published Monday, April 2nd, 2012

5 at 10: The Final Four, April's glory and an a hazy shade of UT spring practice

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From the "Talks Too Much Studios" here we go.

Final Four

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    Kentucky head coach John Calipari talks with Kansas head coach Bill Self, right, during a television interview at the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament Sunday, April 1, 2012, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

And with that Kansas and Kentucky — arguably two of the most storied programs in college basketball history — will play tonight for all the marbles. In truth, the 5-at-10 has been supremely high on both these clubs since early January. In fact, to echo an astute claim made by StuckinKent last month, we may really over-think our NCAA brackets, you know? While that may not be the case every year, it certainly was true this season.

Look at it this way: Of the Final Four, each was ranked in the top 12 teams in the country before the season. Sure, there were some ups and downs along the way and there was some hand-wringing, but that was more from the outside perspective than anything.

To magnify the top-heavy status of the game, with out difficult losses to injury or eligibility, who's to say Michigan State, Syracuse or UNC would not be in the mix.

Here are a couple of other lessons we'll try to remember next year when we fill out our bracket:

— If two teams appear even, give the edge to the best player on the floor. It's not an accident that the top two vote-getters in almost every player of the year ballot are set to face off tonight. We're just saying.

— Stay away from teams that are too-reliant on the 3-point shot. Ask Missouri, Vandy and Duke how that works out. It's fine for upsets and underdogs, but a team would have to be really good for four consecutive games in arenas they've likely never played in to get to the Final Four riding 3-pointers.

— If you have to pick between offensive and defensive teams, well, this Final Four answered that dilemma once and for all. Defense wins tournament games.

As for the weekend, those were two enjoyable games. Sure, Louisville never quite got over the hump to really put the pressure on UK, but it still was intense and enjoyable. (And how about those Vegas guys, huh? UK minus-8.5 and they win by 8. The odds-makers are scary good, especially considering they are trying to establish betting lines as much as point spreads.) Plus, UK got it down with MKG in foul trouble.

As for the Jayhawks, that's a tough group of kids. Play hard, play smart play aggressive. Kansas' come-from-behind two-point win over Ohio State in the nightcap was worth staying up for.

(Side note: If college football has to clean up its postseason conundrums, college hoops had better get a handle on its officiating. We have never seen it as bad as it is right now, and Sweet buckets of whistle beads, if a defender falls down in today's college hoops, it's an AUTO-matic charge. This is getting out of control and is leading players to mesh the Vlade Divac Flop with the FIFA soccer opossum — the move where they drop like they've been shot roll around like they've lost a finger and then pop up as soon as the yellow card is handed out.)

The joys of April

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    Kentucky's Anthony Davis walks off the court after an NCAA Final Four semifinal college basketball tournament game against Louisville Saturday, March 31, 2012, in New Orleans. Davis scored 18 points as Kentucky won 69-61. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

We give October the slightest of nods as the best sports-month on the calendar. College football, NFL, playoff baseball, hoops right around the corner, October has a lot on its side.

That said, April is closer than most realize. The Final Four, the Masters — and rest easy guys, we'll cover that in earnest starting Tuesday, including the breakdown of the Masterful Masters Match — Opening Day, the NFL Draft (and you all know how the 5-at-10 feels about the draft), and April has a lot going for it.

(Side note: While we will start a serious draft breakdown series next week — we love the draft; you know this — if you have not seen the Jon Gruden Quarterback Camp with Andrew Luck, you have our permission to spend a good portion of your workday finding it on the Interwebs. It's that good, and hey, if your boss needs a note, we've got your back.)

Of course there will be time to discuss each of these in the coming days, but let's look at tonight's title game, and when we face a situation like this, it's always good to go to the tale of the tape:

Starters: UK has five NBA players in its starting line-up. Kansas starts at least one white guy. Edge Kentucky.

Reserves: UK has arguably the best sixth man in the country in Darius Miller, but after Miller and Kyle Wiltjer, we're not sure whether the rest of the UK players have uniforms on underneath their warmups. (Like it matters.) Kansas got 28 minutes — and all of three points from its bench — in its win over Ohio State.

Intangibles: UK is comparable to the might Bears of South Bend Central. That means Kansas is..... "HICK-O-REEE." Edge: Huskers...er, Kansas.

