Does anyone remember the last time CBS did not televise the national semifinals?

I was old enough to remember, but I don’t recall watching a few of the shows on Saturday, March 28, 1981 as NBC “The Peacock” televised its’ last ever NCAA Final Four games at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia.

As a bit of trivia to shock your friends, this was most of the CBS prime-time lineup on that same night as the semifinals:

8 p.m. WKRP in Cincinnati

8:30 p.m. The Tim Conway Show

9 p.m. the short-lived crime drama, Freebie and The Bean and a series that would be cancelled shortly thereafter, Secrets of Midland Heights–as evidenced in this former CBS promo:

By contrast, CBS on April 5, 2014 will have on its’ schedule:

Person of Interest, Criminal Minds, and 48 Hours.

Lower seeds carry the day on Sunday

We have a 1, 2, 7, and 8 seeds playing in the 2014 Final Four–which has never happened before.

After the performances by Shabazz Napier of UConn and Aaron Harrison of Kentucky stopping the dreams of Big Ten monsters in Michigan State and Michigan, respectively–this sets up for an unpredictable pair of national semifinal games.

I plan to preview each school in depth later in the week, but for now–here are the particulars that you need to know:

TBS will carry the unbiased call, beginning with a three hour pregame show anchored by Turner Sports’ Ernie Johnson, CBS Sports analyst Clark Kellogg, Turner analysts Kenny “The Jet” Smith, and “Sir” Charles Barkley live at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, and Steve Kerr will have all the action (Tracy Wolfson will contribute reports from the sidelines as necessary) starting at 6:09 p.m. Eastern time as top seed Florida will take on the 7 seed in Connecticut.  These two schools last met on December 2 when UConn stunned the Gators at Gambel Pavilion in Storrs.  The Gators then chomped their way to 30 wins in a row since.

Game two to follow at approximately 8:49 p.m. will be the second seed of Wisconsin taking the reborn again 8 seed Kentucky Wildcats.  Nobody predicted that these two teams would emerge on the final road to North Texas, but here they are.

Westwood One will have a two hour pregame show on radio and online.

As an added extra twist, each of the four schools will send their own announcing teams to give their ultimate “Homerism” calls on both TNT and TruTV.  I hope to fill everyone on which school’s camera angles will be featured so we can see the Florida fans give off the Gator chomp or the UConn cheerleaders doing their fun taunt each time a Huskies player gets fouled in the act of shooting.  How about in the second game, with the Badger of Wisconsin mixing things up possibly with famous Kentucky alumnus Ashley Judd?

This should be fun.  And yes, in my next blog…there is something truly historical about this Final Four.

Friday’s Sweet 16 slate left very little doubt on who the real contenders are

After a mostly lackluster Thursday set of games (albeit give some props to Steve Fisher and San Diego State for hanging with Arizona for most of the 40 minutes during the late match in Anaheim), Friday’s games did not disappoint.

Among the key highlights from Indianapolis and New York:

  • Michigan led Tennessee 60-45 with 10:55 remaining in the contest.  But the Wolverines went ice cold from the 6:45 mark on.  Tennessee cut the lead down to the slimmest of margins at one point following a Jordn McRae three-point play with 1:56 to go made it 72-67.  The Vols got a bit closer after Josh Richardson scored on a layup, which turned out to be the last of his 19 points with 24.6 seconds left.  Michigan then turned the ball over on their next possession and immediately McRae made a nifty layup to cut the lead down to 72-71 with 10.8 seconds remaining.Seconds late, the officials ruled Michigan’s Caris LeVert caught the ball with one foot on the baseline and 9.6 seconds left, Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin made the smart call by giving Stokes a chance to win it with a basket or draw the foul.  Sadly, the charging call went against the Vols and Nik Stauskas made 1 of 2 free throws before a 70 feet heave went awry.
  • Tennessee and Michigan was like viewing the undercard to a boxing match.  Louisville and Kentucky was the battle of heavyweights.  The defending champs led all but 65 seconds inside Lucas Oil Stadium, as Rick Pitino looked to extend his Sweet 16 Tournament winning streak to 12 wins in a row.  But after Kentucky Coach John Calipari mentioned to his prized freshmen class before the game that, “you’ll get punched in the mouth and you’re going to taste blood…You can fight or you can brace yourself for the next shot. They fought.”  I guess the pleas of Ashley Judd were ringing loud and clear as the clock struck midnight in Central Indiana.  Trailing by 13 midway through the first half, the Cats clawed their way back into the contest being down seven with four minutes to play.  After the final media time out, things simply clicked when all the chips were down. First, with about 2/3 of the crowd supporting Big Blue Nation–sophomore Alex Poythress scored five points and managed to get a key block on a Russ Smith layup attempt.  This was part of an 7-0 UK run which tied the game at 66 with 2:11 left.Coach Calipari said in post-game remarks to the media, “We were begging him (Alex) the whole game to start playing, and he played at the right time.”  From there, it was the Kentucky freshmen who really manned up against the defending national champs, who were led by senior Smith.  Aaron Harrison took a pass from freshman phenom Julius Randle and made a spot-up jumper from the corner to give the Wildcats a lead they would not relinquish.  Both finished with 15 points, as did Dakari Johnson, another freshman.  On the next possession, Wayne Blackshear of Louisville was fouled. The 71 percent career free throw shooter missed the front end.  Randle then came down and made two free throws as Kentucky led at that point by three.  Harrison guarded Smith and forced him to miss a very difficult three point shot.  By then, the world realized that there would be a different champion here in 2014.  Aaron Harrison hit a three and Randle iced the game with two free-throws, 74-69 being the final score.  Four of the five starters for UK finished in double figures, while Luke Hancock in his final collegiate game finished up with 19 points on 6 of 9 shooting and a perfect four of four attempts from the free-throw line.  The most telling stat was that the Cardinals missed 10 free throws and that proved to be their ultimate undoing.
  • In “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, all refurbished from the inside–DeAndre Daniels compiled 19 of his 27 points in the second half as UConn held off Iowa State by five, 81-76.  The Huskies shot 52 percent for the game and offset a singular sensational performance by the Cyclones’ Dustin Hogue, who finished with a game high 34 points on 15 of 19 shooting.  For Iowa State, the rest of the starters went a combined 14 of 39 between four players (Daniel Edozie played seven minutes, but did not score).
  • Sparty marches on again to another Elite Eight.  Tom Izzo gets it done again by stopping top seed Virginia in a come from behind 61-59 barnburner.  Virginia was held to only 35 percent shooting for the game, which was about 19 percentage points lower than their two tournament wins combined and over 10 percent more at 45.7 during the regular season.  Brandon Dawson played the role of sparkplug this time around as he led all scorers with 24 points and 10 rebounds.  Dawson was the only Spartan player to end up shooting over 50 percent from the field at 9 for 16.

 

With TBS taking control of the Saturday slate of the Regional Finals, no longer will fans have to stand around inside Best Buy or Radio Shack stores to see what the score is–since CBS for years had the old tip times of around 4:40 and 7:05 Eastern time on Saturdays.

The remaining top seeds will play tonight, as Florida gets the final double digit seed and the last of the mid-majors.  Will the glass slipper finally fit again for Cinderella minded Dayton?  The oddsmakers say this game will be over by halftime.  That game will start at 6:09 Eastern from Memphis.

At about 8:49 Eastern time tonight, it will be off to Anaheim for top seed Arizona and the second seed of Wisconsin, the third Big Ten team to advance to the Elite Eight with a businessman’s like effort in demolishing Baylor, similar to the way the Bears smashed Creighton the weekend before.

Sunday’s games will still be on CBS, 2:20 and 5:05 p.m. Eastern time for New York and Indianapolis, respectively.  I like both Big Ten teams to advance to Arlington and the Final Four, but you don’t get this far in the tournament without facing some stiff competition.  In the case of UConn and UK, will these games match up in terms of overall excitement similar to the classics of 1992, 1998, 1999, and 2006?

Even with the defending champions saying farewell, I still have Florida winning it all.  So, there is something to play for in addition to Tom Izzo looking to reach his seventh Final Four since 1999 for Michigan State.  See you all late tomorrow for a brief recap of the Regional Finals and by the middle part of this coming week will be my comprehensive thumbnail sketches of each school at the Final Four.  Plus, you will see a changing of the guard with three Turner outlets taking over on Super Saturday, the first time that CBS will not be covering the national semifinals since 1981.

Hope to see you then.  In the meantime, enjoy the games.

Sweet 16 Thoughts, Part Two–It Will Come Down To Which Teams Shoot The Rock Well

Stanford and Dayton, which lower seed will emerge?

Wisconsin and Baylor, this game promises to be low scoring and very bruising in the paint.  Will more than 65 fouls be called, paying brief homage to Oklahoma State and Gonzaga’s fouling exhibition, I could have watched paint dry instead of seeing that very slow screen crawl saying that the Iowa State/North Carolina game would be starting on TruTV…oops, that I typed from a prior blog.  My bad.

Moving on with Thursday’s other matchups:

Florida/UCLA, rematch of the 2006 title game at the old Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.  I like Florida just like I did then–the Gators are a total team to deal with.  And unless UCLA’s guards get hot from the perimeter, I think it will be curtains for Steve Alford and more second guessing in parts of Los Angeles.

Arizona/San Diego State, this matchup might be fun to watch.  Such a shame more than half of the country will have to stay up late to find out who won.  Whichever team scores 90 first wins.

