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Baylor Gets Its First Title
[Posted late Tues. p.m.]
Baseball Quiz / 1984 Detroit Tigers: The ’84 edition got off to the best 40-game start of any team in baseball history, 35-5. How many starters/platoon pieces among the position players can you name from that squad? Answer below.
Gonzaga – Baylor
Jim Nantz said as the two tipped off last night that the winning percentage for the two combined, 58-2, was the best for any championship matchup. The stage was set.
And then Baylor happened. 9-0 right out of the gate. Jalen Suggs two quick fouls for Gonzaga just three minutes in, Suggs, the guy who runs the show for the Zags, heading to the bench. And before you knew it, it was 29-10, Baylor, the Bears hitting their first five from 3-point land. Game over. The final score was 86-70, Baylor winning their first national championship, and it wasn’t even that close.
Baylor’s guard trio of Jared Butler (22 points, 7 assists), Davion Mitchell (15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), and MaCio Teague (19 points) totally outplayed their Gonzaga counterparts.
It was a master class from Bears coach Scott Drew and his squad. And as opposing coach Mark Few put it, “They literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense.” It didn’t help that on the offensive glass, Baylor outrebounded the Zags 16-5.
Dan Wolken / USA TODAY
“How many times have you heard the four words that defined Baylor men’s basketball over the last 18 years?
“The arc of the story, the actual details of it, never really mattered when it came to Scott Drew. Maybe it was rooted in the whispers of recruiting impropriety early in his career that never amounted to anything, even when the NCAA looked into them. Maybe it was his relentless positivity that bordered at times on smarm. Maybe it was a few embarrassing NCAA Tournament losses that built the narrative, even though the real miracle was that Baylor basketball had been good enough to be favored in those kinds of games to begin with.
“Whatever it was, you heard it for nearly two decades: Scott Drew Can’t Coach.
“Let it be known that on Monday night, in a football stadium in the state where he grew up, with his father and brother – both college basketball coaches – standing and gyrating in the stands, there’s a new set of words that will forever define Baylor Basketball.
“Scott Drew is a National Champion. And by the time the journey was complete, in the final moments of an 86-70 evisceration of No. 1-ranked Gonzaga, any narrative that had previously knocked Drew for the work he’d done at Baylor looked awfully silly.
“Because what had been a season-long collision course to the national championship game between the two best teams in college basketball turned into one-way traffic. What started as Gonzaga’s quest for perfection became a full-scale submission. What looked like a potential classic instead became a showcase for the relentlessness, the abounding energy and the marvelous skill on which Drew had built this team over the last two years for exactly this moment.
“ ‘You don’t get these opportunities often, and we were on a mission to make the most of it,’ Drew said. ‘In the coaching fraternity, getting to a Final Four is very similar to winning a national championship – there’s usually some luck that goes into it. We didn’t even have to be lucky because our guys were so dominant this entire tournament.’
“Indeed, in Drew’s masterpiece of a championship game, it was never close, never truly competitive, never really in doubt. For all the talk about Gonzaga’s historically good efficiency numbers and its attempt to become the first undefeated national champion since 1976, the best team in college basketball was hidden in plain sight – right up until a barrage of 3-pointers, defensive deflections and thumping drives to the rim in the opening minutes Monday made it obvious for everyone.
“ ‘They punched us in the mouth right at the get-go,’ Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert said. ‘It took a long, long time for us to recover and start playing them even again. But then it was too late.’
“Aside from a very brief moment in the second half when Gonzaga pulled within nine points, the game was basically drama-free. Gonzaga was so utterly turned around on both ends of the floor – ‘We were kind of playing sideways,’ coach Mark Few said – that it resorted to playing a zone defense, something it had done for only a handful of possessions the entire season….
“There was a time in Drew’s career when so many people in college basketball gleefully said he would never figure out how to win at this level.
“Though he had pulled Baylor out of one of the worst scandals in college sports history when he arrived in 2003 and shocked the sport just by getting to the NCAA Tournament five years later, there were detractors every step of the way.
