Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Road to the Final Four

The first round of the NCAA Tournament began on St. Patrick’s Day, so we couldn’t let the day pass without a Guinness or two! We were joined by Sean, Alex, mom and Rich at Eddy’s & Iggy’s in Lakewood. We watched the Connecticut / Bucknell game as well as a few others.

The next day was a BIG day. I went to work for a couple of hours before meeting Sean at The Winking Lizard for some food and drinks. His boss and two customers met up with us before we all walked to Quicken Loans Arena for a long day of basketball. Joshua and Rich were also at the games with us, while unfortunately Steve was working.

Game #1 started at 2:20 and was the best game of the day as we saw #8 George Mason rally to beat #9 Villanova 61-57.

Game #2 had #1 Ohio State crushing #16 UT-San Antonio 75-46. Not only was it a total blow out, but we were surrounded by about 20,000 (somewhat obnoxious) OSU fans. Although a little annoyed, we all survived.

On a side note, Cleveland was one of the few sites that got cheated when it came to the game schedule. Since the day is divided into two sessions, the entire arena had to be cleared out between the second and third games. In the past, we had a two hour break, so we could get some fresh air, something to eat and drink. This year, there was no break so fans were asked to leave, then immediately return to their seats for the next game. Essentially, we were being asked to sit in our seats for 11 straight hours. Since the OSU game was pretty terrible, we decided to leave a little early and grab a bite to eat along with a few drinks (no alcohol is served at the games…)

We returned to see #6 Xavier fall to #11 Marquette 66-55. By this time, we were pretty exhausted and not too excited about the #3 Syracuse vs. #14 Indiana State game that was to start at 9:57 pm. We stayed for much of the game, but knew it was time to call it a night.

We heard Syracuse ended up beating Indiana State 77-60, so we were happy to have left. Rich drove Sean and I home around 1 am and Stephen arrived home about an hour later. It really was a long day.

Saturday had us at Cleveland State for a men’s and women’s double-header. Steve and I were both exhausted from the previous day and were just hoping for some good games. Instead, we got two terrible games! The CSU women faced Chicago State at 11 am in the 2nd Round of the WBI. In possibly their worst game of the season, CSU fell to Chicago State 68-50. My nephew Joshua came to see the men’s game so we took him to Rascal House during the break.

At 2 pm, we watched the CSU Men vs. College of Charleston in the 2nd Round of the NIT. Although Cleveland State won nearly every statistical category, their 3-point shooting was a debacle and eventually led to their demise. An outside shooting team that goes 1-25 from three is a recipe for disaster and the Vikings fell 64-56. Saturday night we watched some really great NCAA basketball games including Butler over Pittsburgh and Connecticut over Cincinnati.

Sunday morning Steve and I ventured to Deagan’s for brunch. Deagan’s is a fairly new gastropub in Lakewood that has received rave reviews. They started serving brunch about a month ago so we decided to give it a try.

I had this delicious banana, vanilla and almond French toast.

Stephen had steak & eggs.

Not only do they have a build-your-own bloody Mary bar, but they also have eight different kinds of mimosas! We opted for the cactus flower and blood orange flavors :)

That evening we met Sean and a few of his co-workers at Flannery’s for a few pints before heading to The Q for the second round of games. Steve didn’t have to work these games, so he headed home to watch them on TV.

The Ohio State vs. George Mason game started at 5:15 pm. It was only a few minutes into the game, when we realized we should have stayed at the bar! Another absolute blow out and much more obnoxious fans made for a really boring and annoying game for us. OSU lit up George Mason and finished with a 98-66 victory. The second game turned out to be the best yet as Marquette stunned Syracuse 66-62 after some late mistakes by the Orangemen. It was another late night and I was ready to go home!

During the following week and a half, Steve had five games in nine days, but we managed to make time to celebrate Rich’s birthday (actually 3/16) at Pepper’s as well as watch some more truly spectacular games. Of the eight Sweet 16 games, six of them were pretty awesome. Connecticut over SDSU, Butler over Wisconsin, Arizona over Duke, Kentucky over Ohio State and VCU over Florida State were just a few highlights from the Sweet 16.

Steve and I get really excited as the Elite 8 rolls around because we finally get a chance to see who’s coming with us to the Final Four in Houston! Once again, the NCAA Tournament proved why it’s one of our favorite times of the year. #8 Butler’s 74-71 OT win over #2 Florida was truly amazing. The thought of a Horizon League team making it to the Final Four for the second straight year is unfathomable. Not only is Butler the first team ever to make the Final Four in consecutive years without being a #1 or #2 seed either year (last year they were a #5 seed and this year a #8 seed), but they’re also the first team from outside the six power conferences to reach consecutive Final Fours since UNLV in 1990-91. The Bulldogs have had a great end to their season; winning 13 straight games since February 3rd, with their last nine games being decided by a combined 30 points and no winning margin larger than seven points. They’re also are 9-1 in their past 10 NCAA tournament games. Let’s just say, they have the will to win.

