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March Madness is Fast Approaching
[Posted Wed. a.m.]
NCAA Basketball Quiz: 1) Entering this season, which are the only four D-I schools with a .700 winning percentage? 2) Which school had the best winning percentage for 2010-2018? Answers below.
AP Poll (2/25)
1. Gonzaga (44) 27-2
2. Virginia (15) 24-2
3. Duke (3) 24-3
4. Kentucky (2) 23-4
5. North Carolina 22-5
6. Michigan State 23-5
7. Tennessee 24-3
8. Houston 26-1
9. Michigan 24-4
10. Marquette 23-4
11. Texas Tech 22-5
12. Nevada 25-2...didn’t deserve to fall this far
21. Buffalo 24-3
24. Wofford 24-4...awesome
--Monday, after the release of the above, 15 Kansas (21-7, 10-5) took out 16 Kansas State (21-7, 11-4) in Lawrence, 64-49, but this came after the Jayhawks had been embarrassed at Texas Tech, 91-62 last Saturday.
So after winning the Big 12 conference championship an astounding 14 consecutive seasons, as of Wed., the standings looked like this.
Kansas State 11-4
Texas Tech 10-4 (plays Okla. St. Thursday)
By the way, K-State defeated Kansas in their earlier meeting, but that means the Wildcats haven’t swept a season series from the Jayhawks since 1983. Goodness gracious.
Tuesday, 20 Virginia Tech won a biggie, 77-72 over Duke in Blacksburg, the Hokies now 22-6, 11-5, Duke falling to 24-4, 12-3, as the Blue Devils were without Zion Williamson again, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish unable to make up the difference this time.
But to be fair, Virginia Tech has been playing without its star point guard, Jerome Robinson, who sat out an eighth game with a foot ailment, status still unknown. What’s big for the Hokies is they moved into sole possession of fourth place in the ACC with two games to play; the top four finishers gaining double byes in the conference tournament, a big plus for Va Tech and its depleted roster.
Duke’s loss was big for 5 North Carolina, which is now 13-2 in the ACC following a 93-85 win over struggling Syracuse (18-10, 9-6). 2 Virginia, 12-2, hosts Georgia Tech tonight.
Elsewhere, 4 Kentucky defeated Arkansas (14-14, 5-10) 70-66, while 13 LSU was defeating Texas A&M (12-15, 5-10) 66-55, so Kentucky and LSU remain atop the SEC with Tennessee, the Vols playing tonight at Ole Miss.
And 21 Buffalo defeated Akron (15-13, 7-8) 77-64.
One more...Wake Forest had a pretty thrilling comeback at home against Miami (12-15, 4-11), 76-75, the Deacs now 11-16, 4-11. Wake was down 14 points with 8 ½ to play, and 10 with less than two minutes to go before going on a 16-5 run to steal it.
And in our non-major focus player of the week Johnny Mac and I highlight Central Florida’s Tacko Fall, the 7’6” senior center from Senegal who is leading the nation in field-goal percentage at .766, but is shooting .345 from the foul line, Fall with a 23 point, 20 rebound effort against SMU over the weekend, the Knights winning 95-48!
UCF, at 20-6, 10-4 in the AAC, has a real shot at the NCAA tournament and it would be fun to see Tacko in the Big Dance. Regardless, look for him next winter at a G-League arena near you, at worst.
Lastly, one team you don’t want to face in the NCAA tournament is No. 24 Wofford, which is hitting .415 from three-point land.
--To channel Boz Scaggs, “It’s over, it’s over now....” James Harden’s streak of 30-point games, that is, Harden held to 28 on Monday in the Rockets’ 119-111 win over the Hawks in Houston.
So the streak ends at 32, second all-time to Wilt’s 65, Wilt no doubt lying on his giant bed in heaven, just smiling. [And it’s here we need to quickly discontinue any further talk of Wilt in a bed, anywhere.]
I believe Harden when he said he was glad it was over. “Yeah I am. It was cool but I knew I wasn’t going to get to No. 1,” he said before walking away chuckling.
And Harden didn’t make it easy on himself, missing all ten 3-point attempts, as he was coming back from a neck injury.
