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Loyola and Sister Jean March On
[Posted Sunday PM]
NCAA Quiz: Who are the last two schools from the state of Texas to make the Final Four and what was the year? Answer below.
For the archives...in the Sweet Sixteen...
3 Michigan whipped 7 Texas A&M, 99-72, while 9 Florida State manhandled 4 Gonzaga in the West regional, 75-60.
11 Loyola (Chicago) continued its Cinderella story with a 69-68 win over 7 Nevada, with Marques Townes nailing a 3-pointer with 6.3 seconds to play that gave the Ramblers an insurmountable 68-64 lead. 9 Kansas State then set up a dream Elite Eight Cinderella matchup with Loyola, upsetting 5 Kentucky 61-58 in the South region.
1Villanova defeated 5 West Virginia 90-78 in the East Region, in a contest that was closer than the final score indicates. Give Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins a ton of credit for taking his team to the Sweet Sixteen three times in the past four years. 3 Texas Tech beat 2 Purdue 78-65, the Boilermakers simply not the same since the untimely broken elbow injury of center Isaac Haas, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder. But for the Red Raiders it is their first Elite Eight in school history.
In the Midwest, 1 Kansas beat 5 Clemson 80-76, but it really wasn’t quite as close as it looks, with Clemson trailing 62-42, only to climb back to six with 2:27 left, but then not breaking through. 2 Duke then set up a matchup of powers when it beat 11 Syracuse 69-65.
Saturday, in the Elite Eight....
Loyola kept up the dream in whipping Kansas State 78-62 in the South regional final behind Ben Richardson’s career night, 23 points on 6 of 7 from three. The Ramblers continued their hot shooting, 27 of 47 from the field, 57%, and 9 of 18 from downtown.
And then in the nightcap, 3 Michigan emerged victorious in the West, 58-54 over Florida State. [Much more on this in a bit.]
No. 2 Duke squared off against 1 Kansas, Mike Krzyzewski against Bill Self, in the Midwest final; Coach K a staggering 12-2 in regional finals, Self just 2-7 (2-5 at Kansas).
Well, make that 12-3...3-7...as Kansas prevailed in OT, 85-81, with Malik Newman scoring all 13 of KU’s points in overtime...13 of his game-high 32...an extraordinary performance given the clutch nature of it. There were 18 lead changes...some calling it the best game of the tournament.
Not clutch was senior Grayson Allen of Duke, who was 3 of 13 from the field, including a meaningless three at the buzzer, Allen having missed a shot at the end of regulation that would have sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
This was a terrific college basketball game, and will be dissected for a while, but I’ll just say for now that I thought the call on Duke’s Wendell Carter at a most critical point in OT was huge, and wrong, and Marvin Bagley’s gag when Duke was up 72-69 was obviously huge as well.
In the other semi, 1 Villanova easily handled 3 Texas Tech in the East final, 71-59.
So next Saturday night, we have Loyola-Michigan, Kansas-Villanova; setting up a potentially great final regardless of the outcome in each....though we know what fans of everyone but alumni of Michigan (and perhaps those of KU and Nova) want...Sister Jean and Co. moving on to Monday.
--It only makes sense that a tournament that featured the first 16-seed defeating a 1-seed, would then have just the fourth 11-seed make the Final Four in Loyola-Chicago since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The others were LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011. [I can’t believe George Mason was already 12 years ago...seems like yesterday, doesn’t it...yikes.]
--But everyone Sunday morning was talking about the coaching job turned in by Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton has been at FSU since 2002-03 and long-time ACC fans know the guy well. He’s had some good teams, and those are always characterized by having a lot of athleticism, and generally putting out a solid effort each game, so Hamilton can be a good motivator (as opposed to Wake Forest’s Danny Manning), but two things take place at Florida State.
They have athletes, but few really good “basketball players,” and Hamilton simply can’t coach. The effort he gets out of his players wins them games, but his weakness in terms of game strategy kills them at the worst moments. He does deserve a lot of credit, though, for taking FSU to the Elite Eight. But Saturday night, Michigan was there for the taking and Hamilton once again came up small.
