Sunday’s Den: Wrapping up a basketball Saturday……

13) Will any of this season’s scheduling oddities become normal in the future? Will playing two games at one site over 2-3 days, which reduces travel, become the new normal, or will things go back to the way they were last year?

Friday nights have always been a slow night for college hoop, but this year, Fridays have been busier than Wednesday/Thursdays. I’m guessing the TV people would prefer leaving Fridays to the NBA and getting college games back to mid-week dates, but that remains to be seen.

12) Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats recently signed a contract extension that will pay him $3.225M/year, not bad for a guy who, eight years ago, was a high school Math teacher and the basketball coach at a Michigan HS. He taught at the school for 11 years; now he’s rich.

Alabama is 19-6 this year, 14-2 in the SEC; they’ll be a high seed in the NCAA’s.

11) Oklahoma State 94, Oklahoma 90, OT— Cade Cunningham scored 40 points for OSU, in an impressive one-man show. Cunningham’s brother was hired as an assistant coach by the Cowboys last year, as an inducement for his brother to come to Stillwater.

Whatever they’re paying the brother, it ain’t enough. Oklahoma State will play in the NCAA’s before they get their probation from the NCAAs. Cunningham will be a walking advertisement for the Oklahoma State program when he plays in the NBA.
10) Louisville 80, Duke 73 OT
— Cardinals blew a 12-point lead, but pulled away for the OT win.
— ESPN’s Jay Bilas (a Duke alum) calls most Duke games, but he was at Kansas-Baylor, so ESPN showed they give Duke no special treatment— Chris Spatola was the analyst. He is Coach K’s son-in-law.


9) Kansas 71, Baylor 58— Bears lose for first time in 18 games; this was their second game back after a 21-day COVID pause. Selection Sunday is two weeks from today, so their first game in the NCAA Tournament is 18-19 days away. Will they have their legs back by then?

8) North Carolina 78, Florida State 70
— This was Roy Williams’ 900th career win; 482 at Carolina, 418 at Kansas.
— Florida State led this game by 16 in the first half.
— Peaks/valleys: Carolina got hammered at home by Marquette during the week.

7) Upsets of the Day:
— Tennessee Tech (+10.5) 71, Murray State 61
— Northridge (+10) 90, Bakersfield 87
— Rider (+9.5) 78, Saint Peter’s 65
— Vanderbilt (+9.5) 75, Ole Miss 70
— Auburn (+8) 77, Tennessee 72
— Bradley (+8) 67, Drake 61
— Oregon State (+7) 73, Stanford 62
— Boston College (+7) 94, Notre Dame 90

6) Texas Tech 68, Texas 59:
— Longhorns are 4-6 in their last ten games, after a 10-1 start.
— Tech’s win snaps a 3-game losing skid.

5) Morehead State 89, Belmont 82, OT
— Belmont lost twice this week, after starting the season 24-1.
— Morehead was 31-39 on foul line, Belmont 14-19.

4) Auburn 77, Tennessee 72— Tigers pull the upset without star G Sherife Cooper, who is out for the year. Excellent coaching job by Bruce Pearl, but also a disturbing loss for Tennessee, which looked lackluster in defeat. When network TV guys say it on the air, it had to be obvious.

3) Arkansas 83, LSU 75— Razorbacks have won six in row, nine of last ten games. LSU takes lot of quick shots and doesn’t pass the ball so much- they’re 4-6 in their last ten games, after they started the season 10-2.

2) Gonzaga 86, LMU 69— Gonzaga is the last unbeaten team in the country which puts the target right on their backs. Zags have one single-digit win the entire season (December 2nd vs West Virginia); when they have to play a close game in the NCAA’s, will that hurt them?

1) There are a lot of teams who are capable of beating anyone on a given day, but it seems like there are very few teams who are consistently good. Winning a national title takes six wins a row, the last four (or five) over strong teams.

The eventual national champ this year may be a team that gets help from upsets elsewhere in their bracket, not unlike Kansas in 1988. 

Saturday’s Den: NCAA tourney notes, and random thoughts on a winter night

13) Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs, stolen Thursday by thieves who shot and wounded a dog walker,, were recovered unharmed Friday in Los Angeles. The dog walker is expected to recover from his gunshot wounds; they didn’t say if the woman who returned the dogs banked the $500,000 reward Lady Gaga posted.

12) Georgia State 84, South Alabama 81— When ESPN first started 40 years ago, they showed a lot of Sun Belt games early on. I’m thinking they should give the league a weekly time slot now, either on Friday nights or Sundays:

a) They play good basketball; this game was fun to watch.
b) to show appreciation for helping ESPN get off the ground 40 years ago

This loss snapped South Alabama’s 8-game winning streak.

11) Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan are heavy favorites to be #1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but it is totally unclear who the fourth #1-seed will be.

10) Saint Louis 72, Richmond 67— Teams in A-14 are cannibalizing each other; I’m not even sure the A-14 will get more than one team in the tournament. Top six teams in the standings all have either three or four conference losses.

9) New Mexico fired basketball coach Paul Weir, but he’ll finish the season. Lobos are 16-36 in Mountain West games the last three years. Firing a coach after this screwed-up season could be judged as hasty; Lobos are very inexperienced this year, a bad season for that to happen.

8) Wichita State removed the interim tag from basketball coach Isaac Brown’s job title, named him the full-time head coach. Shockers have won five in a row, are 13-4 this season.

7) Random fact: actor Jim Belushi owns a cannabis farm in Oregon.

Some notes to remember for the upcoming NCAA tournament:
6) Last three years, #1-seeds are 5-7 ATS in first round, 4-7 ATS in second round

5) Last four years, #2-seeds are 9-6-1 ATS in first round, 6-10 ATS in second round.

4) Last six years, in 2nd round games in #4-5 seeds’ bracket, favorites are 19-5 ATS.

3) Last four years, underdogs are 11-5 ATS in Sweet 16 games.

2) Last six tournaments (obviously, there was no tournament LY), underdogs are 16-8 ATS in Elite 8 games.

1) Last nine years, underdogs are 10-8 ATS in national semifinals, but favorites covered six of last nine national title games. 

Friday’s Den: Random stuff with weekend here…….

13) Read a good story this week, we don’t hear enough positive stuff these days.

Matthew Berry writes for ESPN, mostly about fantasy sports, but his first job out of college was production assistant for The George Carlin Show. It was uplifting when Berry wrote an article saying what a great guy Carlin was, and how nice the great comedian was to Berry .

There is too much hostility in our world; we need to be nicer to each other. Seriously.

12) NBA TV showed the replay of a 1977 Jazz-Knicks game from New Orleans, when the great Pete Maravich hung 68 points on the Knicks- this was before there were 3-pointers.

I remember watching the game with my dad, who was a big Knicks fan. It was fun watching the replay; Maravich would dribble up the floor and take a lot of quick, pull-up jumpers. Picture Steph Curry time traveling back 44 years; that’s what it was like.

Knicks had some interesting subs that year:
— Phil Jackson obviously became one of the NBA’s best-ever coaches.
— Tom McMillen wound up as a US Congressman for six years.
— Ticky Burden was one of the best-ever basketball players from here in Albany.
— Dean Meminger was the first head coach of the Albany Patroons of the CBA, a team that Phil Jackson would later coach, before his great run in the NBA.

11) Michigan 79, Iowa 57:
— Michigan is 17-1; they’ve won six in a row. Wolverines are very good.

10) Michigan State 71, Ohio State 67:
— Spartans won last three games, are 13-9; imagine the #1-seed who is going to see the Spartans in their bracket, in a potential 2nd-round game? 