Coaches: UK's John Calipari is an elite recruiter who is a vastly underrated coach. Bill Self is one of the game's best coaches and a vastly underrated recruiter. So it goes, but since it looks like a push, we'll give the edge to Self, who has a title and beat Calipari to get it. Edge: Kansas

In the end: This one could be super-tight or UK could blow KU's doors off. We're hoping for the former. Ultimately it's a pretty easy call — Kentucky has Anthony Davis, and his unibrow can't be denied. Kentucky, 70-63.

Orange haze of spring (with a lot of side notes)

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    Tennessee coach Derek Dooley watches his team during spring NCAA college football practice, Thursday, March 29, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Wow, just a run of the mill, ho-hum average spring practice in Knoxville, huh? Remind us after the end of this spring session , we're going to have to buy our UT ace Downtown Patrick Brown one of those fancy-pants dark beers that is hard to pronounce and costs $8. (Side note No. 1 — We prefer a fine pilsner that sounds an awful lot like Sud Mite.)

OK, to recap since we were last with you late last week, Da'Rick Rogers skips meeting with media. Da'Rick returns the next day and even draws praise from UT coach Derek Dooley, who also added "He’s obviously an extremely talented player. Glad he took care of what he had to do." (Side note No. 2 — Which of part of Dooley's quote do you think is more important: that he's a talented player or that Da'Rick handled his BID-ness?)

And all the while covering the latest development with UT's latest version of Kelley Washington, Downtown unloads two weekend stories that may be even more important to UT's 2012 chances. Here's his view of the Vols' running game (or continued search to find something resembling one) and here's a story on former local star-turned-player-to-watch Jacques Smith. (Side note No. 3: To say this is a huge spring for Smith would be an understatement on the level of this could be a somewhat interesting Masters. Smith gets a chance to re-invent himself in a system that produces NFL-ready linebackers. Or if he misses this chance, there's a real chance he could fade down the depth chart while a younger player takes his spot.)

Enough to make your head spin, huh?

OK, here's what we got on the three big issues of the day in Knoxville:

The Da'Rick Da'Bacle — It's hard to see how Dooley could have managed this one much softer. If you're going to say, "He's got some things he has to handle," at least make it last the weekend. Now, it appears that if you skip practice — not to mention all the "rumored" confrontations between Rogers and various members of the UT staff — you need to preform some sort of penance that takes roughly an afternoon. Maybe they all hugged it out. Maybe they burnt some incense and did some chants. Who knows, but that Da'Rick is in Da'Clear screams a few things: It's obvious Dooley and this team needs Rogers' talent; it's obvious that the offense is going to built around an offense that's going to battle Arkansas for SEC air supremacy; and it's obvious that whatever Janzen Jackson did to get the boot last year must have been serious.

The (lack of) a running game — This one actually has a plausible and somewhat pleasing answer for Johnny Vols Fan. If you keep Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter healthy — and Da'Rick out of Da'Doghouse — the running game will take of itself. With defenses super-concerned with what appears on paper to be the best passing-game talent across the board in the league, running against six-man fronts should be doable for Marlin Lane or Marlin Perkins and there will be holes whether Tom Smith or Tom Jones is carrying the ball.

The Jacques Smith experiment — Smith is a monster talent, and is still one of the top 10 high school players we've covered in 15 years of doing this. Stud — plain and simple. If he can — as Dooley accurately noted, "put himself in a position to let his abilities take over" then Smith will be a regular on All-SEC teams for the next two years. (Side note No. 4 — If Smith can fill the "Jack" role for this Vols defense, with A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, then UT will have answered a large part of the lingering linebacker questions that have plagued them in recent years.)

This and that

— Did you see our ace Wiedmer's story on the changes to college football's postseason in Sunday's paper? Check it out here. Wiedmer quotes NCAA president Mark Emmert saying that "the momentum seems to be toward an eight-team playoff." The wheels are spinning and a playoff seems to be a certainty — let's just hope they are taking enough practical steps to ensure the regular season is not diminished.

