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[Posted Sunday PM, prior to Purdue-Penn State and late Olympic action.]
Winter Games Quiz: 1) Where were the first three Winter Olympics held (1924, 28, 32)? 2) What are the six sports that have been on every Winter Games program? Answers below.
*Once again we had an example of just how awesome sports can be this afternoon, when within about a minute, Austin Dillon won a dramatic overtime race at Daytona, African-American Darrell “Bubba” Wallace finishing second, while on the west coast, another Bubba, Bubba Watson, was winning the PGA Tour event at Riviera.
For Austin Dillon, it was his second career win. But he was driving the #3 made famous by Dale Earnhardt, and it was the 17th anniversary of Dale’s death at the track, as well as the 20th anniversary of Earnhardt’s lone 500 victory.
As for Bubba Wallace, who is driving the #43 made famous by his car owner, Richard Petty, he came within yards of doing something truly historic. What’s terrific going forward is that he proved he belongs.
And how cool was it that Sunday morning, none other than Hank Aaron called Wallace to wish him well.
If Wallace could break through this year, it would do wonders for the sport, and would be a huge positive for this country. Root for him. I will.
College Basketball Review...since last chat....
Wednesday, 11 Clemson (20-5, 9-4) fell at Florida State (18-8, 7-7) 81-79. 4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2) beat Seton Hall, 102-90 behind Trevon Bluiett’s 37 points, the reeling Pirates falling to 17-9, 6-7, and possibly right out of the Big Dance.
But the biggie of the night was Providence (17-9, 8-5) upsetting 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3) 76-71.
Thursday, Houston (20-5, 10-3) then proved it belongs in the NCAA Tournament with a 67-62 upset of 5 Cincinnati (23-3, 12-1). And 6 Purdue (23-5, 12-3) suffered its third straight loss, 57-53 at the hands of a really lousy Wisconsin squad, just 12-16, 5-10.
But wait, there’s more! 8 Ohio State (22-6, 13-2) was destroyed at Penn State (19-9, 9-6) 79-56.
So, befitting this spectacular season, in the span of 24 hours, Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 8 went down.
My 19 Wichita State Shockers did get some revenge on Temple (15-11, 7-7) from an earlier loss in the campaign with a 93-86 win in Wichita in what was truly a terrific college basketball game; the Shockers improving to 20-5, 10-3.
Friday, we had another upset, St. Bonaventure getting the big win it needed for the NCAA Tournament, 77-74 over 16 Rhode Island, handing the Rams (21-4, 13-1) their first loss of the A 10 season, while the Bonnies improved to 20-6, 10-4.
On to Saturday, and the biggie was 3 Villanova at 4 Xavier, the Wildcats proving at least on this day who’s boss, with a decisive 95-79 win, ‘Nova now 24-3, 11-3; the Musketeers 24-4, 12-3. The Wildcats shot a staggering 60.3% from the field, 38 of 63.
Baylor (17-10, 7-7) upset 7 Texas Tech (22-5, 10-4) 59-57 in Waco.
South Carolina (14-13, 5-9) took out 10 Auburn (23-4, 11-3) in Columbia, 84-75. Not a good loss for the Tigers in terms of tourney seeding down the road.
13 Kansas beat 20 West Virginia (19-8, 8-6) in Lawrence, 77-69, in a very hard fought game, the Jayhawks now 21-6, 10-4, but as Jay Bilas pointed out, Kansas is deeply flawed, and also that the Mountaineers got jobbed on the officiating, for which coach Bob Huggins was livid after. 26 calls against WVU, 14 against Kansas. West Virginia with 2 free-throw attempts, Kansas with 35!!! Trump should be tweeting about that.
14 North Carolina (21-7, 10-5) is playing as well as anyone these days, winners of five straight, the latest a solid 93-76 win at Louisville (18-9, 8-6). The Tar Heels should be in the top ten (at worst No. 11) in the next poll.
23 Oklahoma (16-10, 6-8) should be out of the top 35, let alone 25, after an atrocious 77-66 loss at home to Texas (16-11, 6-8), the Sooners’ fifth in a row as Trae Young, despite 26 points, had another awful shooting night, 7 of 21 from the field.
During this losing streak, Young has shot 7-22, 10-20, 7-21, 4-16, 7-21. That’s not getting it done.
Boston College needed to beat Notre Dame at home, and didn’t, losing 84-67, as both teams fell to 16-11, 6-8 in conference play, a game I had to note because ND senior guard Matt Farrell had the best game of his career, 37 points, on a stupendous 10 of 12 from three!