— Michigan State scored 65 or less points in six of their last seven losses; they scored 78-81-71 points in their last three games.

9) Cincinnati Bearcats won five of their last six games; none of the five wins was by more than three points. They still don’t shoot well, but they’ve saved their season.

8) Horizon tournament opened last night; three of the four home teams won. Fort Wayne was the only road winner; they won 89-84 in double OT at Green Bay, after trailing by 8 points in the second half. Mastodons made 10-21 3-pointers; they won for only second time in their last 11 games.

7) Illinois star Ayo Dosunmu broke his nose, is out for a while; he’ll probably be wearing a mask when he comes back. Dosumnu is Illinois’ best player, a 40% shooter on the arc; this isn’t great timing for the Illini.

6) Colorado 80, USC 62— Buffaloes are an experienced team with good guards, but they play better against the good teams than weak sisters. Thats not a good recipe for March. Colorado has now won six games in a row over USC, which lost for only second time in their last 10 games.

5) Upsets of the Night:
— Tennessee Tech (+8.5) 81, Austin Peay 76
— Eastern Kentucky (+8) 81, Belmont 67
— SE Missouri State (+6) 94, Eastern Illinois 88
— Fort Wayne (+5.5) 89, Green Bay 94, 2OT
— Northwestern (+4.5) 67, Minnesota 59
— LMU (+4.5) 81, Pepperdine 74

4) Bad Beat of the Night: San Diego State (-6) 78, Boise State 66, OT— Aztecs led by 17 early in the second half, blew the lead, then covered in overtime. Boise was 12-40 on the arc, 12-26 inside the arc.

3) Shin-Soo Choo retired from the major leagues and went home to Korea, where he’ll play for the Wyverns in the KBO this season. Choo had a .377 on-base %age in 16 big league seasons, and now he gets to finish his career at home. Good for him.

2) Sportsbooks in New Jersey banked an $82.6M profit in January; sportsbooks in Nevada raked in $52.4M. Tough times for gamblers; too many variables. I’m not picking games on this site these days because I don’t think there is a realistic expectation of coming out ahead right now, and I like coming out ahead.

1) There is a good program on ESPN2 most weekdays; Daily Wager, that talks about gambling and handicapping. Handicapping is a grind, it is fun, but there are ups and downs, and dealing with those determines who wins and who loses over the long haul. It is well worth watching. 

Thursday’s Den: Doing some thinking out loud…….

13) Since the AFL/NFL merger 50+ years ago, only one NFL quarterback who has started 50+ games hasn’t thrown at least one pick-6. The answer is surprising; I’ll post it down below.

12) May 17, 1979; Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 in ten innings, with the wind blowing out at Wrigley Field. One of the craziest ballgames ever:

— Neither starting pitcher finished the first inning.
— Cubs’ #3-4 hitters went a combined 7-13, with seven runs scored, 13 RBI and Chicago still lost.
— Cubs’ #3 hitter was Bill Buckner, who was a very good big league hitter.
— For some reason, Larry Bowa hit 2nd, Pete Rose 3rd for the Phillies. Bowa was a good fielder but a less-than-average hitter. Bake McBride batted leadoff for Philly.

—Tug McGraw gave up 7 runs (4 earned) in 0.2 innings; you may have heard of his son, Tim McGraw, the great singer. Tug McGraw saved 180 games in his 19-year MLB career.
— Rawly Eastwick got the win in relief, throwing two perfect innings in a 23-22 game.
— Six different players knocked in 4+ runs.
— Bob Boone (Aaron Boone’s father) was the Phillies’ catcher.
— The game took 4:03 to play; 14,952 fans watched it.

11) Jazz 114, Lakers 89:
— Jazz have played 32 games; they’re had a 20+ point lead in 20 of them.
— In its last 23 games, Utah is 20-2-1 against the spread.

10) NBA will host two 4-team play-in tournaments May 18-21, to determine the last four playoff teams this season, two in each conference:
— #7-seed hosts the #8-seed; winner is in.
— #10-seed visits the #9-seed; loser is out. 
— Loser of the 7-8 game hosts the 9-10 winner; winner of that game gets in playoffs.

9) Arkansas 81, Alabama 66:
— Free throws: Arkansas 27-43, Alabama 3-8. Seems fair.
— One kid on Arkansas was 16-19 on the line; Alabama’s whole team was 3-8.
— Arkansas has won five in row, 8 of last 9 games.
— Alabama is 4-3 in its last seven games, after a 14-3 start.

8) Rutgers 74, Indiana 63— The pundits on the Big 14 Network preach endlessly about how great their league is; I’m a skeptic. FS1’s Doug Gottlieb was saying how fewer kids from the Big 14 jump early to the NBA, so they have an advantage early in the season, their teams have more continuity, an advantage that erodes as the season goes on.

7) ESPN missed the boat when they let Gottlieb walk; he is a way better analyst than Jay Bilas, who somehow is ESPN’s #1 analyst. Bilas played for Duke, which seems to mean a lot at ESPN.

Gottlieb speaks his mind, has some humor and doesn’t bitch about the refs every 90 seconds, the way Bilas does. Always learn stuff listening to Gottlieb.

6) NC State 68, Virginia 61:
— Virginia lost three in row, after a 15-3 start.
— Wolfpack won three in row, after an 8-9 start.
— NC State played seven guys the whole game. Not many teams have depth these days.

5) Wednesday night’s biggest upsets:
— Western Carolina (+14) 81, NC-Greensboro 80
— NC State (+12) 68, Virginia 61
— Marquette (+8.5) 83, North Carolina 70
— St Joe’s (+8) 97, Dayton 84
— Butler (+7.5) 61, Seton Hall 52
— Fresno State (+7) 67, UNLV 64

4) SNY in New York City does it right; they replay a classic Mets’ game every weekday at 3pm. Watching ballgames is the fun thing to do, listening to Cohen-Darling-Hernandez is a fine way to spend a winter afternoon, at least until exhibition games start this weekend.

3) Blue Jays’ 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr has lost 42 pounds since last season; he turns 22 next month, has hit .269 in his first 183 big league games, over two seasons. Curious to see if being so much lighter will make him a better hitter.

2) I’m amazed that people bet on the NFL Draft; you can wager on how many QB’s will get taken in the first round, what pick in the first round will the last QB be taken, basically anything you can think of. 

Over the last 50 years, Mitch Trubisky is the only NFL quarterback with 50+ starts who hasn’t thrown at least one pick-6.

1) Conference tournaments start tonight; the Horizon League has four first-round games.

Wednesday’s Den: Mid-week musings…….

13) A gambler bet $67,000 Tuesday night at @pointsbetusa that 17-0 Baylor would beat 2-16 Iowa State SU, but Baylor was down 32-15 early, was still down a point with 4:54 left to play- they wound up winning 77-72. 

The gambler risked $67,000, made himself a stresssful $2,914. Very stressful.

12) Baylor 77, Iowa State 72— That was the Bears’ first game in three weeks; they just need to get games under their belt, to get ready for the tournament. Can a team get in midseason form in three weeks? We’re about to find out.

11) March’s college basketball schedule is going to be scrambled this year, but at least they’re going to play tournaments, unlike last year. Some of the conference tournaments start next week; I’ll be posting information on all that I can. Hopefully next season will be more normal.

