a .692 winning percentage. Given all the cupcake games, you really don’t want to be under 70%, yet four teams here are (Teams G-J).
  • Teams I and J have won less than two-thirds of their games, have lost a combined five of eight bowl games, and have not won a BCS bowl game despite appearing in five.

OK, so if you’re a serious college football fan and you spend more than a minute looking at the above chart you can probably replace the letters with the actual schools. But here they are, anyway, for simplicity’s sake:

Like I said, I wasn’t going for the “wow” factor here. But you may have shared some of my reactions, which expand upon the previous bullet points:

  • So, yeah, Boise State has won a lot of games the last eight years.
  • Were you not slightly surprised by Ohio State’s impressive numbers? Perhaps I had simply been blinded by my obligatory hatred for the Buckeyes.
  • When it comes to BCS invites, Boise and TCU are at obvious disadvantages since they don’t play in conferences with automatic qualifiers. I can say with 100% confidence that, many of these years, they have been more deserving than the Big East and/or ACC champ, and often times have had a better team than the champs from other AQ conferences.*
  • Shame on you, Miami, Alabama, Michigan, and Notre Dame, four historical powers. Miami was a national title contender at the start of the decade but played .500 football from 2006-08, while Alabama won it all last year but had some down years as well. As for Michigan and ND…
  • …well, 3-9 doesn’t help your winning percentage. As far as the BCS appearances, Ohio State’s success and inclusion in three national title games certainly didn’t hurt Michigan, often the Big Ten’s second-best team. Notre Dame was helped by being, well, Notre Dame, and the Irish were painfully outmatched in their two BCS appearances.

*To clarify: In some years, we’ve seen some weak teams in BCS bowl games, teams I know Boise and/or TCU (and sometimes other non-AQ teams) were better than, even when you consider the schedule strength. In other years, Boise and others may have had great (possibly even undefeated) seasons, but given the disparity in schedule strength one can’t say whether they were truly more deserving. The latter is obviously why many fans would prefer a playoff.

So that’s what recruits know. They know Florida and their two national championships. They know USC and Ohio State consistently playing in high-profile bowl games. They know Boise and TCU and the often-overlooked Virginia Tech churning out the 10-win seasons. And, sadly for me (a Michigan alum) and many of my readers (Michigan and ND fans), they know Michigan as a very respectable but not dominant program that fell apart in 2008 and is still trying to rebuild, and Notre Dame as “just another team.”

Programs rise, programs fall, but tradition lasts forever. I’m not sure any of the highest-profile schools will ever completely fall off the national radar, even if more room is needed for the newcomers.

But depending on what recruits value—and that’s another argument altogether—it may become harder for the historically significant but currently dysfunctional programs to return to their winning ways, as more and more elite players grow up knowing the college football landscape that is represented in the above chart.

Michigan vs Penn State 2010 Preview

he question Michigan fans seem to be asking most heading into tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State: Is this a must-win for Rich Rodriguez?

The answer: I really hope not.

I say this not because I think Michigan will lose on Saturday, but because they definitely could lose (the Wolverines are only a three-point favorite) and I don’t want Rodriguez to lose his job if they do.

First of all, let’s go over two assumptions regarding Michigan’s four remaining opponents after Penn State:

Michigan will lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Even the most optimistic Michigan fans counted these two games as losses in the preseason. Not enough has changed since then to think otherwise.

Michigan will beat Purdue and Illinois. These two games get a W next to them, but we should write them in pencil, as opposed to the ink used for the L’s. If we’re considering these wins, perhaps we should consider Penn State a win, too, but I still think Penn State on the road is tougher than Illinois at home or Purdue on the road.

With a loss in Happy Valley, Michigan (5-2) gets to 7-5 at best and potentially finishes 6-6, which would mean the 2010 collapse was just as bad as last year. But I don’t think Rodriguez should be fired even if this does happen.