Wake Forest fell to a sickening 10-17, 3-13, with a 90-84 home loss to North Carolina State, the Wolfpack hanging in there in terms of the NCAA tourney conversation, now 18-9, 8-6.
But I saved the best (worst) for last. I’m sure you were thinking as you read the above, ‘I can’t believe the editor isn’t bringing up No. 2 Michigan State at Northwestern!’
So I was watching something else, and saw the early score online of this one at 30-8, Northwestern, and had to look up the box score and at the time the Spartans were 3 of 16 from the field, the Wildcats having already hit 6 threes. It was then 49-27 at half. Huge upset in the making for sure.
Until it wasn’t. In one of the biggest choke jobs in the history of modern sports (OK, slight exaggeration, but close), Northwestern proceeded to score 11 points...11 points! ....in the second half and Michigan State won, 65-60, to move to 26-3, 14-2, while Northwestern fell to 15-13, 6-9. The Wildcats were 3 of 24 in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Stonewallers have more problems. One of its hoops players, freshman walk-on Brock Washington, is being investigated for criminal sexual conduct, as first reported by ESPN, and prosecutors are in the process of weighing whether to file charges. Washington has been accused of groping a female student in August. He has suited up in every game, but hasn’t played.
Sunday saw a heavy schedule of top games, and 8 Ohio State (22-7, 13-3) lost again, this time at 22 Michigan (22-7, 11-5), 74-62. 12 Duke won without Marvin Bagley III, out with a strained knee, 66-57 at 11 Clemson (20-6, 9-5), the Tigers’ second loss of the week, so a plummeting they will go. Duke is 22-5, 10-4.
And in a huge win for your “Pick to Click” Wichita State boys, they beat Cincinnati 76-72 on the road, the Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) dropping their second straight, while the Shockers could be heading towards a 4-seed, now 21-5, 11-3.
Seton Hall (18-9, 7-7) broke a four-game losing streak with an 82-77 win over DePaul (10-16, 3-11), behind Desi Rodriguez’ career-best 33 points. I like this guy’s potential for the NBA. Can score from anywhere. [Worst case, he’ll have a long career in Europe, making some bucks.] Angel Delgado chipped in with 16 points, 19 rebounds, as Khadeen Carrington had another lousy game.
Finally, this has been a terrific season, and the tournament promises to be special. Truly any of about 30 teams could win it, in my mind.
But there is a major elephant in the room, that being the still ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Multiple reports this week indicated that the scandal could yet mushroom, implicating more of the sport’s most prominent coaches, including some Hall of Famers.
According to a report from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, up to three dozen Division I programs could be facing NCAA violations as a result of the probe, while Yahoo’s Pete Thamel wrote: “The breadth of potential NCAA rules violations uncovered is wide enough to fundamentally and indelibly alter the sport of college basketball.”
“This goes a lot deeper in college basketball than four corrupt assistant coaches,” one of Thamel’s sources said. “When this all comes out, Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated.”
As reported by Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post, “The possible violations would be revealed via ‘information included in wiretap conversations from the defendants and financial records, emails and cellphone records seized from NBA agent Andy Miller,’ Schlabach reported, and would ‘involve illegal cash payments to prospects and their families, as well as players and their families receiving tens of thousands of dollars from agents while they were still playing in college.’ Thamel reported the FBI has recordings of 4,000 telephone conversations related to its investigation.”
Yup, this is going to suck bigly. More dark clouds on the horizon. Just not sure on the timing of the next revelations and charges.
Yippee! The All-Star break! No, I don’t watch a second of the festivities...not one second. I don’t watch a second of the NFL’s Pro Bowl, nor the NHL’s All-Star weekend, either. Sue me.
But while the following doesn’t interest me in the least, since everyone else is talking about it I do have to note for the record that Fox News’ Laura Ingraham garnered some attention for telling LeBron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble,” which LeBron laughed off this weekend.
“It lets me know that everything I’ve been saying is correct, for her to have that type of reaction,” James said Saturday during an interview. James also expressed pride in the “Black Panther” movie, with a primarily black cast, and gun control following the Parkland Massacre.
“But we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will definitely not do that. I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids that feel like they don’t have a way out, and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”
--At the break the top teams....
