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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Banshee's Best: It's a Shocker!

A month ago, I wrote about Liberty University getting their glass slippers for the Big Dance.  In the last three weeks, we've gone from 68 teams down to 4.  Liberty had an early curfew and didn't even make it to the first real weekend of the NCAA tournament.  But there is still one Cinderella dancing.  And it is a Shocker!  Actually it's fifteen Shockers.  On Saturday night, the #9 seed Wichita State Shockers defeated the #2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes to win the West region and advance to the Final Four.

Normally, a #9 seed from the nation's heartland making it to the Final Four would be the lead story from the regional final weekend.  Unfortunately, the horrific leg injury to Louisville's Kevin Ware dominated all media outlets.  And, unfortunately for Wichita State, the buzz saw that is Louisville's defense is awaiting them on Saturday in the semi-finals.  But, before the Shockers have to face the Cardinals in front of a national audience, let's take a moment to look at the Wichita State Shockers and their path to the Final Four.

The Shockers got off to a 9-0 start.  They appeared in the polls off and on throughout the season, peaking at #15 in the AP around the middle of the season.  So, it's not as if this Cinderella didn't have some dating opportunities throughout the year (yeah, I couldn't resist continuing the Cinderella and her prince metaphore).  But Shockers struggled a bit down the stretch, losing two of their last four games in the regular season.  Wichita State did not win the regular season championship in the Missouri Valley Conference and did not win the conference tournament.  Hence the #9 seed.

But once the tournament started, things started clicking again for the Shockers.  The first team to get shocked in the tournament was the Pitt Panthers (pun intended).  The fact that #9 seed beat a #8 seed is really not an upset.  But, the decisive fashion in which WSU dispatched one of the Big East's big boys was surprising.  That win lined up a date with the #1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Perhaps it was because many people still remember Gonzaga as a Cinderella itself or perhaps it was because the game was played towards the end of Saturday night after die hard fans had already spent over thirty hours watching basketball, but the Shockers victory over the top seed in the West wasn't nearly as big of a headline as you'd expect.  In the Sweet Sixteen round, the Shockers got a bit of a reprieve when they faced the upstart thirteen-seeded La Salle Explorers.  Wichita State took care of the Explorers by a comfortable margin.

The win over La Salle led Wichita State to a match-up against the Ohio State Buckeyes.  The Buckeyes were the #2 seed and had won the conference tournament in the mighty Big Ten.  But, the Shockers weren't intimidated by the name n the front of OSU's jerseys.  Wichita State built up a 20-point lead in the second half before holding on for a 4-point win.  And, with that victory, the Wichita State Shockers earned the right to cut down the nets in Los Angeles.

So, what awaits the Wichita State Shockers in the Final Four next weekend?  Well, for starters, they will face the Louisville Cardinals, the overall top seed in the tournament, on Saturday.  But, after knocking off a #1 and a #2 seed to get out of the West region, there is reason for optimist in Shocker nation.  At the very least, Wichita State will have the best mascot roaming the baselines in Atlanta.

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Grilled Pepper Poppers

It's finally spring time.  Or as I like to call it ... grill time.  But, grills aren't just for burgers, steaks and hot dogs.  Here is a snazzy grilled appetizer for your next party.  I made these last night, and they were a huge hit.  Don't be scared off by the name or the looks of these tasty treats.  They are more savory than spicy.  Even my mom loved them.

16 jalapeƱo peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
4 oz (half cup) soft goat cheese
4 oz (half cup) light cream cheese
1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped tomato, seeded
2 Tbs thinly sliced green onions
2 Tbs chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbs chopped cilantro
Cooking spray or olive oil to coat the grill

Let the cream cheese and goat cheese warm up to room temperature so that they are easier to mix and spread.  Combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, parmesan cheese, chopped tomatoes, green onions and sage in a bowl.  Stir well.  Spoon the mixture into the pepper halves.  Oil the grill with cooking spray or olive oil.  Grill over medium heat for approximately 5 minutes until peppers start to char and cheese mixture begins to brown.  When the poppers are done, place on a serving platter and sprinkle with cilantro.