10) NBA trends on back/backs:
— Road teams who played at home night before: Favorites 4-3 ATS, underdogs 6-10-1
— Teams on road for 2nd consecutive night: F 13-8 ATS, U 19-13-1
— Teams at home for 2nd consecutive night: F 12-9-1, U 14-14
— Home teams who played on road night before: F 2-9, U 10-6
— Home teams 38-38-1………favorites 31-29-1, underdogs 49-43-2

9) I’d be fascinated to know what NBA coaches who also coached in college think about the two sports: Billy Donovan, Brad Stevens, Quin Snyder. Even Lon Kruger, who coached the Hawks for a few years but who coaches Oklahoma now. 

Recruiting and the transfer epidemic has to make college coaching less appealing; the money is better in the NBA, but lot of coaches like to teach— lot more of that in college.

Would be a fascinating HBO special this summer. Or NBA TV.

8) Lefty pitcher Scott Kazmir signed a minor league deal with the Giants; he has a career record of 108-96, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016. Giants will be his 7th big league team.

7) NBA teams who play the fastest tempo, which could be helpful in betting totals:
1) Golden State
2) Houston
3) Chicago
4) Minnesota
5) Philadelphia

6) Michigan State 81, Illinois 72: Some nights Illinois looks like a Final Four team, then there are nights like tonight. You have to win four tournament games in a row to make the Final Four; is Illinois consistent enough?

5) There are already 110 kids on the college basketball transfer portal; with this year being a free year for college players, meaning that conceivably, everyone playing this year could also come back and play next year, the transfer portal should be fascinating this spring.

Over 1,000 kids transferred last year; I’m guessing this year’s number will be around 1,500.

4) All-Star reserves were announced Tuesday; couple of surprising omissions:
— Phoenis Suns are 20-10; Devin Booker is their best player, scoring 24.7 ppg.
— Domantas Sabonis is one of four players averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists per game.

NBA All-Star Game is way harder to make than the baseball/football All-Star Games

3) Michigan’s football team has six new assistant coaches for next season; now all ten of Jim Harbaugh’s assistant coaches are under 40 years old, which is highly unusual.

2) Georgia 91, LSU 78— Dismal effort by LSU, which is now 4-5 in its last nine games. LSU is #329 in the country in assists/FG’s made, meaning they go 1-on-1 a lot and depend on their rebounding for scoring. Not the best recipe for March, especially for experience team #327.

1) Auburn star Sharife Cooper has his foot in a walking boot, Auburn isn’t playing in the postseason and Cooper is likely headed to the NBA this summer, so his college career is pretty much over. So are Auburn’s chances of winning again this season. They’ve lost 7 of their last 8 games, and finish up with Tennessee/Alabama. 

Tuesday’s Den: Nobody asked me, but…….

13) There could be more of this to come; Western Kentucky will visit Houston Thursday night, in a hastily-arranged game designed to elevate both teams’ resume for the NCAA Tournament.

WKU is 15-4, and appears to be a bubble team at best if they don’t win the C-USA tournament. Houston is 18-3, but a win here would help improve their resume.

12) Oklahoma State 74, Texas Tech 69 OT:

Oklahoma State was 22-32 on foul line, Texas Tech 8-12.

Cade Cunningham was the #1 high school recruit in the country last year; he chose to go to Oklahoma State, which “coincidentally” had just hired his brother as an assistant coach.

All that is perfectly legal, has been done many times before. In the mid’80’s, Kansas hired Ed Manning as an assistant coach, then Ed’s son Danny led the Jayhawks to a national title. Ed Manning played in the NBA, but he was a truck driver when Kansas hired him.

During this game, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla had the onions to say that the brother’s hiring wasn’t a “package deal.” In other words, Oklahoma State would’ve hired the brother as an assistant coach, even if Cade Cunningham was a badminton player. Have to call bullshit on that one.

11) By the way, Oklahoma State will be going on probation soon, just not this year, because the NCAA hasn’t gotten around to hearing OSU’s appeal of the NCAA’s verdict on a previous issue. By the time the Cowboys go on probation, Cade Cunningham will be playing in the NBA.

In June 2020, after an FBI bribery-and-corruption investigation implicated a former OSU assistant coach- he got a three-month prison sentence, the NCAA gave Oklahoma State a 3-year probation, a one-year postseason ban and the loss of three total scholarships over a three-year period.

10) Duke 85, Syracuse 71— There is a phrase called “addition by subtraction” where the group does better when one person leaves. Not necessarily that person’s fault, just that roles become more defined, there are fewer people looking over their shoulders to be subbed out.

Duke, in three games since Jalen Johnson skipped town:
— won 84-60 at Wake Forest
— won 66-65 over Virginia
— won 85-71 over Syracuse

Duke was 5-8 when Johnson played; they’re 6-0 in games he missed. Those are the facts; they are not in dispute. Decide for yourself why those facts are what they are.

9) There have been  Celtic fans on social media bitching about coach Brad Stevens; Celtics are 15-15, lost six of their last nine games. To this point, they’re underachieving.

I’ll say this; of the 357 D-I college teams, how many would fire their coach if Stevens became available? He made the Final Four with a HORIZON LEAGUE TEAM (Butler wasn’t in the Big East yet). If he isn’t appreciated in Boston, someone with deep pockets surely will.

8) West Virginia won six of its last eight games; they’ve won five road games in a row, which is pretty amazing. West Virginia plays in the Big X; of the other nine teams in the league, closest town to West Virginia is Ames, Iowa, which according to Mapquest, is 872 miles away.

Thats their shortest conference road trip, 872 miles. Yikes.

7) South Carolina used to be an ACC school; they bolted the league in 1971, stayed independent in football until 1991, when they joined the SEC.

The basketball Gamecocks joined the old Metro Conference in 1983; that was a pretty good league, with Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis, but it was basketball-only.

You wonder if they could do it all over again, if South Carolina would’ve stayed in the ACC.

6) Only one major league team ever has had a player wear 0 and another player wear 00 at the same time; the 1985 Blue Jays had Al Oliver (0) and Cliff Johnson (00).

This season, Marcus Stroman will wear 0 for the Mets; there were rumors that Taijuan Walker was going to wear 00, but he will wear 99 instead, joining Turk Wendell as Mets who wore #99.

5) Reliever Tyler Clippard is going to sign with Arizona; he must be good at packing:
2007— Bronx
2009-14— Washington
2015— Oakland/NY Mets
2016— Arizona/Bronx
2017— Bronx-White Sox-Houston
2018— Toronto
2019— Cleveland
2020— Minnesota
2021— Arizona

4) Since 2000, colleges with the most NFL draft picks:
141— Ohio State
127— Alabama
126— LSU
119— Miami
109— Florida, Florida State, Georgia, USC
101— Oklahoma

3) QB Tyler Shough has bolted Oregon for Texas Tech; Slough started all seven games for the Ducks last year, as Oregon won its 2nd consecutive Pac-12 title, but he was splitting time with Anthony Brown at the end of the season.

2) Albert Pujols’ wife announced on Instagram that this season will be her husband’s last year in the major leagues; Albert Pujols has had a great career, hitting 662 home runs, a career OPS of .924, winning two World Series rings. He also earned roughly $345M in salary.

No word from Pujols himself on his career plans, but five years after he retires, he’ll be going to Cooperstown.

1) Golfer Tony Finau won the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, his only PGA Tour win; since then, he’s finished in the top ten of 37 other tournaments, earned $19.2M, but no more wins.

During that time, 43 other golfers have won 2+ tournaments. $19.2M is damn good golfing, but you’d think he would have more than one tournament win. 

Monday’s Den: Happy birthday, Dad…….

13) I’ve become a fan of listening to podcasts on my phone; if there aren’t any good movies on TV late at night, after the games are over, then I’ll put music on or listen to a podcast.