“In those early days, when Drew chased the kind of high-level recruits who normally wouldn’t have considered Baylor, or when he hired an AAU coach as an assistant to try and land a player, his competitors would suggest it wasn’t on the level.
“Then when he got some of those players and they didn’t necessarily light the world on fire, the reputation was that he couldn’t get them to the NBA. [Ed. it’s true, few of his players made it to the big time.]
“Even when Baylor went to Elite Eights in 2010 and 2012, making another step up the ladder, the conventional wisdom never gave Drew credit for much more than rolling the balls out.
“It was ridiculous of course, all of it. Even a decade ago, what he’d accomplished at Baylor to rescue the program from the Dave Bliss scandal was one of the great rebuilding jobs anybody had ever pulled off.
“But with Drew, all anyone wanted to talk about was losing to Georgia State and Yale in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in 2015 and 2016, as if he’s the only one who ever got an upset pulled on them in the first round. [Ed. they were indeed awful losses, I mean, c’mon.]….
“(But) Drew did make some key adjustments in his program that led directly to Monday’s championship. Instead of chasing the flashy recruits, he reoriented his philosophy around older players, many of whom had started their college careers elsewhere, including guard Davion Mitchell (formerly of Auburn), (MaCio) Teague (formerly of UNC-Asheville) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (formerly of UNLV).
“He also got rid of the zone defense that Baylor used to play almost exclusively and rebranded the program on an aggressive man-to-man and 40 minutes of in-your-face ball pressure. The result was a team of physical and emotional grown-ups with three guards who could all drive it down your throat, score off the dribble and shoot the lights out at any given moment….
“But perhaps the biggest coaching challenge of Drew’s career arrived on Feb. 5 when the Bears, who were 17-0 at the time, went into a three-week pause due to Covid-19 cases within the program. The lack of practice time and loss of continuity was evident when Baylor came back for the final five games of the regular season, with losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
“In a way, though, it might have taken some of the pressure off Baylor. With a full week to do nothing but practice before the NCAA Tournament began, Drew saw the defensive intensity and togetherness that had carried his team through most of the season slowly get back to its previous level. Then as Baylor got deeper in the tournament, they started making shots again. They finished with one of the most dominant Final Four appearances ever, beating Houston by 19 and Gonzaga by 16 in games that were visually even more lopsided than the scores….
“Monday night began with talk of potential perfection. But as Baylor showed, it wasn’t about a win-loss record. It was about the parts working together when everything is on the line. By that standard, nobody was more perfect than the team Drew put on the floor Monday night.
“Can he coach? Nobody will ever have to ask that question again.”
--The very early 2021-22 line from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill has posted Gonzaga as the favorite, with Baylor second.
But no one, no one, knows today just how the whole transfer game is going to play out. As I’ve written the last few weeks, it’s insane. There are over 1,000 players in the portal right now. As in there are some very attractive pieces to pick up, especially if you’re a top 30 or so team needing that one piece to break into the top 15. Or for a Wake Forest, a lot of players from, say, a Big Ten program that aren’t receiving playing time but easily could at Wake may make the move. Why not? You have to play to attract the overseas professional offers, which is where so many these guys end up if they have the ability.
Illinois coach Brad Underwood, still smarting from the loss his top-seeded team suffered in the second round to No. 8 seed Loyola, said of the transfer game, which is expected to eventually hit 1,500, or about five per team:
“I always had a philosophy I wanted to build with freshmen and develop them,” he said, pointing to the strides Ayo Dosunmu made between his freshman and junior seasons. “That’s development and maturity. I don’t know if those days exist anymore.
“I think we’re going to have to shop from the full menu, so to speak…. We have a completely different scenario for recruiting. It impacts trying to get old and stay old.”
“I’m wrapping my brain around 34 years of training to build one way,” Underwood said. “I remember when retention was the key word and APR (Academic Progress Rate) was the key word and helping people graduate, and now we’ve done a complete flip from all of that. It’s a different world.” [Chicago Tribune]
Which brings up the topic that so few actually make the NBA. I heard some ridiculous statements after the UCLA-Gonzaga game. ‘Experts’ were saying 8 or 9 in the game would be first-rounders. Look, Johnny Juzang had a super Final Four run, but is he really a lottery pick, as some now say? I doubt it. Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert? A first-rounder? Maybe late, at best.