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mascot Madness 2013

Everyone's brackets are turned in, and the games are underway.  So, it's too late to offer any meaningful breakdown of the match-ups on the court.  But, it's never too late to breakdown the March Madness mascots.

WKU's Big Red
When the tournament started in Dayton on Tuesday night there were 68 teams.  Out of those 68 teams, 57 different mascots were represented.  That is the same as last year.  And, once again, the Wildcat was the most popular mascot with four representatives.  Tigers were the second most popular mascot with three entries.  Five other mascots had multiple entries.  One of them is the Bulldogs and another is Rams.  Those are not surprising.  But, the other multiple mascots were a little unusual.  There were multiple Bruins, multiple Aggies, and multiple Rebels (Runnin' and regular kind).  And, for the second year in a row, there were multiple Gaels.  Breaking it down by category, animals were far and away the most popular.  Twenty-nine of the 57 different mascots were animals.  There were 19 mascots based on human beings.  Next were birds with eight entries.  There were two supernatural mascots (Demons and Blue Devils), two natural disasters (Hurricanes and Cyclones) and two mascots that are colors (Orange and Crimson).  Some other mascots fell into the miscellaneous/unknown category.  Those included: Billikens, Buckeyes, Flames and Hoyas.

Time for a bracket breakdown.

St. Louis University Billiken
Midwest:  The Midwest region has a few extra entries since two of the Dayton play-in games funnel into this region.  Both Aggie entries are in this bracket (North Carolina A&T and New Mexico State).  The Cincinnati Bearcats are in this region.  The Albany Great Danes would normally be the best mascot in any bracket.  Unfortunately for the Great Danes, the St. Louis Billikens are in the Midwest region.  I'm not sure why a Catholic school would have a weird little charm doll as a mascot, but it's still cool.

Wichita State Shocker

West:  The West region has three good human being mascots.  The Iona Gaels and the La Salle Explorers are both interesting and unusual human mascots.  But, the Wichita State Shockers have the best mascot in this region.  And lest any of you out there have a dirty mind, in this context, a Shocker is a person who harvests wheat.  Appropriate for a team from Kansas.

Zippy the Akron Zip
South:  In the South region, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers present a conundrum.  Hilltopper is certainly an unusual nickname.  But, for some reason, the thing that WKU dresses up and has dancing around on the sidelines is just too dopey for me to give the school any love.  The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are back for a second consecutive year.  But the best mascot this year in the South region is the Akron Zips.  No one seems to know exactly what a "zip" is, but I like kangaroo that they dress up.

Bucknell Bison
East:  The play-in game in the East region featured two great mascots.  On Wednesday night, the James Madison Dukes defeated the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds.  But my favorite mascot in the region are the Bucknell Bison.  The fact that there aren't a lot of buffalo roaming the plains of central Pennsylvania gets them extra points for creativity.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Temper, Temper: Sports Tantrums of Winter

Winter is over.  It was a cold three months for much of the country.  But, as usual, the tempers in the sports world were as hot as ever. Last winter, the sports world treated us to a playoff hockey brawl, an NBA feud and a bizarre bowling celebration.  This year, we have another good mix of sports.  Without further ado, I present the Sports Tantrums of Winter.

1.  Tennis Tirade.  Whenever I am afraid I'll have a shortage of videos for this column, I can always count on tennis to supply some material.  The Australian Open got underway in January.  In one of the early rounds, Jerzy Janowicz comes unhinged after a call goes against him in the first set.

2.  I Beg to Differ.  The NFC Championship game between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers was one of the all time great games.  And, in that game, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh gave us one of the great overreactions of all time.  In a key moment in the game, the referees failed to overturn a catch by the Falcons Harry Douglas.  Jim Harbaugh disagreed with that ruling.  Due to the NFL's draconian rules about publishing videos, there is no YouTube link available for this.  So, follow the link.  You won't regret it.  Harbaugh meltdown.

