As of Monday it's officially spring, which means the start of Major League Baseball's regular season is just around the corner. But before Opening Day arrives this year, we get treated to the World Baseball Classic.
Let me start out by saying I've enjoyed this year's event for the most part. It's clearly grown since its inception in 2006, and this year's final promises to be one of the biggest yet with the United States making its first appearance in the championship round.
Some of the rules are a little hokey, especially the extra innings rule (teams start with runners on first and second base beginning in the 11th inning), but it's nothing I can't deal with. I understand the reasoning behind not wanting to play a 20 inning game at this juncture of the season.
The one thing that holds me back from truly enjoying the event is the lack of elite starting pitching, especially for the United States. Yes, there are examples of some of the game's best starters taking the hill for their countries, but largely, the top starters elect not to participate.
And I can't blame them.
Guy's arms only have so many innings in them each season, so why waste anything in what essentially amounts to an exhibition tournament? Heck, as a fan of the Braves, I'd just assume not see ANY of their starters participate.
It's a great event overall, and I have especially enjoyed the excitement and passion this time around, but until the elite arms find a way to participate (and they may never), it'll always be missing that one major piece.
The NCAA tournament makes its return Thursday night!
After this weekend, the field will be whittled down to the Final Four, and (like a blindfolded guy throwing darts) here's how I think it will play out:
Michigan def. Oregon
Gonzaga def. West Virginia
Kansas def. Purdue
Arizona def. Xavier
UNC def. Butler
South Carolina def. Baylor
UCLA def. Kentucky
Wisconsin def. Florida
Kansas def. Michigan
UCLA def. UNC
South Carolina def. Wisconsin
Gonzaga def. Arizona
A few quick explanations - Kansas is essentially playing the next two games at home in Kansas City, so I feel pretty good about this one. Purdue could present some matchup issues for the Jayhawks - KU isn't exceptionally great inside - but the KU guards should have a huge advantage.
South Carolina has come out of nowhere, but Frank Martin has his team playing like madmen, especially Sindarious Thornwell, who might be the most complete player in the field through the first weekend. The Gamecocks shot just 20 percent from the field in the first half, and still managed to beat a decent, albeit over-hyped, Duke team on Sunday.
UCLA gets the nod mainly because of their offensive attack, notably Lonzo Ball's play making ability. If his dad could just keep quiet for a few weeks....
And while Gonzaga looked shaky in the opening few games, they were one of the best two-way teams in the country most of the year. I'll chalk it up to opening weekend jitters at this point and hope the Zags settle down in the second weekend.