In case you were busy watching Frasier with Jay Z, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Break up the Jaguars, winners of three straight after they topped the Houston Texans 27-20 in Jacksonville. According to the Internet, that three-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the AFC. However, common sense would suggest that is likely not true, but simply an indicator that the machines controlling the Internet have evolved, become sentient, and progressed psychologically to the point where they can derive pleasure from trolling.
In a titanic battle of teams easily likened to the Titanic, the Knicks proved unsinkable, beating the Nets 113-83 in Brooklyn. "So does that make me the iceberg?" asked Nets head coach Jason Kidd after the game. But the awkward silence made it clear to Kidd that he was not the iceberg at all, just a man holding on to some flotsam, waiting for the icy grip of death to take hold.
In case you were out getting a terrifying vote of confidence from an eccentric Russian oligarch, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A rough day for the Manning family saw the Dallas Cowboys all but eliminate the Giants' scant playoff hopes with a 24-21 win at the Meadowlands. "The bad news is, we're probably headed home in December," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game as he stroked his weird red mustache. "The good news is, Cooper said I can finally go to Space Camp this offseason. So it's all good news, because Space Camp is gonna be so worth it!"
A punt misplayed by Denver's Tony Carter in overtime proved to be the difference, as the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in an instant classic. "At least I'm not that guy. At least I'm not Tony Carter," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson while watching the game's highlights from a motel room in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Ultimate Clarity: A Life-Changing Life System information session he had attended at the Memphis Airport Marriott had been a bit of a bust, if Pittson was being honest with himself. Sure, the day's speaker, former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tony Jones, was possessed of Ultimate Clarity, but he couldn't see how the principles of confidence and serenity that Jones was espousing could apply to his life. Jones was a millionaire, and he was famous, and he was a Super Bowl champion. Pittson was a nobody. Also, the session was expensive, so much so that after paying for his flight and the fees and the books, Pittson certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Marriott, but being so far away made it hard to participate in the more social aspects of the information session. Pittson shook his head, looked back up at his TV, and took a deep breath as the highlight repeated itself. "At least I'm not that guy," Pittson said to no one. "At least I'm not Tony Carter."
One thing you'll notice watching the University of Louisville's baseball team — yes, the one that got eliminated from the College World Series on Monday — is that most Cardinals hitters wear the same hard plastic elbow pad at the plate. On Saturday night against Indiana, six of the Louisville starters wore that protective device.
Why is that important? Well, it's nice to be safe when you're leading the nation in being hit by pitches, as Louisville did, getting plunked 128 times as a team. And it's not just one guy soaking up baseballs, either — eight different Cardinals took seven pitches or more. Four were hit by 18 or more. By the looks of it, it's a team-wide strategy.
If you think the Heat-Spurs series is the most exciting championship being contested this weekend … well, you're fooling yourself. Out in Nebraska, eight college baseball teams will be vying for a trophy far less celebrated than the Stanley Cup, with a media presence a fraction of the size of the NBA Finals. But if you like baseball, or sports, or America, you'll love a week's worth of insane, high-intensity baseball, featuring some of the big leagues' stars of the future and some really likable kids with funny names. The College World Series combines the high skill of the professional game, the adorable unpredictability of Little League, and the insane intensity of March Madness. There's nothing quite like it in sports, and in a moment of great fortuitous corporate synergy, every game will be televised, live, on the ESPN family of networks.
Good, now that I've sold you, let's meet our contestants.
In case you were busy letting yourself go after realizing that a late push for a role in Pain & Gain was a fool's errand, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
In a battle of red-hot Eastern Conference foes, Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks outdueled John Wall and the Washington Wizards, 120-99, securing their first division title since 1994. The Knicks drilled 20 3-pointers in the win, their 13th in a row. This game came one day after Knicks legend Bernard King was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade announced that he's likely out of action until the playoffs begin. Additionally, the weather in New York was perfect, with sunshine and highs in the low 80s. Am I blaming this run of Knicks good fortune on global warming? No. But am I blaming global warming on the Knicks' unprecedented run? Maybe.
The Los Angeles Lakers beat the New Orleans Hornets, 104-96, to move back into the no. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Kobe Bryant was sensational in the win, scoring 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. "You know what they say about Kobe; he's a closer," said Lakers center Dwight Howard after the game. "Well, that's what Kobe says about Kobe when he refuses to let me have any coffee in the clubhouse."