3.  Ugly Moment in the Beautiful Game.  On January 23, 2013, Chelsea took to the pitch at Swansea City in a Capitol One Cup match.  Chelsea was trailing by two goals late in the game when the ball went out of bounds.  Chelsea's Eden Hazard attempted to inbound the ball.  What happened next was truly bizarre.  It should be noted that the ball boy involved was the 17 year-old son of the director of Swansea City.  It should also be noted that said ball boy tweeted earlier in the day about his intentions to use his position to waste time.  Keep in mind, soccer is a sport with a running clock.  Hazard received a red card, which carries with it an automatic 3-game suspension, for his actions.

4.  Out Cold on the Ice.  Once the NHL lockout ended, I was pretty certain we would have a hockey fight in the Winter edition of Temper, Temper.  This fight between David Dziurzynski and Frazer McLaren takes place just 26 seconds into the game between the Senators and the Leafs in Toronto on March 6, 2013.  This is one of the cleanest knockouts you will ever see.

5. Basebrawl.  The World Baseball Classic is supposed to be an international celebration of the summer past time of baseball.  When Mexico and Canada squared off in pool play on March 9, 2013, they were not in a celebratory mood.  The whole thing gets started because the Mexicans felt the Canadians violated one of baseball's unwritten rules by bunting late in a lopsided game.  In retaliation, the Mexican pitcher hit the Canadian batter.  And then it was on.  This fight features haymakers and body slams and ends with a confrontation between the Canadian players and Mexican fans.  Good thing that the United States is situated between these two countries or else we might see the military version of chin music coming up in the next few weeks.

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Banshee Bracket Bonanza

The Banshee Bracket Bonanza is back!  This year, the prizes are better and so is the competition.  Joseph Nardone, a senior college basketball writer at Rant Sports, and Jinx Grand of JGSportsTalk and  Sports With Three have brought a little class and some credentials to the competition.  And, of course, Chris Carlberg is back to defend his title.  So, what's at stake this year?  In addition to twelve months of bragging rights, this year's winner will receive a 12-month subscription to ESPN the Magazine and ESPN Insider.  Those of you who follow Wild Banshee on Twitter know that I have been pretty angry at times with the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports.  But the magazine is pretty slick.  And the Insider content comes in pretty handy, especially come fantasy football season.  What if you already subscribe?  Well, then I applaud you for your good taste ... and we'll come up with something else.  Second place will win the DVD of their choice from the Banshee Sports Movie List.

So, follow this link:  Banshee Bracket Bonanza and fill out your brackets.  Good luck, everyone!

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Banshee's Best: Big East Nostalgia and Optimism

(Getty Images)
"The lights come on.  And when we're done, the lights will go out on the Big East Conference as we know it."  That's how Sean McDonough opened ESPN's broadcast of the Big East Championship on Saturday night.  On May 26, 1979, Wild Banshee was born.  Five days later, the Big East Conference was formed.  Over the years, the Big East and I grew and changed together.  So, it was with sadness that I watched the curtain come down on Big East Basketball this weekend in Madison Square Garden.

The fledgling league initially consisted of just seven northeastern schools who came together to form a basketball conference.  The original members were Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, Saint John's, Seton Hall and Syracuse.  The Big East added Villanova and Pitt in the early part of the 1980's.  In 1983, the league established itself as a premier basketball conference when it moved its post-season conference tournament to Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena.  In the 1980's, the Big East sent eight teams to the Final Four, including three in 1985 alone.  During that decade, two different Big East teams won the national championship.

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
The only thing that rivaled the quality of the basketball in the Big East during the 1980's was the personalities of the coaches in the league.  John Thompson, Jr. and his towel.  Lou Carnesecca and his sweaters.  Rollie Massimino and his ... well, everything.  And a very young Rick Pitino at Providence.

