Filling the void

For most sports fans, the time immediately after the Super Bowl until the start of baseball is the most difficult time of the year.

One of the most consistent themes I’ve noticed across the various platforms of social media in the last week has been people missing the NFL. While I, too, find it a bit strange to wake up on Sunday and have nothing to distract me from Monday morning looming in the not-so-distant future, there are many storylines and events that can fill the void that the NFL has left.

 

UVM men’s basketball and their sprint toward March Madness

Being on the hunt for a conference championship is not a new feeling for this university. Led by Marqus Blakely, the 2009-2010 team won the conference tournament over BU and played in the NCAA tournament against Syracuse. The 2010-2011 team was a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament before their upset to Albany.

This year, we are in the driver’s seat for another No. 1 seed in the conference tournament after we slapped around the previous No. 1 team in the conference, Stony Brook, Feb. 12.

Being a mid-major that has a legitimate shot at an NCAA tournament birth is a special thing and, as UVM students, there is no bigger sports storyline that we can focus on. I for one will be making the trip to Hartford for the America East tournament in early March. If you consider yourself a sports fan and have not been paying attention to our men’s basketball team, start.

 

The New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins

I alluded to this rivalry in last week’s edition, but it deserves mention here. The New York v. Boston rivalry barely had time to cool off before the Rangers and Bruins squared off Feb. 14 in Boston. After the Rangers 3-0 shutout victory over the Bruins, the Rangers move to 2-0 against Boston this season and have a nine point cushion as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Henrik Lundqvist made 42 saves for his seventh shutout this season — good enough for best in the NHL — and Rangers Captain Ryan Callahan scored his sixth goal in his last four games. New York is rolling right now, and the fact that they went into Boston and hung a shutout on the defending Stanley Cup champions is a big statement.

Midway through the second period we saw why the Rangers are one of the top two teams in the NHL. Furious at his team for not getting in front of a Zdeno Chara slap shot, head coach John Tortorella shouted, “If you don’t fucking block shots, you won’t play.” This is why the Rangers are second in goals against at 1.9 per game, and this is why the Rangers are nine points ahead of second-place Boston in the East. This rivalry will truly be born during the playoffs.

 

NCAA Basketball

I believe that men’s division I college basketball is the most underrated sport in the American sports system. Sure, everyone fills out a bracket and falls in love with the game during March Madness, but many people fail to care during the regular season.

Some make the argument that the regular season doesn’t matter that much because the difference between a seventh seed and a sixth seed in March Madness doesn’t mean a whole lot. I get that, but those who fail to pay attention during the regular season are missing out on outstanding athletic competition.

If you are in need of a sports fix, a guaranteed remedy is a Saturday full of college basketball. Not only do the high ranking matchups suffice — the Duke v. UNC game wasn’t too bad last Wednesday — games that have matchups including NCAA bubble teams are games played with March Madness intensity.

My point is that if you turn on any NCAA basketball game, you have the greatest chance of seeing something special happen — more than with any other sport.

 

The Wide Open NBA

One of the concerns of the lockout was the frequency at which teams played their games. This may have negative effects on the players but I, for one, love it. The condensed schedule makes it so that great matchups take place every night. Let’s look at this week — Feb. 16 to Feb. 23 — for proof.

 

Feb. 16: Boston Celtics at Chicago Bulls

Feb. 17: Dallas Mavericks at Philadelphia 76ers & LeBron plays at Cleveland

Feb. 18: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Clippers

Feb. 19: Dallas Mavericks at New York Knicks – Orlando Magic at Miami Heat – Denver Nuggets at Oklahoma City Thunder

Feb. 20: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls

Feb. 21: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trailblazers

Feb. 22: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder – Los Angeles Lakers at Dallas Mavericks

 

See what I mean? On any given night you can tune into the NBA and watch playoff caliber teams go toe-to-toe.

And if anyone thinks that Philadelphia and Portland aren’t good teams, well, this entire column is for you.

The NFL is wonderful, but let’s not sleep on the rest of the outstanding sports we have to look forward to in the winter months.