— Let's just say that Clint Bowyer's name will probably come up at the team meetings today at Hendrick Motorsports. Bowyer made what euphemistically could be described as a "dive-bomb" move with two laps left inside Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Bowyer's move resulted in wrecking all three, and despite the race being dominated by the Hendrick teammates of Johnson and Gordon, Ryan Newman used the opening to grab the checkered flag Sunday at Martinsville. (Side note: In about six weeks, when Bowyer gets wrecked late by Johnson, Gordon, Dale Jr. or Denny Hamlin, in a race he has been a factor in, remember this day.)

— The women's title game is set between Baylor and Notre Dame. Hard to see how any Notre Dame defender this side of Manti Te'o has any answer for Brittany Griner.

— Looks like the Chattanooga Lookouts will return a bevy of pitching, as our ace David Paschall tells us here.

Today's question

You know that Monday is open forum day, so let it rip.

We'll give you a Larry King-type lead-in...

LKing: "Hello, Sheboygan, you're on..."

Caller 1: "Yes, Larry wanted to get your thoughts on the Final Four. Thanks and I'll hang up and listen."

LKing: "Love Sheboygan. It's beautiful this time of year. You know who else loves Sheboygan? Tim Tebow."

(LKing stops and does a Tebow. A production assistant races to his side worried he broke a hip. LKing proposes to her.)

LKing: "Where were we? Oh yes, Tim Tebow. I'll take a team full of Tebows every day, unless John Calipari is coaching the other side. What a dresser. Coach Cal is Michael Corleone — Bill Self is more Tom Hagan, and that's not a knock mind you. Wow, that Bobby Duvall... pound-for-pound as good as any actor out there. Other than Tebow, of course.

LKing: "Maryville, Tennessee. Hello..."

Caller 2: "Is Derek Dooley the right guy for the job?"

LKing: "What job are we talking about here? There are a lot of jobs to be done at UT. A lot. You know who he needs? Tim Tebow."

LKing: "Your town. Hello."

Bring it.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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Livn4life said...

OK Drama Dun 4 naow with Duh Da'. So maybe it's on with football on Rocky Top. It will be interesting to see if someone steps up and really wants to run the ball. Of course that is superceded only by an O-line wishing to knock the bejooogles out of the person across from them or in anyway threatening the ball carriers. One under noted disadvantage for the passing game is it will be no secret this year that Bray can throw it around. So the running game will be even more crucial. I am just hoping to see a knockem out defensive bunch who know what they are doing and get it done. That will take some patience with new Sheriff Sal in town. All the Rogers whatever it was has to be put behind and get on with the business of getting ready for a crucial fall season for the boys in Orange. Many of us are struggling with each year's Gumpian "box of chocolates" on what we will be getting but we will hang in there and still be for the Volunteers. As for the Final Four, Kentucky should win. It would take a ridiculous effort from the J-Hawks. I find myself in a different position than in many years past. I like the J-Hawks and am always an SEC Homer(duh...Bart). So I guess I just can't lose. Go Blue, either one of them.

April 2, 2012 at 10:17 a.m.
mountainboy said...

Nice to hear Da'Rick back on the field. He needs to wake up an realize that he is playing for wide reciever University, known for getting recievers to Da pros. Attitude counts for alot and players like him, Bray, and Hunter can make or break the attitude on and off the field. Look back at the loss to UK, Bray playing with disintrest and the ohter young guys on the field picked up on it. What they do has a tremendous effect on the squad. I cant wait to see that 3-4 on the field, J. Smith, Im gonna be lookin for u to show out, it is ur time. UT can rest assured that Maggitt and Johnson will flourish. I really want to see Smith use his size and ability, it should be really fun to watch him smear a Florida QB and hopefully knock that losing streak aganist the gators in the head. Until kick off, I will be reading every article in Big Orange Country to keeps eyes on my VOLS. Make the General proud this year Boys, he deserves it.

April 2, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.
chas9 said...

5er--Your analysis of The Final Four is superb. not much to argue with, though I'd say Kentucky has SIX NBA players in its starting lineup (see what I did there?).

Though it includes my team, I'm sorry the sport is so top-heavy. Strong points too about defense and the dominant star player. I know you like both, but do you see Davis and T-Rob playing about even, or one dominating the other? (I know Withy and Jones will be in that mix.)

Both games Saturday were entertaining. It's hard to fathom that Louisville can shho 35% to UK's 57% and still be in a tight game. Pitino's smoke and mirrors are impressive. But what color were those unis?

