Gang, buckle up. It's here; it's all happening.
The NCAA title game tonight. The Masters. Baseball highlights. The NBA playoffs in sight. Heck, the 5-year-old Bulls T-Ball team coached by a certain family-oriented, interweb-based sports columnist opens their season tonight, and we got to say that expectations are sky-rocketing.
So with that, grab an extra biscuit, muffin or breakfast bar and pull up a chair. Don't cost nothing.
From the "Talks too much" studios
Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) lays in a shot over Wichita State forward Carl Hall (22) in their semi-final matchup in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta onSaturday. Louisville plays Michigan in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game tonight.
The stakes are awesome for the men's and women's title games. Louisville has a team in each championship. That's cool. (Side note: UConn doubled the title a few years ago with Kemba Walker and Maya Moore.)
As our all-around hoops ace Mark Wiedmer shares here, Cards coach Rick Pitino is on the verge of history.
The NCAA tournament, especially Saturday's semifinal wins for Louisville and Michigan, has been long on excitement, drama and enthusiasm. It has been short on quality basketball. Whether it's the cumulative affects of players leaving early, the diminished skill combined with improved physicality, the dominance of coaching and defensive play or something else, the game is ugly.
That doesn't mean it hasn't been entertaining, per se, but that's mainly because of the madness and the brackets. (Side note: If Louisville wins tonight the 5-at-10 wins the TFP office pool — which was operated primarily for entertainment purposes only. If your bracket is busted and you're looking for a rooting interest tonight, support your neighborhood 5-at-10. And since we're supplying the snacks and the drinks for the Bulls, tonight, we'd like to think that Ricky P. and Co. could do it for the kids. C'mon, think of the children.)
Where were we? Oh yes, the quality of college basketball.
Here's a side question for you: In some way has the greatness of the tournament sabotaged the overarching style of college basketball? Follow along.
Think about it this way: The overall goal is to win six games in three weeks and cut down the nets, right? Those games are played in huge arenas and converted domes — Heck the title game tonight is in the Georgia Dome; next year's is at Jerry's 100,000-seat palace outside of Dallas — which makes shooting much more difficult and a complete outlier that depends on scheduling. Matchups and shooting slumps are part of basketball at all levels, but they are magnified in the one-done nature of college hoops in the tournament.
So how would a good coach who wants to stay NCAA tournament competitive over the long haul approach those unknowns and try to limit those variables on the success of his program? By focusing on defense and depth and rebounding. They are at the core of any successful basketball team, and they are magnified when facing mediocre offensive opponents, something with which current college basketball is flush.
Just a theory that popped in our melon as we were counting the kitty. Is it in the Cards? Again, do it for the kids.
It's hard to remember a time we were more excited about the Masters.
Think of the storylines:
• As golf ace David Uchiyama shares here, UTC senior Steven Fox is going to put a wooden peg in the ground on the hallowed dirt that has hosted the game's all-time greats. Forget butterflies, playing the Masters would feel like bats in our belly. (Side note: When we got to play Augusta National in 2003, we were shaking nervous on the first tee. Mercifully, some guy from London was playing in our group and the first tee is right off the main entrance and that huge white scoreboard as you come in. Anywho, Mr. Bean hits a slicing scud into the concourse that rattles around and sounds like a machine-gun being fired as people start screaming. We're next, and we're thinking, "OK, no way we do worse than that." Piped right down the middle.)
• It's Tiger vs. the field. Dude is an 11-to-5 pick this morning; Rory is the next favorite at 10-to-1. Woods is No. 1 in the world, and according to ESPN this morning, Tiger has spent roughly a third of his entire life ranked as the No. 1 golfer in the world.
• Defending champ Bubba Watson comes back, and what could he do for an encore? He could win; he could miss the cut. Either way, he'll entertain like few others, but that should be expected from a guy who hit a 150-yard sand wedge uphill and turned it 50 yards left to right for the shot of a lifetime on the biggest shot of his lifetime.
• Don't sleep on Phil Mickelson. In fact, he's definitely going to be on our entry sheet.
• Speaking of entries, the Third annual "Mastering the Masterful Masters master list" is on and ready to roll. Send us five golfers, we'll take your top four finishers and award points for each place (1st = 1 point; 11th = 11 points, etc.) and the lowest score wins some Masters gear. There is one add on, if you pick Tiger Woods, you only get four names and no margin of error. Questions? Great, and we're going to try to get some local sports media participation too.
Other than the supreme drama at Auburn the last five days, football has been the discussion of the SEC programs during the last few weeks.
For Alabama, it's about staying healthy. When you have that much talent, you do not need to be perfect in the spring. You just need to survive it.
For Georgia, the recently completed spring drills revealed that there's still some talent on the defense depsite losing a slew of guys who will be drafted next month.
