The man in the St. Cloud State University jacket sitting at the hotel bar in Pittsburgh leaned over Wednesday evening and made a confession. "Ka-winna Wa-keena Coo-weepak I don't know how the hell it goes!" He was referring to Quinnipiac University, the top-seeded hockey team that St. Cloud will face Thursday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four. And he wasn't the only one who felt a little bit lost. "Where is St. Cloud State, anyway?" I overheard someone say earlier this week as she looked up at the giant banners in Pittsburgh's CONSOL Energy Center that named this year's four national championship contenders (Yale, UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac, and St. Cloud State).
For the record, it's pronounced "KWIN-ni-pee-ack, and St. Cloud State is in Minnesota, but you can't blame either of these folks for not knowing. It's not uncommon for a relative unknown to work its way into the final rounds of the NCAA tournament; Ferris State and Union were part of last season's Frozen Four, while Bemidji State made it in 2009. But what's unusual this year is that none of college hockey's typical powerhouses will be there alongside any newcomers.
In the hallway outside the Michigan locker room, we the media huddled on the far side of the retractable dividers, a mass of cameras and notebooks and digital recorders. Inside, head coach John Beilein had a few minutes to speak in private with his players after they'd lost the national championship game to Louisville. When he was done, the players took their turns. Glenn Robinson III went first, which surprised the others because of his shyness. The theme of his speech and those that followed was constant: This was a great season, we're brothers for life, we should be proud. When everyone had finished, they sang the fight song together. It was a postgame tradition normally reserved for a win, but it felt like the right way to end the season.
Then they hustled Beilein, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Spike Albrecht to the official press conference room and opened the locker room doors to the hordes. We filed through a security bottleneck, shouted at by the usual array of hired security who enjoyed their power 10 to 25 percent more than they should have, and swept in through the doors. We saw a table littered with empty Powerade bottles, a bowl full of apples and bananas, and beyond that, the Michigan players standing in front of their lockers with tears in their eyes.
Back on the court, the Louisville players were still celebrating. The team that couldn't lose, no matter which of its star players struggled or what obstacles were placed in its way, had won again. Rick Pitino won a national championship the same day he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Luke Hancock had pulled off another miracle and, for his reward, held the trophy for Most Outstanding Player in his hands. They wore their championship T-shirts and hats, and their fans stuck around to roar their approval after every word.
While NCAA basketball brackets were mostly left busted after this weekend, the national championship tournament matchups in another winter sport were just being built. It was championship weekend across the country in college hockey, with the five conferences that award automatic bids to the NCAA tournament holding their playoffs in a lead-up to Sunday night's selection show. When the ice was cleared, 16 teams were given berths in the tournament, which culminates at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh this April. In its honor, here are 16 takeaways from, to borrow from Badger Bob, a great weekend for hockey!
16. We'll begin with the coolest thing to happen in college hockey this weekend: The Minnesota Golden Gophers women's team won its second straight national title, capping off a 49-game winning streak that dates back to February 18 of last year. After a regular season in which it outscored its opponents 216-36, Minnesota faced much tougher challenges in the contests leading up to the national title. In the NCAA quarterfinals, they needed triple overtime to beat North Dakota 3-2. They also won their semifinal game over Boston College in overtime. And while Boston University proved to be surprisingly resilient in the finals, it was the Gophers who pulled off a commanding 6-3 win in front of a sellout hometown crowd.
It's time for the last Man of the Hour, and there's no doubt who deserves the honor. He's the man who represents the last hope of a real upset (no, Wichita State over Pittsburgh doesn't count) in the early games. He is:
In case you were busy deciding which of your biceps should be nicknamed Air Force One in honor of Presidents Day, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Anaheim Ducks won their fifth game in a row, holding off the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, at home. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was pleased with the win, saying, "I didn't used to enjoy playing against Columbus because I thought they were named for some sort of Ohio-based mutant wasp species. I don't much care for wasps at all." Boudreau went on to say, "But when I found out their name is a reference to the American Civil War, well, as a Canadian, that doesn't affect me nearly as much as wasps. I really don't care for wasps at all. If someone wanted to make a scary team name, they should go with the Wasps."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Unscramble the anagram to decode the WACKY HALLOWEEN COSTUME.
LeBron James scored 26 points and grabbed 10 boards despite missing most of the second half with cramps, and the Heat opened the NBA season with a 120-107 win over the Celtics. To spite the Celtics, James will dress up as an: CRAWLEN 'N HEL
Dwight Howard's first regular-season shot as a Laker was a missed two-handed dunk, and the Mavericks started their year with a 99-91 upset win over L.A. To the horror of Lakers fan, Howard dressed as a: LEGIT LAM CUB
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency will ban Lance Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour de France titles after Armstrong elected to stop fighting what he called an "unconstitutional witch hunt." Late last night, witnesses reported seeing Armstrong deep in the woods with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, uttering strange rhymes about the body parts of dead animals and placing objects into a smoking black cauldron.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon has been suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. "Yes, I must admit, the testosterone was definitely an illegal strategy employed to help my baseball performance," said Colon, whose recent Internet history revealed an obsessive pattern of searching the phrase "how to grow a bigger penis."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Alex Rodriguez suffered a broken hand after being hit by Seattle's Felix Hernandez, and is expected to miss six to eight weeks. Hernandez pitched 7.1 solid innings, working out of several jams as the Mariners held on to beat the Yankees 4-2. After the game, Yankees GM Brian Cashman found Ichiro Suzuki in the locker room. "Hey, just for my peace of mind, you're not practicing some weird Japanese sorcery I don't know about, right?" Cashman asked. Ichiro stared at him thoughtfully for a moment, then said, "I'm not not practicing Japanese sorcery." Cashman sighed in relief. "Okay, great. Thanks. Whew."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Brazilian basketball team couldn't capitalize on a strong first quarter, and fell to the United States 80-69 in Washington, D.C. Alex Garcia led the early charge with eight first-quarter points, and NBA star Anderson Varejao finished with 12 points and 13 boards for an impressive double-double. But the team's counter-attacking style grew less potent as the game progressed, and an early 10-point lead vanished as the shots stopped falling and the guards committed a slew of costly turnovers. The loss cast serious doubt on coach Ruben Magnano's controversial assertion that this year's team is better than the 1964 Equipe de Sonho, which won the Olympic bronze medal.
