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[Posted Wed. a.m.]
NIT Quiz: Growing up this was a great tournament and I went to many a game at the Garden, and I still think for the right schools it is a positive way to end the season, and in many cases, look forward. So since its inception in 1938, the NIT has had just two back-to-back winners, St. John’s in 1943-44, and, who else? [Hint: 2005-06] Answer below.
AP Top 25 Poll (Mar. 12)
1. Virginia 31-2 (65)
2. Villanova 30-4
3. Xavier 28-5
4. Kansas 27-7
5. Michigan State 29-4...3-seed
6. Cincinnati 30-4
7. Michigan 28-7
8. Gonzaga 30-4...4-seed
9. Duke 26-7
10. North Carolina 25-10...but 2-seed
11. Purdue 28-6...2-seed
12. Arizona 27-7
13. Tennessee 25-8
14. Texas Tech 24-9
15. West Virginia 24-10
16. Wichita State 25-7
19. Auburn 25-7...4-seed
24. Nevada 27-7
25. Saint Mary’s 28-5
What stands out with the above is that Saint Mary’s has a right to be royally torqued at its exclusion. [The Gaels then took out their frustration on SE Louisiana in their first-round NIT game last night, 89-45.]
In the first NCAA play-in games, 16 Radford defeated 16 LIU-Brooklyn 71-61, while St. Bonaventure picked up its first NCAA Tournament victory since 1970, 65-58 over UCLA, with a late 12-0 run. The Bonnies now play sixth-seeded Florida on Thursday night. It was St. Bonaventure’s record 26th win of the year. An easy school to like. They’ll beat Florida.
But one of the big stories as we begin full play on Thursday is Virginia losing the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year, De’Andre Hunter, for the rest of the season with a broken wrist.
Hunter, a 6-7 redshirt freshman, averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, reaching double figures 16 times, while leading the Cavs in scoring on six occasions.
Hunter brings athleticism as well as a different energy and with Virginia thin on the bench to begin with, this will be a fatal blow, Elite Eight out of the question, let alone a Final Four, says your editor.
With Hunter out, I’m going with Tennessee in the South (I would have gone with Virginia), Gonzaga in the West, Wichita State in the East, and Seton Hall in the Midwest.
Hey, gotta be true to my preseason picks...Wichita State winning it all, Seton Hall in the Final Four. [If Desi Rodriguez is fully healthy for The Hall, they can beat Kansas, after whipping N.C. State.]
Wichita State will beat Tennessee for the national title. [Ain’t going to find many boxes looking like this.]
In terms of first round upsets, my definition being a 13-16 seed, I only have 14 Stephen F. Austin defeating 3 Texas Tech, and 13 Charleston over 4 Auburn.
By the way, only twice since 2000 has a No. 5 seed not lost to a No. 12 seed.
Now it’s time for all the over-analysis to give way to the actual games.
--As free agency officially opens up at 4 p.m. today, Wednesday, the Broncos made the first move in the game of quarterback musical chairs, coming to terms with Case Keenum, which brought the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes down to the Vikings, Cardinals and the Jets, with Minnesota clearly the favorite.
Denver had employed Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch and Brook Osweiler last season, en route to a 5-11 record. They have the No. 5 pick in the draft.
Keenum came out of nowhere to go 11-3 as a starter for the Vikings, throwing 22 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.
So after the Keenum move, it was then reported Cousins is indeed signing with the Vikings for three years, $84-86 million, all guaranteed (or almost all of it).
Minnesota’s No. 2 quarterback from last season, Sam Bradford, is expected to sign with Arizona.
And that left the Vikings’ third QB, Teddy Bridgewater, and the Jets shocked their fan base by signing him to a one-year deal, where he will backup Josh McCown (as of today), who returns on a one-year deal.
It’s an intriguing move, Bridgewater having missed virtually all of the past two seasons due to a devastating knee injury in 2016. After a promising first two seasons out of Louisville, 2014-15, it’s been a nightmare recovery for the guy but we are told he’s back.
