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Prelude to Selection Sunday
[Posted Wed. a.m. ...a light period for sports news before things get cranking with the real March Madness...]
NCAA Quiz: For the old-timers out there, name the seven players in the rotation for the 1982-83 national champion North Carolina State Wolfpack, coached by Jim Valvano. Answer below.
--UNC-Greensboro qualified for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2001, with a 62-47 win over East Tennessee State in Asheville, N.C., to win the Southern Conference championship.
--Some programs are perfect for their conference. Like Iona, which won its third straight Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title with an 83-71 win over Fairfield on Monday.
This is Gaels coach Tim Cluess’ eighth season, each time winning 20 games, and it’s his fifth NCAA Tournament. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
Must be fun to go to a school where each winter you have something to look forward to as a student, mused the Wake Forest alum.
--Among Tuesday’s winners of their conference titles, and an NCAA bid, were South Dakota State over South Dakota in the Summit League; LIU-Brooklyn over Wagner for the Northeast Conference crown; Wright State over Cleveland State in the Horizon League; and Charleston over Northeastern for the CAA crown.
Wake Forest’s season is mercifully over, the Deacs losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to Syracuse. Wake finished the year 11-20. It’s not even worth committing hari-kari over. Johnny Mac...don’t send my sword back to me just yet.
--Phil Mushnick / New York Post...on Sean Miller
“The story goes that boxing promoter Don King was being sued for broken promises when he was asked to comment on the allegations.
“King erupted. ‘Allegations?’ he shouted, ‘I don’t even know the alligators!’
“If you or I were totally innocent of serious charges – if we had nothing at all to do with it or hide – and held a news conference to declare our total innocence, wouldn’t we be eager to take questions afterwards?
“That’s why it seemed odd that University of Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller on Thursday after reading a statement declaring his complete innocence in an alleged $100,000 payment to land a top recruit, then refused to take, let alone answer, any questions.
“Also odd was that Miller spoke haltingly, remedially, as if reading from a lawyer-crafted statement he’d seen for the first or second time.
“Had he taken questions, it seems certain Miller would have been asked why, if totally innocent, did he choose to remove himself from coaching the game after the story broke, and then chose to not attend practices. Or was that at the school’s urging?
“Then, what happened between then and now to return you to your team while declaring your full, scripted innocence?
“I don’t know if Miller’s guilty, innocent or a little bit pregnant, but I do know that extending blind faith to big-time, big-ticket college coaches – at $2.9 million per plus perks and bonuses, he and football coach Kevin Sumlin are by far the school’s highest-paid employees – would be a fool’s decision or the choice of the schools’ biggest sports yahoos, specifically those who prefer not to know.
“Shucks, if I were that clean on such a scandalous matter, I’d have answered anything and everything I know, including state capitals.”
--On Monday, Cleveland beat Detroit 112-90, the Pistons falling to 29-35, just 6-9 since Blake Griffin arrived in a blockbuster trade. Not the way Pistons management drew it up; Detroit now five games back of the final playoff spot in the East.
--The Knicks have been godawful, losing 13 of 14, including a 111-87 no-show in Portland Tuesday.
But it’s too little too late! The Knicks, at 24-41, won’t have a shot at the first pick in the draft as there are still eight teams with only 18-21 wins, as the NBA’s mighty tank-a-thon rolls on.
--Interesting tidbit from Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal concerning innings pitched and the ERA title.
“With teams increasingly leaning on their bullpens and rarely letting starters face an opposing lineup more than twice through the order, the number of pitchers even eligible for the ERA title has plummeted. Qualifying for a title requires a pitcher to average one inning per game played by their team (usually 162 innings). Last season, this minimum requirement was met by only 58 pitchers.”
The number of qualifiers has fallen steadily since 2014, when 88 hurlers met the 162-inning threshold.
“At the current rate, the 200-inning pitcher may soon go the way the 300-inning pitcher did in 1980, when the Phillies’ Steve Carlton last topped that mark. Chris Sale of the Red Sox led baseball last season with 214.1 innings, the lowest total ever for a league leader in a non-strike year.”
And this year you have the Angels planning on a six-man rotation to allow Shohei Ohtani to pitch about once per week like he did in the Japan Pacific League.
--Shu sent me some material on the Cactus League and it was kind of interesting that in 1951, the Yankees and their cross-town rival Giants swapped spring training sites, the Giants having moved to Phoenix in 1947. Bill Veeck, having bought the Indians in 1946, convinced Giants owner Horace Stoneham to move to AZ, with the Indians training in Tucson. Thus, with two teams, you were starting the Cactus League.
But in ’51, Yankees co-owner Del Webb wanted to show off his World Series champions in his hometown and Phoenix fans were treated to seeing the first spring season of Mickey Mantle and the last of Joe DiMaggio.