1. Toronto 41-16
2. Boston 40-19
3. Cleveland 34-22
4. Washington 33-24
1. Houston 44-13
2. Golden State 44-14
3. San Antonio 35-24
4. Minnesota 36-25
--And then you have the Knicks, 23-36. Wednesday, in their final game before the break, they blew a 27-point lead against the Wizards and lost 118-113 at the Garden. The slumping Tim Hardaway Jr. erupted for 32 first half points, and then had just five the rest of the way, while once again making numerous critical mistakes down the stretch. I was watching and almost spit up my Chex Mix all over the keyboard.
New York started out the season 17-14 and has gone 6-22 since.
I’ve watched a lot more than I did the first few nights, and I’ve officially become a big fan of skeleton and snowboard cross (still not a fan of the other snowboard events, though...maybe 2022).
It was unfortunate Lindsey Vonn had that bobble in the Super-G, finishing sixth as a result, though not sure had it been clean it would have been enough to get on the podium. Despite all her success, she still just has bronze in the Super-G at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, along with a gold in the downhill, having missed Sochi because of a right knee injury.
Lindsey has two more opportunities, in the downhill and the combined, to medal.
And then there was Mikaela Shiffrin, who finished a very disappointing fourth in the women’s slalom, an event she has dominated.
Shiffrin threw up minutes before her first run Friday, and at first she said, “It was kind of sudden, it almost felt like a virus kind of puking, less about nerves.”
But upon further reflection, it wasn’t a virus.
“It might’ve been a little bit of me trying to make an excuse,” Shiffrin said. “Sometimes I feel the only one who can beat myself in slalom is me. I beat myself... So it’s a really big bummer. I’ll learn.” [Frida Hansdotter of Sweden took gold, ahead of Wendy Holdener of Switzerland and Katharina Gallhuber of Austria.]
Shiffrin does significantly still have her gold from the opening giant slalom and now has the downhill and combined left.
But back to the Super-G Vonn finished sixth in, the winner was Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic in one of the bigger upsets in Olympic history. Ledecka, coming from the 26th position (NBC having already declared Anna Veith of Austria the winner because it didn’t see any of the last competitors even remotely having a shot), turned in a time of 1:21.11 to Veith’s 1:21.12.
The thing is Ledecka is a snowboarder! Shortly after finishing she asked, “How did that happen?” [She became the first woman from the Czech Rep. to win an Alpine gold, too.]
--For the record, American Nick Goepper won silver in freestyle slopestyle. When it debuted in Sochi four years ago, the U.S. swept the podium, but this time Norway took the gold, Canada the bronze.
How great is Norway in these Games...and every Winter Olympics? Let’s all move there. [Heh heh...we know the Norwegians don’t want us...]
American Ted Ligety flamed out in the giant slalom, finishing 15th to Austrian great, Marcel Hirscher, who took his second gold of these Games, more than getting the monkey off his back.
To be fair, Ligety hasn’t been healthy in years, undergoing surgery on his left wrist, suffering a torn ACL in his right knee, and repairing three herniated discs in his back. The 33-year-old, nicknamed “Mr. GS” for his longtime success in the event, with five World Cup titles in it, 25 career World Cup wins overall, as well as gold at Sochi, hasn’t won a GS World Cup event since Oct. 2015 in Solden, Austria. So if this is it, a tip of the cap to a great career.
Back to Norway, long established as a power in cross-country skiing, on Thursday it won its first ever gold in the men’s downhill, Aksel Lund Svindal, with compatriot Kjetil Jansrud taking silver (Beat Feuz of Switzerland, bronze).
John Henry Krueger won silver for the U.S. in the 1,000-meter short-track speedskating event, becoming the first American man to win an individual short-track medal since Vancouver.
Figure skater Nathan Chen had a disastrous short program, ending up 17th out of 24 skaters, but did recover in the free skate, with an unparalleled six quadruple jumps, though his score left him fifth and well behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who became the first to repeat as Olympic champion since American Dick Button triumphed in 1948 and 1952, moving Hanyu into the elite of Winter Olympics history.
Chen admitted he “tightened up” prior to the short program, having come into PyeongChang with high hopes for contending for the gold. But at least he finished strong and he’s just 18.
17-year-old American Vincent Zhou finished sixth and Adam Rippon finished 10th, hurt by a lack of quadruple jumps.
But Rippon, who is rather colorful, to say the least, was immediately hired by NBC to work the second week of the Games.
Lastly, the “haters” came out on social media after Lindsey Vonn’s sixth place in the super-G. It didn’t help that Vonn said in December, when asked if she would accept an invitation to the White House following the Games: “I want to represent our country well. I don’t think that there are a lot of people currently in our government that do that.”