If he is, this will be a brilliant move, the 25-year-old with immense potential if he’s even 90-95 percent of what he was coming out of college.
And as I chronicled when he was at Louisville, Bridgewater is as likable as they come. Everyone loves the guy and is rooting for him to make it all the way back.
Meanwhile, the Jets will still undoubtedly draft a quarterback in the first round.
So with Cousins having selected the Vikings, and Bradford and Keenum making their moves, as well as Bridgewater, that leaves Buffalo without a No. 1 signal caller and it’s thought AJ McCarron could be headed there.
--New England wide receiver Danny Amendola intends to leave the Patriots for Miami, signing a two-year deal, as first reported by the NFL Network.
Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler intends to sign with Tennessee in a deal guaranteeing $30 million. It was Butler who surprisingly didn’t play a defensive snap in the team’s 41-33 Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, after being the hero in the SB win over Seattle.
And New England’s top running back, Dion Lewis, is heading to Tennessee as well. Lewis rushed for 896 yards, with a 5.0 per carry average, while adding 32 receptions...a Fantasy Football fave.
--The Dolphins are releasing star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, making him a marquee free agent, owing to Miami being over the salary cap and needing to be in compliance by 4 p.m. ET.
Suh, 31, is the highest-paid defensive player in the league in terms of average salary ($19.06m) and is halfway through a six-year deal worth more than $114 million. But he has had a disappointing first three years with Miami, with zero All-Pro selections, after three such seasons in Detroit.
--Green Bay is signing former Jet defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, hoping he’ll be motivated and return to his second team All-Pro form of 2013-15. It’s a comedown for him, a one-year, $5 million deal with incentives for another $3 million, after making $17.2 million per year before the Jets cut him.
--Separately, the Jets, are signing a nice cornerback, Trumaine Johnson (Rams), as well as linebacker Avery Williamson (Titans).
--I didn’t have time last chat to bring up a depressing, though far from surprising, piece in the Boston Globe over the weekend by Bob Hohler.
“Three times between 2002 and 2005, convoys of duck boats carried New England’s Super Bowl champions through cascading confetti and adoring crowds to Boston City Hall during the infancy of the Patriots dynasty.
“Of all the men on the boats, only three – 40-year-old Tom Brady, 45-year old Adam Vinatieri of the Colts, and 37-year-old Ben Watson of the Ravens – remained active last season in the National Football League.
“They are the fortunate few. Dozens of their teammates who rode those boats and shared their championship glory are now coping with the consequences of football head injuries, their memories in some cases wilting.
“Some 42 of about 100 Patriots who were members of New England’s first three Super Bowl title teams have alleged in a landmark class-action concussion suit against the NFL and the helmet maker Riddell that they have experienced symptoms of brain injuries caused by the repetitive head impacts they absorbed in games and practices.”
The Globe, using the team’s official all-time roster, for the first time compiled and analyzed a list of more than 340 former Patriots or their estates who allege they suffered brain injuries on the job since the franchise was founded in 1960.
The NFL agreed in 2015 to pay an estimated $1 billion to settle brain-injury claims, and nearly 5,000 ex-players joined the suit, plus more than 15,000 have since privately registered for potential benefits under terms of the settlement.
8 Patriots have been posthumously diagnosed with CTE, including Aaron Hernandez.
21 Patriots died before the NFL settlement, with an average age at death of 57.6.
Ross O’Hanley, an original Patriot and former Boston College star, died of a brain tumor at 33 after he displayed the consequences of repetitive head blows in football.
Granted, many of the former players have filed for potential future cognitive problems and are fine today, but there are 37 retired Patriots younger than age 40 who say they have been affected by football head injuries.
Not surprisingly, defensive backs led the categories of former Patriots in the concussion suit, followed by running backs, defensive linemen and linebackers.
--How well did the Valspar Championship do from a ratings standpoint with Tiger Woods in the hunt the whole way? As reported by Darren Rovell of ESPN, for starters, “Woods received 4 ½ times the amount of media coverage from Thursday through Monday morning than any of the winners of the four previous tournaments. The comparison is based on stories done on the champions, according to Eric Smallwood of Apex Marketing Group, a sponsorship evaluation and media tracking company.”
