The OFF Ramp On The Road To The Final Four

The fact that UConn beat Purdue last night was not shocking. The fact that Missouri – or anyone else for that matter – could score in triple digits against Memphis in a tournament game was shocking. The fact that Pitt and Xavier played a defensive game “in the fifties” was not shocking. The ease with which Villanova dispatched Duke was shocking; the second half of that game was an old-fashioned butt-stomping. These comments represent another thing that is great about the NCAA basketball tournament; lots of games play true to form and unfold about the way you would expect them to so you can watch them analytically. Other games simply go against the grain and provide you with great entertainment purely on the basis of their surprise value if nothing else.

Over in the women’s tournament, Tennessee found itself “out and about” after a first round loss to Ball State – a 12-seed in the women’s brackets. Tennessee under Pat Summitt had never lost an opening round game nor a second round game in any women’s tournament. Until this year, The Lady Vols were 42-0 during the first four days of any tournament in which they participated; and until this year, the Lady Vols had never lost to a team seeded below fourth in the brackets. The women’s tournament usually provides far fewer shocking events than does the men’s tournament but this game surely qualified as a “big deal”.

What happened next was really unusual. Soon after that loss, Pat Summitt had her team in the gym for a two-hour practice on basketball fundamentals. The season was over; the next “scheduled practice” would be for Midnite Madness in October. Nonetheless, Pat Summitt had them out on the court for a two-hour practice session. Questions:

    1. Had Bob Knight done this at Indiana after a tournament loss, how might he have been characterized?

    2. In her heart of hearts, did Ms. Summitt do this to hone player skills or to punish them for such a bad loss?

    3. Is it really OK for an NCAA team to continue to practice after its season is over and before “Midnite Madness”? Don’t these women have classes to attend?

Here is an observation relative to the recently concluded WBC from Steve Simmons in the Toronto Sun:

“It may be just me, but I got a kick out of seeing Cal Ripken coaching first base and Mike Schmidt coaching third for the USA in the WBC. If you’ve got those retired stars, why not flaunt them?”

Here is the downside to having two MLB teams in the same market. The Chicago Sun-Times is repeating a feature from previous years; fans are asked to upload photos to the Sun-Times website to see whether the Cubs or the Sox have “hotter fans”. This is so journalistically juvenile that the sports and managing editors there should be sent to their rooms without dinner tonight…

Mentioning that silly photo contest reminded me of the Cubs’ and their pitching problems for the upcoming year. If you were the pitching coach of the Cubs and you knew that having a healthy Rich Harden in your rotation was an extremely important ingredient in the recipe for “team success” in 2009, how would you be handling pitch count management for Harden this spring?

    A. Pitch him as little as possible in Spring Training and in the cold early days of the season to preserve as many throws as that arm/shoulder has in it for the year.

    B. Send him out to the mound every fifth day in the Spring for at least 65 pitches to build strength in his arm/shoulder and hope you can get 20+ starts out of him in 2009.

MLS was considering an expansion move into Miami but decided against that option. The Miami FC of the United Soccer League was on the brink of folding; the league gave it a one-year extension to get its ticket sales up to a level where the club can be considered a “sound enterprise”. Greg Cote had this observation in the Miami Herald:

“Minor-league pro soccer team Miami FC, in jeopardy of folding, has been given a one-year reprieve. A survey of the team’s fans indicated one of them is extremely happy. The other one could not be reached.”

Good decision by MLS here…

A former colleague of mine is retired and lives just outside NYC. He sent me a note telling me about an interview done by Michael Kay of YES – the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network – with Alex Rodriguez. He pointed out to me that A-Rod said in that interview that he recognizes that “not too many people like me”. Then he said that he had to take exception with A-Rod’s assessment:

“There probably are ten people on the planet who do like A-Fraud; and if that is true, then that is too damned many.”

As you might think, this comment comes from a staunch Yankees’ fan who thought the team had rid itself of A-Rod when he opted out of his contract a couple of years ago.

Finally, a word from Conan O’Brien on taking his late night TV show from New York to Los Angeles:

“I’ll miss New York, but both New York and California have their downsides. California has earthquakes, mudslides, and brush fires; New York has the Knicks, the Mets and the Jets.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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  • Eric K.  On March 28, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I wonder if Pat Summitt got the after-game practice idea from the scene in the movie “Miracle” in which Herb Brooks makes his players skate back and forth again and again after an exhibition game in Norway.

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On March 28, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    Eric K:

    Obviously, I have no idea where she got the idea but I’m having a hard time coming up with a rationale for how it was a good idea – - regardless of its origin.

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