4. Harvard will make its first appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 1946 — and do more. The Crimson, ranked 24th in the nation right now, will win a first-round March Madness game. We’re not ready to call the Ivy Leaguers a Sweet Sixteen team. But the Crimson start five upperclassmen and have high-level athletes, sweet shooters and skilled interior force in senior Keith Wright, the reigning league MVP. A deep Harvard run would shock no one.
5. Tiger Woods wins a major. Imagine: just two years ago, this statement would have belonged in the No Duh section above. But it’s been a long couple of years for Tiger; in December, he finally won his first tournament since coming back from his 2009 sex scandal. His 15th major is next.
C’mon, Really, Dude?
1. Andrew Luck will, in fact, suck. When you incessantly rhyme those two words in a manner that broadcasts a player’s future NFL greatness — fans of lousy NFL teams wanted them to “suck for Luck,” i.e. finish with the worst record in the league in order to take the Stanford quarterback with the top pick in the draft — he’s bound to disappoint. If the Colts lose this weekend, they “earn” the No. 1 pick. But a Colts win and a Rams loss would let St. Louis snare Luck. (The Rams, who picked Heisman-winning QB Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in 2010, would likely seek a trade.) We say: better play to win.
2. Theo Epstein will do wonders for the Chicago Cubs — but they won’t win the division. Chicago’s new president of baseball operations, who built two World Series–winning teams in Boston, could secure the Cubs their first championship since 1908 — but not right away. Remember, we’re talking about the Cubs. Meanwhile, the rest of the NL Central has problems of its own. The Houston Astros are horrid. The St. Louis Cardinals have lost Pujols and will experience growing pains under new manager Mike Matheney. The Milwaukee Brewers will lose first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency, and National League MVP Ryan Braun will likely miss the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. The Cincinnati Reds have holes.
So say hello to your 2012 NL Central champs, a team that will enjoy its first winning season since 1992 and actually live up to the potential it showed during its strong first-half start in 2011: the Pittsburgh Pirates.
3. The NBA will have a new player-coach. Good point guards are often dubbed the “coach on the floor.” So why not make one of these guys, you know, an actual coach on the floor? Steve Nash, 37, and Jason Kidd, 38, are free agents this summer. They are both veteran winners who command respect. One of them will sign with some NBA team — to become the league’s first player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.
4. The Big East actually adds an eastern team. The conference, which in December added Southern Methodist University, Houston and Central Florida (as well as Boise State and San Diego State for football only), will announce that it has also incorporated Temple University, of Philadelphia. The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), which currently competes in something called the Great West Conference — because after all, Newark is west … of the Hudson River — will join the Northeast Conference. That’s right: geographically challenged college sports administrators will actually do two things that make sense. Cartographers pop some bubbly.
5. College football ditches the BCS and announces a playoff.
Isn’t it strange that No. 5, though it would be so blindingly good for college football and could happen with just a touch of common sense, is the least likely of these to come true?
Happy new year, and thanks for reading Keeping Score in 2011. Here’s to a busy, captivating, lockout-free and, hopefully, less scandalous 2012 in sports. And I look forward to talking on Dec. 30, 2012, when we can retrace how wrong these predictions ended up.