So third-round coverage on Saturday delivered a 3.26 overnight rating for NBC, the highest third round on any broadcast network since the 2006 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Wow! It certainly helped Woods was terrific, but with NCAA hoops action in competition, kind of staggering it was the best in 12 years.
The final round had a 5.1 overnight rating, the highest non-major PGA Tour broadcast since the 2013 Players Championship.
Of course Golf Channel cleaned up as well with the early round coverage before it switched over to NBC on the weekend. And in terms of digital, the Valspar saw 27.2 million minutes streamed across Golf Channel / NBC Sports’ platforms, making it the most-streamed PGA Tour event ever for the network, according to Adobe Analytics.
And then you have the ‘live gate.’ At the Valspar, 150,000 tickets were sold, up from 112,000 last year when Woods wasn’t in it, and his other three appearances this year at the Farmers Insurance Open, Genesis and the Honda, also saw bumps.
Tickets sales for the Farmers (Torrey Pines) climbed 34 percent over a year ago, while at the Genesis (Riviera), sales more than doubled over 2017, and they were up 25 percent at the Honda. Pretty remarkable.
Darren Rovell also reports that as you’d expect, the price of a Masters day badge has soared, up to $1,100 a day, with the average weekend badge going for around $2,200.
--Dave Sheinin / Washington Post
“As Tiger Woods headed away from the Gulf of Mexico early Sunday evening, pointed east, this is what he left with: At age 42, he clearly still can play. After five years in the wilderness, he still can contend. And he is dead-certain, but for the whims and randomness of a few blades of grass across the expanse of Innisbrook Golf Resort, that he still can win....
“With the first round of the Masters just 25 days away, the notion of Woods being fully and indisputably back as a major-championship force – improbable as it would have seemed a few years or even a few months ago as he was recovering from the last of his four back surgeries – feels like a transformative moment for a sport he dominated and lifted to unprecedented heights in the two decades before this one....
“(Sunday) you were reminded that golf is simply richer and better with him in it.”
Joe Beall / Golfworld
“(For most of Sunday), the ‘Moment’ never came knocking. The par 5s continued to throw curveballs (Woods, arguably the greatest par-5 player ever, currently ranks 179th in par-5 scoring this year). The irons weren’t as crisp. The putter, cold. And though the likes of Casey Conners, Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose fell victim to the Copperhead course, Paul Casey and Patrick Reed painted the venue in red. It would be a promising turn for Tiger, another step in his progression towards the Masters. But the Moment would not happen on Sunday.
“And then Woods dropped a 44-foot bomb on the 17th and all hell broke loose. (Let the record show this was not a ‘Moment’ but a ‘Holy $#&%!’ moment, which is unmistakably and emphatically distinct.)
“Grown men began sprinting towards the next hole while announcers shrieked, throwing the façade of unbiased commentary out the window. Phones blew up across the country as friends and family asked, ‘Are you watching this?’ There have been many an online article announcing someone just ‘broke’ the internet, but a glance at social media made the case this was actually happening....
“In its entirety, the Moment lasted around 10 minutes, ending as Tiger’s third came to rest a few feet from the hole (at 18). When the day comes to properly eulogize his career, This Moment may only be mentioned in passing, if at all....
“But for those that were lucky enough to witness, it was a Moment that will endure. The Moment was a confluence of elation and drama and hype and thrill and passion. The type of Moment that justifies investing so much time and energy watching this game. It’s the Moment you see in cheesy sports movies, only without the happy ending.”
Separately, Woods and Ernie Els were officially named captains on Tuesday for the 2019 Presidents Cup to be played at Royal Melbourne in Australia, the announcement made at Bay Hill, where Tiger has won 8 times as he tees it up on Thursday.
And not for nothing, but you undoubtedly noticed at the Valspar, as I’ve been urging him to do since his comeback was launched this year, he was hitting the stinger, and wouldn’t you know, he made a lot of fairways. Funny how that works.