Thirteen hours before Peyton Siva’s free throw sealed his team’s first national championship in 27 years, Jon DeSalvo was in Louisville’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church. A lifelong Kentucky Wildcat with a visceral hatred for the city’s red half, he was not there to pray for Michigan to deliver the sweetest of blows and extend the Cards’ barren spell.
He was there to bury his high school friend.
Joe Gadansky had unexpectedly died four days prior. Upon leaving the church, Gadansky’s brother Chris leaned in to embrace DeSalvo and thank him for coming. He also delivered the line that DeSalvo hated more than any other.
“Go Cards,” came the whisper.
But for the first time, DeSalvo kind of, maybe, slightly, perhaps, somewhat did not totally mind the thought of the Cards winning.
Brian Phillips: At some point during the White Hyperspace portion of the proceedings — between, say, Spike Albrecht's 19th consecutive falling-away 30-footer and the moment when Luke Hancock actually turned into a flock of doves — it hit me that life would be easier if this game weren't so much fun. If you hate the NCAA (and you do), then March Madness is always a time of intense cognitive dissonance. You love the product and despise the factory. You want to smash the whole corrupt system, but first maybe you'll just spend 90 straight couch-hours mainlining the event that makes the system possible. You're like an anti-cockfighting advocate who happened to walk past a cockfight one day and felt your brain go, "Yyyyeessssssss!"
So it's always kind of validating when the NCAA tournament ends with a clunker, or at least a game that's exciting but badly played. You get to cheer for some bumbly-heroic mid-major, and then after their floppy-haired 5-foot-11 shooting guard spends 40 minutes getting slaughtered by a basic zone defense, you get to think, "Well, it's just the NCAA." Last night, though? Last night doesn't leave you any outs. Last night was amazing, full stop, end of paragraph, fade to Northwestern Mutual commercial. Last night, watching the comebacks and the refusals to die, watching Trey Burke hurl himself around with the entire Upper Peninsula on his shoulders, watching about 900 high-pressure makes, you couldn't not wind up all-in. Which means the NCAA won again. At least the officiating sucked.
When Kevin Ware went down with a broken leg in Louisville's Elite Eight win over Duke, most of his teammates reacted with varying degrees of shock. There was, of course, the immediate cringing; it was a gruesome injury, and the grimaces and recoils only made sense. Soon, others were crying. But after turning his head with everyone else at the sight of the snapped bone, Luke Hancock was the one who came to Ware's side and gripped his hand. He said a prayer, guided him through the initial trauma, and stayed with him on the floor while the medical staff worked. It was because of Hancock, at least in part, that Ware overcame his initial horror and encouraged his teammates to keep playing, to win the game.
In the days leading up to Louisville's Final Four game against Wichita State, the question Hancock faced over and over was why he'd done it. Why did he have the presence of mind to react the way he did?
When he answered the question Friday in the Georgia Dome's media center, he probably could have recited a response from memory. He'd been the centerpiece of hundreds of stories for that one act, and was destined to be featured in a hundred more. Which is why it surprised me that his answer, simple as it was, still moved me.
If you live in ACC country and you follow college basketball, chances are you have some strong opinions about a man named Karl Hess. And chances are, those opinions are negative. Hess is a referee (the same way that Napoleon was in the military), one that was always destined for the grandest stages and the brightest lights. Karl Hess is notorious. Karl Hess is infamous. Karl Hess is KING.
His modus operandi is simple: stealing the spotlight in any and every game he officiates, and making blatantly awful calls in huge situations. His style is so controlling and aesthetically depressing that we're all compelled to notice the man in black and white. Now and again, he pulls off truly spectacular stunts. There was the incident in Raleigh, for instance, when he ejected N.C. State legends Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani from the premises for heckling him. In that case, even the head of ACC officials admitted Hess was wrong. This year, Hess managed to line up UConn and Marquette facing the wrong direction at the start of overtime, incorrectly disallowing a UConn basket in a game Marquette would go on to win.
And then Hess (somehow) earned himself a Final Four assignment. When he took the court for Louisville–Wichita State, even I knew something amazing would happen. Cardinal fans were well aware of Hess's legend, having watched him give Rick Pitino a technical for yelling at his own player in the Elite Eight last season. The Shockers were less familiar, but that wouldn't last long.
Jalen Rose joins Bill on an emergency podcast to talk about Chris Webber's deteriorating relationship with the University of Michigan and his Fab Five teammates. Listen to hear Jalen make an impassioned plea to Webber to join him, and the rest of the Fab Five, in the stands in Atlanta on Monday to watch Michigan play in the national championship game against Louisville. Be sure to check out video from the podcast after the jump.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?