For Tennessee, the need for playmakers is becoming apparent. So is the enthusiasm and spirit of Butch Jones and staff, a trend that is working on players and fans. (Seriously, how many Vols fans are energized for the first time in years? We're going to write more on this before the spring game.)
For the best story of the spring, it was the 7-year-old kid that ran for a TD in Nebraska's spring game. Here's the story on ESPN.com, and if that does not make it a little dusty and make your eyes water a little bit, well, we've got nothing for you. If Jack, a 7-year-old brain cancer patient on a two-week break from a 60-week chemo treatment and s huge Nebraska fan, running for a 69-yard TD does not make you smile, well, then someone has a case of the Mondays.
As for the Auburn stuff, well, a lot of Auburn folks we know think it's nothing. A lot of anti-Auburn folks we know think it's the first step to the "death" penalty. Whatever. Here's what the 5-at-10 knows: No team that you've heard of will ever get the death penalty ever again — there's too much on the line for conferences and the sport. Here's what the 5-at-10 believes: The river of stories coming from the Auburn 2010 team appear never-ending. There is too much and the reports are too frequent to believe every thing was on the up-and-up. That said, the NCAA investigated from tip to tail and found nothing. So let's just assume that the 2010 Auburn football season was not unlike OJ Simpson's case — we're all pretty sure something happened and there are some guilty folks who more than likely got away with some stuff but the courts/NCAA ruled and nothing happened.
This and that
With all the other stuff going on, this may be the most stacked This and That ever.
— Jimmie Johnson wins for the eighth time at Martinsville. That's impressive. Best we can tell, Joey Logano did not make any new enemies. That's a miracle.
— You know how we feel about the draft. We love it. You know this. We also love the predraft Jon Gruden quarterback sit downs. Good times. This weekend the show welcomed former West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. We missed it because of a full weekend slate of activities. We're going to reserve judgement on Smith until we see the Gruden show. That said, we'd have a really hard time spending a top-five pick on Smith, if for no other reason that we believe there will be similar value later in the draft.
— Your Atlanta Braves are smoking hot. And missing by a mile. Wins are wins are wins, of course, but how about these numbers? The Braves are 5-1 overall this year after a 5-1 win Sunday that completed a three-game sweep of the Cubs. Atlanta hitters struck out 16 times Sunday, including four by Justin Upton. It was the second time in a week the Braves fanned 16 times. They won both of those games. Side note: Atlanta hitters had that many strikeouts in a game only once in the previous three seasons.
— That said, not all the news is good from Turner Field. Freddie Freeman was ticked about being put on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique. OK, if you're old enough to go on the DL and to be irked about it, you're officially old enough to drop the "ie" off Freddie. We're good with Fredd (with the double-d) or even Frederick. Heck, plain ole' Fred works, too. All we can think of with "Freddie" is lil' Freddie Patek, the old K.C. Royals shortstop back when the Royals were a big-league team with a big-league roster (oh, wait), and Freddie Prinze Jr., bad teen actor of the late1990s-2000s teen romantic comedies. (Side note: How bad was Freddie Prinze Jr. you ask? Well, we almost wrote, "he is a poor-man's Keanu Reeves." Or how about "a less-charismatic Ashton Kutchar." Wow. OUCH-standing indeed.)
— Are we ready for the current world in which the Clippers swept the Lakers to win the NBA's Pacific Division? Forget Global Warming and the North Korean nukes. Clippers > Lakers means the Mayans may have been about eight months early.
— As we're finishing up the 5-at-10 this morning, the top headline on the TFP breaking news ticker is "Man Shot with Arrow at Gentleman's Club." Oh, Cupid, those long hours you work looking for love... in all the wrong places.
— Former Texas Rangers star and current L.A. Angels big-money slugger Josh Hamilton returned to Arlington this weekend much to the angst of the Rangers fans. The boos were endless — and the chants of "Crack Head" were heard Friday night. Tough crowd. The Rangers took two of three.
There was some high-quality looks back at the life and times of the Final Four this weekend. Hey, the Grand Ole Dame known as March Madness completes her 75th year tonight (Go Cards — do it for the kids) and everyone had some kind of look back.
Our personal fav was Kenny Sailors, the former stud duck Wyoming Cowboys star in the 1940s and arguably the first dude that used a jump shot, reading an ESPN script about the dance and its top hits.
For you, when we say March Madness, what's the first image that comes up? Here's our Rushmore of tournament moments:
Laettner's shot, Jimmy V looking for someone to hug, Danny Manning and the Miracles, and Freddie Brown throwing the ball to James Worthy after MJ's jumper in 1982 (Two side notes there: There were four NBA All-Stars — MJ, Worthy, Sam Perkins and Patrick Ewing — on the floor for that game 31 years ago; how many NBA all-stars will be on the court tonight. Secondly, if Freddie Brown went by Fred Brown, we're pretty sure he would not have thrown the ball to the wrong guy. Think about that.)
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 ...