Football, especially college football, is not like the other major sports. A new coach, even a good one, often sets you back three or four years as he implements his system and gets the recruits he needs to make it work. Look at a once-proud program like Notre Dame. Michigan does not want to go down that road.

If Rich Rodriguez looks like this in tomorrow’s press conference, it could spell doom for the Michigan football program. (Credit: Greg Dooley/MVictors.com)

Rodriguez is in Year Three in Ann Arbor; you might argue that is enough time to show meaningful progress and another season without beating a quality opponent should mean he gets fired. I’d argue he has shown meaningful progress. Remember the Wolverine offense in 2008, Rich Rod’s first year? A walk on started games at quarterback and not just because of injuries. The offensive line resembled a group of oversized matadors. Two years later, Michigan has the second best offense in the country as far as yards per game. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

The defense and special teams have regressed since Lloyd Carr left, but astute Michigan followers know this is not all Rodriguez’s fault. Carr’s defensive recruiting was extremely weak in his final year and there have been an unusually high number of transfers. I’m not making excuses for Rodriguez, and I still think he should be held accountable at the end of the day, but I have reason to believe the defense can be competent next year and more Michigan-esque in 2012 and beyond.

The good news? New athletic director Dave Brandon seems to understand this. He’s repeatedly said there’s not a win quota for Rodriguez to keep his job. I think it will take a truly epic collapse—winless from here on out—for Brandon to replace the head coach. On the other hand, there is pressure on Brandon to get the football program on the right track. Even if it goes against his gut he could feel obligated to axe Rodriguez; I view this is doubtful, however.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Penn State tomorrow (it is rumored to be a walk on sophomore; sound familiar?) or how many injuries the Nittany Lions have on defense, a victory in Happy Valley still means something—in this case, it also means a trip to a bowl game (and in my opinion a guaranteed seven wins and really good shot at eight, which would exceed all but the most optimistic preseason projections).

A loss would be bad, no doubt, but if it leads to Rodriguez’s firing it would probably be the program’s most devastating loss in 25 years.

Iona Gaels Basketball: Maroon Madness 2010

I attended “Maroon Madness” at Iona College last Friday night and had a great time. The event served its purpose, which was to get fans excited for basketball season. I think it could be a banner year for the men’s and women’s programs. Look for my MAAC preview in a few weeks, but right now I’d rank both the men and women a No. 2 in the conference, but both squads have a legitimate shot at winning the league title.

Below you will find photos and videos from Maroon Madness. If uncredited, it means I took the photo or shot the video. Click a photo to enlarge it. Enjoy!

Obligatory shot of Killian, the Iona mascot:

The veterans: player-turned-coach Thazina Cook (left), seniors Catherine Lutz and Suzi Fregosi. Iona women’s head coach Tony Bozzella told me, “To say I miss Thazina Cook as a player would be an understatement. But she brings a lot to the table as a coach. She has great insight in our meetings. She really understands what it takes to be a great player and she tries to talk to our players about that.”


The women’s team on the court, but not in their usual hoops attire:

A closer look:

A nice wide shot of Hynes Athletics Center. The court was redone in the offseason and looks great (Credit: ICGaels.com):

The men’s team is introduced. That’s first-year head coach Tim Cluess slapping hands with Killian:

Shortly after the team was introduced, they formed a layup line which quickly became a slam dunk show:

After that, Ra’Shad James put on a one-man show. Here he is jumping over teammate Scott Machado. Hard to believe James is still ascending here. Check out video of this dunk attempt below (Credit: ICGaels.com):

View from the opposite side. You can see James is starting to lose control of the ball (Credit: ICGaels.com):

After a few misses, the crowd chanted “One more time!” as Ra’Shad James attempted to jump over teammate Scott Machado, and dunk. It looks like he has it, but the ball bounces off the back rim (scroll down for more James dunks):

Tony Bozzella addressed the crowd and then passed the mic to Cluess (see video of Cluess’ speech below):