I’m a little concerned that podcasts have replaced writing in a lot of places, because our society is lazy, and running your mouth is easier than typing out your thoughts, but still, I’ve enjoyed learning stuff from listening to people who are smarter than I am. 

Word of caution: There A LOT OF PODCASTS out there, so pick/choose things that interest you. My main interests are sports and movies; here are a few podcasts I listen to:

— The Moment, with Brian Koppelman (one of writers of Billions)
— Eye on College Basketball, a CBS production which is self-explanatory.
— The Mind of Miles, with former Nebraska hoop coach Tim Miles, who will have himself a nice career on TV if he chooses that option. He is upbeat and can really talk.
— Truth and Basketball, with George Karl and another guy- they get some good guests. Listened to an episode with Julius Erving the other night.
— 6 Ways to Sunday— Rams’ GM Les Snead and his wife, Kara Henderson talk about interesting aspects of being an NFL GM that we might not usually think about.

Sports, politics, movies, music; its all out there. Its like eavesdropping on conversations, so if you choose smart, interesting people, you’ll get smarter while you’re being entertained.

12) Book recommendation: If you love pro basketball and you remember the ABA, then you have to read Loose Balls, which is basically an oral history of the ABA. The author interviewed a ton of people, then cut/pasted their answers and created this book, long before cut/paste was an actual thing. 

Lot of great stories; some of it is obviously dated, seeing how the ABA ended 45 years ago, but the ABA is also highly underrated in basketball history. This book is worth reading.

11) Kid on Florida Atlantic’s baseball team hit two grand slams in one inning the other day, and they were his first two college at-bats. Not a bad way to start your career.

10) I’m in a 14-team fantasy baseball league; it is a dynasty league, so we have a 2-round draft every February, but otherwise keep our teams from year-to-year. This league has been going on since 2005; we’ve finished our draft already and now wait for spring training games to start this coming weekend. Every team gets four drop/adds per month.

I used to offer trades during the spring, but trading can be frustrating; only a couple guys will make deals that are fair exchanges. Few years ago, thought I had a trade wrapped up, but then the guy says, “One more thing……throw in deGrom and we’ve got a deal” Ummm, no bueno.

9) Colorado Rockies are taking grief over dealing Nolan Arenado, and the prospect of Trevor Story also getting traded sometime this year, before he hits free agency. Last time Colorado signed a major league free agent?

December 21, 2018, they signed Daniel Murphy. Are they trying to win?

8) More bad news for the Rockies Sunday; 35-year old 1B/OF Ian Desmond is opting out for the second year in a row, to spend more time with his family. Desmond must’ve taken good care of his money; he has passed on $13.5M by sitting out last year/this year. He is a free agent after this season; why would a hitter willingly leave Denver?

7) One of the pitfalls of wagering on college basketball is that lot of teams have very little depth, and a turned ankle or foul trouble to one guy can cripple a team.

— Notre Dame-Syracuse game Saturday, both teams played 7 guys (Syracuse played an 8th kid, but only for 3:00)
— South Alabama is on a roll, winning 8 in a row; they played six guys Saturday. Six!!!

Lot of work keeping up with who is healthy/who isn’t. It is way worse this year because of teams pausing for COVID and games getting re-scheduled. Hopefully next season will be more normal.

6) When you hear a basketball announcer on TV say “Eurostep” that’s his polite way of saying, “the guy just walked but the ref didn’t call it.”

5) Atlantic 14 tournament has been jockeyed around some:
— Tournament was moved up to March 3-6 in Richmond, all except the final.
— A-14 final will be March 14 in Dayton, which is close to Indiana, where the whole NCAA Tournament will be played. Trying to minimize any possible COVID issues.

4) St Bonaventure 69, Davidson 58:
— Bonnies are 11-3, 9-3 in conference.
— Get a map, and find Olean, NY; it is in middle of nowhere, on Southern Tier of NY.
— How does Bonnies’ coach Mark Schmidt not have a better job? He is a great coach.

Bonnies have 12 players, 2 freshmen, one sophomore, and NINE JUNIORS. They could be a really good team the next couple of years.

3) When I wrote tomorrow NBA’s page just before I started this page, was watching the Minnesota-Knicks game on TV. Knicks won a close game; just heard that after the game, the Timberwolves fired coach Ryan Saunders.

2) As if the last year hasn’t been weird enough, Saturday an NHL game was delayed for eight hours because the sun was out and the ice at the outdoor rink was melting. This was at the same time as the PGA event in Los Angeles being delayed because it was too windy out. Oy.

1) Today would’ve been my dad’s 95th birthday; he passed away six years ago, and I miss him every day. He was a quiet, patient person; somehow the patience didn’t get passed down to his son. 🙂

Back in the day, I wasn’t allowed to watch The Three Stooges on TV: my mother apparently thought I would start drilling people in the head with a wrench if I did, but when she went out, I would put The Three Stooges on (WSBK in Boston) and my dad would come in the room, shake his head at me, but five minutes later, he’d be laughing harder than I was. Every time.

My dad grew up in New York City, was a huge Brooklyn Dodgers fan; he loved golf, the Mets/Knicks/Giants, going to the racetrack at Saratoga and being around his family, and we loved being around him. Happy birthday dad; wish you were here. 

Sunday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports Saturday

13) Something to consider when filling out your brackets next month:

There have been only six national champions who didn’t win either:
a) the regular season title in their league, or
b) the conference tournament in their league. One or the other.

Last two teams to do it: UConn in 2014, Duke 2015.

12) North Carolina 99, Louisville 54:
— Louisville has had two COVID pauses; they lost by 37-45 points in their return games.
— Apparently Louisville requested this game be moved to Sunday, so they could have a couple more players eligible to play. North Carolina declined; will there be hard feelings?

11) West Virginia 84, Texas 82:
— Texas led 62-43 with 18:18 left in the game.
— Two Longhorn players had to be separated from each other during a timeout with 15:52 left to play. West Virginia outscored Texas 34-18 the rest of the game.
— Texas is 3-5 in its last eight games.
— West Virginia was 26-37 on the foul line, Longhorns 4-10.

10) Arizona 81, USC 72:
— Loss snaps Trojans’ 7-game win streak.
— Arizona has five starters, from five different countries.

9) South Alabama 56, Appalachian State 54:
— Jaguars have won 8 in a row, the last seven by 6 or fewer points.
— South Alabama played 6 guys in this game; that almost never happens.
— Kayo Goncalves was 6-16 from floor; all 3-pointers. No foul shots.

8) Michigan State 78, Indiana 71:
— Spartans are 11-9 overall, 5-9 in the Big 14.
— Michigan State hasn’t missed the NCAA’s since 1997.

7) Upsets of the Day (it was an upsetting day):
— George Mason (+11.5) 79, VCU 76 OT
— DePaul (+11.5) 88, St John’s 83
— Cal-Fullerton (+9.5) 67, Cal-Irvine 64
— Eastern Illinois (+8.5) 76, Austin Peay 69
— Cal-San Diego (+7.5) 83, Cal-Riverside 82
— Marist (+7.5) 51, Saint Peter’s 50
— Arizona (+7.5) 81, USC 72
— Kentucky (+7.5) 70, Tennessee 55

6) Washington State 85, Stanford 76, 3OT:
— Stanford didn’t score in the third OT.
— Wazzu trailed by 8 in 2nd half; they were 13-40 on the arc, 14-35 inside arc.
— Costly loss for Stanford, which is squarely on the bubble.

