Saturday’s Den: Talking about basketball and gameshows

Before we get into the basketball, I watching The Price is Right the other day— I love game shows, think daytime TV should be all game shows, the way it was when I was a kid. These contrived debate/argument shows on ESPN/FS1 are stupid. Our country needs to be less stupid. 

Anyway, the final Showcase is on, and a guy missed the price of his Showcase by $73, just an amazing guess. Showcase was over $42,000 and he missed by only $73; tremendous. 

One problem; his bid was $73 OVER the actual retail price; you can’t go over the price, or you lose— both contestants lost this one. Never saw that happen before.

Price Is Right, Hollywood Squares, Match Game, I grew up watching that stuff (Jeopardy a little bit, too). Stuff like that is a hell of a lot better than watching overpaid morons argue with each other.

On to the basketball………
— My records go back to 1985; this is the first Elite 8 since then with no #1-seeds still alive. 

Fun to watch, very difficult to predict.

— San Diego State 71, Alabama 64
MVP was 5-10 PG Trammell, who played the last two years in the WAC at Seattle.
Alabama led 48-39 with 11:40 left in the game.
Alabama star Miller shot 3-19 from the floor. 

— Miami 89, Houston 75
Miami made 11-25 on the arc, scored 1.27 points/possession.
Nijel Pack was 7-10 on the arc; Houston’s whole team was 9-31.
Miami tied for first in ACC; their uniforms don’t say Duke, so people overlook them. 

— Creighton 86, Princeton 75
Creighton shot 74.2% inside the arc, scored 1.23 points/possession.
Bluejays lost six games in a row in early December; they’re 6-1 in last seven games.
Princeton was just 4th-ever #15-seed to get to this point. 

— Texas 83, Xavier 71
Texas never trailed, led 42-25 at halftime; total butt-kicking.
Longhorns’ 6-9 big man Disu got hurt early on; check status for Sunday
Texas is 16-7 against top 50 teams this season.

— What is the Texas administration doing? How is Rodney Terry still an interim coach? Longhorns are 22-7 since Chris Beard got fired, and Terry replaced him; it is inconceivable they could hire another coach after this run, where they’ve won the Big X Tournament, and now are in the Elite 8.

— Over the last three years, Big 14 teams are:
17-7 in NCAA first round games
4-13 in NCAA second round games
1-3 in Sweet 16 games.

24 teams, four got to the Sweet 16, one got to the Elite 8. No bueno.

— Kansas State PG Markquis Nowell is in his 5th year of college basketball:
2019— Little Rock went 10-21
2020— Little Rock went 21-10, but there was no Sun Belt/NCAA tournament
2021— Little Rock went 11-15
2022— Kansas State went 14-17, lost their last six games, fired their coach.
2023— Kansas State is 26-9 and Nowell is a big star.

He had 20 points, 19 assists in an overtime win Thursday, the most assists ever in an NCAA Tournament game. People are comparing him to Kemba Walker.

Stories like this are why the tournament has been so unpredictable. K-State has two players who played on the team last year, but the new group has bonded and are having a great season.

— Conference USA needs better TV exposure; I watch some of their games on ESPN+, but they have several good teams, teams that play all different styles.

Last eight years, Conference USA teams are 6-2 SU in first round NCAA Tournament games, and they were an underdog in seven of those eight games.

— Which big $$$ school is going to go after Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May? In five years at FAU, with a pandemic in the middle of it, Owls are 100-59, 52-34 in conference games. This is a Florida Atlantic program that is only in its 30th year as a Division I program.

Teams with current coach openings:
California, Temple, South Florida, Penn State, Texas Tech and technically, Texas, but if I was a prospective coach, I wouldn’t go anywhere near Texas- that should be Rodney Terry’s job.

All the other current job openings are below FAU’s level. Valparaiso just fired their coach; May went to college at Indiana, which is close to Valpo, but he can do better than a low-level Missouri Valley job.

— When they started the Big East Conference in 1979, they invited Holy Cross to join; Crusaders had a pretty good team back then, but the Holy Cross administration turned them down, citing the college’s commitment to academic excellence.

Could you imagine that happening today? How much $$$ you think they squandered by joining the freakin’ Patriot League? Holy Cross won four Patriot League titles under Ralph Willard 15-20 years ago, but come on, these big-time hoop schools make some serious cash— rich alumni like it when the alma mater is in the top 25.

— Loved listening to Stan Van Gundy/Kevin Harlan on TV this week; Van Gundy is all ball— I learn a lot every time I hear him describe a game. Harlan is a great play/play guy who sets his analysts up the right way. Van Gundy offers opinions; you may not agree with him all the time, but he’s coached in college and the NBA— he knows his stuff.