The only guy in that game who is a sure thing is Jalen Suggs, who will indeed be a lottery pick.
Yes, the NCAA tournament gives guys like Juzang a chance to show their goods, and he was terrific, but the GMs in the NBA have been looking all season at outstanding players at schools that didn’t even make the Big Dance.
Anyway, this is critically important because if Juzang’s agent finds out he’s not as high a pick as some are telling him now, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that UCLA could return everyone, at which point I’d select them No. 1.
--So much for my statement North Carolina should hire Wes Miller to replace Roy Williams as coach. The Tar Heels promoted Hubert Davis, longtime assistant to Ol’ Roy.
AD Bubba Cunningham, who initially said he was going to take his time and instead waited all of 48 hours, said, “Hubert Davis is the best leader we can possibly have for our men’s basketball program… He has a tenacious, burning desire to be the best he can possibly be; we witnessed that when he was a player, a broadcaster and an assistant coach – and I have no doubt he will ensure…our student-athletes and program will be the best they can be, as well.”
Yup, lots of, err, kind of fake courses for those “student-athletes” Carolina is best known for. Cough cough…cough.
--Loyola as expected hired 29-year-old former Loyola Ramblers assistant coach Drew Valentine to replace his mentor, Porter Moser, who is moving on to Oklahoma.
--The Knicks had an important game with the crosstown Nets Monday night and James Harden made his return after missing two games with right hamstring tightness. He ended up playing all of four minutes, leaving the game again with the same injury.
So that opened the door for the Knicks, right? I mean Kevin Durant is still out.
Nope. The Knicks lost a toughie, 114-112, despite Julius Randle’s triple-double (19 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assist). The big guy missed a shot at the buzzer to tie it.
Instead it was the Kyrie Irving show…40 points, 7 assists. He’s played in only 36 of the team’s 51 games but when he’s on the court he’s been outstanding…28.0 ppg, 6.2 assists.
So the Nets, 35-16, are 19-4 without Durant, who we’re still told is coming back soon. But now Harden clearly has a lingering issue. And recent acquisition Blake Griffin has trouble playing back-to-back because of his balky knee. It’s going to be a strange postseason for Brooklyn.
By the way, no one is grumbling about rookie Nets coach Steve Nash. I think the guy has proved himself.
Meanwhile, the Knicks have lost 4 of 5…troubling.
--Just as it’s fun in the New York area to have the Mets and Yankees, and hopefully both playing well, Los Angeles is more fun for its baseball fans when both the Angels and Dodgers are doing the same and both are off to 4-1 starts.
The Dodgers got six shutout, 2-hit innings out of Dustin May on Monday night, L.A. rolling over the 0-5 Athletics 10-3.
And the Angels are 4-1 after beating Houston 7-6 in Anaheim, handing the Astros (4-1) their first loss. The Angels had four in the bottom of the eighth for their third straight late rally for a ‘W.’
Mike Trout hit his first home run of the season and he’s very enthused over the team’s start. “We have to keep it up. Everyone up and down the lineup is feeding off each other, which is good to see.”
For Joe Maddon’s team, Shohei Ohtani was out of the starting lineup after pitching 4 2/3 innings Sunday night and getting upended while covering home plate. But he entered last night’s game as a pinch-hitter after Albert Pujols and Jose Iglesias opened the eighth with singles. Ohtani was hit by a pitch from Joe Smith and exchanged glances with the Houston reliever on his way to first. Ohtani then scored, putting the Angels on top.
Ohtani wasn’t supposed to play but he convinced Maddon to put him in.
But, boy, Sunday night I was watching the game, along with many in the nation, to see Ohtani pitch, and hit, and I was furious when Maddon didn’t take Ohtani out in the top of the fifth as his pitch count got to around 80. He was clearly tiring, and it was the first game of the season. And then Ohtani almost got killed at the plate covering on a wild pitch, Shohei leaving after 92 pitches, 4 2/3, one earned, 5 walks, 7 strikeouts.