While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn't help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.
Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn't because of his win-loss record.
In case you were busy planning the ultimate prank (hint: you need Krazy Glue, a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and three rubber snakes), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite a gruesome leg injury to reserve forward Kevin Ware, Louisville knocked off Duke, 85-63, to book a spot in the Final Four. "Man, that's the worst thing that I've ever seen on a basketball court," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his postgame press conference, "and I'm not talking about the refereeing. Zing. But seriously, I'm just gutted by what I saw today. Really soul-shaking stuff out there. And not just the refereeing — I'm sorry, I just can't stop zinging those guys. I know this isn't the time. Much as it wasn't the time for them to call a foul on every play right after Kevin hurt his leg. Damn it! Must. Stop. Zinging. Refs."
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears were shocked by the Louisville Cardinals in the regional semifinals of the Women's NCAA Tournament, 82-81. "Can you dunk away the tears?" Griner asked her teammates after the game, before a horrifying wave of loneliness washed over her as she realized she was the only person in the room who could answer that question. Griner was later seen, alone in the deserted Chesapeake Energy Arena, yelling, "I feel nothing!" as she dunked ball after ball through the unguarded nets.
In case you were busy soothing your aching joints with an old-fashioned Epsom salt soak, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NCAA tournament Sweet 16 is set, and the biggest story thus far has been the run of Florida Gulf Coast University, who find themselves among college basketball's elite after an 81-71 win over San Diego State. Based on all my knowledge of the school from before the tournament started, "FGCU," which has probably been around for over a decade, has amassed a number of victories on their way to becoming a true school where NCAA basketball is played. The team features players, of which five play on the court at the same time, barring truly unusual circumstances, who shoot basketballs toward baskets, which is a thing those players do to get basketball points. They employ strategies regarding where they should run so that they can shoot basketballs from preferable positions, implemented by a coach with a unique backstory that I remember hearing about once but mostly forget. He might have been a baron of some sort? So mark it down in your personalized line drawing of college names: Florida Gulf Coast University is a school from Florida, probably located along the gulf coast, that plays basketball and is eligible for advancement in the NCAA basketball tournament. Up next for Florida Gulf Coast University is the University of Florida, a school that is also run by the state of Florida. Expect basketball shots, two strategic men telling basketball players what to do, and collusion.
Louisville, the tournament's no. 1 seed, advanced to the Round of 16 after dismantling Colorado State, 82-56, at the University of Kentucky's home court, Rupp Arena. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after the game, "Man, it's nice to be back at the old stomping ground, playing out of the home locker room. Hey, has anyone heard how the Wildcats are doing? No? Yeah, no, me neither. That's really unusual. But hey, tell John, old friend of mine, 'Thanks for the hospitality.' Also, we used all of the condiments that were in the fridge here. Hope that's not a problem."
Later this week, we'll get down to actual science and go through every bracket pick by pick. (And don't worry — the rage I feel toward the committee for putting four of the tournament's best teams in the Midwest Region, a.k.a. "The Group of Death," will still be strong. They will have to answer to Shane Ryan.)
But today, I'm speaking more generally. Rather than look at the bracket or obsess about matchups, this is about identifying the essential core trait of all 68 tournament teams. Could they win the title? Are they tragically flawed? Are they doomed from the get-go? Are they Wisconsin? All will be revealed, and when the 68 are properly grouped, we'll be ready to take the next step.
Let's start with the worst of the worst, and make our way up. Each team's seed is in parentheses.
In case you were murdered on the steps of some forum or another Friday, here's what you missed in sports this weekend:
The NCAA tournament field is set with Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, and Gonzaga your four top seeds for March Madness. Expect upsets this year, as Louisville, despite being named the top overall seed, was drawn into the presumptive "group of death," featuring such dangerous teams as Duke, St. Louis, and Michigan State. Also, Gonzaga faces a potentially tough early round game against Pittsburgh oh, god, I'm talking myself into it who, based on advanced statistics, could actually be a slight favorite over the Zags DON'T DO IT; DON'T PICK PITTSBURGH making Pittsburgh my upset special of the tournament NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Surprisingly omitted from the top line of the NCAA Tournament were the Miami Heat, who won their 22nd consecutive game Sunday, beating the Toronto Raptors, 108-91. "Who needs this NCAA crap," Miami forward LeBron James said after the game, before teammate Shane Battier handed him an economic study on the long-term earning effects of college educations that he had co-authored during the offseason with Duke economics professor Arnaud Maurel.