1991 ushered in the dawn of football in the Big East.  With that came expansion and a bit of a lull in performance on the basketball court.  Four new teams began playing basketball in the league during that decade, bringing the league total up to thirteen basketball schools by 1995.  The new additions on the hard court included Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia and Notre Dame.  The decade of the 1990's did produce one national championship for the conference but only two trips to the Final Four.

The 21st Century saw a revitalization of Big East basketball.  Sure, Virginia Tech joined for basketball purposes and then left  left after only four seasons.  But five new schools were added.  And the five new additions clearly indicated a rededication to basketball excellence.   Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida all joined in 2005.  And the 21st century brought eight Final Four teams and three national championships home to the Big East.  Last season, Rick Pitino, a Big East man from way back, took his Louisville Cardinals to the Final Four.

(Sports Illustrated)
Then came this season.  I remember standing in my kitchen when I heard the news that Syracuse and Pitt were leaving the Big East for the ACC.  I knew then that the conference that I grew up with was about to die.  As I feared, the dominoes began to fall.  Notre Dame and Louisville were also defecting to the ACC.  West Virginia was already gone to the Big 12, and Rutgers was headed to the Big Ten.  I'm not too proud to say that I shed some tears.  After all, Georgetown's Patrick Ewing was one of my imaginary playmates when I was a 5 year-old girl.  And now his conference was dead.  Or at least dying.

As the finale of the Big East was taking place this weekend, I couldn't help but think of the lyrics of Semisonic's 1998 song "Closing Time."  As the anthem of my first year of college states, "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."  Hence, the optimism portion of this post.  Sean McDonough was right.  This weekend was the end of the Big East as we know it.  But, on March 12, 2013 it was formally announced that the Catholic Seven would be defecting from the remnants of the Big East conference they founded.  The Catholic Seven consists of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova.  That group accounts for half of the teams that the Big East has ever sent to the Final Four and a third of the Big East's national champions.  Those seven Catholic schools will be be keeping the Big East name.  And, they will be keeping the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden as the site of their conference tournament.  And, later this week, Xavier, Creighton and Butler are all expected to officially announce that they will also be joining the new Big East.

And while there will never again be anything quite like the Big East conference of the 1980's, there is reason for optimism next season because there will once again be conference in the north east that is focused on basketball.

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Going Home to Bristol (Guest Post by Jason Schultz)

Banshee Sports is excited and proud to have a guest post this weekend by Jason Schultz of Turn 4 Racing News.

Going to Bristol last August, hugely changed my perspective of that track and why fans love the Bristol Motor Speedway so much. Bristol isn’t just a race track, it’s a community. A community of fans and staff who love racing just as much as the fans do that travel from all over the world to the World’s Fastest Half Mile. Bristol doesn’t feature your typical track experience, it’s much more. After going to Bristol, I will forever watch the races at the track differently in the best way possible. Everyone will return home to the Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.

Bristol is not just located in the Tennessee Hills, its located ON a Tennessee hill. Going to tracks like Daytona you can just walk on the flat pavement to the track. When you go to Bristol, you have to walk up a hill to get to the track. Not just a little hill but, a pretty big hill that has a pretty steep slope. The hill Bristol is on makes that track unique and it makes the Bristol experience even cooler. What other sporting venues can you say you had to walk up a hill to actually get to the venue? None come to mind for me and that makes Bristol one special place.

All NASCAR tracks are special because they usually are in the coolest towns in the U.S. Bristol, Tennessee (and Virginia) is one of the nicest and best racing-environments in the country. The people who live in the town are extremely kind and they love their racing. Walking into a restaurant along State Street in Bristol made me feel like I was at home. There was no indication whatsoever that made me feel like a visitor, I felt like one of the locals. That feeling is one of the best feelings in the world. Bristol made me feel like I was at home and never before have I felt like that at a race track.