Plus in his first time to the plate he crushed a 450-foot home run well into the right field bleachers. It was a total performance for the ages, not seen by a pitcher hitting so high in the order (in Ohtani’s case, second).
His home run was also the hardest-hit ball in the season thru Sunday, while he threw 100.6 mph, the fastest of any starting pitcher up to that time.
Today, Mike Trout hit a two-run homer in the first against the Astros, and Ohtani was 2-for-4, but Houston (5-1) beat L.A. 4-2.
--The Yankees, after being silent at the plate the first three, beat the Orioles (3-2) Monday and Tuesday, 7-0 and 7-2. Giancarlo Stanton had a grand slam Monday; Aaron Judge had a homer and four RBIs today.
And, by the way, Gerrit Cole threw seven shutout innings tonight with 13 strikeouts, zero walks. As Larry David would be telling his friends at the club, ‘Pretty, pretty good.’
--My Mets finally started their season Monday in Philadelphia, after having their season-opening series in Washington postponed due to the Nationals’ Covid issues.
The Mets lost to the Phils (4-0) 5-3, as Jacob deGrom threw six scoreless for New York, only to see the Mets’ bullpen blow it, giving up five in the bottom of the eighth.
It marked the 31st time in deGrom’s career that the team blew a game in which the future Hall of Famer exited with a lead. Incredibly frustrating for both the pitcher and his fans.
Actually, Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen noted tonight that since 2018, the Mets are 36-41 in deGrom’s starts, while he himself has a 2.07 ERA. You can’t make this stuff up.
And the reason why I’m posting late is I had to wait to see what the Mets would do tonight. Marcus Stroman threw six innings of one-run ball and the Metropolitans hung on as the bullpen struggled mightily again, 8-4.
--Speaking of the Nationals, they finally opened their season today, Tuesday, and were scheduled to play two seven-inning games Wednesday against the Braves.
Washington is doing so with a patchwork roster, the team’s coronavirus outbreak sidelining 11 players, four of whom tested positive, though the Nats haven’t revealed which players tested positive and which are still in protocols.
With so many sidelined, the Nationals recalled seven players to the 26-man roster and signed 34-year-old catcher Jonathan Lucroy to a contract as part of a flurry of personnel moves.
And Lucroy had a 2-run double in Washington’s 6-5 win.
--San Diego Padres budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. left Monday night’s 3-2 loss to the Giants with a left shoulder subluxation (partial dislocation). The injury occurred as Tatis struck out against San Francisco pitcher Anthony DeSclafani.
Immediately after following through on his swing, Tatis went down in a heap in pain holding his left arm.
The 22-year-old Tatis left a game late in spring training with left shoulder discomfort but was back two days later. Manager Jayce Tingler said then that Tatis had been dealing with left shoulder discomfort since his minor league days.
When you’re the team that just signed the guy to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension in February, you should be very concerned.
The Mets’ Michael Conforto had a somewhat similar injury that required season-ending surgery in 2017, but he was back playing 150+ games, and hitting 28 home runs, the following season. This may not be a fair comparison, medically, but as I go to post I haven’t seen anything further.
--The 2021 MLB All-Star Game is being moved from Atlanta to Coors Field in Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies, according to MLB today. Coors Field was the site of the 1998 game.
Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement, prior to knowing MLB’s final decision: “Like so many Coloradans, I’m excited and hopeful that Major League Baseball makes the best decision and formally chooses to play the 2021 All-Star Game in Denver. It would be good for baseball and good for Colorado.”
Originally slated for July 13, the game has become rather politically charged. Monday, in the Texas Rangers’ home opener, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, declined to throw out the first pitch, criticizing MLB’s stance on the new Georgia election laws.
“I was looking forward to throwing out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opening game until @MLB adopted what has turned out to be a false narrative about Georgia’s election law reforms. It is shameful that America’s pastime is being influenced by partisan politics,” he tweeted.