But it is sickening what people have been posting. Our society could not suck more these days.
And picture being USA ski jumper Lindsey Van: “It’s gross. I have been mistakenly getting her hate mail for weeks!”
--The aforementioned Bubba Watson broke a long winless streak to take his 10th Tour title at Riviera, pretty amazing. I do believe him when he said he was close to retiring. This is a guy who missed three of four cuts in the majors last year, and had only four top 10s.
I also loved what Bubba, who admittedly I’m not a fan of, told Peter Kostis after: “God gave me a gift to play golf. I’m not good enough to do anything else.” That’s Bubba.
--Phil Mickelson, who has played five weeks in a row, had his third straight top 6 performance this week. Not too shabby.
--Tiger Woods’ feel-good adventure ended this week, if only for one tournament, as he missed the cut at Riviera, six-over, or four off the cut line.
Tiger’s comeback this season had gotten off to a solid start at the Farmers Insurance Open, tying for 23rd.
Woods says he is playing the Honda this coming week, so a major test, back-to-back events. It’s about his driving, which has been atrocious, including at Torrey Pines. His short game has been saving him, but then his putting abandoned him in the second round at the Genesis Open as he shot a 5-over 76. [Last week’s winner, Ted Potter Jr., also missed the cut at +6.]
Tiger’s options prior to The Masters are limited because two of the upcoming tournaments are World Golf Championship events for which he’s not qualified to play, and he never plays the week before a major, which would be the Houston Open.
--Joe Durant won the Champions Tour event this weekend in Naples. My college classmate, Gary Hallberg, finished T-15 after being 2nd following the first round.
--Back to Riviera, Jim Nantz noted the passing of Glen Campbell, who died in the past year since the last time the tourney was held. Campbell had been the host of the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open from 1971-83 and was a huge supporter of the game.
I’m now waffling anew as to whether I want Nantz or Bill Walton to do my eulogy. Walton would certainly be more humorous, somehow working in “Conference of Champions” sixteen times, even though I was an ACC lad, not his beloved Pac-12.
Collusion? What collusion? The only collusion was on the part of the Clinton campaign!
Oops, sorry...I was paid by the Trump people to write that.
In baseball, the Yu Darvish signing the other day by the Cubs, six years, $126 million, for an injury-riddled hurler, should have dispelled the notion of collusion once and for all.
But if it didn’t, boys and girls, San Diego’s signing of Kansas City All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer did, eight years, $144 million, the biggest contract in franchise history. Hosmer had seven-year offers from the Royals and Padres, but he wanted an eight-year commitment.
San Diego is now going to move Wil Myers to the outfield.
Hosmer is represented by agent Scott Boras, so this should shut Boras up for at least 12 hours. Boras still has the likes of pitcher Jake Arrieta and slugger J.D. Martinez on the board, and they’re receiving substantial offers (like as much as five years, $125 million for Martinez).
Hey, as I’ve been noting for weeks, the clubs are just doing the smart thing; waiting for the market to come down to more realistic levels. These guys aren’t Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, next off-season’s prime targets.
--Meanwhile, us Mets fans are looking at the moves we made this offseason and, for starters, management was surprisingly aggressive, and seemingly smart. This past week we signed 35-year-old southpaw Jason Vargas, who won 18 games last season for Kansas City, to a two-year, $16 million guaranteed deal...pretty decent insurance if our projected five-man rotation has health issues as it has in the past. I’m not a fan of Vargas, but if he stays healthy himself, you just want six innings, three runs out of him every time out.
Vargas joins Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes and Anthony Swarzak as reinforcements. None of these were high-profile signings, but they’re major leaguers, and boy do the Metsies need some. And none of the signees required the team to give up a draft pick and international signing bonus money, as the likes of Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Mike Moustakas require.
--Back to Bryce Harper, there was a local story that the Phillies are in a great position to sign him, and now have the mindset to go after him next winter, but the whole Harper dynamic in Washington is going to be interesting all season, including how he performs amidst all the talk.
As in I don’t think the Nationals will even make a serious attempt to retain him because they have this stud, Victor Robles, a five-tool player, waiting in the wings. Robles sounds terrific, including as a person.
--Thursday, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he would be taking unilateral action soon to enact some changes regarding pace of play for the coming season. Look for something regarding mound visits and the time it takes for batters to get in the box. Bigger changes, like a pitch clock, are still a ways off, at least another season.