Webb, who worked with Bugsy Siegel on the construction of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, would build 600 homes and a shopping center in Tucson, which was a prelude to his famous Sun City, Arizona development that he launched in 1960. TIME magazine noted that Sun City’s first weekend for showing it off (there being five model homes, a shopping center and such) drew 100,000, ten times more than expected. It was the first Arizona planned retirement community of its kind.
And now you know, the rest of the story....sort of.
--We note the passing of former pitcher Sammy Stewart, 63. Stewart pitched from 1978-87 for Baltimore, Boston and Cleveland, compiling a 59-48 record, 3.59 ERA, with 45 saves.
But he made his mark on the big leagues when in his debut, Sept. 1, 1978, for Baltimore, he started the second game of a doubleheader and struck out seven in a row, which at the time was a new record for a rookie in his debut, equaled since by Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals in his debut in 2010.
Stewart picked up the win in the game and when he reached the Orioles’ clubhouse, “his teammates had switched the nameplate above his locker in the clubhouse with that of Jim Palmer, the Orioles’ ace and a future Hall of Famer.” [Richard Sandomir / New York Times]
In six games in the 1979 and 1983 playoffs for Baltimore, he threw 12 scoreless innings, picking up a World Series ring in ’83, after Baltimore lost to the Pirates in ’79.
--Kirk Cousins officially becomes a free agent March 14, the Redskins opting not to franchise tag him for a third consecutive year; Washington having signed Alex Smith to a four-year extension worth up to $94 million.
Last season, Cousins became the first QB to play consecutive years under the franchise tag. He earned a combined $43,896,600 in 2016 and ‘17.
--So the other day I noted that former Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates, who left to apply for the draft after just his second season (having redshirted his freshman year), wasn’t among 14 safeties listed as top prospects at the position by USA TODAY Sports’ draft guru.
But then I’m reading a piece in the Star-Ledger Monday by Eliot Shorr-Parks who said the Eagles are very interested in Bates, and he “is projected to go in the second round.”
Huh. Turns out he did great in the skills competition at the combine.
--Phil Mickelson kept telling us he was close to breaking through, and then he did in Mexico on Sunday, after finishing T-5, T-2, T-6 his previous three events, Lefty’s first win since the 2013 British Open.
I mean there was Phil, on the first hole of sudden-death, walking up the fairway with the tournament sponsor, putting his arm around him. Of course sponsors eat that up.
Brian Costa / Wall Street Journal
“Once upon a time, everything in professional golf seemed to revolve around Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Then they got older, fell off with age and ceded the spotlight to an array of younger stars. The future was bright, golf people would nod in agreement.
“Now that future has arrived, in the form of two players breathing new life into golf in 2018: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“In the midst of a Woods comeback that has been shockingly legitimate, Mickelson on Sunday won his first tournament since the 2013 British Open. At 47 years old, he beat 23-year-old Justin Thomas in a playoff....
“Thomas, who was born more than two years after Mickelson’s first PGA Tour win, is the kind of player that has been dominating the sport in recent years. He’s exceptionally long off the tee and barely above college age. Just a week earlier, he had won the Honda Classic.
“But Thomas bogeyed the first playoff hole, allowing Mickelson to win after missing a birdie putt. And with that, Mickelson put a bookend on a four-year stretch in which he played some of his worst golf, became ensnared in a federal investigation into insider trading and fired his longtime caddie....
“ ‘I believe that more is to come,’ Mickelson said. ‘I’m starting to play some of my best golf.’
“The future of golf is here. It feels a bit like the past.”
Joel Beall / Golf World
“Despite the Club de Golf Chapultepec demanding accuracy off the tee, Mickelson explored parts of Mexico that Coronado failed to discover. He hit fans, routinely short-sided himself and bogeyed one of the course’s easiest holes... you know, the general Mickelson repertoire. And yet his irons and wedges were magical, always managing to save him from tree limbs, patchy rough and galleries. Like Julius Erving with dunking, Mickelson has transformed scrambling to an art form.
“Better yet, his putting, historically uneven but solid thus far in 2018, continued to be stellar....
“Of course, the mention of his play fails to encapsulate Mickelson’s performance, in every sense of the word. On Saturday, Mickelson inadvertently blew off 36-hole leader Shubhankar Sharma thinking he was a reporter. Cameras caught him telling fans he signs autographs after rounds...in fluent Spanish. Before play on Sunday, he asked Tyrrell Hatton, far from a stranger to golf’s biggest stages, how he pronounces his name. And during the final round, he aided Sharma on a ruling involving a drop, and gave more thumbs-up than a mother liking her children’s Facebook posts.
“It was a stage for Mickelson’s goofiness, daring, vulnerability, talent, hubris and engagement. If one was forced to explain the Phil Mickelson Experience to the uninitiated, this weekend would serve as a proper ‘Best Of’ montage.”
--I forgot to note last time that Steve Stricker, now 51, picked up the first win of his senior tour career, defeating Jerry Kelly, Scott Dunlap and Gene Sauers by two strokes.