5) Syracuse 75, Notre Dame 67:
— Notre Dame was up 59-39 with 16:49 left in the game.
— Buddy Boeheim (yes, his son) scored 29 points.

4) Hornets 102, Warriors 100— Draymond Green got two technicals with 0:09 left, and Golden State up two; this is not ideal. Charlotte made the two foul shots, tied the game, then won it on a jumper from the corner as time expired.

Golden State isn’t a great team anymore; they’re 16-15, a marginal playoff team. Giving away games like this one is damaging.

3) LSU 104, Auburn 80— Auburn is #346 in experience, #34 in tempo. They’re fun to watch, but they’ve been getting pounded, giving up 80+ points in seven of their last eight games.

This game had a total of 166, the biggest total in a college game this season, and it went over, by 18 points. ESPN’s Dalen Cuff was openly talking about the total on air during the game, which is unusual. Seems like ESPN is trying very hard to promote their show Daily Wager.

2) Baylor is 17-0 and is heavily favored to make the Final Four, but they haven’t played in three weeks; how many games will Baylor need to play before the tournament, to get their legs back, if they’re going to make the Final Four?

NCAA Tournament starts March 18-19, that’s 25 days from now.

1) Selection Sunday is three weeks away; I have no idea what’s going to happen between now and then, and neither do you. This is unchartered territory; games will be added to schedules on the fly, some teams won’t want to add games, because they’re secure in the Field of 68.

One thing to remember going forward; every player can come back and play next season; no one loses any eligibility. If you think this regular season has been weird, wait until the transfer season begins this spring. 

Saturday’s Den: Random stuff with the weekend here

13) This is what politicians/public servants are SUPPOSED TO DO:

In Texas this week, Beto O’Rourke organized volunteers to make more than 784,000 wellness calls to senior citizens around the state, to make sure they’re OK.

Common decency shouldn’t be a partisan issue; O’Rourke is a private citizen now, but he still has influence and he used it to try to help people this week. Good for him.

12) Long time ago, 40 or so years ago, I was student manager of the basketball team at UAlbany, when the Great Danes were a Division III team. A great learning experience, made lot of friends because of it; I was thinking of this story tonight and it made me smile:

Albany had a JV team; this is February 1980. The JV team had several injuries, one of whom was Jody MacDonald, who is now a sports talk host in Philadelphia; our team was down to six guys, so for two interesting nights, I suited up as the JV’s 7th player.

Because part of my job as student manager was dealing with the officials before games, I knew most of them; this was my junior year. I’m in the layup line, knowing I wasn’t going to play but trying to look like an actual player during warmups. I hear a voice behind me.

“Remember, no dunking in warmups” one of the refs says to me, then smiles and walks away. Just what we need, a smart-ass official. 🙂

Never got into either game I suited up for, but I did play in one scrimmage on our Sweden trip the following summer. I shot too much and was quickly yanked; go figure.

11) Seems strange to me that NBA teams haven’t seen the second half of their schedules yet, but in the COVID era, the league wanted flexibility in how they’re scheduling.

10) Bill Walton was telling a story Thursday night about how Michael Jordan’s first college choice was UCLA, but Larry Brown, then UCLA’s coach, wasn’t interested. I’ve never heard that one before; the whole course of college basketball would’ve changed.

Ironic that Larry Brown is a North Carolina alum.

9) I listen to podcasts a lot; can learn a lot from diverse sources, which is a good thing.

Rams’ GM Les Snead does a podcast with his wife, Kara Henderson; I’m listening to them as I type this, talking to poker pro Annie Duke about decision-making, and how decisions are made, and all the things that go into making good decisions.

Snead’s job has a lot of decision making; you wouldn’t think an NFL GM would take knowledge from a poker pro, but smart people listen to other smart people.

8) Boise State 81, Utah State 77:
— Broncos sweep Utah State, improve to 18-4, 14-3 in conference
— Mountain West is looking like a 2-bid league, with San Diego State looking solid.

7) Dayton 76, Saint Louis 53— Flyers sweep Saint Louis; they were up 20 at the half in this game. Not sure what to make of the Billikens; they had a 34-day COVID pause in January, are now only 4-3 in the A-14. They’re looking more and more like an NIT team.

6) UAB 76, Old Dominion 69:
— Brickfest: teams combined to shoot 7-32 on the arc.
— Andy Kennedy’s Blazers are 17-4, 10-3 in Conference USA, in Kennedy’s first season.
— UAB was +11 (20-9) in turnovers.

5) Iona 91, Monmouth 86:
— Rick Pitino’s Gaels are 7-5, 5-3 in the MAAC.
— Monmouth coach King Rice got tossed for carping to refs; in an empty gym, the yelling just sounds louder than it probably is.

Pitino has said that he believes in the Gonzaga/Saint Mary’s model of recruiting for mid-majors; 40-50% (6 or 7 players) being from foreign countries. Interesting strategy.

4) Baseball stuff:
— Mets gave P Taijuan Walker $20M for two years.
— Pirates gave 1B/3B Todd Frazier a minor league deal.

3) Lakers’ star Anthony Davis (calf/achilles) is out for at least four weeks.

2) Get well soon to Indianas’ manager Terry Francona, who had offseason surgery to address a staph infection in his big toe- he is still wearing a walking boot.

Everyone you listen to says that Francona is a good dude; he’s also been a successful manager, ending the Curse of the Bambino with the 2004 Red Sox. Baseball is better if he is involved.

Random trivia you probably already knew: Francona was manager of the Birmingham Barons in the AA Southern League, the year Michael Jordan played for the Barons.

1) A 111-year old woman in South Carolina got the COVID vaccine this week, the oldest person to do so.

Maria Aulenbacher attributes living such a long life to a few things: staying active and reading every day (she particularly favors historical books and non-fiction), a glass of red wine with lunch, and a beer with dinner. Good for her. 

Friday’s Den: Random stuff on a snowy night…….

13) Eagles traded QB Carson Wentz to Indianapolis, for a 3rd round pick in April’s draft and a 2nd round pick in 2022, which could become a 1st round pick if Wentz plays well.

Eagles won a Super Bowl since drafting Wentz, but he got hurt late in the Super Bowl season and Nick Foles led the team to their playoff wins. Wentz went 14-26 ATS the last three years; he will be reunited with Frank Reich, one of his OC’s in Philadelphia.

12) Colts’ starting QB’s over the last three years, and next year:
2018: Andrew Luck
2019: Jacoby Brissett
2020: Philip Rivers
2021: Carson Wentz

11) From 2009-2016, there were 22 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft; of those 22 QB’s, none of them are still on the team that drafted them. Zero.

10) This list will grow: NFL teams that will have a new starting QB in September:
— Rams (Stafford)
— Lions (Goff)
— Colts (Wentz)
— Eagles (Hurts)
— Saints (????)

9) Phillies catcher JT Realmuto signed a five-year, $115M contract this winter, then broke his right thumb on the first day of spring training. Not good. He is expected to miss a month, could be ready for Opening Day.

8) They’re really going to have the dunk contest at halftime of the All-Star Game? How long does the freakin’ dunk contest take? Has to be close to an hour, yes?

You’re going to tell the highest-paid players in the NBA that they have to sit around for an hour, then play ball for another half? What if one of them gets hurt? How is this a good idea? Have the dunk contest after the game- people who care about it will still watch.

7) When I’m watching basketball this season and coaches are wearing masks, if the guy has a suit and tie on, it looks weird. Like it better when coaches wear casual clothes.

6) Caesars Sportsbook posted the Dodgers’ win total this season at 104.5, the highest total for any team over the last 32 seasons. 

