Perhaps there is a better time to be a sports fan in America than these first days of April, but one doesn't come to mind immediately.
How's this for an Easter week sports celebration?
College basketball offers championship games tonight (men) and tomorrow (women). Major League Baseball openers announce the arrival of another season. College football spring practices and spring games keep the gridiron game on the front burner. And, golf's most scenic major - the Masters - wraps up on Easter Sunday.
Two of the most storied programs in NCAA history meet tonight when Kentucky and Kansas vie for the men's championship. The Wildcats from the Bluegrass State have won more games than any other college basketball program and the Jayhawks rank second. Kentucky features the wonderfully talented freshmen trio of big man Anthony Davis, quick and smooth point guard Marquis Teague, and do-it-all swing man Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Cats' coach John Calipari has fully embraced the one-and-done mentality of bringing in NBA-bound players and trying to win a title in the few months they are on campus.
Kansas is a more veteran squad. The Jayhawks feature a strong inside game with stellar junior forward Thomas Robinson and 7'0 classmate Jeff Withey. KU won the Big 12 conference regular season title for a mind-boggling eigth consecutive time.
Like most, I'll go with the Wildcats in this one. The team has terrific speed and tenacity, and are a really fun group to watch. The Jayhawks have started slowly in most games during the tournament run and cannot afford to do so tonight.
The women's bracket also features a premier matchup with Notre Dame playing Baylor. The Irish earned a second straight trip to the title game by knocking off Connecticut in the semifinals (ND did the same last year); the team is led by popular senior guard Skylar Diggins and clutch classmate Brittany Mallory.
The Irish will literally face a tall test against unbeaten Baylor. Center Brittney Griner leads the Bears and earned fame as the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game. Griner's impact reminds me much of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) at UCLA ... most teams have no answer and the psychological impact of facing the "giant" is almost as significant as the physical presence.
Although an Irish fan, Goliath typically wins these battles. I'll go with Baylor.
Much as I would love for the Braves to reach a World Series, it looks tough.
In the National League, the Phillies appear the team to beat but watch the Marlins and Nationals out of the East as well.
The junior circuit (hey, the American League has only been around since 1901 ... a full quarter century later than the National - or "senior" circuit started) provides old (Yankees and Rangers) and new (Angels with Albert Pujols and Tigers with Prince Fielder) contenders.
Can Tiger Woods win a fifteenth major championship in his quest to surpass the eighteen of Jack Nicklaus? Of course he can, but he'll need to beat a host of challengers, of both the experienced and novice variety.
Phil Mickelson has won three green jackets and if his putting holds up should be in contention. Young Americans Keegan Bradley, Billy Haas, Webb Simpson, Nick Watney, Hunter Mahan, and Jason Duffner could be threats. Luke Donald (England), Adam Scott (Australia), and defending champ Charl Schwartzel (South Africa) lead an always strong international contingent.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Tiger, Phil, or anybody else is Rory McIlroy. The young Irishmen took a four-stroke lead into the final round in 2011 only to falter badly. He rebounded to win the U.S. Open and is one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Just a hunch but I'll go with Billy Haas to win.