Moving on to the second game of the day…#3 Connecticut vs. #5 Arizona. If you asked my husband (Connecticut super-fan) whether UCONN would be in this year’s Final Four, he would have laughed at you for months. During an average year, he’s your typical pessimistic fan who doesn’t want to get his hopes up for anything sensational. This year, he was just being realistic. Connecticut missed the NCAA Tournament entirely last year and weren’t even ranked in the preseason polls. What Stephen didn’t know is that junior Kemba Walker and freshman Jeremy Lamb would change everything. Kemba went from averaging 14.6 ppg last year to 23.9 ppg and earning AP All-American honors this year.

So, there we were watching the Elite 8 game in total agony (he much more than me), but were ecstatic when they pulled out the 65-63 victory. So now, UCONN is headed to their fourth Final Four and we’re going to be there to see it. They’ve won 9 games in 19 days…why not make it 11 games in 28 days :)

#4 Kentucky beat #2 North Carolina and an unlikely #11 VCU crushed #1 Kansas to round out the Final Four, making it the most remarkable, implausible, inconceivable, unbelievable, unfathomable, preposterous and insane Final Four ever. Two mid-majors and two power conference teams will battle it out. Two young and up and coming coaches will battle it out against two legends. Young? Yes. VCU’s Shaka Smart (33) and Butler’s Brad Stevens (34) combine for 67 years of age, while Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun is 68 years old. Not only is it the first time without a #1 or #2 seed, but when the tournament started, Butler’s odds of winning the entire tournament were 1 in 2,506 and VCU's odds were 1 in 203,187! In the six Final Fours from 2006 to 2011, VCU’s conference (CAA) and Butler’s conference (Horizon) – 2 each – have each sent more teams than the Big 12 (one) and the Horizon League has more Final Four victories (one) in that span than the Big East, which hasn't won a game since Connecticut's 2004 national championship. Thus the term, MARCH MADNESS!!

Paul & Sue put their names in a lottery for these Final Four tickets over a year ago (and found out they won the lottery in August), I booked a hotel room in May (just in case...) and our flight in November. We couldn’t have dreamed that Connecticut and Butler would be there...Now that they are, we’re eager to arrive in Houston and get the festivities underway.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness ~ Part 1

March Madness has officially begun! Starting on 3/1, Steve and I attended our first conference tournament game of the year when we saw the Cleveland State men defeat UIC 73-61 in the first round of the Horizon League tournament. CSU then traveled to Milwaukee where they defeated Wright State 73-59 in the quarterfinals, but were eventually knocked off by Butler in the semi-finals 76-68. That same week, the CSU women finished off their regular season with a sweep of Loyola-Chicago and UIC, capping off regular season play with an eight-game winning streak, a tie for second place and their 20th win of the season.

On 3/4, Stephen celebrated his 38th birthday. Steve loves March Madness more than anyone I know (seriously) and it seems only appropriate that his birthday fall during the month of March. In honor of his big day, I hosted a four-course dinner and wine pairing. It was a little over the top (even for me), but I had fun coming up with the menu and we were happy to share it with Sean & Alex. We coordinated each course with the Cleveland State men's game as to not miss a minute...and to allow our food to digest :)

The menu for the evening...

I forgot to take a picture of the cheese course, but it consisted of a selection of Italian cheeses from The Cheese Shop at the West Side Market. Gorgonzola, Fontal, Aged Asiago and Smoked Mozzarella cheeses were served with prosciutto-stuffed olives, dates and almonds. The cheese course was paired with an Italian Pinot Grigio.

The second course was a homemade Spicy Tomato & Blue Cheese soup (recipe courtesy of Michael Symon) with blue cheese and sriracha as the key ingredients to take it over the top. The soup course was paired with a Chardonnay/Pinot Grigio blend. 

The third course was a fresh potato and sweet pea gnocchi (from Ohio City Pasta) with prosciutto and peas in a tomato cream sauce, topped with shaved parmesan. The main course was paired with a Pinot Noir from Sicily. Portion sizes were very important to maintain our stamina!

I also forgot to take a picture of the dessert, but I made my famous (at least that what Steve thinks) chocolate mousse and chocolate coconut martinis...both are two of Stephen's favorites! Alex's little sister Meredith even drove in from Chicago so she could join us for dessert. Ok, she made have other ulterior motives, but it made Steve feel good.

