In case you were busy finding a new locker room from which to ban stat sheets, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Kobe Bryant returned to action after rehabbing from last year's Achilles tear, but his Lakers suffered a rare home defeat to the Toronto Raptors 106-94. "It's OK that we lost," Bryant said after the game while sitting in the locker room. "Fear can be a very powerful motivator." Suddenly the lights in the locker room went out, and horrifying screams echoed through the facility. The lights flickered on briefly, and a young girl was standing with her back to Lakers guard Nick Young, singing, "Do you want to play with me?" in a sweet tone. Then the lights cut out again before quickly coming back on. The girl had turned around, and instead of a child's face, she had the face of Popeye Jones. "Do you want to play with me?" the little girl with Popeye Jones's face sang in a scratch baritone to a terrified Nick Young. The lights cut out again, before coming back on to reveal everything back to normal. As Nick Young curled into a ball on the locker-room floor, Bryant chuckled to himself by his locker, and said, "Yes, things will be all right. Fear is a very powerful motivator."
Florida prosecutors announced today that Jameis Winston won’t be charged with sexual assault. Unless new evidence comes forward, the case is “gone and dead,” ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack said on the network.
I didn’t earn a law degree in the last three weeks, but here are six initial thoughts:
On Saturday, after Ohio State’s nail-biter against Michigan and Auburn’s thrilling upset of Alabama, the BCS debate began in earnest.
I asked six bookmakers: What would you make the spread between Auburn and Ohio State on a neutral field? Only one of the six would favor Auburn. Southpoint’s Jimmy Vaccaro felt the strongest about Ohio State, making the Buckeyes a 4-point favorite in this hypothetical matchup.
You demanded it! Thank You for Not Coaching is back in its usual Tuesday time slot to review the sprawling action of Week 13. Of course, while the NFL stretched out and played this week's games over a five-day stretch, the most-discussed decisions of the past seven days both took place on Saturday, when Michigan and Alabama made calls that had an enormous impact on the college football season. There wasn't a coaching decision quite as meaningful in the pro ranks this past week, but one team did critically injure its playoff hopes with a surprising misstep. As you might suspect, they're at the very end of this week's column, and as always, we'll start on the positive side of things.
In case you were busy foolishly enjoying the company of friends and family this holiday season without a television on in the background, here's what you missed in sports over the holiday:
In one of the most stunning endings to a football game in recent memory, Auburn shocked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, winning 34-28 on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown as time expired. "No regrets," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said after the game when asked about his late-game management, "I thought to myself, What's the worst that could happen? And the answer was that the kick could hit a child in the head, creating a trauma that the boy would bury deep into his subconscious. This trauma would then only rear its head again when the boy had grown, fueled by his hate, to become governor of Alabama, and he would then decide by gubernatorial decree to make football illegal. But then I decided that, rightly I might add, that would be impossible; if anything could provoke a coup in the state of Alabama it would be the abolition of football. So I made the right decision, I just got a bad result."
In case you were busy trying to solve the Heat's chemistry issues using stoichiometry, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
It was a weekend of big comebacks in the NFL as contenders Seattle and Indianapolis mounted stunning symmetrical rallies behind their Pro Bowl second-year quarterbacks to beat Tampa Bay and Houston, respectively, 27-24. When asked if they were disappointed to have fallen behind relatively poor opposition, both Seattle's Russell Wilson and the Colts' Andrew Luck replied, "It's easy to look at records and dismiss an opponent, but every team in the league is good." Then both men said, "There are no excuses in this league. Sure, we lost a top receiver to an ACL injury last week, but every team deals with injuries, and it's on me to avoid mistakes," before both said, "But what's special with this team is its belief and resolve." When asked if they were considering a presidential run after their careers were over, both men laughed and replied, "Well, I don't want to get ahead of myself but who knows?" Then both men pointed directly at the camera and said, "But I do know this: There's only one man standing in my way. And he knows who he is. And I will stop at nothing until I am the most powerful man in the world." Then both men let out uncharacteristically evil maniacal laughs, before clearing their throats and adding, "Go Hawks," and, "Go Colts."
In a battle of ACC unbeatens, Florida State throttled Miami 41-14 as they narrowly moved back to no. 2 in the BCS standings. "Don't worry, folks," said Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher after the game, "we're not gonna run up the score for no BCS computer. No siree, Bob." Fisher then pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose, peered out over them, and said, "We're gonna run up the score because scoring lots of points is real fun."
About a year ago, Greg Oden told me that his plan was to rejoin his high school and college teammate Mike Conley Jr. in Memphis at the start of the 2013-14 season. Three months ago, he told me he wanted to play for Cleveland because he likes living in Ohio. Last month, he said his trip to Miami during the NBA Finals won him over and the Heat were the front-runners to land him.
In 2006, back when I was one of his AAU teammates, Oden was the most sought-after high school big man since Lew Alcindor. But for some reason, as he prepared to return to the NBA next season and teams courted him, he kept changing his mind like someone who'd never been recruited before. I decided that instead of trying to figure out Oden's thought process, I’d just wait until he was ready to make an official decision.
That time is now. Greg Oden, the no. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA draft, will sign with the Miami Heat.
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.
Malcolm Armstead was the first one up the ladder. The senior point guard, the one who’d outplayed Aaron Craft all afternoon, made his way up the steps, scissors in hand, and gave a wave to the Wichita State crowd. After the climb down, Armstead tied his prize — a three-inch piece of Staples Center nylon — around the strap in his backward hat, and making his way out the lane, blurted to no one in particular:
“This is real.”