— Micah Shrewsberry bolts Penn State to be the new coach at Notre Dame; Nittany Lions were 23-14 this year, but they started four seniors, were the most experienced team in the country. They’re going to regress next year, no matter who the new coach is- it was time for him to jump. 

Thursday’s Den: Nine memorable NCAA games, plus my four all-time favorite games

Here are nine of my most memorable NCAA Tournament games, in no particular order, followed by my four all-time favorite tournament games:

Memorable games:
2017 Final Four— I’m in Las Vegas, watching the Final Four with a friend of mine who has a boatload of money on Oregon (+4) vs North Carolina. I’m not going to tell you how much $$$ he had on Oregon, but it was more than $10,000 (I saw the ticket).

I’m a nickel/dime bettor, total small-timer; this was a different world. I remember sitting there munching on Doritos watching the game, I seemed more nervous than he was. Oregon loses but covers, losing 77-76. My friend was very casual about the whole thing.

He also bet the underdog in the other game, but a lot less $$, South Carolina vs Gonzaga and he won that bet too. If I won that much money I’d be strutting around like Gene, Gene, the Dancing Machine but serious gamblers are smart and take things in stride.

Funny thing about that night: it was the only time in the last 35 years that both favorites won at the Final Four, but neither one covered the spread.

2016— Yale 79, Baylor 75— It is fun seeing people you know coaching on TV; Yale coach James Jones went to college at Albany, couple of years behind me. He was a good ballplayer, but he is a great coach. Other than Pete Carril, he is the best coach in Ivy League history, and it was a lot of fun to see his team pull a big upset against a basketball blue blood.

2023— Marquette 78, Vermont 61— Same deal here; friend of mine is an assistant coach with Marquette- they had a great season this year. I’m hoping that some D-I program comes to its senses in the next few weeks and gives him a head coaching job. He’s earned it. 

1989— Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— This was back when ESPN had the tournament; Bob Ley was the studio host and Dick Vitale did the analysis. Georgetown was a power back then; they were a 22-point favorite in this game, but they were life-and-death against Princeton.

At halftime, Dickie V says that if Princeton wins, he’ll stand on his head on the ESPN set; it was classic TV, totally unscripted. It was hilarious, but Georgetown escaped by a point, and America took a great sign of relief that no one was standing on his head on live TV.

1998— Valparaiso 70, Ole Miss 69— Scott Drew is the Baylor coach; brother Bruce is the coach at Grand Canyon- their father Homer Drew coached Valparaiso for a long time.

His full-court out of bounds play (to Bryce Drew, I think) got Valpo a walk-off win in this game. To this day, that play is still used all over America. One of the best-ever endings to a tournament game.

2023— Furman 68, Virginia 67— Furman hadn’t made the NCAA’s since 1980, hadn’t won a tournament game since 1974; they made couple foul shots with 0:12 left to pull within 67-65, then the Virginia player tries a full-court pass to kill the clock, but it gets picked off, and Furman sticks a 3 from the right-wing with 0:02 left to pull a very unlikely upset.

The camera shot of CBS’ play-by-play guy Kevin Harlan calling all this, then holding his arms out after the game-winning shot, so neither of his analysts says anything to ruin the moment, was just great to see.

2019— Murray State 83, Marquette 64— Back when I was still picking games on this blog, I took the over in this game, Ja Morant against a Big East team. Game was 42-35 at halftime, a good pace, but then Marquette scored 9 freakin’ points in the first 10:00 of second half and when they fell behind, they refused to press Murray State, and lost meekly to a freakin’ OVC team and the game fell several points under. Had they pressed, Murray State would have hung 90-100 points on them.

I laugh about it now, but that night in my living room, I was NOT HAPPY; probably lucky I didn’t have a damn stroke. How could a Big East team quit against an OVC team? To this day, when I see that fraud Steve Wojciechowski in ESPN”s studio stealing money, it makes my blood boil. Anyway, that night is a big part of why I don’t pick games much anymore.

2016— National title game, Villanova-North Carolina, I’m sitting in the Westgate SuperBook having a Cherry Coke and some pizza. The guy next to me is a younger guy who says he has a lot of money on Villanova and the under. We strike up a conversation but he is very nervous as the game comes down the stretch. Things get quiet.

Kid of North Carolina makes a tough shot to put UNC ahead and puts the game over the total; the guy next to me ain’t happy, but then Villanova hits a shot at the buzzer to win the national title and get the guy a split on his bets.

Never seen someone so happy to break even.