Another former New York Met hurler, Steven Matz, threw 6 1/3 of one run, 9 strikeout ball as the Blue Jays beat Texas 6-2.
--The Jets basically made it official…it’s quarterback Zach Wilson from BYU with the second pick in the draft, New York trading QB Sam Darnold to Carolina for three draft picks; a sixth-rounder in 2021, and a second- and fourth-round selection in 2022.
The 2021 pick is disappointing, but the Jets get two solid picks in 2022 and they save a lot on cap space.
This is a guy who was just 13-25 as a starter, 45 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions. He was also the league’s lowest-rated passer last season (72.7), 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks.
The excuse for Darnold is the Jets have never given him a supporting cast and this is true.
But now, us fans await Zach Wilson…the guy I wanted. It’s up to GM Joe Douglas to build the pieces around him.
Steve Serby / New York Post
“The keys to the Jets kingdom belong to Zach Wilson now, and he will be set up to succeed more than Sam Darnold, former Jets franchise quarterback, ever was.
“This is the right time and the right place for Zach Wilson if only because Jets GM Joe Douglas will move heaven and earth to support him and new head coach Robert Saleh, because he will be staking his reputation on his new franchise quarterback.
“Another dawn of another new day in Jetsville.
“The Zach Attack.
“Douglas didn’t draft Darnold with the third pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, but barring an unforeseen thunderbolt, he will be drafting Broadway Zach with the second pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.
“He knows he better get this right, he knows he better not feel compelled to answer calls for his chosen franchise quarterback after three years, because it will be a good bet that the Bros. Johnson will feel compelled to assign somebody else to answer them.
“Douglas did well fetching second- and fourth-round picks in 2022 and a sixth-rounder in 2021 for Darnold, and he did well sending a standup kid like Darnold to Matt Rhule’s Panthers, where he will have an elite offensive coordinator in Joe Brady and be reunited with deep threat wide receiver Robby Anderson, not to mention welcoming a security blanket in Christian McCaffrey that LeVeon Bell was not for him.
“It means that Douglas is currently armed with 21 picks over the next two drafts – six of the first 107 picks in this year’s draft, including a second first-round pick (23), and two firsts, two seconds and a third in 2022.”
As in, the Jets got their man, and the trade should work out well for Darnold, too. He certainly won’t have the New York media to deal with, though he handled them well.
As a fan, though, I just firmly believe this is the right move.
Top 3 songs for the week 4/3/71: #1 “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (The Temptations) #2 “Me And Bobby McGee” (Janis Joplin) #3 “For All We Know” (Carpenters)…and…#4 “She’s A Lady” (Tom Jones) #5 “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye) #6 “Proud Mary” (Ike & Tina Turner) #7 “Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted” (The Partridge Family) #8 “Help Me Make It Through The Night” (Sammi Smith) #9 “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story” (Andy Williams) #10 “Another Day” (Paul McCartney…B+ week…)
Baseball Quiz / 1984 Detroit Tigers: After starting 35-5, the Tigers would finish 104-58, eventually winning the World Series 4-1 over the Padres.
The prime position players:
Catcher – Lance Parrish…the big bat…33 HR, 98 RBIs
1B – Barbaro Garbey and Dave Bergman
2B – Lou Whitaker
SS – Alan Trammell
3B – Howard Johnson
LF – Larry Herndon
CF – Chet Lemon
RF – Kirk Gibson
IF – Tom Brookens
OF – Rupert Jones
In the starting rotation, Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox were a combined 54-27.
Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez were spectacular out of the pen, going a combined 19-4 with 46 saves.
Hernandez, kind of shockingly in hindsight, was both A.L. Cy Young Award winner and A.L. MVP. To some of us it wasn’t that spectacular a season.
Next Bar Chat, Sunday p.m. All about the Masters…a tradition unlike any other…on CBS.
The weather looks sloppy. Just hope it finishes on Sunday.
If you actually see a bird on the course, that will be a rarity…as in no one remembers seeing a single bird on the course, ever. The bird sounds are piped in, or so legend has it.