Pittsburgh’s total is 58, the lowest total since the 1993 Marlins.

5) Minor league baseball teams will play 6-game series this season, to reduce travel and save money. Season will also last 2-3 weeks longer, ending in late September, which will reduce the amount of late season call-ups.

4) Weird moment in the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game Wednesday night; Kentucky had the ball out of bounds under, but just before the ref hands the kid the ball to start play, they realize Kentucky has six guys on the court. Technical foul, not good. Doesn’t happen very often.

The benches in Vanderbilt’s arena are on the baseline, which is weird and probably added to the confusion, but it still wasn’t good. Kentucky led by 17 early, hung on and won by 3.

3) Klay Thompson finished 9th in All-Star voting among Western Conference guards; he’s played as much as I have this year. How do you vote for a guy to make the All-Star team who hasn’t played a second this season?

2) I had forgotten that Tony LaRussa is managing the White Sox this season; they’ve improved their roster and big things are expected. LaRussa is 76 years old; he hasn’t managed in 10 years.

1) Second day of spring training was a better one for my Oakland A’s; they signed 1B/DH Mitch Moreland, P Trevor Rosenthal. After trading DH Khris Davis, they needed another bat. 

Thursday’s Den: Doing some thinking out loud……..

13) San Diego Padres gave 22-year old SS Fernando Tatis Jr. a 14-year, $340M contract last night, a lot of $$$$ to give to a young man who has played in 143 big league games, over two years. Tatis has .301 with 39 homers, 98 RBI over those two seasons- big production.

I have to remind myself that San Diego is the 8th-biggest city in the country, so even though they’ve never won much, they are a big market team.

12) Do casinos post fake bets for publicity? The other day, BetMGM posted that a $10,000 bet was made on the Washington Wizards to win the NBA title this season. The bet would pay off $5M if hit it, but it ain’t going to hit. There are people who are rich/stupid enough to just throw away serious money?

Right now, Washington is 9-17, three games out of a playoff spot; I have a better shot at dating Gina Gershon than the Wizards have at winning the NBA title this year (stop laughing).

11) While I wait for Ms Gershon to contact me, the Baseball America Prospects Handbook came in the mail Tuesday, so I have a lot of reading to do. Each team’s top 30 prospects are profiled, it helps me a lot during fantasy baseball season.

Had to be tougher boo to put together this year, since there was no minor league season last year. Prospects who played at the teams’ site last summer did so under a cloud of secrecy.

10) The way it stands now, Ben Roethlisberger is a $41.2M salary cap hit for the Steelers next fall; they’re expected to re-do his contract somehow. Seems like March is going to be a wild time for the league and a lot of its quarterbacks, even some famous ones.

If they release Big Ben, he would still be a $21M+ cap hit; who could they get that is better?

9) Nebraska-Illinois football game was supposed to be played in Ireland August 28; they’ll play in Champaign instead.

8) Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder is going to coach the West All-Stars in the March 7 All-Star Game; he’ll be the first Jazz coach since Frank Layden in 1984 to coach an All-Star team.

7) Bulls 105, Pistons 102:
— In his last six games, Chicago’s Zach LaVine is 52-94 inside the arc, 29-50 outside the arc.
— LaVine is scoring 28+ ppg; he had 37 in this game. This is a young man who scored 9 ppg in his only year of college, at UCLA. He has worked really hard to become a skilled scorer.

6) VCU 68, Richmond 56— Spiders hadn’t played a D-I game in 22 days, and it showed. These two local rivals meet again on March 6.

5) USC 89, Arizona State 71— Trojans have won 7 in row, 13 of last 14 games; the Mobley brothers work great together inside. Plus, the Trojans made 11-20 3-pointers.

4) NC State 74, Pitt 73
— To borrow a hockey term, this was a chippy game, several technical fouls.
— Both teams shot 60%+ inside the arc.
— Pitt star Champagne was 3-11 from floor, 11-16 on foul line.
— Wolfpack has won 11 games in a row over Pitt.

3) Kentucky 82, Vanderbilt 78
— Wildcats’ last three games were decided by 1-2-4 points.
— Calipari is milking every drop he can out of a sub-par roster; they led this game 25-8 and were still life-and-death to win.
— Vanderbilt fired Bryce Drew after he went 16-38 in three SEC seasons; Jerry Stackhouse is now 5-24 in SEC play in his 2nd season at Vandy. Winning at Vandy is a tough job.

2) Apparently, some of the NBA’s best players are queasy about participating in NBA-sponsored public service announcements to people accepting the coronavirus vaccine.

This is above my salary grade, but for the love of Pete, listen to the scientists; they’re really smart people who are a very diverse group of people. They won very hard to find medicines that will help us stay healthy.

Lot of people might go get a vaccine because an NBA player endorses it, and those people would then have a better chance of staying healthy, and so would the rest of us.

1) First day of spring training was a rough day for my Oakland A’s; P Frankie Montas tested positive for COVID, C Sean Murphy has a collapsed lung. Other than that, things were great. 

Wednesday’s Den: Mid-week musings……..

13) Nets 128, Suns 124:
— Brooklyn was down 24 at one point, trailed 75-54 at the half.
— Durant, Irving didn’t play; Harden scored 38 points.
— Loss snaps the Suns’ 6-game winning streak.

12) There has been lot of debate on social media about ballplayers quitting on their college teams, to get ready for the NBA Draft. Here is a quick summation of my thoughts on this:

— I firmly believe kids should be able to go straight to the NBA, from high school.
— The rule is the NBA’s, has little to do with the NCAA.
— Once you start a season with a team, you should finish the season with that team.

— The transfer epidemic is damaging college basketball; loyalty is obsolete.
— I’m not sure how Jalen Johnson quitting Duke now helps him; the season only has 3-4 weeks left. What will he do now, in those 3-4 weeks, that will be more productive than practicing and playing for Duke? (I’m not a Duke fan, not at all, but still…..)

— He could get hurt playing for Duke, he could get hurt working out or playing pickup.

Everyone wants to get rich quick; it ain’t that easy.

11) Trevor Lawrence had surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, will be on the shelf for 4-6 weeks, which doesn’t really matter, seeing how training camp starts in July. Jacksonville is going to take him, then sell a lot of tickets, then we’ll see who Urban Meyer hires to coach the offense.

10) I rarely look at NFL Mock Drafts anymore; they’re busywork, once you get past the first one, plus I’m a Rams fan- they haven’t had a first round pick since 2016 and don’t have another one until 2024.

Every writer should only be allowed to do one mock draft, not just constantly change them to attract more clicks.

9) Miami Dolphins gave kicker Jason Sanders a 5-year contract extension, apparently for $22M, with $10M of that guaranteed.

8) St John’s 93, Xavier 84:
— Red Storm won seven of its last eight games.
— St John’s coach Anderson wins his 400th career game.

7) Arkansas 75, Florida 64:
— Razorbacks won four in row, seven of last eight games.
— Eric Musselman has coached two NBA teams (Warriors/Kings)

6) I enjoy watching Florida State play; Leonard Hamilton plays a lot of guys (they’re #24 in bench minutes) and he doesn’t have lot of hotshot recruits, so they pass the ball willingly and root for each other and look like they’re having fun playing. That isn’t always the case.

5) Purdue 75, Michigan State 65— Spartans lost their last four road games, six of last eight games overall; they’re #329 in country at forcing turnovers. Unusual season for them.

4) Rhode Island 91, Dayton 89, 2OT:
— Dayton led 58-40 with 9:44 left in the game.
— Teams combined to take 75 foul shots.
— Flyers lost despite shooting 61% inside the arc.
— Win snaps URI’s 4-game losing streak.