I'm not sure the better team won the late game, but I credit you with liking The Jayhawks more than I have. And Aaron Craft is a better Wojo-type PG than Wojo was.

UK rocks KU by six. MKG will be the leading scorer.

April 2, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.
chas9 said...

I'd have bought PB a PBR. But if he likes unpronounceable dark liquids, get the man a Southsidenstein. You gotta love it. Everything's delectable at The Terminal. You know this.

April 2, 2012 at 11:47 a.m.
jgreeson said...

Livn(Large) —

The quicker your Orange gets back to concentrating on football actions rather than foolish antics, the better for everyone — Da Fans, Da'Rick, Da Dooley.

The 5-at-10 has the same exact view of tonight's title game — we've loved watching UK all year and have always enjoyed Kansas (Rock-Chalk-Jayhawk is a monster chant). We're pulling for the Jayhawks — sorry 9er — because the 5-at-10's oldest tot wins the TFP office pool (for entertainment purposes only) if Kansas delivers.

M-Boy —

Concur about the attitude part, and it's impossible to overstate how much this team — and Da'Rick and Tyler especially — need Hunter to be back healthy.

And we're thinking JSmith could be a nice candidate for breakout player in the SEC. Or he could be at the bottom of the depth chart by October 1.

9er —

Thanks for the kind words. Louisville kept it close by slap getting after it on the O-Glass. As you know, Pitino's guys always, Always, ALWAYS play hard and Saturday night was no exception. The unis were brutal, though. We had to check the TVs at the 5-at-10 compound three times.

And 9er, we're big fans of the work those folks do down there at the Terminal. Big fans.

Shout to Luis on the TFP web team for his crack Larry King/5-at-10 cross match in today's questions. Know that we'll see that again. Well-played indeed.

— 5-at-10

April 2, 2012 at 12:17 p.m.
fechancellor said...

10 Ring, sorry I haven't been around the last couple of days, but I some things "I had to handle,” the need to handle my bidness.

One of these “bidness” related items was watching the much anticipated battle the Supreme Court basketball team against Team Obama. Looks like only five Justices will show on the court, leaving Mr. Chief Justice Roberts a player/coach. Down on the block, it's Mr. Justice Thomas, a well-known workout warrior working the paint with fast feet and a faster elbow. Mr. Justice Kennedy is the Court’s pivot man on offence, but one can only assume he’s listening to the coach about 50% of the time.

Of those choosing not to play (Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer and Bader-Ginsberg) all abandoned the team to due to bidness they believe they had to "handle" Mr. Chief Justice Roberts simply waved off their excuses saying, "I only need five to win this game, although Ms. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan have put in sizeable ladies capable of quality minutes as backups to Mr. Justices Thomas and Scalia.

President Obama, before this much anticipated match had the cream of the Executive Branch to rely upon. He sent in his point guard, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. For some inexplicable reason, the president in his haste to put his best five on the floor handed Mr. Verrilli a medicine ball instead of a basketball, thus eliminating any flashy assists and long shots. Slowing down the younger Team Obama, worked to the complete advantage of the much older Supreme 5.

The three hour game over a three day period was called for lack of time with an apparent Supreme 5 victory, however curious; the results will be under review and rendered by late June.

April 2, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.
Stewwie said...

No mention of the UTC spring game from Saturday? I thought it was football season...

Jacob Huesman had the better stats at QB, but it isn't fair to compare him and TR based on only that scrimmage. As Mr. Frierson noted in Sunday's article, it was a disservice to both QBs for having to wear the no-contact jerseys for the game.

The spread offense is designed to use the QB as a running threat, but that option was virtually eliminated on Sat. No-contact jerseys are more fitting for a bona fide pocket passer in a pro-style offense, not for QBs in the spread offense. So what if they get banged up a little in the spring game? There's 4-5 months to heal. The benefits would have outweighed the risks in letting the QBs do their thang on Sat.

April 2, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.
jgreeson said...

FE to the C —

Well-played indeed good sire. But quick question: What if one of the players turns their ankle, who's paying the bill?

Discuss.

Stew Lights Up Our Life —

Completely fair point and complete ball drop on the 5-at-10's part.

We'll have a UTC spring breakdown later this week — although the Spring Game was Saturday, they still have some practices to complete — but we should have at least acknowledged Saturday.

