College hoops bliss
Wow, that was fun. College basketball dealt us a weekend of nip-and-tuck, down-to-the-wire moments that reminded some of us why we loved college basketball back in the old days of teams starting four upperclassmen. You know, like 1994. Dinosaurs and everything.
And now the Final Four has been delivered to us. We gave the expected — No. 1 overall seed Florida is there. We have the new kids who have found their roles, potential and promise — preseason No. 1 Kentucky looked every bit that this weekend, downing Louisville and Michigan in two great games. We have the personification of a tried and tested tournament rule that the hottest player in the country can lift his mates to the Final Four regardless of seed — playing the role of Kemba Walker is Shabazz Napier for UConn. We have the most complete team from the most complete league — No. 2 seed Wisconsin carrying the banner for a Big Ten that looked like it could have three Final Four teams until the final minute of UConn's win over Michigan State and the final two seconds of the Kentucky's win over Michigan.
While the drama of March Madness always delivers, the basketball was better this year. At least it seems that way.
Here's a view on five topics from the weekend with the knowledge that we'll breakdown the Final Four later this week. Deal? Deal.
— UT played its guts out in a close lose to Michigan on Friday. It was sad the game turned ultimately was decided on a bad charging call on Jarnell Stokes, but two quick thoughts: One, we believe one play almost never loses a game since there were tons of plays leading to that final play that could have turned the course of the game. Maybe that's too big picture, and yes, we can think of certain examples, but they are very rare and since we have 747 and GD as regulars here we will not mention the most recent example. As for the Vols, it was a bad call at a very bad time. Second, if the ref had made the proper call in our view it should have been a no-call, and in that instance, Michigan was going to recover a loose ball any way.
— Where does Jordan McRae rank on the Vols all-time list? Not sure he'd crack a backcourt of the all-time kids, but it's hard to remember a kid who has improved as much as he did in four years.
— Our "Last Shot Shootout" tiebreaker for the "First-Out, Last-In" challenge came down to the last shot. Scole023 edged Billy in Brainerd when Shabazz Napier hit a 3 in the final minute of UConn's win. SCole023's duo of Napier and Louisville Luke Hancock scored 63 points in three games while BiB's duo of Arizona's Nick Johnson and Michigan State's Adreian Payne scored 60. Congrats scole023, email us your Final Four swag preference and we'll make it happen. We've had a request for a Final Four contest, but we're not sure what would work. (Side note: We will continue our Mastering the Masterful Masters event next week. Same rules as always, submit five golfers, we'll count the low four finishers and low score wins.)
— For our money, Florida's Billy Donovan is the best coach in college hoops. Sure, Cal may recruit better — although, while Cal is a great recruiter and underrated as an Xs and Os guy, recruiting at Kentucky for hoops is an easier task than at most other places — and every one loves Tom Izzo and the rest of the candidates, but is there a fan base put there that would not think long and hard about trading their guy for Bill D straight-up right now? Florida fans would say "No thanks" as quickly as you got the "Would your trade coaches..." out of your mouth.
— Many thanks and congrats to TFP aces Downtown Patrick Brown and Mark Wiedmer for their great efforts through the NCAA tournament. Weeds was spot on about the NCAA selection committee doing the SEC no favors in seeding since UK got an 8 and UT was in the play-in game. (Side note: Conspiracy theories collide — we had a caller on Press Row earlier this month ask if the selection committee could have flipped Dayton and Tennessee — two 11 seeds — at the 11th hour to keep Dayton from playing a play-in game in Dayton, which would have been criticized by everyone. Knoxville radio guy Jimmy Hyams said he had heard something similar, too.) That said, we do not believe the fact that the SEC has two teams in the Final Four — and is favored to have the two teams in the title game — makes it a great basketball league. No other team but the three that got invited deserved to be invited. And two elite teams does not make a good conference. Heck, FSU won the BCS football title and Clemson beat THE Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Does that make the ACC a good football league? Nope.
And now this has happened. Not unlike being mean to your girlfriend for three months and accepting the fact that you want to breakup with her, then watching her get in good shape and learn how to cook and start getting noticed by other guys, Johnny Vols Fans everywhere are wondering what the future holds with their relationship with better-looking-than-ever Cuonzo Martin.
Martin has been contacted by Marquette, according to reports. So there are other suitors, which makes The Conz even prettier to Vols fans. And after the NCAA tournament run from play-in game to a basket from the Elite Eight, UT fans who put more than 30,000 signatures on an online petition to bring back Bruce Pearl and UT AD Dave Hart who has been very stoic in terms of extension for The Conz, the tension should be high.
In truth, it's hard to blame Hart for only extending financial increases after last season since The Conz had not been dancing before this spring — and even that was in doubt before the Vols won eight of their last 10 to punch their invite card.
As for the fans, well, the irony here is rich. And if Martin strolls North, leaving the third-best job in the SEC for no better than the fourth-best job in a Big East that is a shell of its former glory days, well, that will be a tough pill for some. For others, it will be the pill they wanted from the start.
Whether that pill is an aid or arsenic will be the question.
So what do you think The Conz will do? Discuss.
Major League Baseball opened in the state Sunday night with the mullet (Padres starter Andrew Cashner) over the Beard (Dodgers nut basket Brian Wilson).
This means the Dodgers will not go 162-0, which would seem likely even though they have a payroll that could offer lofty expectations. And the expectations are lofty. Here, according to RJ Bell and pregame.com, are the odds to win the World Series:
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Los Angeles Angels
Here are some other interesting stats according to Vegas:
Playoffs Projected by Vegas
(based on Season Win Totals)
NL West: Dodgers
NL Central: Cardinals
AL Central: Tigers
NL East: Nationals
AL West: Oakland
AL East: Rays
NL Wildcard: Braves
NL Wildcard: Giants
AL Wildcard: Red Sox
AL Wildcard: Angles
Best teams to miss playoffs:
Rangers, Yankees, Reds, Pirates
Most Regular Season
(by ANY player)
Home Runs: over/under 45.5
RBIs: over/under 130.5
Hits: over/under 208.5
Wins: over/under 20.5
Losses: over/under 17
Complete Games: over/under 6
Saves: over/under 49.5
Strikeouts: over/under 248.5
This and that
Kurt Busch won at Martinsville. Watching a touch of that race made me think racing there is not unlike driving really fast around the parking lot where you work. Wow.
— Yet another rave review for Johnny Manziel. After jamming with Jon Gruden last week and leaving the QB whispering former coach who looks like Chucky wowed with the opinion that Manziel could be Steve Young-esque, now Jerry Rice is giving Manziel the Young tag as well. High praise indeed.
— Speaking of Gruden, have we gotten to the point where we're not sure if Frank Caliendo is impersonating Gruden or Gruden is impersonating Caliendo's impersonation of Gruden.
— Kansas Andrew Wiggins is headed to the league. No shock there. He may have the highest ceiling, but as Chas9 has been telling us all year, Julius Randle has been the better player this year.
This one is really simple:
Who won the weekend? Who lost the weekend?
Go and we'll carry this talk through the afternoon on Press Row, too.
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 ...