3) Toronto 124, Milwaukee 113:
— Bucks lost their 4th straight game, have slipped to 16-12, #3-seed in East.
— Toronto won six of its last nine games, has improved to 13-15, #7-seed.

2) A US District Court judge ruled that Citibank won’t be allowed to recover $500M or so it accidentally wired. Citibank filed a lawsuit in August seeking the return of its money, but so far, no luck.

How would you like to be the person responsible for that screw-up? They were supposed to send Revlon $8M, but sent them around $500M instead. Whoops.

Apparently, the law usually punishes people who spend money accidentally deposited in their accounts, but not so in this case, thanks to the judge’s ruling.

1) Spring training starts today, which seems odd, given all the ice in my driveway, but pitchers and catchers report today. Exhibition games start in 10 days; they’re oddly entertaining. Our fantasy draft has started, always a good thing, a sign that warmer weather is on the way. 

Tuesday’s Den: Nobody asked me, but…….

13) Florida State 81, Virginia 60:
— Seminoles were up 20 at the half; they played nine guys 14:00+
— Florida State made 13-24 on the arc.
— Very curious where they’ll be seeded next month.

12) North Carolina’s basketball team actually advertised on Twitter this week for a home game and they got one, Wednesday against Northeastern.

We’re going to see more of that over the next 2-3 weeks, teams adding games to the schedule on the fly, to juice up their resume some, and also keep their players sharp.

11) Was listening to Hubie Brown analyze a game on ESPN the other night; guy is one of the best analysts ever, and he is still sharp, even at age 87. Had the pleasure of meeting coach Brown way back in 1984, when he was coaching the Knicks. Good guy, very smart.

10) Duke’s freshman Jalen Johnson “opted out” of the rest of the season, a nice way of saying he quit and will enter the NBA Draft. This news created mixed reactions on social media.

“Start what you finish” is probably an antiquated concept, but today is February 16. Duke isn’t going to make the NCAA’s, and even off they did, they wouldn’t last long. Would practicing and working out for an extra month be such a bad thing for him?

He could get hurt, that is true, but “opting out” has to hurt his perception with at least some of the NBA teams who might draft him. He is going to have to work out anyway in preparation for the NBA Combine, and he could get hurt there too. I’m thinking the kid got bad advice.

9) One of the great strategic debates that doesn’t have a right answer is whether a team should foul intentionally, when they’re up 3 points in the last 0:15.

If you foul on purpose, the opponent can’t hit a game-tying 3, but they could rebound a missed foul shot, and that has happened. If you play it out and the opponent makes a 3, the game is still tied and you play overtime.

I watch a lot of games on TV and there is a very mixed opinion on what the right strategy is.

8) Central Florida hired former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn as its next football coach, to the tune of $2.3M a year. Not bad for a guy who, as recently as 2005, was a HS coach in Arkansas.

Malzahn was 9-3 in one year as Arkansas State’s coach, then went 68-35 at Auburn, 39-27 in SEC games. He had the misfortune of being at Auburn while Nick Saban was at Alabama.

7) Boston College fired basketball coach Jim Christian, who went 26-94 in ACC games; moving from the Big East to the ACC has been a debacle for BC’s athletic department.

Christian went 101-37 in eight years as a MAC coach at Ohio/Kent State, but he also went 18-44 in Big X games at TCU. BC is a tough job.

6) Hovering over every open coaching job is former Michigan coach John Beilein, whose brief stint in the NBA was a disaster. He went 63-15 his last two years at Michigan; I’m guessing a lot of AD’s would fire their coach, if they knew they could get Beilein to replace him.

5) Clippers 125, Heat 118: Since Patrick Beverley has been a Clipper:
— Clippers are 101-47 when Beverley played
— Clippers are 17-18 when Beverley didn’t play
— Beverley was one of four Clipper starters who sat this game out. 

4) Baseball stuff:
— Mets signed OF Kevin Pillar
— Twins signed P Matt Shoemaker
— Braves signed 2B Jason Kipnis

3) I watch a lot of movies late at night; you know its an old(er) movie if someone uses a payphone, or doesn’t have a cellphone. We used to always to carry a quarter in our pocket in case you needed to make a quick phone call.

2) Why is Jeremy Lin in the G League? There are 30 NBA teams, 15 guys on a team; Jeremy Lin isn’t one of the best 450 basketball players in the world? That is nonsensical.

He scored 11.6 ppg in nine NBA seasons, dishing out 4.3 assists/game. This season in his four G League games, he is scoring 17.8 ppg, dishing out 7.3 ppg. He should be on an NBA roster.

1) Young lady named Jessica Pegula is a tennis pro playing in the Australian Open this week; her parents own the Buffalo Bills/Sabres, so she is a rich kid but she has worked very hard at playing tennis and is now at an elite level. Good for her. 

Monday’s Den: Going thru college basketball conferences

Selection Sunday is less than four weeks away; no one even knows yet how Championship Week is going to play out; will every conference have a tournament this year, or just a lot of makeup games, so the better teams can jack up their power ratings?

Here is what I think/know about how teams look heading into the season’s stretch run:

AAC— Houston is 17-2, the AAC’s only sure bet to be in the field of 68; Cougars beat Texas Tech on a neutral floor in November, will be a popular sleeper pick in people’s brackets.

Cincinnati is 4-0 since their 25-day COVID pause; the four wins were by a total of nine points. Memphis, SMU still have a shot to play their way into at-large bids.

ACC— When ESPN’s announcers openly talk about the ACC being down this year, you KNOW the league is down. has ACC as the #4 league, tied for its lowest ranking since 2013. Right now, Virginia/Florida State look like the only sure things for the NCAA’s.

ACC will wind up with 2-3 other teams in the field, but it’ll be dependent on who wins lot of games from now on. Louisville is on a pause; Virginia Tech and UNC should get in if the wheels don’t fall off for them. Duke is 8-8, 6-6 in league; they’re a bubble team.

A-14— Some teams in this league have been hit hard by the pandemic; Davidson hasn’t played in three weeks, Saint Louis went 34 days between games, Fordham didn’t play a game until December 30, then fired its coach.

Their conference tournament will be one of the better ones; the winner might be the only A-14 team in the field of 68.

Big East— Villanova/Creighton are in, Seton Hall is mostly in. Rest of the league better get hot, or they’ll be in the NIT. KenPom has the Big East at #5, as low as they’ve been since 2002.

UConn lost lost four of its last six games; Xavier just had a 2-week pause. Under Patrick Ewing., Georgetown is 23-42 in regular season conference games; how does he get to fix things?

Big 14— One of the most interesting parts of Selection Sunday will be how many teams from this league get in the field of 68. Pundits on the Big 14 Network would have you believe that every team in the league is tournament-worthy, but we know thats not true. Why should a team that finishes 9th or 10th in a 14-team league get to play for a national title? 

Michigan came off a 23-day layoff Sunday and had a terrific comeback win at Wisconsin; Ohio State has won 9 of its last 10 games, Illinois has won five in a row (with two OT wins). One of the things I’ll be looking at is if Iowa gets in the same bracket as a real athletic underdog, a team like VCU or Loyola or Oregon.

Big X— Baylor hasn’t played in three weeks; my thing is that teams will need 3-4 games before the tournament to get their sea legs back. Oklahoma won its last won 7 of its last 8 games, and has a coach who has taken two other schools to a Final Four. They’re going to get six teams in the tournament unless Oklahoma State gets hot and makes it seven.