Your point is more spot on than anyone could imagine. In fact, the non-contact jersey so limits a spread QB that after the A-Day game in Auburn in the spring of 2010, there was no clear cut winner so they did not name a starter until the summer. Something tells us though that if they had not been using the non-contact jerseys it would have been pretty clear Cam Newton was going to be OK.

— 5-at-10

April 2, 2012 at 1:30 p.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

OK- you finally sucked me in.

I swore I would not have a discussion about a college football playoff until the college basketball season ended. But I can't resist anymore.

Here goes- An eight team playoff is nice. I like four teams as well. Any bigger than eight starts to bug me a bit. If it is an eight team playoff, you have to reward conference champs. The top six conference champs get in automatically, no matter what conference they are from. Then there are two wildcards. Home field goes to the higher seed for the first two rounds. The wildcards can be seeded no higher than fifth, meaning Alabama last year would have been a five seed.

So here is what last year would have looked like in this scenario:

1) LSU
2) Oklahoma State
3) Oregon 4) Wisconsin
5) Alabama
6) Stanford 7) Clemson
8) TCU

Where are the complaints? Arkansas, Boise State, Kansas State, South Carolina, and Southern Miss would all have had complaints. Too bad. You all had chances to win your conference and didn't do it (except for Southern Miss). Boise complains loud and hard since they are ranked 10 spots ahead of TCU but left out. Too bad. Beat TCU on your home field and then you can complain all you want. By the way, Houston would be even more upset about losing the CUSA Championship Game to Southern Miss by a kajillion points. Would have been in the tournament, possibly as a seven seed.

Here's my request- please don't just give it to the Top 8 teams with no worry about conference champs. If you don't, then the season becomes so much more meaningless. Also, I know that this year, the number 10 team (heading into the bowls) is ranked ahead of the number two team (heading into the bowls) in these seedings. I say again, too bad. Alabama- take care of business at home against LSU and you don't have to worry about this. If you want to be the best team in the country, you either got to win your conference, or you got to go the tough road. Hey Stanford! You lost by over 20 points to Oregon on your home field. Why do you have one fewer loss than the Ducks? Maybe because your out of conference schedule was paper soft and Oregon played LSU in the first game of the year. Get over it. Plus, if you try to say, "Well we can't have that because of Alabama being #2..." I say that you can't fix the system because of one quirky year. That's where the BCS has screwed up. Back from 1998-2004, every time something kind of funny happened, they went out and changed the system to prevent it from happening again. I think they changed the formula every year but one during that time. That doesn't work. It only creates more problems and gives the appearance that you don't even trust the system you have in place.

Personally, I think this kind of playoff really preserves the regular season and gives meaning to the conference championships.

April 2, 2012 at 1:36 p.m.
chas9 said...

I've heard that the pen is mightier than the sword. If so, Jay'd be a great dueler. I love the surgical undercuts in your stealthily brutal take on the D'rick-Dooley debacle. Reminds me of your unkind cut about not being Jim Rome, which I understand. I have found CBS Sports to be steady and useful up to now, but what good thing can Rome possibly bring to their mix?

April 2, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
jgreeson said...

9er —

Thanks my good man.

We too have enjoyed CBS Sports — they have made some shrewd hires, especially Bruce Feldman who does work and knows his stuff. And the TV version NBCSports has also been a pleasurable surprise — their morning show is worth a look.

Rome is not among our personal preferences, but dude does work in the highly attractive male-20s demographic.

— 5-at-10

April 2, 2012 at 2:11 p.m.
Stewwie said...

I like how StuckinKent picks the teams for the playoffs. Once the 8 are picked, though, I would still seed them based on how good they are. However, I would also favor a rule saying non-conference champs don't get a home game.

I would also recommend a rule saying conference championship game losers are OUT. This makes the conference championship games more meaningful than they are now. No more "well they could lose and still get in" crap. Conference championship games are playoff games and should be treated as such.

April 2, 2012 at 4:35 p.m.
fechancellor said...

10 Ring,

Best guess is the Supreme 5 has that same Congressional insurance used by Nancy Pelosi. This must be the real deal as most people served by it live past 80 and look like they're 45.

April 2, 2012 at 4:46 p.m.
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