On Monday, the Big Ten powers that be held a conference call to outline their thoughts on a college football playoff system. Their preference, they declared up front, is to do nothing. “I think if the Big Ten presidents were to vote today, we would vote for the status quo,” Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said, and then Perlman and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany spent the rest of the call trying to convince the media that they were not stonewalling but were open to any and all ideas, including a four-team playoff that isn’t dependent on conference champions, if that’s what everyone in those other conferences really wants, because the Big Ten isn’t going to stand in the way of progress unless they have enough leverage to stand in the way of progress.
In the past, I have tried diligently to avoid the recruiting aspect of college basketball. I was fine with hearing the the odd bit of news — Harrison Barnes Skyping his way onto North Carolina, for instance — but I didn't want to become one of the obsessives who tracked the changing emotional tides of a bunch of teenagers as they basked in the momentary suspense and adulation they drew like blood from rival fan bases.
And let's face facts — a number of these young men, perhaps even a majority, are equal parts stupid and egotistical. I don't even mean that as a slight; I was surely egotistical and stupid in high school too, the difference being that I didn't have anything to be egotistical about — except for that time senior year when I single-handedly annihilated our rivals in Quiz Bowl. But now, as an educated young American who reads important papers like the New York Times (before all that subscription talk — anything interesting happen in Libya since 2009?), I knew I would feel pathetic dipping anything more than a toe into the eddies of the recruiting world.
With the first weekend of the March Madness behind us, those who want to punch Austin Rivers in the face (what did he ever do to you?) or otherwise obsessively hate Duke are still celebrating what has been called “the biggest upset in college basketball history,” “a stunner,” “a monumental choke,” and “a dreary Disneyfied inconsequence that features all the bigotries of century-old pulp fiction and none of the romance.” (Actually, that last one may have been about John Carter.)
But I want to focus on a different storyline. Because there’s a legal angle behind every sports story — and because I’m not ready to stop looking at college basketball lists — I’ve put together a power ranking of teams based on NCAA violations and run-ins with the law. I’m talking major NCAA infractions, not violations for supplying chocolate milk to student-athletes. (I recognize that some believe that every NCAA rule is the equivalent of a ban on providing chocolate milk to athletes, but rules are rules, and I’ll pick that fight another day.)
As you’ll see, 43 out of the 68 teams that were in the tournament this year have committed major violations. That’s not a particularly surprising number given that it’s a relatively inbred group, with coaches jumping from school to school, often leaving a trail of NCAA violations in their wake. I was actually able to connect all 68 of the head coaches to either Rick Pitino (the prince of conduct unbecoming) or Jerry Tarkanian (the godfather of NCAA violations) in seven steps or fewer (and all but three in six steps or fewer). For example, Scott Nagy, the head coach at South Dakota State, was a graduate assistant with Lou Henson at Illinois; Tony Stubblefield was an assistant to Henson at New Mexico State; Stubblefield was an assistant coach with Mick Cronin at Cincinnati; and Cronin was an assistant with Pitino at Louisville. OK, to make it easier, here’s a fancy chart that diagrams all the connections.
Here's how the basketball programs stack up. Instead of ranking them by number, I've grouped schools by pop culture good guys and bad guys, starting with the innocent, then moving down to the very, very, very guilty.
Do you only care about the NCAA tournament because you want a look at the best players in the upcoming NBA draft? Wonderful news. You are in the right place. Here's a handy viewing guide for March Madness. A note before we get started: The numbers represent players' placement in the latest DraftExpress Top 100 Prospects rankings and all times are ET.
Before we get started, I'd like to tip my cap to the slam-dunk craze that's sweeping the country. I called it a "passing fad" on my blog The Old Fashioned Chest Pass back in 1964, but it looks like it's here to stay.
So if you're into the jam culture, it's worth checking out this one from Georgetown's Henry Sims on Wednesday night. It's rare to see a dunk that definitive at the college level, and if intimidating displays of power are your thing, you'll want to take a trip to Sims City. (Came up with it on my own, don't steal it.)
And unlike Blake Griffin's jam from the other day, this one wasn't a glorified layup. (Did you just spit out your drink because things got too edgy? Well, then, I'm sorry ... not.)
So. No. 14 Georgetown took down UConn 58-44 in one of the Huskies' worst shooting performances ever. The visitors finished 18-of-60 from the field, and an abysmal 2-of-20 from 3. Their offensive efficiency, which is a measure of how many points they'd score in 100 possessions, was 68.6. For comparison's sake, the Division I average is 100.3, and UConn's usual average is 110.1. Ken Pomeroy's single-game numbers go back to 2003, and in that time UConn hasn't even approached a number as low as 68.6. In other words, they made a little bit of the wrong kind of history Wednesday.