2010— I’m at the MGM Grand sportsbook for the first Saturday of the tournament; me and apparently every Kansas fan west of the Rockies. Jayhawks were a #1-seed, a big favorite over Northern Iowa. Ton of people wearing blue/red in the MGM Grand.

Game is early on, some kid makes a shot— the three young guys next to me start hugging each other. I ask one of them “Is that your brother? Why are you so happy?”

I had no idea you could bet on which team got to 15 points first; that obscure basket won the guys their bet and they were celebrating.

Anyway the game goes on and go figure, Northern Iowa hits a shot from the corner at the end and upsets Kansas, big upset. Lot of sad people were walking around, wearing blue/red.

My four all-time favorite NCAA Tournament games:
2006— When the brackets came out, I went on a local radio show here in Albany and gave my quick thoughts on what would happen. I had decided that Northwestern State would upset Iowa in a #3-14 game and I said so on the radio. Fairly bold prediction.

As luck would have it, Northwestern State does pull the upset, winning 64-63. Now that was a fun day.

1990— Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 90— During the WCC tournament, LMU’s star Hank Gathers collapsed and died on the court during a game. It was horrible; they called off the tournament, and LMU got the automatic bid because they finished first.

When the brackets came out 8-9 days later, LMU had the very last time slot in the first round, the midnight Friday game on CBS. Their opponent was New Mexico State, a team that would run with the hyper-fast breaking Lions, coached by Paul Westhead.

Back then, I picked games in the Albany newspaper and I had done very well that year; I really wanted to risk my entire (fictional) bankroll on LMU in his game— there was no way they were losing this game. I didn’t risk my bankroll, just made the normal pick, but I tried to impress that upon the readers. LMU was going to win.

LMU’s Bo Kimble shot his first free throw lefty, in honor of his fallen friend, but Kimble also had four fouls at halftime, and the game was tied. I was queasy about my pick, but LMU exploded in the second half, won by 21, then won two more games in one of the most famous runs in NCAA history. That team was so much fun to watch.

1990— Jerry Tarkanian’s Rebels dispatched LMU in the West Region final, then they played Duke in the national title game, and they crushed Duke, 103-73. Then the weasel from the NCAA had to hand Tarkanian the national championship trophy, after they had harassed the guy for years (NCAA later wrote Tarkanian a $2.5M check to settle a dispute).

Sweet 16 of the West Region is being played in Las Vegas tonight, 33 years after that great night. The NCAA embraces Las Vegas now because more than anything, they love making money.

1974—NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT— When Michael Jordan was growing up, his favorite player was David Thompson, a great player for NC State. I was a big Wolfpack fan; friend of my parents lived in Raleigh, and he told me all about Thompson. I used to listen to their games on the radio on WBT in Charlotte.

UCLA beat the Wolfpack in December; this was when Bill Walton was a senior- they had won seven national titles in a row. Every kid in my school who liked basketball was a UCLA fan, except for me; the rematch in the Final Four.

UCLA led by 7 in overtime, but State rallied and won, then beat Marquette in the national title game and I was hooked for life on college basketball.

Dunking was illegal back then in college ball, which is a tribute to how great a player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was. Had Thompson been able to dunk, we would have some amazing highlights to watch on YouTube these days. 

Friday’s Den: Wrapping up my favorite sports day of the year……..

Thursday of Champ Week is my favorite sports day of the year; 14 hours of watching basketball from all over the country, mixed in with some spring training baseball and a movie or two at the end. It has been a fun day.

Big East tournament
— Marquette 72, St John’s 70 (OT)— In the last 20 years, no team has won the national title after losing their first conference tournament game. St John’s led this game by 14 late in first half, forced 19 Marquette turnovers, but Marquette survived, despite shooting 9-34 on the arc.

It is little odd that Marquette was #1 seed and had to play St John’s on its semi-home court in their first tournament game, but they’re the better team and they did what they had to do. 

— Georgetown fired Patrick Ewing as coach, after he led the Hoyas for six years; Ewing is the best player in Georgetown history, but the next coach will be a significant upgrade.

This was similar to when Clyde Drexler coached Houston for two years from 1998-2000; it just didn’t work, even though Drexler was a great player at Houston.

— Final Four of the Big East is UConn, plus teams from Cincinnati, Omaha and Milwaukee; how will kids ever pass Geography classes in school if they think those cities are in the East? 

ACC tournament
— Virginia 68, North Carolina 59— Tar Heels are 20-13, 12-10 in ACC games; bracketologists on the Interweb are all saying that North Carolina will miss the NCAA’s, after being the preseason #1 team- they lost 72-69 in the national title game last season.