--Check out this eerie factoid, courtesy of Golf Channel’s Justin Ray, involving Tiger and Phil.
“Phil Mickelson’s win drought lasted 1,687 days.
“Sunday at Bay Hill will be 1,687 days since Tiger Woods’ last victory.”
--I have to note last Sunday’s Champions Tour event, the Toshiba Classic, which was finishing as I posted.
Vijay Singh won it, his first of any kind since 2008! The Hall of Famer, winner of 34 PGA Tour titles, has made a lot of cuts, as he attempts to play the regular tour at the age of 55, with the occasional senior event, but I don’t recall him ever really being in contention.
Oops, that wasn’t totally correct, having just checked his pgatour.com record. He has 3 seconds and 2 thirds on the big boys’ circuit since ’08, the last a second in 2016. But you get the point. A long drought.
Meanwhile, golf fans have been wondering when Bernard Langer, now 61, would finally slow down in terms of dominating the Champions tour, and his last two finishes have been T-54 and 58th at the Toshiba, his worst finishes ever. You know it’s killing him. It’s also too bad because one thought he was still capable of making noise at Augusta.
--Knicks are feverishly trying to get into the bottom seven and a shot at the overall No. 1 pick in the draft, mailing in another, 110-97 to Dallas (22-46) as the Knicks lost their eighth straight to fall to 24-46. Go New York, Go New York, Go New York, Go!
--Tuesday, LeBron James had his career-best 14th triple-double of the season, 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 129-107 win for Cleveland over Phoenix.
“You can just say I’m like fine wine, I get better with age.”
--The Yankees signed former Met Neil Walker to a one-year, $4 million contract with incentives worth up to $500,000. What a comedown for the 32-year-old salary-wise, having made $10.5m and $17m the past two years with the Mets (and Brewers briefly last season). This is a classic case of today’s free agent market. Walker is a decent player, .272 career batting average with some pop, who can play second and some third, even first. He’s just far from special, nor worthy of a big, multi-year deal. Teams can get the same production far more cheaply.
But for the Yankees, this is a great move, especially at the bargain basement price. If Walker gets the at-bats, he can hit some homers at The Little Bandbox that Ruth Didn’t Build, and he’s a perfect stopgap, even if for just the first half of the season or so, until the Yankees feel that prospects Gleyber Torres or Tyler Wade are ready for full-time duty at second.
Kevin Harvick was pissed. I told you of how he and his team were penalized for infractions after their win in Vegas the week before, his second win a row, but boy did he use it as motivation for win number three then at Phoenix on Sunday.
Harvick now has a chance to become the first to win four straight since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 with this coming weekend’s race at Fontana in Harvick’s home state of California.
But after Sunday’s win, he said: “I have been mad as all get out because this team does a great job and this organization does a great job and we have great cars. To take that away from those guys just really pissed me off last week.
“Everybody was just determined this week. We were determined to stomp ‘em. We didn’t stomp ‘em, but we won. It put a fire in our belly.”
That’s a champion.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/16/74: #1 “Seasons In The Sun” (Terry Jacks) #2 “Boogie Down” (Eddie Kendricks) #3 “Dark Lady” (Cher)...and...#4 “Sunshine On My Shoulders” (John Denver) #5 “The Way We Were” (Barbra Streisand) #6 “Mockingbird” (Carly Simon & James Taylor...godawful...) #7 “Jungle Boogie” (Kool & The Gang...love this one...) #8 “Rock On” (David Essex) #9 “Spiders & Snakes” (Jim Stafford...terrific all-around entertainer...) #10 “Jet” (Paul McCartney & Wings...one of their better ones...)
NIT Quiz Answer: The only other team to win two in a row, outside St. John’s, is South Carolina, 2005-06, coached by former Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. But then the 2007 edition of the Gamecocks went 14-16.
But some do use it as a springboard. Last year’s winner was TCU. This year they are a 6-seed in the Big Dance.
Next Bar Chat, Monday....for you soccer fans, I’ll be catching up with the Champions League after today’s action, Manchester United flaming out yesterday, a la Tottenham.