Michigan had a 54-44 lead with just 2:26 remaining after a Duncan Robinson three-pointer, but then the Wolverines imploded and with 1:16 left to play, Florida State’s P.J. Savoy hit a triple, pulling FSU to within three 55-52.
Though the Seminoles had plenty of time to get a defensive stop, they then let 11 seconds go off the clock before Savoy fouled Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, putting him at the line. Abdur-Rahkman missed the front end, and FSU got the ball back. But then Savoy rushed an attempt from three, missing badly with 58 seconds to go.
Michigan got the rebound. Then a whopping 18 seconds went off the clock before FSU fouled again to stop the clock. Incredibly awful clock management when the Seminoles could have just gone for the stop.
So FSU put Michigan’s Zavier Simpson at the line with 40 seconds remaining, the sophomore guard made the first and missed the second. 56-52.
FSU then missed two more field goal attempts – a layup and another three-point attempt from Savoy – eventually trading a made basket with two Michigan free throws. Michigan grabbed its final defensive rebound with 13 seconds left, up 58-54, and FSU didn’t foul, letting the clock expire.
13 seconds is an eternity for most coaches, like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. Just three weeks ago, Louisville led then-No. 1 Virginia by four points with one second to go, and lost, 67-66.
Right after, Leonard Hamilton was asked by TBS’s Dana Jacobson why no foul. Hamilton gave the veteran sideline reporter a bizarre look. “You think that the game came down to the final seconds of the game? ...the game was over.”
In the post-game press conference, Hamilton said, “I don’t remember exactly what the situation was to be very honest with you,” when asked about his decision-making down 55-52. “But there was one situation where we thought it was best not to foul because we thought that we could get the ball back and still have an opportunity to score because it seemed like there were like 15 seconds difference in the shot clock, if we could just hold them. It might have been a one- or two-point game at that point. Maybe a two-point game. And we thought if we stopped them, we’d have an opportunity to come down and score.”
But FSU cut it to 56-54 on a Phil Cofer putback with 24 seconds left. At this point, Duncan Robinson was fouled with 21 seconds remaining, and he made both, making it 58-54. Savoy then launched one final desperation attempt with 13 seconds to go but when Robinson secured the rebound, FSU then didn’t bother trying to foul.
“It’s very easy to micro-evaluate when the game’s over,” Hamilton added. “You can go back and really try to dissect it and see what you could have done. But there are no absolutes.”
Yeah...but why didn’t you foul?!
--Gee, do you think Loyola coach Porter Moser can have just about any coaching job in America he wants. [Ditto UMBC’s Ryan Odom.]
--UConn landed Danny Hurley as its new men’s basketball coach and the fan base is celebrating bigly. But I don’t understand why Hurley would do this, especially with the Pitt job open. I’d take Pitt over UConn (sorry, Jeff B.) and all its baggage anytime. Plus with Pitt’s ACC exposure, their comeback should be quick. He could recruit a helluva class for 2019-20.
But Hurley is signing a six-year contract worth roughly $3 million per year to coach in Storrs, triple his salary at Rhode Island, where he did a superb job.
--The NIT semifinals are set, Tuesday at the Garden.
Western Kentucky (27-10) vs. Utah (22-11)
Mississippi State (25-11) vs. Penn State (24-13)
Good thing PSU is in there. Would be tough to sell a lot of tickets otherwise.
--After a six-game absence due to another ankle injury, Stephen Curry sprained his knee in his first game back and will now be out at least three weeks. He has appeared in just 51 games this season. Obviously, the Warriors aren’t winning any championships without him.
--The Celtics’ star point guard Kyrie Irving underwent knee surgery to alleviate pain in his left knee, status unknown pending a review after his “minimally invasive” procedure.
--It is truly bizarre what is going on in San Antonio with Kawhi Leonard and his quad injury. For years, Leonard, who never talks, was just viewed as the ultimate team player, a disciple of Gregg Popovich... ‘Whatever you want me to do, Coach’ kind of guy. He played hard non-stop. For a stretch, he was the best all-around player in the league.