--Lastly, golf’s ruling bodies are officially concerned about driving distance. A report from the USGA and R&A just released notes:
“The 2015 and 2016 editions of the distance report presented the increases in driving distance since 2003 as a slow creep of around 0.2 yards per hear,” the report’s preamble read. “The 2017 data shows a deviation from this trend. The average distance gain across the seven worldwide tours was more than 3 yards since 2016...
“(This) level of increase across so many tours in a single season is unusual and concerning....
“Increases in distance can contribute to demands for longer, tougher and more resource-intensive golf courses at all levels of the game. These trends can impact the costs to operate golf courses and put additional pressures on golf courses in their local environmental landscape. The effect of increasing distance on the balance between skill and technology is also a key consideration. Maintaining this balance is paramount to preserving the integrity of golf.”
The average driving distance on the PGA Tour for the 2016-17 season reached 292.5 yards.
Jack Nicklaus has been railing on this topic for years and clearly the USGA and R&A are close to doing something drastic...scaling back the ball.
--I hardly followed Sunday’s race in Las Vegas, seeing early that my Draft Kings lineup wasn’t going anywhere, but for the record, Kevin Harvick won his second in a row, and just as was the case the week before in Atlanta, it wasn’t even close. The 42-year-old now has 39 career wins.
--Neymar had surgery in Brazil on his fractured foot, a big deal in the world of futbol, ruling him out of Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League match against Real Madrid on Tuesday, which P.S.G. then lost 2-1 (5-2 over two legs).
It’s a big deal because P.S.G. broke soccer’s transfer record last year by paying Barcelona 222 million euros ($260 million) to buy Neymar, in part with the hope that he would lead the club to the Champions League title. But those hopes took a massive blow when he was injured in a French league game about ten days ago.
Of really major concern in Brazil is whether he’ll be 100% for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Liverpool advanced to the last eight of the Champions League with a 0-0 draw against Porto, 5-0 on aggregate, its first advancement this far since 2009.
Today, Manchester City, up 4-0, has its second leg against FC Basel, while Tottenham hosts Juventus, the first leg a 2-2 draw. C’mon, Spurs!
--Kudos to billionaire Paul Allen, who has a fascination with World War II and finding the burial places of U.S. ships / aircraft carriers that sunk during the war. Allen and his crew’s latest discovery was the USS Lexington, which went down 500 miles northeast of Australia in the Coral Sea. Allen found it the other day lying in water 1.8-miles deep.
The carrier was crippled during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 after being hit with bombs and torpedoes. 216 crew members were killed, but 2,735 were evacuated by another American warship, the USS Phelps. The Lexington was then scuttled by the Phelps to prevent its possible capture by Japan.
A drone captured stunning photos of the carrier’s superstructure and guns, as well as some of its 35 aircraft, with the aircraft in remarkable condition.
U.S. Pacific Commander Harry Harris, whose father was rescued from the carrier, paid tribute to the ship and those killed fighting for “freedoms they won for all of us.”
650 Americans were killed in the four-day battle that broke the momentum of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s attacks on northern Australia. Hundreds of Aussies had been killed in the city of Darwin in Japanese bombings.
Last year, Allen’s team discovered the wreck of the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis – sunk by Japanese torpedoes in July 1945.
Actually, Allen hasn’t just been looking for U.S. ships. In 2015, he located the Japanese battleship Musashi in the sea off the Philippines.
Paul Allen said after the Lexington’s discovery: “As Americans, all of us owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who served and who continue to serve our country for their courage, persistence and sacrifice. To pay tribute to the USS Lexington and the brave men that served on her is an honor.”
--Icelandic actor and strongman Hafbor Bjornsson, who plays “The Mountain” on Game of Thrones, can lift enormous sums.
This past weekend, Bjornsson earned a spot in the record books. Competing in the 2018 Arnold Strongman Classic, Bjornsson set a world record for the raw deadlift with a 1,041-pound lift. Yes, 1,041 pounds.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/4/72: #1 “Without You” (Nilsson) #2 “Hurting Each Other” (Carpenters) #3 “Precious And Few” (Climax)...and...#4 “Down By The Lazy River” (The Osmonds) #5 “Everything I Own” (Bread) #6 “The Lions Sleeps Tonight” (Robert John) #7 “Heart Of Gold” (Neil Young) #8 “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green) #9 “Sweet Seasons” (Carole King) #10 “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” (T. Rex)
NCAA Basketball Quiz: Seven in the rotation for the North Carolina State Wolfpack in 1982-83, winners of the NCAA final over Houston, 54-52.
Thurl Bailey (16.4 ppg), Dereck Whittenburg (15.7), Ernie Myers (10.7), Sidney Lowe (10.1), Lorenzo Charles, Terry Gannon, and Cozell McQueen.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.