— Clemson 80, NC State 54— Tigers with an emphatic statement that they belong in the Field of 68. Beating Virginia Friday night would remove all doubt.

Big X tournament
It will be fascinating next week to see how Big X teams do in the NCAA Tournament, after they beat up on each other all winter.

— TCU 80, Kansas State 67— TCU is an older team; #65 in experience, #3 in continuity. When the brackets come out Sunday night, I’ll be looking to see what kind of a draw they get. With Mike Miles (22 points Thursday) back healthy, TCU is a dangerous team.

— Iowa State 78, Baylor 72— Cyclones are 3-0 vs Baylor this season, 7-9 against the rest of the league. Baylor made 14-29 on the arc and still lost this game.

Mountain West tournament
— San Jose State 81, Nevada 77 OT— Tim Miles deserves to get votes for National Coach of the Year; this was San Jose’s first win in a conference tournament since 2011— this is their best basketball season in 40 years. 

As for Nevada, they’ve lost three games in a row and sit squarely on the bubble; they won’t be sleeping well the next couple nights.

— Boise State 87, UNLV 76 OT— Boise led 48-26 late in first half, but UNLV tied game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer in regulation; quite a comeback, but Rebels got outscored 14-3 in overtime- they still haven’t made the semi-finals of this tournament since 2014, and it is played in their home arena. Last time UNLV won this tournament? 2008. 

— Utah State 91, New Mexico 76— Aggies are red-hot, winning their last six games, scoring 91-86-91 points in their last three games. They deserve to make the NCAA’s, but losses to SMU and Weber State may out their status in a gray area.

SEC tournament
— Arkansas 76, Auburn 73— Two teams with good records but both have been struggling lately;  Arkansas blew a 15-point second half lead, but freshman Nick Smith went 1-on-1 and hit the winning hoop in the last few seconds, giving the Razorbacks their 20th win of the season.

Auburn is 4-9 in its last 13 games, after a 16-3 start; they’re a prime candidate to get beat in the first round of the NCAA’s.

C-USA Tournament
— North Texas 74, Louisiana Tech 46— Mean Green plays slowest-tempo games of anyone in the country; they’ve also won 11 of their last 12 games. Their game with UAB this afternoon is one to watch; the winner will probably play Florida Atlantic in the C-USA final Saturday.

The team that wins the C-USA tournament will be a live underdog in its first round game in the NCAA’s next week.

Big 14 tournament
— Ohio State 73, Iowa 69— Not often does a 13-seed beat the 5-seed; Buckeyes suffered thru a 1-14 stretch of misery, but now have won four of their last five games, upsetting Iowa here. Lot of bubble teams are rooting for Ohio State to get beat, so they don’t pull off a small miracle, win this tournament and steal a bid from a bubble team.

Pac-12 tournament
— Arizona State 77, USC 72— Sun Devils are a bubble team that is 6-3 in its last nine games; they play rival Arizona for third time Friday night. Will be a fun game to watch.

— Cal fired coach Mark Fox after a 3-26 season; they lost their last 16 games. Not even sure how good a job this is now, if the Pac-12 dissolves with teams bolting to greener pa$ture$, does Cal go to the Mountain West?

— Stanford kept coach Jerod Haase for next year after a 14-19 season; they went 9-7 in their last 16 games.

Big West tournament
This league is ranked as high as it has been since 2016; the teams are evenly matched and I enjoy watching them play late at night on ESPN+.

Cal-Fullerton 62, Hawaii’i 60 OT— Defending champ Titans have won seven games in a row, the last two in overtime; their game with Cal-Irvine Friday is must-see TV in my house. The other semi-final is Riverside-Santa Barbara; the four best teams made it to the semi-finals. 

Monday’s Den: Does success in conference tournaments predict success in the NCAA’s?

— There have already been several upsets in the mid/lower conference tournaments, which will put the teams who win those tournaments in the four play-in games in Dayton March 14-15.

SE Missouri State, Fairleigh Dickinson figure to be headed to Dayton; if Montana State wins the Big Sky, they’ll probably avoid a play-in game, but maybe not. If Northern Arizona wins the Big Sky, they’re definitely headed to Dayton. Kennesaw State might also be in a play-in game, in their first-ever NCAA Tournament.

Life figures to be a little easier in the first round this year, for the #1 and #2-seeds.

— When the NCAA Tournament brackets come out next week, how do you choose the four teams you think will make the Final Four? There are a lot of theories on this…….

Today, we’re going to examine whether success in the conference tournament leads to winning a national championship. This obviously only applies to the multi-bid, big $$$$ leagues; the mid-major teams have to win their conference tournament just to get in the tournament.