We also broke out Steve's new Xbox system with Kinect. It's a pretty neat concept similar to the Wii, but without the need for a controller. It senses your movements to go along with the game, while also taking some hilarious pictures and videos. The system came with a Kinect Adventures game, but I also bought him (more like me) Dance Central. Here we are after a dancing battle...Note I am the clear winner :) The pictures on the screen were taken during our dance routine.

On 3/5, our niece Lorelei celebrated her FIRST birthday. Although we couldn’t be there for the party in Newburyport, Mass, we were surely there in spirit!

On Wednesday (3/9), the CSU women had to face UIC for the second time in four days in the Horizon League quarterfinals. Cleveland State won the re-match 61-58 before flying to Green Bay on Thursday morning. We were happy to make it out of Cleveland before the big snow storm, but unfortunately fell to #2 Butler 68-54 in the semi-finals on Friday night.

I had a great time with my colleagues and was once again reminded how lucky I am (and have been) to work with such great people with common interests. Sure, sports may dominate our conversations and fun may be the overall goal, but watching the countless highlights from Championship week was entertaining. Despite the loss and lengthy travel days, we managed to have a really great time.


I returned home on Saturday (3/12) afternoon just in time to learn that the Dayton men would be playing the in the A-10 championship with their win over St. Joe’s :) We finished off the night by watching Steve’s beloved Connecticut Huskies prevail against Louisville 69-66 and claim the Big East Championship.

Just a few hours later (3/13), Stephen headed to The Q to get ready for the Cavaliers game vs. Oklahoma City. I popped in to see my nephew Daniel perform a pre-game routine as part of the Moondog Mini-Dribblers.

Then I walked over to the Winking Lizard to watch Dayton play Richmond in the Atlantic-10 Championship. To my dismay, the Flyers lost the battle 67-54 along with their chance at an NCAA Tournament bid.

That night we watched the Men’s Selection Show eager to see what teams we’d get to see during the first and second rounds in Cleveland. We were certain that Ohio State would draw Cleveland as a #1 seed, but we were also excited to see #8 George Mason, #9 Villanova, #6 Xavier, #11 Marquette, #3 Syracuse and #14 Indiana State there too. Stephen was particularly happy to see that #3 Connecticut would be playing on the opposite days of the Cleveland games…there’s not much that gets him more upset than having to work during a Huskies game!

On Monday (3/14) night we watched the Women’s Selection Show and were happy to see #11 Dayton get an at-large bid for their second straight year. Their match-up against #6 Penn State should be interesting considering they lost to them 107-112 in 2OT earlier this season.

Tuesday night (3/15) we watched the #2 CSU men host #7 Vermont in the first round of the NIT. In a very close game that came down to a missed three-pointer (that bounced around the rim a few times!) at the buzzer, Cleveland State pulled out the 63-60 victory. As usual, Norris Cole led the way with 27 points.

Simultaneously in Charleston, SC, I was eagerly watching stats from the #3 Dayton (last year’s NIT champion) and #6 College of Charleston NIT game. Because UD hosts the NCAA first round games, they were unable to host at their venue. After playing four games in four days and then having one day to travel, we knew it would be a tough game. Unfortunately they fell 94-84. College of Charleston's Andrew Goudelock showed why he's one of the best with his school-record 39 points.

Cleveland State will host the College of Charleston on Saturday afternoon at 2 pm. Considered two of the top guards in the country, the Norris Cole and Andrew Goudelock match-up will be one worth watching. Make sure to check it out on ESPNU!!

On Wednesday morning (3/16) I drove with three CSU administrators to Fort Wayne, Indiana to see the #1 CSU vs. #8 IPFW in the Women’s Basketball Invitational. The WBI is a tournament that provides Division I teams that did not qualify for the NCAA tournament an opportunity to continue their season. Made up of mostly mid-major teams, we were happy to receive a #1 seed, but disappointed we had to play on the road. Despite a 3 point halftime deficit, the Vikings rallied behind senior Shawnita Garland and her 27 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 6 steals to take home the 73-62 victory.

I was also happy to see my friends Britt and Lia who drove up from Indianapolis.

Next up on the agenda…

(3/18) NCAA First Round at Quicken Loans Arena
2:20 pm ~ #8 George Mason vs. #9 Villanova

4:40 pm ~ #1 Ohio State vs. #16 UT-San Antonio
7:26 pm ~ #6 Xavier vs. #11 Marquette
9:57 pm ~ #3 Syracuse vs. #14 Indiana State

Let's just say it's gonna be a loooooong day!

(3/19) Cleveland State Double-Header!!
11:00 am ~ CSU Women vs. Chicago State in 2nd Round of WBI
2:00 pm ~ CSU Men vs. College of Charleston in 2nd Round of NIT (ESPNU)

(3/20) NCAA Second Round at Quicken Loans Arena
Game Times & Opponents: TBD

It's hard to believe we'll be in Houston in just two weeks! Oh how time flies!