THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: APRIL 5, 2019
AN IMPROBABLE FINAL FOUR
This is the Final Four that wasn’t supposed to be. Duke isn’t here. Kentucky isn’t here. Neither are North Carolina and Kansas. How can we have a Final Four without even one of the bluebloods? How can we have a Final Four without Zion Williamson? Well, we’ve got one and I don’t know about you, but I kind of like the idea of Auburn vs. Virginia in one semifinal and Texas Tech vs. Michigan State in the other. Now I know none of you had those teams as your Final Four when the madness began three weeks ago, but how many of you had even two of them advancing beyond the Elite Eight?
But, here we are with a Final Four that has a #1 (Virginia) with only one McDonald’s All-American on its roster. We have a #2 (Michigan State) that wasn’t supposed to deny Duke its date with destiny as the greatest team since Dr. Naismith hung the first peach basket on the wall of a barn. Texas Tech? They’re a #3 and they had to replace four starters from last year. You don’t start four new guys and beat #2 Michigan and the #1 Zags, do you? Auburn? You’ve got to be kidding me. Kentucky blew the doors off Auburn by 27 points back on February 23. The Tigers are a #5 seed but they’re here because they took on royalty (#4 Kansas, #1 North Carolina and #2 Kentucky) in that order and won. Arizona (1997) is the only other team in college basketball history to do that.
Thursday afternoon I asked a friend who watches a ton of college basketball to name Duke’s five starters. He snapped them off in about two seconds and he almost drooled when he said the name Zion Williamson. Then I asked him to name three starters from any of the teams that made it to the Final Four. The best he did was Bryce Brown and Jared Harper from Auburn. He got Kyle Guy from Virginia, Cassius Winston from Michigan State and Jared Culver from Texas Tech but couldn’t name another starter from those teams.
After stumbling through that exercise, he looked at me and said, “Ain’t it wonderful?” And yes, it is. The state of college basketball is very healthy indeed when a whole bunch of new teams make it to the last weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Since we don’t have one or more of the bluebloods in the Final Four, we may end up with a television ratings bomb both for the semifinals and the championship game but I love it that we have new faces from unexpected places going at it. Since the Florida Gators didn’t make it to the last weekend of college basketball, this is my kind of Final Four.
PICKING THE WINNERS … MAYBE
AUBURN (30-9) VS. VIRGINIA (33-3): Bruce Pearl vs. Tony Bennett. In other words, Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker. Bruce is a friend, but to put it mildly – and he’ll admit it – he hasn’t always made the best decisions, therefore he’s earned his shady label. Tony Bennett could run through the mud in a white suit and wouldn’t have to send it to the cleaners. For some reason you can’t imagine any of the Auburn players taking calculus in Charlottesville and the way they talk academics at Virginia, you get the feeling Wahoo fans think playing the likes of Auburn is beneath their dignity. Bruce’s Auburn team plays kind basketball kind of like he plays with the rules sometimes – fast and loose. Virginia walks the ball up the court, makes what seems to be 40 passes before someone shoots, and is so fundamentally sound defensively that the Cavaliers rarely foul. If Virginia has its way, this game will be scored in the high 50s to mid-60s. If Auburn has its way, it will be a track meet in which the Tigers launch 35 or more 3-pointers. I think Auburn’s defense is vastly underrated and I think they will prove too quick for Virginia. I can’t see Auburn scoring 80 or 90 in this one, but I could see the Tigers scoring in the mid-70s and making Chuck happy in the studio.
TEXAS TECH (30-6) VS. MICHIGAN STATE (32-6): Michigan State isn’t a blueblood but the Spartans are close. They will have Magic Johnson in the stands cheering them on Saturday and over at ESPN Dickie V will run out of clichés describing Tom Izzo. Izzo is a great coach and Michigan State is a fine basketball team, but the Spartans are going against Chris Beard, who cut his coaching teeth working for Bobby Knight. The Red Raiders play defense like the Bobby Knight teams did when Indiana was great, which is to say they will be in the Spartans’ jocks the moment they get off the bus Saturday in Minneapolis. Cassius Winston is a fine player for Michigan State, but he will be guarded tighter than he’s ever been guarded in his life Saturday and if he doesn’t respond, Michigan State isn’t going to win this game. Michigan State doesn’t have a player as good as Jared Culver. In fact there isn’t a player in this Final Four as good as Jared Culver. Between Culver and Texas Tech’s ability to make the Spartans feel like they took basketball lessons by mail order and the mail was late with their smothering defense, I like the Red Raiders and it might not be close.
So I’ve got an Auburn-Texas Tech championship game Monday night. Isn’t that who you were picking all along?