--Finally, we note the passing of former All-Star Tito Francona, father of Terry Francona, who played for 15 seasons in the major leagues, 1956-70. He was 84.
Francona broke in with the Baltimore Orioles in ’56, and was a bit player, finding his way to Detroit, and after the ’58 season he was traded to Cleveland for Larry Doby, who was at the end of his career.
Tito, a left-handed hitting outfielder and first baseman, then busted out with the Indians in 1959, finishing fifth in the MVP balloting, batting .363 in 399 at-bats, with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs, along with a .980 OPS. He never approached those numbers again, but had three more productive seasons with Cleveland, 1960-62, and then fell off in ’63, but he hung around through 1970, becoming a solid bench player.
For his career, Francona, a product of Aliquippa, Pa., hit .272, with 125 homers and 656 RBIs. He married Roberta Jackson in 1956 and they had two children, one of whom was Terry.
--With a win at the Rotterdam Open this week, 36-year-old Roger Federer became the oldest world number one in tennis history – an astounding 14 years after he first topped the rankings – a “dream come true,” as he put it.
Federer surpassed eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi, who was 33 when he was deposed in September 2003.
--No Premier League action this weekend, as it was all about FA Cup play, this being for the title of the oldest association football competition in the world, going back to 1872.
I regret not caring more about this until recent years, because it really is cool. Over 700 teams in England participate in this knockout tournament, including the 92 professional “League” teams (Premier, Championship, League One and League Two), and then over 600 in the National League system.
It won’t happen, ever, but it’s conceivable some little club in a 900-person village could win it, and that’s the neat thing about this competition.
True, more often than not, a Premier League team will take it all, and if you’re a fan, or ownership, you very much want it. Lots of money involved with the later games.
So this weekend, and Monday, they contested the Round of 16 and the Premier League teams won, except for two notable exceptions.
Swansea and Sheffield (Championship League) played to a 0-0 draw, which necessitates a “replay,” while today, League One Rochdale (think AA baseball vs. the Premier League being the Majors), currently in last place this season, took on Tottenham, at Rochdale (tiny, tiny Rochdale) and what a terrific contest. After Harry Kane struck a late penalty for the Spurs to make it 2-1 and certain victory, Tottenham did a poor job clearing in extra time, Steve Davies, who had come off the bench late for Rochdale, knocked it in, and in about ten days, these two teams have to do it again in Wembley.
Understand that for Rochdale, this means a huge (relative) pay day for them, to get a game on the biggest stage in the sport, while for Tottenham, this extra contest does it zero good in terms of Premier and Champions League play.
But if you’re into this, it’s great stuff!
--Research published in the journal Current Biology has revealed that more than 100,000 critically endangered orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999, scientists having carried out a 16-year survey on the island. It’s “mind-boggling,” note the scientists.
Deforestation, driven by logging, palm oil, mining and paper mills, continues to be the main culprit.
The survey reveals that animals were “disappearing” from areas that remained forested, implying large numbers are being slaughtered, said lead researcher Maria Voigt of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.
Voigt and her colleagues say the animals are being targeted by hunters and are killed in retaliation for crop-raiding – a threat that has been previously underestimated.
Prof. Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University, UK, also part of the team, told BBC News:
“When these animals come into conflict with people on the edge of a plantation, they are always on the losing end. People will kill them.
“Just last week, we had a report of an orangutan that had 130 pellets in its body, after being shot at in Borneo.
“It’s shocking and it’s unnecessary. Orangutans might eat farmers’ fruit, but they are not dangerous.”
Top 3 songs for the week 2/18/67: #1 “Kind Of A Drag” (The Buckinghams) #2 “I’m A Believer” (The Monkees) #3 “Ruby Tuesday” (The Rolling Stones)...and...#4 “Georgy Girl” (The Seekers) #5 “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” (Blues Magoos) #6 “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone” (The Supremes) #7 “98.6” (Keith...love this one...) #8 “Tell It Like It Is” (Aaron Neville) #9 “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher) #10 “Gimme Some Lovin’” (The Spencer Davis Group...this week a solid example of how ’67 was one of the three best years all time.)
Winter Games Quiz Answers: 1) First three sites: Chamonix, 1924; St. Moritz, 1928; Lake Placid, 1932. 2) The six sports on every Winter Games program: Figure Skating, Ice Hockey, Speed Skating, Cross-Country Skiing, Ski Jumping, Nordic Combined (cross-country / ski jumping).
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.