I do have to note that Atlanta rookie Trae Young set a career high in the contest with eight 3-pointers and 36 points, and second-year man John Collins (Go Deacs) had 20 and 12 rebounds as he progresses into a top-flight NBA forward...an All-Star in another year or two. [Collins averaging 19.1, 9.6 on the season.] As in, Atlanta is building the right way, it seems.
--But the really big story in the NBA these days is LeBron James and the bumbling Lakers who at 29-31 as of Tuesday are not going to make the playoffs, as in, ‘what was that all about?’ ....bringing LeBron to L.A. and all. For what?
After another pathetic loss, this time to 24-38 Memphis, 110-105, LeBron said of his team, 3 games behind for the final playoff spot, that the “distractions” around the team are an excuse.
“At this point, if you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise to be a part of and you should just come in and be like, ‘Listen, I can’t do this,’” James said. “Seriously, if you’re distracted by playoff pushes...”
James then stammered a bit, seemingly at a loss for words.
“Just come and do your job,” he continued. “We do our job at a high level. That’s not a distraction, that’s what you want. That’s what you want every game, you want to feel like you’re fighting for something.”
James continued: “The last few years, everyone’s so accustomed to the losses that I’m just not accustomed to. I’m not accustomed to it. I would never get comfortable with losing.”
L.A. has 10 of its last 14.
--Meanwhile, break up the Knicks! They’ve won two in a row, now 13-48! And I can’t help but note that rookie center Mitchell Robinson has had a spectacular last two performances in leading the team to victory.
15 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks in Sunday’s 130-118 win over San Antonio. 17-14-6 and 3 steals last night in a 108-103 win over Orlando.
Robinson is one of the few NBA rookies in history to ever have consecutive stat lines like this.
MLB Hot/Cold Stove...now getting hotter....
--In a good move for baseball, overall, Colorado and its star third baseman Nolan Arenado reached agreement on a monster eight-year, $260 million contract extension, so more, annually, than the $30 million per year Manny Machado just picked up from the Padres.
Arenado, 27, won his sixth National League Gold Glove in a row last season while hitting .297 with a league-high 38 homers and 110 RBI.
Yes, the guy is aided by playing in Coors Field, but there isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t want the guy playing in their ballpark. It’s also just good seeing teams like San Diego and Colorado go for it.
The Yankees, however, can’t be happy. Last season they received great production from 22-year-old rookie Miguel Andujar, but he’s defensively challenged and the Yanks first met with Machado, though didn’t want to give him 10- and $300m, while also talking to Colorado about the availability of Arenado, who was to become a free agent at the end of the season. New York no doubt thought that if Arenado tested the market, they’d be all-in on the guy.
And the Dodgers aren’t happy either. They are said to be in the Bryce Harper chase, but if they fail to sign him, they were counting on Arenado’s impending free agency to provide them with an excuse for not signing Harper. Can’t use that one anymore.
Plus Clayton Kershaw is experiencing discomfort in his left shoulder (uh oh) and is already taking a break from throwing. And All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, while making a promising recovery from major elbow and hip surgery, isn’t a lock for Opening Day.
--In the new era, we’ll see more and more contracts like the one the Yankees pulled off with outfielder Aaron Hicks, who Monday signed a seven year, $70 million contract extension.
Hicks, 29, was scheduled to make $6 million in 2019, his final year before free agency, and now he’ll make $8 million this year, and then see a raise to nearly $10 million a year the next six, with a $12.5 million team option or a $1 million buyout for 2026.
Hicks had 27 homers and 79 RBIs in 137 games last season, with a solid .366 on-base percentage and .833 OPS. And he has one of the better outfield arms in the game.
I mean if the Yanks get what he did last year for another seven, that’s an awesome deal, but it isn’t all bad if he just does it the next 4 or 5, the way these things work.
The Yanks compare Hicks to A.J. Pollock ($55 million over four years, just signed by the Dodgers), and the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain (five years, $80 million, signed before the 2018 season).
--The Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas, age 30, just received a four-year extension worth a sweet $68 million, beginning in 2020, ending 2023. He was originally to earn $8m this season before becoming a free agent, the pitcher having gone 18-4, 2.83 ERA in 32 starts last season.