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
Ross Dellinger of Sports Illustrated is reporting that LSU and Will Wade are reportedly working together on a deal that would result in Wade being reinstated. Dellinger reports that Wade has hired attorney Steven Thompson, who has kept Arizona’s Sean Miller and Auburn’s Bruce Pearl working despite their names being mentioned in FBI investigations. I’m a firm believer in due process but until the FBI comes out with proof that its wiretaps of Wade discussing payments to procure the services of Javonte Smart are bogus, I can’t see how or why LSU would bother to reinstate Wade. But, then again, this is LSU and the athletic director is Crazy Joe Alleva. Taking that into consideration, nothing would surprise me. It must be noted, however, that the fan and booster reaction to Wade has been overwhelmingly negative.
Now that Kelvin Sampson’s deal has been finalized with Houston and Chris Beard has made it abundantly clear he’s not leaving Texas Tech, Arkansas has decided its next best thing is Nevada’s Eric Musselman. Musselman and the Arkansas hierarchy are interviewing now and a deal is expected to be consummated any time now.
Bucknell center Nate Sestina (6-9, 245) will transfer to Kentucky. He’s a grad transfer with a year of eligibility remaining. Expect the Wildcats to add another big, perhaps an international player.
Alabama has been invited to participate in the 2020 Maui Invitational along with North Carolina, Stanford, Texas, Indiana, Providence, Davidson and UNLV.
Under the terms of his contract extension, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis will make $2.85 million next year, a raise of $350,000. He will get incremental raises of $100,000 a year through the 2022-23 season.
Mississippi State freshman Reggie Perry (6-10, 245) is leaving for the NBA Draft after averaging 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
NBC’s Cris Collinsworth calls Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams the “can’t miss prospect” of the 2019 NFL Draft. Although Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and a host of other draft gurus says the Arizona Cardinals will take Oklahoma Heisman Trophy QB Kyler Murray with the #1 pick in May, the Cardinals are taking long hard looks at Williams. I think the Cardinals deal QB Josh Rosen for draft picks and then take Murray with the first pick.
Apparently, Tennessee’s revamped offensive staff resonates with QB Jarrett Guarantano a bit more than last year’s group. “I think this staff is great,” Guarantano said on Wednesday. “Everything that we are doing, whether it’s Coach (Jim) Chaney, Coach (Chris) Weinke, or Coach Tee (Martin) — all offensive coaches, I think we are on the same page this year and I think we are all working toward the same common goal.”
Coach O is happy with the progress under his offensive staff and the work of his coaching staff. “The efficiency of our offense, the great job of Coach (Steve) Ensminger and Coach (Joe) Brady, the play of Joe Burrow and Myles Brennen, I think those guys have been excellent all spring,” Orgeron said. “The effort our coaching staff has put in, very proud of them.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris has made toughness a priority this spring. ”It’s a mental and physical toughness that we’ve got to have and we’ve got to be better at as a staff, as a team, from a strength staff,” Morris said. “I mean everybody. The whole program. And that’s been an emphasis that we’ve had,” Morris continued. “I don’t want to hear excuses. Excuses take away from that mental and physical toughness that we’re about.”
Athlete Cam’Ron Kelly, who announced earlier in the week that he was leaving Auburn, announced Thursday that he will be transferring to North Carolina.
Rising senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards has embraced his role as a team leader at South Carolina. “It’s known in our room, I’ve got the most experience,” he said. “So it’s a leadership role I took on upon myself. Nobody really has to tell me you’re the guy. It’s pretty much well known in the locker room. Everybody knows that.”
New Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre is installing a 3-4 scheme that will feature juco transfer Sam Williams off the edge. Williams led the nation’s jucos with 17-1/2 sacks last year.
Three of the five spots on the O-line are settled at Texas A&M with LT Dan Moore Jr., RT Carson Green C Ryan McCollum. Jared Hocker likely has one of the guards locked up with Tank Jenkins and Luke Matthews battling for the other one.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Texas won the Nobody’s Interested Tournament (NIT) by beating Lipscomb of the Atlantic Sun Conference. What an accomplishment that is for Shaka Smart and the Longhorns. Feel free to insert whatever measure of sarcasm that you consider appropriate … The New York Jets unveiled new uniforms Thursday. Hated them! … Keith Reaser, who played corner for Steve Spurrier and the now defunct Orlando Apollos, signed a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. Reaser got $100,000 up front … Former University of Miami running back Mark Walton, who played with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018, surrendered to police and is facing a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon among other things. This is his third run-in with the law this year … Tim Tebow went 0-4 with two strikeouts in his AAA debut with the Syracuse Mets Thursday, a game won by the Pawtucket Red Sox, 6-3 … Former Gator Preston Tucker is in the Chicago White Sox organization. He went 2-4 with 3 RBI Thursday as the Charlotte Knights (AAA) whacked the Durham Bulls, 12-11 …The NBA regular season ends next Wednesday. Unless I break down in an absolute moment of uncontrollable weakness between now and then I will have resisted the temptation to watch a single game all season long.