— Over the last 20 years, nine of the 20 national champs also won their conference tournament
— Only two of the last seven national champs also won their conference tournament.

— In the last 20 years, no team has won a national championship without winning its first game in their conference tournament.
— In the last 20 years, of the 80 teams who made the Final Four, teams went 70-10 in the first game in their conference tournament.

— In the last 20 years, the eventual national champ only went 12-8 in their second conference tournament game.
— In the last 20 years, teams that lost the national championship game went 12-7 in their second conference tournament
— In the last 20 years, teams that lost the national semi-finals went 26-5 in their second conference tournament game.

In the conference tournaments with Sunday finals, I’ve often thought that coaches aren’t all that heartbroken if their team loses on Saturday; playing on Sunday, then maybe having to play their first NCAA tourney game on Thursday is a quick turnaround.

Recent years (twice in last seven years) suggest that just because a team loses in its conference tournament doesn’t mean they won’t win a national title. Losing the first game of a tournament appears to be a pretty big red flag. 

— Anyone ever had lemon Oreo cookies? They were talking about them on the Duke-North Carolina game Saturday night, now I have to buy some to see if they’re any good, unless someone tells me they’re hideous. Early returns have been in favor of them.

— If you like college basketball, ESPN+ is a great thing to have; can watch ballgames and replays of games night and day, even obscure games.

— Furman 83, Western Carolina 80 OT— Last year, Furman lost the SoCon final 64-63 in OT, after leading by 12 early on, losing on a leaning 3-pointer at the buzzer; it was a very devastating loss for a Paladin squad that has not made the NCAA’s since 1980. 

Sunday, Furman led this game by 20 early in the second half; they blew the lead, their best player fouled out in overtime, but they pulled the game out, and advance to the SoCon final against Chattanooga Monday night the same Chattanooga team that beat them in last year’s final.

— Houston 67, Memphis 65— Cougars trailed 56-51 with 6:34 left; Jamal Shead hit an 18-footer as time expired to give Houston a dramatic road win.  

The Final Four is in Houston next month, in Jim Nantz’s last year doing the tournament on CBS. Nantz is a Houston alum; he played on the golf team. Are the Cougars a team of destiny?

— Drake 77, Bradley 51— Drake scored 1.26 points/possession, led by 20 at the half, and won Arch Madness for the first time since 2008. Bulldogs start three graduate students; they’ve got a lot of experience/continuity. Plus, they shoot the ball well.

— NC-Asheville 77, Campbell 73— 7th-seed Camels led by 14 with 7:35 left in game, but couldn’t get over the hump and #1-seed Asheville wins its 9th straight game, making NCAA’s for first time since 2016. Asheville has won 18 of its last 19 games.

— South Alabama 75, James Madison 66— 8th-seeded Jaguars were 8-13 on January 26th; since then, they’re 11-2, allowing 62.7 ppg in first three games of this tournament. South Alabama is a thin team (#339 in bench minutes) playing for third day in row tomorrow; they’re #347 team in continuity- they play #2-seed Louisiana tomorrow night in the Sun Belt final.

— Kennesaw State 67, Liberty 66— Three years ago, Owls were 1-28; now they’re in the NCAA’s for the first time ever. Hopefully they’ll avoid a play-in game and get to enjoy their status for an extra couple days. Kennesaw played the A-Sun tournament at home; two of their three wins were by a single point. 

— Texas Tech suspended basketball coach Mark Adams for what the school calls an “inappropriate, unacceptable, and racially insensitive comment.”

From “Adams was encouraging a player to be more receptive to coaching and ‘referenced Bible verses about workers, teachers, parents, and slaves serving their masters.’ Adams apologized to the team after he found out the player was upset about the use of the Bible verse.”

Adams is 66 years old; he is 43-25 in two seasons as Tech’s coach. Tech made the Sweet 16 last year; they’re 16-15, 5-13 this year. Rich boosters like the Sweet 16 a lot better than they like a 5-13 conference record.

— Longwood Lancers are 20-12 this season; they have a player Michael Christmas, who wears number 25, which makes sense, seeing how Christmas is on the 25th and all.

— Bradley Braves were the #1-seed in the Missouri Valley tournament; this was the first time Bradley was the #1-seed in Arch Madness since 1996.

— North Carolina F Leaky Black is in his fifth year of college basketball; Saturday night was his 153rd game for the Tar Heels, which is a school record.

— More and more mid-major/low major teams seem to recruiting foreign players; Saint Mary’s has thrived for years thanks to recruiting Australian players. Teams who don’t get on ESPN a lot have to be creative where they get talented players.