Here is video of Cluess addressing the crowd:

Then James did a nasty 360 jam:

And followed it up with a windmill, which he makes look easy:

But James’ most impressive dunk was probably this through-the-legs throwdown. I filmed this, but Killian got in the way! Here’s a much better version courtesy of ICGaels.com:

http://www.youtube.com/v/PfNGaYviDyE?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0x5d1719&color2=0xcd311b

That’s me getting my sportswriter on with Bozzella, who told me the theme for this year’s team is “Next level, next step” (Credit: ICGaels.com):

Talking with Cluess, who said “it’s always better coming into a situation where the previous coach had started to establish the program.” Now it’s his job to keep the momentum going (Credit: ICGaels.com):

Well, that’s all I’ve got. It was a great evening. Check back here for a MAAC/Iona preview before the season starts.

World Series 2010: Texas Rangers vs. San Francisco Giants

The 2010 World Series begins tomorrow night as the San Francisco Giants host the Texas Rangers, making their first appearance in the Fall Classic. Much like the Giants’ tussle with Philadelphia, this is a matchup of great starting pitching.

There are plenty of hot hitters in this series, too, including some lesser-known guys that have helped their club get to this stage. I won’t take you through the entire roster, but instead focus on five key players for each team, with notes on various other players as well.

For those of you who haven’t followed these two darkhorse teams, consider this your World Series “Who’s Who” guide. Let’s start with the Texas Rangers:

Cliff Lee, Starting Pitcher
In 2008, things simply clicked for Cliff Lee. Having been wildly inconsistent his first four full seasons in the majors, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in ’08, winning the Cy Young.

The details of the transformation deserve their own study, so suffice it to say that Lee’s been dominant ever since. And that’s why after this World Series, Lee will become the highest-paid player of this free agent class. Whether he stays in Texas, dons the pinstripes, or ends up in some other city will be the most closely followed event of the offseason.

His Game One duel with Tim Lincecum is yet another must-see pitchers matchup of this postseason.*

Josh Hamilton, Outfielder
Hamilton’s rise to glory is even more interesting than Lee’s. The left-handed hitting machine didn’t struggle on the field, however; his problems came off of it. The first overall pick of the 1999 draft (by Tampa Bay), drug addiction derailed his career. Long story short: Hamilton has obviously gotten back on track; he’s a front-runner for the MVP award.

The Yankees started to fear Hamilton to the point where they were intentionally walking him to get to a future Hall of Famer who hit .300 with 29 home runs this year. How the Giants decide to pitch to—or around—Hamilton will be an interesting subplot of this World Series.

Hamilton is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. (Credit: Keith Allison)

Vlad Guerrero, Outfielder
This is the future HOFer I was referring to. When he’s in the batter’s box, he’s one of the most fun players to watch. He is similar to teammate Jeff Francoeur in that he will swing at anything—the difference between the two is that Vlad will usually make contact.

The question with Guerrero, 35 (at least), is whether he can play the field. He is the Rangers’ DH, but his bat is too valuable to leave on the bench in San Francisco. As long as he doesn’t cost Texas with his limited range, he could actually be a defensive asset—his arm is that good.

Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman
Kinsler missed a good chunk of 2010 due to injury, but his play the last few weeks certainly suggests he is healthy. Kinsler leads the Rangers with nine RBI this postseason. He’s hitting .342 and has swiped two bags.

Kinsler is also fun to watch, but more so because he can do a little bit of everything, which is especially rare for a second baseman.

Nelson Cruz, Outfielder
Cruz also battled injuries this season, otherwise he could have challenged Hamilton for the MVP. Yes, the 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic is that good. He’s slugged a team-high five home runs during the playoffs to go along with a .375 batting average. When Cruz is hitting fifth, you know the lineup is deadly. I expect a big World Series from him.