Then he suffered his injury and it has been an interminable recovery. There were rumors the other day of a tense players-only meeting, Leonard in attendance, with his teammates demanding to know when he was coming back...demanding that he do so to help the team in the playoffs. [The players later denied they confronted him in such a fashion.]
But the bottom line is there is something seriously wrong with his relationship in San Antonio, and with Popovich, and the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA Finals MVP, who doesn’t turn 27 until June, is just a year away from free agency and a probable $200 million contract.
Could he be a Knick? Could they trade for him beforehand? Something for us fans to dream about.
--Some games of note the past few days.
Thursday, the Hornets beat the lowly Grizzlies, 140-79 (75-42 at half). In just 28 minutes, Kemba Walker had 46 points, 10 of 14 from three. It was the fewest minutes ever for a player with 45 points. It was also the first 60-point win in the NBA since 1998, and only the sixth in league history.
And Charlotte’s Dwight Howard even had the night off, after going for 32 points and 30 rebounds in a 111-105 win over Brooklyn the night before. Saturday, Howard then had 18 and 23 in a 102-98 win over Dallas. [The 30-30 game was the first in the NBA in seven seasons, Kevin Love the last to accomplish the feat. Howard is just the eighth in league history to do so.]
Also Thursday, New Orleans defeated the Lakers 128-125, which I only mention because Lonzo Ball was 2 of 15 from the field (1 of 12 from behind the arc) but he did have 9 assists and 13 rebounds. His field goal percentage this rookie year is a ghastly .352, and just .449 from the free-throw line.
Saturday, the 76ers beat the T’Wolves 120-108, behind Ben Simmons’ triple-double...15 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists.
Not for nothing, Mark R., but your Sixers are suddenly 42-30, and, if I’m LeBron I head to Philly. In fact, I just think it’s a layup. “The Process” would be complete, a title guaranteed.
--No doubt in some cities, the NFL draft, still over four weeks away, continues to capture a ton of attention, especially here in the New York area with the Giants at No. 2 and the Jets No. 3. The Jets have now attended the pro days of all top four QBs – Darnold, Rosen, Allen and Mayfield – and some now believe they might be leaning towards Josh Rosen.
No! Don’t take him! He’s concussion prone...seemingly more so than the others.
Meanwhile, the Giants traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay, and there is growing talk the Giants could take lineman Bradley Chubb at No. 2, rather than running back Saquon Barkley...or guard Quenton Nelson....or a QB.
If Cleveland surprises and takes Barkley No. 1, the Giants could go for Chubb, who everyone believes is handily the top defensive player in the draft. Cleveland can still get a top QB then with their No. 4 pick. [This is a no-brainer for Cleveland...take Barkley and then the QB...right Mark R.?]
--The Jets are seriously interested in signing three-time All-Pro tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was cut by the Dolphins as part of its ‘culture cleansing.’ I do NOT want my Jets bringing one of the dirtiest players in the history of the game on board, plus his performance has clearly diminished the last few years.
--But I love the Jets’ signing of receiver Terrelle Pryor. Two seasons ago he was a 1,000-yard receiver for Cleveland, though last season with the Redskins he was barely used, partially because he missed significant time due to injury, catching just 20 passes. But he’s healthy now and presents a big red zone target at 6’6”. [Some list him as 6-foot-4. Regardless, a better target than most of the Jets’ current alternatives in those situations.]
--Andrew Beaton had an interview with Roger Goodell in the Wall Street Journal and despite the announcement of two new leagues the past few months (a topic I refuse to write about because these ventures will fail...or have very limited audiences...at least says moi), “The NFL is having a banner off-season.”
Beaton: “The NFL has rattled off a string of lucrative deals over the last several months that fly in the face of (growing public concerns about the game’s safety, and future). Fox paid $3.3 billion for the oft-maligned Thursday Night Football package – a 47% increase over the current deal. Verizon’s new mobile deal with the league jumped form $250 million annually to more than $450 million. An uncomfortable imbroglio with sponsor Papa John’s led to a breakup – and, a day later, an even more lucrative deal with Pizza Hut.