Man, this guy broke the bank. He received a two-year, $15.5 million deal from his success in Japan, 2015-17, and now he’s really set.
I mean good for him, but I’m kind of shocked by this. Like I would have thought a three year, $36 million extension was good enough.
The NFL and Kraft
According to court documents released Monday, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was videotaped paying massage parlor employees for sex acts in South Florida twice in two days in late January, including just hours before the Pats’ game in Kansas City on Jan. 20 for the AFC Championship game.
Prior to this last bit, the whole act lasted about 10 minutes, it seems, whereupon Kraft tipped the attendant $100, “plus at least one other unidentifiable bill, records state, and then headed for the parking lot, where a blue 2015 Bentley was waiting for him.” [Wil Hobson / Washington Post]
Kraft was also videotaped visiting the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Fla., on Jan. 19. That time Kraft’s “2014” Bentley was pulled over for a traffic-related violation, Kraft having to produce his Massachusetts driver’s license, though it’s not clear for why.
Jason Gay / Wall Street Journal
“Anyone who has watched even a little bit of professional team sports is familiar with this comical, time-honored TV ritual:
“At some point in the game, during a break in action, the camera will elevate from the field of play to the crowd, usually to the ring of sumptuous boxes on the suite level, and the camera will train its lens onto a single, seemingly important person, who is not an athlete, and is usually older and impeccably dressed.
“Sometimes it is rainy, or freezing cold outside, but this important person is dry, protected and cozy behind glass. Sometimes, it’s sunny, so this important person is wearing handsome designer eyewear. Sometimes they have binoculars. There is at least a 70% chance of cuff links. Everything on this important person looks expensive.
“The important person doesn’t wave or acknowledge the TV cameras, ever. But they are aware that the camera is there. Oh, are they aware. It is part of their identity.
“Chances are, if you watch a lot of sports, you already know who this important person is. They are so important, they need no introduction.
“But rituals are rituals, and when the announcer calling the game identifies this important person, you’ll be able to detect the slightest lift in the announcer’s voice, as if in the presence of a god, or royalty. This is especially the case in pro football. Suddenly the announcer – who spends the rest of the game talking rather nonchalantly about exceptional physical feats performed by exceptional human beings – sounds a little deferential, referring to this person in the suite with a universal title of respect....
“It’s pretty silly. The announcer sounds as if they are working for the important person in the suite, which, if you do the long math of how pro sports work, they kind of do.
“In fact, it is not out of the question that the announcer’s actual boss – the person who really does sign the checks – is at the game, sitting at the side of the important person, which the announcer may or may not confide, because that’s weird, a little too inside-the-sausage factory of how sports TV is made.
“But it’s worth taking a look at who else is in the suite, because it’s often other important people: a spouse, a CEO, a Senator. Once in a while, it’s a movie star.
“Throughout the game, the cameras will return to the important person’s box, for reaction shots when things go well, or when things don’t go well. Sometimes the very important person is jumping up and down like they just won a super-yacht on ‘The Price Is Right.’ Other times, they look like they’ve been told the Four Seasons is completely booked for the weekend....
“It isn’t that this background is uninteresting. It’s just that it pales in comparison to the reason they are being fussed over at this sporting event:
“Because they own one of the teams on the field.
“They are the owner. Or, rather The Owner. In professional sports culture, we have elevated ownership above all else....
“And we really do a tremendous amount of kissing up to them....
“I mention all of this because, at the moment, one of the most successful and recognizable owners in all of sports is in quite a predicament. You may have read about this. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged the other day with soliciting prostitution as part of a wide-ranging investigation in Florida.
“Kraft’s representatives have categorically denied the owner has engaged in any ‘illegal activity.’ The charges he is facing don’t typically carry much of a legal repercussion, though the scope of the case must be acknowledged – that behind these allegations is a far more serious alleged human trafficking web that preyed upon vulnerable women.
“As a sports story, it is an embarrassment to a person who, until a few days ago, was talked about in the sort of worshipful, hushed tones that people in his position are accustomed to. Kraft, even more so....
