Going out like a lion with a quick peek at the scenery on the sports landscape as we approach the end of March and all its requisite madness:

• Ninety wins gave the Red Sox a false sense of security.

There is no other honest way to assess the newly anointed Boston brass’ relative inaction in the hot stove league. Clearly, general manager Theo Epstein and field boss Grady Little felt that last year’s minor deficiencies could be rectified with the help of the “other” Giambi and the surgically repaired arms of Robert Person and Chad Fox, the latter anchoring the dreaded bullpen by committee.

At best, last season’s chronic overachievers have given management and loyalists delusions of grandeur. Their ill-conceived convictions will draw more momentum from a back-loaded schedule that will give the Sox ample opportunity to beat up on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Baltimore Orioles before the last inch of snow disappears in the northern extremes of New England.

Boston might once again wield the best record in the majors on May 15. But where will they reside in the standings on Sept. 15?

No better than second, I can assure you.

• Obviously, I’d have to be a fool or a chronic homer to anoint anyone but the Yankees as the favorite in the American League East.

Elsewhere, look for the dynamic Minnesota Twins to continue their unlikeliest of meteoric rises from baseball purgatory and walk away with the AL Central. In the West, the Rally Monkey will run out of miracles as the Oakland Athletics outshine the world champion Anaheim Angels, who will settle for the Wild Card.

In the National League, despite Philadelphia’s earnest effort to purchase a pennant, the Atlanta Braves remain the Beast of the East until somebody proves they aren’t. Houston and Arizona also will win their respective divisions, with the Phillies snagging the fourth and final playoff berth.

Youth and skill should overcome strong arms, advancing age and treachery in the World Series, with the Twins taking their first title in a dozen years at the expense of Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and the Diamondbacks.

• When the University of Maine hockey team falls short of the national championship game this season, you can bet that somebody, somewhere will point the finger of blame at coach Tim Whitehead.

Hold on just a second.

Last time I checked, the late Shawn Walsh, although one of the greatest ever to roam an NCAA bench, only won two titles in his historic tenure. Whitehead not only guided the Black Bears successfully through the trying times that followed Walsh’s death from kidney cancer last season, he was also rebuilding the program this winter in a number of critical areas, most notably goaltending and scoring punch.

Take this to the bank: Before local standouts Greg Moore and Derek Damon graduate, Maine will hoist another banner at Alfond Arena.

• Figured out the NCAA men’s basketball tournament yet?

Good. I didn’t think so.

My original bracket, dated March 19, has Kentucky knocking off SEC rival Florida in the final. That was stupid on at least one count.

Within minutes of freezing that fearless forecast, long before the Gators became bait, I wished I’d gone with a different set of Wildcats, namely Arizona. And after watching T.J. Ford prove he’s the best player in the nation Friday night, I’d love to hitch my wagon to the Texas Longhorns.

That speaks to the overall balance of Division I basketball at the moment. With most of the traditional powers serving as a one or two-year minor league program for the NBA, many observers believe that opens the door for supposed “mid-majors” such as Gonzaga, Kent State and Butler to compete with the perennial No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

True, to an extent. What the revolving door has really created, however, is parity among those perennials. It’s no longer a foregone conclusion that Duke, Kentucky, Arizona or Kansas will walk into the Big Dance as a prohibitive favorite and waltz off with the title. Now those schools have to survive epic battles in the Elite Eight and Final Four heck, sometimes as early as the second round, as Arizona can attest merely to get to the final.

Two things are certain. One week from tomorrow, we’ll have a deserving national champion and most of us will be out five bucks.

Kalle Oakes is sports editor. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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