“ ‘The stability of our league has never been stronger and firmer,’ said Goodell in an interview at NFL headquarter. ‘That doesn’t mean we’re not realistic about the challenges. We have them.’....
“This is a key feature of the Goodell era in the NFL: his ability to rake in ever more money for the owners despite mounting problems....
“The league has been unable to quell the anthem protests by players after two seasons. TV ratings have declined for two years amid growing data the league is losing its core audience.” The spat with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was ugly.
“All of these headwinds developed under Goodell’s watch. But so did the media deals that have only further enriched the league. And that’s why owners say, in spite of these worries, they insisted on a recent contract extension for Goodell.”
Meanwhile, looming in the not-too-distant future is a Supreme Court ruling on sports betting, which will be handed down before the start of the 2018 season. Goodell is mum on this at this point, but the NBA and MLB have expressed public interest in trying to get a cut of the action.
So should the NFL. After all, the Raiders are moving to Vegas.
--Yankees fans for good reason have high hopes, with their slugging core of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, and what should be a decent rotation (but not great).
But first baseman Greg Bird, the oft-injured Greg Bird, was felt to finally be healthy at the end of last season and he could have been a surprise cog in the batting order, a healthy Bird more than capable of 30+ home runs.
He’s had a poor spring, however, and the other day he then told the team what they didn’t want to hear, that his right foot was hurting, the same one he had surgery on last July. Now he’s undergoing a CT scan and MRI. General Manager Brian Cashman is beside himself. Newly-signed Neil Walker, who was ticketed to play a lot of second, is a probable option, ditto Tyler Austin, who had been optioned to Triple-A earlier last week.
--I just don’t get the Angels and their handling of Shohei Ohtani. Not in the way they are using him, but in their feeling he should be in the rotation at the big-league level starting this coming week. What the hell is the hurry, Angels management?
I’m just a baseball fan, and I think it would be awesome for the sport if Ohtani was successful, both at the plate and on the mound.
But the guy has had a super lousy spring, so let him settle in at AAA the first few months, yet there was manager Mike Scioscia on Saturday, gushing about Ohtani who worked into the sixth inning of an “intrasquad scrimmage,” allowing two runs on two hits, striking out five and walking five.
Addressing the topic of Ohtani getting a start next week in the team’s season-opening series in Oakland, Scioscia said: “Let’s wait and see how he comes out of it. This was a great outing today, though.”
Huh? GM Billy Eppler said: “He was able to achieve his objectives. He checked off a couple more boxes.” This was a scrimmage with minor leaguers, and his velocity was down in the low 90s, which isn’t good considering the kind of pitcher he is supposed to be.
Oh well...I hope I am very wrong on this one.
--Clayton Kershaw finished his exhibition season with six 2/3 shutout innings against the Royals on Friday, retiring 20 in a row to cap a spotless spring. Kershaw threw 21 1/3 scoreless.
So Kershaw was to throw the opener on Thursday against San Francisco and Madison Bumgarner, but Bumgarner suffered a broken left hand trying to field a ball on Friday, had surgery today, and is out 6-8 weeks. What an awful break for the Giants, and here the city lost Stephen Curry the same day. Kind of staggering.
Back to Kershaw, it will be his franchise record eighth consecutive opening day start, though the team is slightly concerned his velocity has been down this spring...not that they’ll admit it.
--Mets fans are going to be on pins and needles every time budding star Michael Conforto comes to the plate after serious shoulder surgery, and it almost seems as if the team is rushing his recovery. Last fall we were told not to expect him back before June 1, which seemed reasonable, but now he’s clearly going to be playing at the big-league level by around April 20, after starting the season on the DL.
Conforto has appeared in two exhibition games in recent days and then, inexplicably in Saturday’s meaningless game against the Cardinals, the third-base coach Glenn Sherlock sent Conforto for a bang-bang play at the plate, and then Conforto, playing centerfield, dove headlong to try to catch a liner off the bat of Marcell Ozuna in the bottom of the same inning just a few hours after he told the New York Post’s Joel Sherman he was forbidden from doing that.