Questioned whether he actually believed that yet, Armstead said that for this team, he’d believe anything. “After everything we’ve been through,” Armstead said, “it’s real. From day one, just talking about the players and their life situations.” One of those situations belongs to Armstead — a transfer from Oregon who came to Wichita State without a scholarship and paid his own way by working part-time at a local car dealership. Carl Hall has his own story. Four years ago, a heart condition that caused more than one on-court collapse had forced him out of basketball. He didn't play for two years, opting for a job on an assembly line in a light bulb factory in Georgia. Eventually, church league games gave him confidence to return to the real thing, and his performance at Northwest Florida State caused Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall to take notice. And now, both Hall and Armstead — and the rest of the Shockers — roamed the Staples Center floor, wearing T-shirts declaring them regional champions, under a scoreboard that read Wichita State 70, Ohio State 66. The Shockers were going to the Final Four.
Trying to guess the legitimacy of the Indiana Hoosiers has been a season-long brain teaser, and I've consistently taken the "overrated" side of the debate. Every time it looked like I might be right, as with the near-loss to Georgetown and the losses to Butler, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the Hoosiers would do something spectacular, like decimate North Carolina or soundly beat Ohio State or Michigan State on the road. And each time they began to look like a dominant team bound for a title, there'd be a worrisome hiccup that made you think they couldn't win six critical games in March.
As Aaron Craft dribbled down court last night, with the game tied and 20 seconds remaining, the Staples Center looked it might on any other night. A 4:45 p.m. local start time had meant a slow-arriving, slower-to-settle-in crowd, but by now, the place was mostly full, and everyone was on their feet. Craft took the ball from the top of the key, drew an extra defender, and found sophomore LaQuinton Ross for an open 24-footer on the left wing. With no hesitation, Ross pulled up. The shot went down with just two seconds left, giving Ohio State a 73-70 win and a trip to the Elite Eight, and the Buckeyes crowd, much of it contained directly behind the team’s bench, exploded.
Inside the Ohio State locker room — normally reserved for the Lakers — the scene was like it might be after a big win in March. The nameplates were missing, but the cameras were there. The horde gathered around Craft, his baby face still beet red, but rather than slide on their designer shoes and quickly make for the door, the game’s lesser names all sat hunched over in their chairs and dug into plates full of meatballs, pasta, and chicken. There are only so many free meals.
In case you were busy waiting in line at a food truck for what turned out to be not the best pork buns you've ever eaten, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Syracuse rode a dominant defensive effort into the Elite Eight, upsetting the Indiana Hoosiers, 61-50. "It's a disappointing loss for sure, but we can hold our heads up knowing we went down to one of the best coaches of all time in Jim Boeheim," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean after the game. However, Crean was apparently unaware that Syracuse had replaced Boeheim two years ago with a VHS tape of alumnus Jerry Stiller yelling, "2-3! 2-3! Rotate! Rotate! Come on, boys, get it together," playing on a loop on the sideline.
Marquette continued its impressive tournament run, as Buzz Williams's Golden Eagles knocked out Miami, 71-61. This marks Marquette's first appearance in the Elite Eight since 2003, which means it's time for About Last Night's newest feature: "What Ever Happened To " For our first "What Ever Happened To " we're going to look at former Marquette star Dwyane Wade, who led his team to the 2003 Final Four. It turns out that Wade has been playing basketball professionally with the Miami Heat since his college days. Thus concludes our first episode of "What Ever Happened To " If you have an idea for a long-lost star who you want to track down, leave his or her name in the comments, and we'll look into it for you.
I got a ton of e-mails this week and most of them were worth publishing, but I decided to limit the number to 16 in honor of the upcoming Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.
Who do you see as the favorites to win it all, and why? Also, who has disappointed you? Between Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, and La Salle, which team is your favorite Cinderella story? Also, who do you think has the best chance of going far and why?
Never mind. I guess I’ll answer 19 questions.
Louisville is the favorite right now, with Duke and Florida close behind. They’re the only teams that have been at the top of the polls all season and also looked dominant in their first two games. The obvious omission is Michigan, which has been highly ranked all year and just thrashed VCU. But I want to see how the Wolverines handle Kansas before I jump back on their bandwagon. The VCU win was impressive, but the Rams' style of play is possibly the worst approach against Michigan. If the Wolverines dispatch the Jayhawks, they’ll be favorites, too. But if they lose, I would have a hard time considering them contenders for the national title.
The obvious disappointments are Gonzaga and Georgetown. Both have histories of getting bounced early, but I thought this year would be different because of Kelly Olynyk and Otto Porter. I was wrong.
Finally, Oregon is the best double-digit seed remaining, La Salle has the easiest path to the Final Four of the three Cinderellas, and Florida Gulf Coast is the underdog most likely to say “Screw it, let’s go get shitfaced and party on the beach” after it loses.
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."
Both Butler-Bucknell and Arizona-Belmont will be decided on the final play
Butler won by 12 and Arizona won by 17. Then again, these games technically weren’t over until after the final play, so technically I was correct (which is the best kind of correct).
At some point, Gus Johnson will trend on Twitter
Somebody get Darryl Worley back in the studio, because I’m starting to think we need him to call out America for forgetting about Gus.
(Shout-out to Grantland’s four country music fans who will get that joke.)
#Haith will also be trending
[***WAIT FOR MIZZOU GAME***]
Trey Burke will spoil the Nate Wolters coming-out party
Burke was just 2-for-12, but Wolters went 3-for-14. He finished with just 10 points and his team lost by 15. I’m officially on the board.
Before 2 p.m. EDT, the annoying commercial of this year’s tournament will have already revealed itself
I can’t tell if the commercials this year aren’t annoying or if they’re all just equally annoying. Either way, no clear-cut favorite has emerged. Yet.