Best of the Rest: Michael Young is a lifer—this is his 11th season with Texas, the only team he’s played for. An underrated player his entire career, Young has been an important postseason contributor. Neftali Feliz is the 22-year-old closer who came out of nowhere to save 40 games for Texas this season. His fastball often touches 100 mph. Elvis Andrus is another exciting young player. I’m partial to shortstops, but I think Andrus will be one of the best at his position in a few years.

This Rangers team is highly likeable, but it may be even easier to root for the San Francisco Giants. Let’s start with Lee’s Series-opening counterpart on the mound:

Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher
The Freak was freakishly bad in August, but found his groove in September and it has carried into the playoffs. Lincecum’s unorthodox windup and nasty movement on his pitches make him an amazing talent to watch.

He threw a complete-game two-hit shutout (14 K’s) to get the Giants’ 2010 playoffs started and set the tone for the NLCS by beating Roy Halladay. I highly doubt he’ll be intimated by Lee or nervous about pitching on the biggest stage.

Wild hair, crazy delivery, nearly impossible to hit. (Credit: SD Dirk)

Buster Posey, Catcher
I know nobody wants to hear about someone else’s fantasy team, so I’ll keep this brief. Having gone through a handful of horrendous backstops, my co-manager suggested we get Buster Posey. Who? I asked, before figuring why not? If he struggled, that first name would make it easy to criticize the move. But Posey didn’t struggle. The 23-year-old hit over .300 and is a Rookie of the Year contender.

So yeah, I feel a nerdy connection to Posey and I want to see him do well. He shoulders a lot of pressure, not only catching this incredible staff but batting clean-up.

Brian Wilson, Closer
“Fear the Beard” has become San Fran’s playoff mantra thanks to Wilson’s thick, dyed beard. Yes, he went all Walt “Clyde” Frazier and dyed his beard jet black. Hey, whatever works, man. Wilson has yet to give up a run in the playoffs and has recorded five saves.

He made arguably the most important pitch of the season when he replaced Lincecum in the eighth inning of Game Six against the Phillies. With the Giants up a run and the Phils threatening—first and second, one out—Wilson needed only three pitches to induce an inning-ending double play.

Juan Uribe, Infielder
I followed Uribe’s 2010 season somewhat closely (yes, because of fantasy, OK?!) so I know how remarkable it has been. It was fitting that he hit the pennant-clinching homer since he clubbed 24 home runs this season, the most in his 10-year career.

Other than that memorable blast though, Uribe has struggled mightily this postseason. The Giants are counting on him to have a much better World Series.

Aubrey Huff, First Baseman
The Giants were near the top of the league in home runs in part because seven guys were in double digits and four had at least 18. That included Huff, who led the way with 26. But so far in the playoffs, San Fran has gotten all of two homers from guys other than Cody Ross, and Huff did not hit either of them.

The tall, versatile defender had a stellar season after a horrendous 2009, and the Giants can’t afford any regression from Huff at this point.

Best of the Rest: Madison Bumgarner is a critical part of this team. Why? Because no team the Giants have faced has offered a better fourth starter. Texas will be no different. Andres Torres finally got a chance to play everyday and he proved to be a very capable leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He’ll be counted on to jumpstart the Giants offense. Jonathan Sanchez has a little bit of Oliver Perez in him, and that is definitely not a good thing. Even so, the Giants won two of his three postseason starts, and he has the stuff to dominate any lineup.

AT&T Park in San Francisco is a beautiful venue for baseball. (Credit: Daniel Schwen)

As far as a prediction, I’m not foolish enough to make one. I wasn’t right about too much this postseason, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy what I hope is a seven-game series.

*Of course, I’m going to have to leave home to watch it. Cablevision, a cable television service provider with the largest subscriber base in the metropolitan New York viewing area, is in a contract dispute with FOX and is no longer carrying the network. I note that Cablevision also owns the Knicks, so New York sports fans were not happy with the company to begin with.

One man's writing in one place.