This is beyond reckless and stupid.
--There have been a number of baseball card stories the past few days and I don’t know where I have been, but I thought, with the exception of one or two famous cards, that the card market was still mired in its slump, or at best stagnating.
But then I see that retired NFL player Evan Mathis, a two-time Pro-Bowler as an offensive lineman and an avid card collector, possesses a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, the latest holy grail.
Issued as part of its first set of baseball cards by Topps, the Mantle cards was the marquee piece of a card-only spring collection by Heritage Auctions. There were six versions to be rated a Mint 9 by PSA, one of the leading authenticators, with three others having earned a Mint 10 rating.
Mathis’ is a 10 and he’s selling, the card valued at $3.5 million by Heritage. By comparison, the highest price paid at auction two years ago was $3.12 million for a 1909 Honus Wagner card, which heretofore has long been the most sought-after card.
Separately, in a piece by Paul Sullivan in the New York Times, he talks about a collector, Brady Hill, who for ages had some cards locked away in his safe deposit box. He went to check on their value, having not done so in seven or eight years, and was shocked to discover some of them had soared, and it seems an informal index of the most valuable ones over the past decade has more than doubled the value of the S&P 500 during its massive bull run since the Great Recession.
Hill possesses a 1952 Mantle card and a 1916 Babe Ruth rookie card that together have been valued at $1.2 million.
So PWCC, an auction site for trading cards of all kinds, is set to introduce a series of indexes modeled on the S&P to help collectors track the value of their cards and understand what their portfolio is worth.
In terms of appreciation, the top 3 cards today are the 1952 Mantle, a 1954 Hank Aaron card, and a 1933 Babe Ruth. Over the past decade the Mantle card has appreciated 590 percent, the Aaron card 829 percent, and the Ruth card 305 percent.
The card market does go through bubbles, a number of them the past three decades, and I didn’t realize “a small group of collectors with about $20 million among them ran up prices in 2016, but the broader collecting market did not follow. ‘They put all their money into one card and not others,’ (said Brent Huigens, CEO of PWCC Auctions). ‘They created outliers they couldn’t maintain. The market has had to reassess itself.’” [Paul Sullivan]
A Topps Mantle in Grade 8 condition is worth about $400,000, and there are only 33 known examples of this one in the world, according to Brent Huigens.
[Sullivan’s article says a Grade 10 Mantle, of which there are only three, would fetch $10 million, which obviously conflicts with Mathis’ value above...so this is a problem in the market, but then there are major distortions in the art market all the time as well.]
As for other sports, the highest-ranked non-baseball card these days is a Grade 10 rookie card of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson from 1980, worth about $75,000.
The highest-ranked football card is a Joe Namath Topps card from 1965, worth $35,000 in a near-perfect grade of 8.
[A first-edition set of the 1999 North American Pokemon cards recently sold for auction at $98,000.]
--Bubba Watson won the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play event in Austin, win No. 11 for his PGA Tour career, second of the year after a horrible 2017, and now a clear favorite for the Masters...a tradition unlike any other...on CBS.
I love this course and setting, visually, but I just have trouble getting into it in terms of the action Saturday vs. a normal third-round of a PGA Tour event. And then Sunday’s semis and final were up against the NCAA regional finals.
But in the semis, Justin Thomas fell to Bubba, 3&2, while Kevin Kisner won his match with Alexander Noren on the 19th hole, Noren with an inexplicably poor 3rd shot just off the green that cost him.
And then Watson totally waxed Kisner, taking him out on the 12th hole, 7&6 Noren claimed third.
I love what Johnny Miller said Sunday of Watson. There is “good Bubba,” and bad Bubba. So true.
--Tony Romo was given an exemption to play in the PGA Tour event opposite the WGC-Match Play, the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. Let’s just say his experiment didn’t go well. He was even par in his first round after 12 holes, but then went 5-over the rest of the way, and then shot an 82 in the second round on Friday, finishing in last place. He opened his second round with six straight bogeys.