Texas was 11-2 before their 10-day COVID pause; they’re 3-2 since, but won their last couple games- they’re a team to watch between now and Selection Sunday.

Big West— I enjoy watching Big West games on my laptop late at night; its a good league, not a great league, but highly competitive. Adding Cal-Bakersfield made their conference tournament a hell of a lot harder- they’re a tough defensive team that doesn’t score points early, a lot like Cal-Irvine, another one of the league’s frontrunners.

Cal-Santa Barbara hasn’t lost yet in 2021 (10-0); this is the best team Cal-Riverside has ever had, and with a first-year head coach. Bottom part of the league has been on pause a lot; the semi-final doubleheader at the Big West tournament will be must-see TV.

Conference USA— North Texas/Western Kentucky seem like the two best teams; Mean Green hasn’t made the tournament since 2010, WKU hasn’t made it since 2013. UAB, Louisiana Tech also have a legit shot to win the tournament; this is a one-bid league.

Last three NCAA tournaments, C-USA had three different teams repping it, and none of those three were North Texas/Western Kentucky. Hilltoppers have an NBA big man in Bassey and three senior starters; this is Rick Stansbury’s time to shine.

Mountain West— Utah State, Boise State, San Diego State figure to battle it out in Las Vegas; Aztecs can get an at-large bid even if they lose in Vegas- they beat UCLA, Arizona State back before Christmas. San Diego State plays Boise State twice in a couple weeks; Aztecs got swept by Utah State. All three of those teams shouldo be in the Mountain West Final Four.

Bottom half of this league is really bad; the bottom three teams are a combined 6-35. Aztecs will sweat some on Selection Sunday if they lose in the MW tournament, but they’re likely the only team in the league that rates an at-large bid.

Pac-12— Contrary to what Bill Walton talks about on ESPN every week, league is a little down- Arizona’s being ineligible because of recruiting violations is a big part of that. I’m thinking four teams from Pac-12 get in. Right now, USC is clearly the best team, but Andy Enfield won more NCAA tourney game at Florida Gulf Coast (2) than he has with the Trojans (1).

UCLA lost three of its last five games; Mick Cronin hasn’t had a great record in March. Oregon usually gets stronger as time goes on; they’re likely to make some noise next month. Colorado has a veteran team, but they play one good game, then have a stinker- their last three losses are to Washington, Utah, Cal, all bad losses. 

SEC— The most 2020 thing in college hoop is that Kentucky is 6-13, 6-7 in conference; curious to see if John Calipari is in the CBS studio during the first round of the tournament. With the league’s perennial frontrunner out of the picture, that leaves Alabama as the best team- they’re fun to watch, play a very fast pace, but they don’t have a great basketball pedigree (one win in NCAA’s, since 2007).

SEC figures to get five other teams in the field of 68; Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee. Would expect all six teams to win their first round game; not sure any of them, other than Alabama, will get to the Sweet 16.

Southern— Much like the Big West, I’m looking forward to the semi-finals of this tournament; this is a one-bid league, so when East Tennessee, Furman, NC-Greensboro and Wofford likely face off in the semi-finals, it’ll be very entertaining.

WCC— Gonzaga is in this league; they’re this generation’s version of Jerry Tarkanian’s great UNLV teams from 30-40 years ago. Big fish, small pond, strong national footprint. Gonzaga is going to be favored to win a national title; that springs added pressure.

BYU is only other WCC team that has a shot at an at-large bid; they have wins over San Diego State, Utah. BYU probably needs to get to 20 wins for that to happen; they’re a mature team in terms of the players’ ages, which has to help in a weird season like this one. 

Sunday’s Den: Wrapping up a sports Saturday

13) A word of caution:

Friday afternoon, I got a text from my credit card company; someone tried to charge $458 on my credit card, and they were checking to see if it was me, which it wasn’t, so they shut down my credit card and will send me another one. No harm done, but no bueno.

Be careful with your personal information; lot of scam artists out there.

12) The Urban Meyer era in Jacksonville is off to a rocky start; the strength coach they hired a few days ago quit already, after complaints about how he left his job at Iowa, with former players at Iowa accusing him of racist behavior. Not the best way for this era of Jaguar football to start.

11) Baseball stuff:
— Seattle gave lefty P James Paxton $8.5M for one year.
— Royals signed IF Asdrubel Cabrera to a 1-year deal.
— Bronx signed OF Jay Bruce to a minor league deal

10) Florida State 92, Wake Forest 85 OT:
— Seminoles won their 11th straight overtime game.
— Florida State tied game with 0:00.5 left on a transition layup.
— Wake was 13-27 on the arc, Seminoles 12-25.
— This was FSU’s first game in 14 days; guys on TV who watched this game said the Seminoles looked exhausted near the end of regulation. They have a few weeks to get their legs.

9) Creighton 86, Villanova 70:
— When Bluejays make 12-26 on the arc, they can beat anyone.
— The thing is, no goes 12-26 all that often; can they make a run to the Final 4?
— Creighton starts three seniors, two juniors; they’re experience team #39.

8) Arkansas 86, Missouri 81 OT— They were telling Eric Musselman stories on this telecast; the son of former NBA coach Bill Musselman, Eric was a coach/GM in the Continental League when he was in his mid-20’s, highly unusual.

The first day he was GM of the Rapid City Thrillers, Musselman made four trades, which sounds like a guy I’d like to have in our fantasy baseball league.

Musselman’s Razorbacks are 16-5, 8-4 in the SEC; they’ve won six of last seven games.

7) Upsets of the Day:
— California (+10) 71, Colorado 62
— Vanderbilt (+7.5) 72, Mississippi State 51
— Valparaiso (+7) 70, Northern Iowa 57
— North Dakota (+6.5) 85, South Dakota 76
— Arkansas State (+6) 67, Little Rock 65
— Illinois State (+5.5) 80, Southern Illinois 55
— Oral Roberts (+4) 103, South Dakota State 86

6) Oklahoma 91, West Virginia 90, 2OT:
— Sooners have won six of their last severn games.
— Lon Kruger is a really underrated coach; he’s led five different schools to the NCAA Tournament, getting two of them to a Final Four.
— He also coached the Atlanta Hawks for a couple years.
— 671 college wins is a lot of wins.

5) Cal-Santa Barbara 81, Hawai’i 74:
— Gauchos win despite blowing a 12-point halftime lead.
— Santa Barbara has a slim lead atop the Big West; two of their last three wins were in OT.

4) Northeastern 76, Towson 67:
— Tyson Walker made 7-12 3-pointers, scored 36 points.
— Walker is a sophomore; Huskies’ coaches better make sure he doesn’t get poached by Duke, or some other big money program.

3) Pundits on the Big 14 Network rattle on and on about how great their league is, but fact of the matter is this: Last time a Big 14 team won the basketball national title was when Michigan State won it all, in 2000. A 21-year drought seems lengthy for such a great league.

2) Candidates for the NFL’s Name Hall of Fame:
— Eagles used to have a kicker named Happy Feller— he kicked in college at Texas.
— Browns used to have a receiver named Fair Hooker— insert your own joke here.

1) Lot of times when I’m writing this site late at night, I put old episodes of The West Wing on my laptop and listen while I write. The other night, I finished up, turned the laptop off and started watching an old episode of Columbo on TV.

1973, back when I was a kid, Columbo was a popular show; Peter Falk is a quirky cop who always gets his man, but there was a familiar face in this episode, a much, much younger Martin Sheen, who I had just watched play President Bartlett on my laptop while I was writing.

What a great career he’s had; that was 48 years ago, and he still does commercials on TV.