NASCAR fans are the greatest in sports and time and time again is that statement reiterated. No one in the grandstands at Bristol was a stranger. Everyone talked with each other and no one was afraid to walk up to someone and talk racin’. The environment that that creates is unbeatable and only one place in the world can you find it, at the race track. Bristol is no different and the fan environment there could even be considered the best in NASCAR. Getting to talk with everyone about racing makes you feel at home. Feeling at home was special for me since I was far from home, close to 800 miles away. Bristol by far brings in the best fans in NASCAR and that creates some pretty special things in the small-town of Bristol, Tennessee.

Bristol is such a special place and everything about that track and town makes it that way. After going to Bristol, I will never be able to watch a race there the same way. While watching the race, I will be thinking outside the track. Thinking about the amazing town that the track is located in as well as thinking about all of the incredible memories I made at my home away from home last August.  While NASCAR returns to the Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, I will not be there but, my heart will surely be there and it will relive the most amazing race weekend I have ever experienced. NASCAR will be going home to Bristol this weekend and everyone there will surely feel at home due to the amazing job the town of Bristol does on putting on a great fan experience. The banner Bristol hangs at the track surely is the most correct thing I have ever read, it reads “Welcome Home.” 

About Jason Schultz:  Jason is the founder of Turn 4 Racing News.  Jason is 15 years old and hopes to one day cover NASCAR full time.  In addition to Turn 4 Racing News, Jason has also written for,,, and Fan4Racing.  Jason can also be found on Twitter.  @Nascar_Jason_

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Banshee's Best: Liberty Gets Its Glass Slippers

March Madness.  It's a term even folks who are barely aware that basketball exists are familiar with.  Every secretary and their brother fills out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament.  But, some of the best madness of March takes place a week before the NCAA tournament field is even set.  Nowhere was that more evident than this weekend in Conway, South Carolina, site of the Big South Championship.

Like many conferences that crown their champions in the first half of March, the Big South is a one-bid league.  In other words, regardless of how well you performed in the regular season, you will only get an invitation to the Big Dance if you win the conference tournament.  The Liberty University Flames entered the Big South tournament as the 9th seed in a 12-team bracket.  Liberty University is located in the hills of Central Virginia.  The school motto is:  Training champions for Christ.  On Sunday, the Liberty men's basketball team became the champions of the 2013 Big South Conference Tournament.

(Matt Silfer)
The mere fact that Liberty clinched a bid for the NCAA tournament is not stunning.  The Flames have done it twice before.  What is stunning is that this Liberty team will be dancing its way into the NCAA bracket.  This Liberty team started the season at a dismal 0-8.  This Liberty team went 6-10 in regular season conference play.  While some teams had a double bye in the conference tournament, Liberty had to win 4 games in 4 days to take home the title.  But, the Flames did just that, and that is why they call it March Madness.

On Sunday, the Liberty Flames will find out where they are headed and who they will play in their first round matchup.  With an overall record of 15-20, some may say that Liberty looks more like an ugly step sister than Cinderella.  But when the games begin, Liberty will be on equal footing with the likes of Duke, Kansas and Michigan.  The Liberty Flames will control their own destiny.  Voters and the media do not matter.  If Liberty wins six games in a row (or, most likely 7, in the Flames' case), they will win the NCAA National Championship.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cooking with Banshee: Shaken Captain

Today we spring our clocks forward.  That means warm weather is just around the corner.  Nothing gets you in the mood for summer and sun quite like a sweet rum drink.  The Shaken Captain perfectly fits the bill.  This drink is another creation from Kathie Wetzel, my go-to mixologist and the creator of the Branberry Schorr.  It packs a little punch, but it is sweet enough that any party guest can enjoy it.

Shaken Captain

1.5 oz Captain Morgan
1.5 oz amaretto
2 oz pineapple juice
2 oz cranberry juice

Add a handful of ice to a cocktail shaker.  Add all the ingredients to the shaker and give it a good hard shake.  Pour into a into to a large tumbler filled with ice.  Enjoy!

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Banshee Rant: Sport or Not a Sport

Mimi and J-Dub join Wild Banshee for a lively discussion of what is a sport and what is not a sport.

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