[Brice Garnett won the event...I have no idea who he is.]
--Not only has Tiger Woods’ resurgence helped television ratings immensely, but Barron’s reports that traffic to 11 golf sites, including retailers GolfGalaxy.com, owned by Dick’s Sporting Goods, is up 150% from a year ago levels...plus it was flat in December. That’s interesting.
--We note the passing of Wayne Huizenga, the founder of Waste Management Inc., which eventually became the world’s largest trash company, and Blockbuster Entertainment, as well as AutoNation, who then went on be the founding owner of the Florida Marlins and the NHL Florida Panthers. And he bought the Miami Dolphins for $138 million in 1994.
But while the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, Huizenga never reached a Super Bowl with the Dolphins when he owned the team.
With the Marlins, Huizenga spent heavily to build a veteran team and won the Series in the franchise’s fifth year. He was the toast of South Florida, but then he dismantled the roster because of poor attendance and the failure to swing a deal for a new ballpark with taxpayer money, so he became the villain. He would keep a low public profile after, especially after being booed at quarterback Dan Marino’s retirement celebration in 2000.
Huizenga later said he regretted his move with the Marlins, gutting the roster after winning the Series, saying in 2009: “We lost $34 million the year we won, and I just said, ‘You know what, I’m not going to do that.’ If I had to do it over again, I’d say, ‘OK, we’ll go one more year.’”
He sold the Marlins in 1999 to John Henry, and sold the Panthers in 2001, and then the Dolphins following the 2008 season, selling them for seven times what he paid for the franchise.
Wayne Huizenga was incredibly successful as a businessman, earning gobs from Waste Management when he walked away, and then he made a fortune in Blockbuster. But that’s for my other column.
--The NASCAR race for Sunday that was to be held in Martinsville, Virginia, was snowed out, after two inches fell on the track Saturday night, and more importantly the grass parking lot, the race rescheduled for Monday at 2:00, giving some of us something to watch rather than CNBC or the daily White House briefing, if there is one, post-“60 Minutes” and Stormy.
It was the first such cancellation since 1993.
--The field for the NCAA’s College Hockey Championship, the Frozen Four, is taking shape.
Minnesota-Duluth faces tonight’s Ohio State-Denver winner
Notre Dame squares off against Michigan.
--No Premier League action this week...lots of International Friendlies and such instead.
--Longtime Boston television personality and entertainer Frank Avruch, who was the star of the popular children’s TV program “Bozo the Clown,” has died. He was 89.
Avruch played Bozo from 1959 to 1970, a character particularly popular in the 1960s because of widespread franchising.
I never was a fan as a kid, already creeped out by clowns. I think I was watching Deputy Dawg at the time Bozo was on.
But I do need to note that Frank Avruch was a big-time humanitarian, and worked extensively with UNICEF among other charity groups. His was a life well lived.
Top 3 songs for the week 3/26/77: #1 “Rich Girl” (Daryl Hall & John Oates) #2 “Love Theme from ‘A Star Is Born” (Evergreen)” (Barbra Streisand...ugh...) #3 “Dancing Queen” (Abba)...and...#4 “Don’t Give Up On Us” (David Soul) #5 “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Thelma Houston) #6 “Fly Like An Eagle” (Steve Miller) #7 “Night Moves” (Bob Seger) #8 “The Things We Do For Love” (10 CC) #9 “I Like Dreamin’” (Kenny Nolan...that’s all I did at Wake Forest...staring out the window for four years...this being second semester freshman year...) #10 “Torn Between Two Lovers” (Mary MacGregor)
NCAA Quiz Answer: The state of Texas hasn’t had a lot of Final Four success. Texas made it in 2003, and then you have to go all the way back to Houston, 1982-84, losing in the finals 1983 and ’84.
Next Bat Chat, Thursday....your EXCLUSIVE Pick to Click for the World Series. Kids, you’ll need to get permission from your parents to bet all your lunch money on this...or butter up Dad to make a call to his bookie for you...or take you to Vegas. That is until the Supreme Court rules in favor of sports betting...but now I digress.