“This isn’t to say that Kraft hasn’t done great things for his team, his sport or in decades of philanthropy. But it turns out he is human, mortal, and fallible. Owners aren’t gods or royalty. On game day, or any other day, sports shouldn’t treat them as such.”
--With Dustin Johnson’s win at the WGC-Mexico Championship, he has now become a 10-1 favorite at The Masters, according to Las Vegas Westgate Superbook.
Justin Rose 12/1
Rory McIlroy 12/1
Tiger Woods 12/1
Justin Thomas 14/1
Jordan Spieth 16/1
Rickie Fowler 16/1
Brooks Koepka 18/1
Jon Rahm 18/1
Bryson DeChambeau 18/1
Jason Day 20/1
Not that we’re encouraging gambling here at Bar Chit, err, Chat, but I kind of like Matsuyama at 30/1 and Xander Schauffele at 35/1.
Remember....bet with your head, not over it.
And it’s a good excuse for a reminder that we’re talking The Masters...a tradition unlike any other...on CBS....
--Tiger Woods has played great the last two weeks, with a T-15 at the Genesis Open at Riviera, and then a T-10 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
I mean if you watched him as I have, he’s hitting his irons as well as ever, but the thing is, his putting has been atrocious.
Last weekend in Mexico City, he shot 71-66-70-69, but he had putts of 29-26-35-31, with five three-putts and one four-putt. The week before at Riviera he had six three-putts.
As Golfweek pointed out, Tiger is using the Scotty Cameron Newport putter he used to win 13 of 14 majors, so we’ll see if he makes a change when he returns to the Tour in two weeks at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill where he’s won eight times.
--I forgot to note last time that while the WGC-Mexico event was taking place, there was another full PGA Tour title at stake in Puerto Rico and rookie Martin Trainer won his first, winning by three over four players in just his 11th PGA Tour start. The 27-year-old former USC star won twice last year on the Web.com Tour and with the win he earns a two-year exemption on the Big Boys’ circuit.
--Big four-day stretch for my Tottenham Spurs in the Premier League. This afternoon they travel to Chelsea, and then Saturday host Arsenal. They must get a split or things are going to get very dicey in terms of retaining a top-four, Champions League slot.
On the other hand, if they won both, they are really back in the PL title chase.
That said, Tottenham is just 2-0-4 (W-D-L) in its Big Six matchups thus far, one of the two wins against Chelsea.
--Men’s Div. I College Hockey Poll (2/25)
1. St. Cloud State (49)
2. UMass (1)
3. Minnesota Duluth
4. Minnesota State
--So I kind of surprised myself in watching the entire Oscars, especially seeing as I haven’t been to a movie in about 40 years, or so it seems.
Hey, I liked the telecast. Of course there are politics in it...but most importantly the awards were spread around. Mark R. went to see “Green Book” when it first came out and I give him credit for saying then it would win Best Picture.
But, boy, that was a rather steamy number between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, wasn’t it? Great stuff. Total respect for Gaga and what she has done with her career.
Top 3 songs for the week 2/22/64: #1 “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (The Beatles) #2 “She Loves You” (The Beatles) #3 “Dawn” (The Four Seasons)...and...#4 “You Don’t Own Me” (Lesley Gore) #5 “Java” (Al Hirt) #6 “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” (Major Lance) #7 “Hey Little Cobra” (The Rip Chords) #8 “California Sun” (The Rivieras) #9 “What Kind Of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” (The Tams) #10 “Navy Blue” (Diane Renay...the Rip Chords and Rivieras are about to be left in the dust...the times they are a-changin’...)
NCAA Basketball Quiz Answer: 1) .700 winning percentage entering 2018-19 season:
1. Kentucky .764 (2263-699-1)
2. North Carolina .738 (2232-792)
3. Kansas .726 (2248-849)
4. Duke .709 (2144-881)
5. UNLV .696 (1245-543)
6. UCLA .691 (1870-836)
2) Best winning percentage 2010-2018:
1. Gonzaga .839 (271-52)...and this year doesn’t hurt
2. Kansas .832 (278-56)
Next Bar Chat, Monday. I may have a thing or two on the debacle at Santa Anita.