Friday:

Michigan/Tennessee, the undercard to the heavyweight matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.  I like Michigan, but not by much.  Cuonzo Martin returns to nearby his days of college glory, just an hour north on I-65 at Purdue during the Glenn Robinson era.

Iowa State/UConn, former one-time teammates of the 2001 Chicago Bulls reunite as Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie take their alma maters to the “World’s Most Famous Arena” in the Big Apple to see who can survive on one of America’s marquee places to play basketball.  UConn will have plenty of fan support, but can Iowa State keep it close during the second half?

Virginia/Michigan State, a stark contrast in styles–Virginia stays deliberate with the ball, while Michigan State will look to do better at MSG than when they played Georgetown on Super Saturday Eve.

And last but certainly not least…

Louisville vs. Kentucky.  College basketball’s version of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s.

These two schools do not like each other. 

On one side, you have the defending champions and on the other end of the bench is the 2012 champions.  On one campus, it is like rolling prairies and a lot of farming with dirt roads and not too many stoplights.  On the other end, you have a thriving mid-market city with all of the modern amenities and just down the road, the ultimate “Sport of Kings” that takes place the first Saturday in May.

Promises to be one fun game.  Sure hope ESPN Classic is worthy of playing it back starting in March 2015.

 

 

Sweet Sixteen matchups offers many difficult matchups on road to Arlington

First off, the TV schedule for CBS and TBS:

Thursday
7:15 p.m. CBS
(10) Stanford vs. (11) Dayton, Memphis
  Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols
7:47 p.m. TBS
(2) Wisconsin vs. (6) Baylor, Anaheim
  Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
9:45 p.m. CBS
(1) Florida vs. (4) UCLA, Memphis
  Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols
10:17 p.m. TBS
(1) Arizona vs. (4) San Diego State, Anaheim
  Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
Friday
7:15 p.m. CBS
(2) Michigan vs. (11) Tennessee, Indianapolis
  Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson
7:27 p.m. TBS
(3) Iowa State vs. (7) Connecticut, New York
  Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce
9:45 p.m. CBS
(4) Louisville vs. (8) Kentucky, Indianapolis
  Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson
9:57 p.m. TBS
(1) Virginia vs. (4) Michigan State, New York
  Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery, Allie LaForce

Even with the upsets on Sunday, it is sad to see many seniors playing their last college game

There were so many upsets on Sunday, from Stanford halting Kansas and (gasp!) Kentucky hanging with Wichita State to end their NCAA record 35 game winning streak in St. Louis.  Cleanthony Early definitely is among that group to be an NBA draft pick, at least in my book after scoring 31 points against John Calipari’s tough and gritty defense.

And an even bigger shocker was in San Antonio, where Baylor completely shut down Creighton unlike any team had done before–by a score of 85-55.  The Associated Press article led off with these six words:  “Too big.  Too strong.  Too fast.”

Doug McDermott was held to only 15 points and finished his stellar 4 year college career in fifth place on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,150 points.  Baylor had 5 players in double figures, led by Brady Heslip and Isaiah Austin each scoring 17 points a piece.  Baylor also shot a sizzling 64 percent, while Creighton closed out a truly special season in Omaha, Nebraska by only shooting 40 percent as a team.

Also in San Antonio, a very bizarre if not controversial ending took place.  Shortly after Iowa State grabbed the lead on a layup, North Carolina ran the ball frantically up court and towards the time out line that you see in front of the coaches’ box.  Problem was, the timeout had occurred shortly after the buzzer sounded and the ACC was left with only one school remaining–the Virginia Cavaliers.

Well, it is with great sadness that we will not be able to see a lot of the great seniors play in college again.  Without a doubt, sometime this century–these names will definitely be enshrined in the College Hall of Fame.  If I had a vote, I would let them in at the Final Four–that’s how great they were in thrilling us at every game in each available opportunity.

In the 2006 book How March Became Madness by former Chicago White Sox President Eddie Einhorn with Ron Rapoport, CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz talked about why college basketball, “is a transient sport–by that I mean the players move on after four years–so the losses are more hurtful or devastating than anything else I’ve seen in team sports…There’s more pain in the loss than anything else…There will always be a bond (between coach and player), but he’ll never be on the floor playing for that man again.”

Gonzaga, David Stockton–son of Basketball Hall of Famer John Stockton

Kansas, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts

North Carolina, Denzel Robinson and Wade Moody

Mercer, Jakob Gollon and Langston Hall.  Five other seniors will be graduating as well.

Duke, Andre Dawkins and Josh Hairston

Memphis, Chris Crawford, Trey Draper, and Michael Dixon, Jr.  Four other seniors will be graduating as well.

Creighton, besides Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge, and Grant Gibbs.  Even the YouTube video of Doug’s father speaking after the loss is so truly heartfelt, it is definitely worth watching as long as YouTube is around.

Finally, for Wichita State–what a run it was for Cleanthony Early, Kadeem Colby, Chadrack Luflie, and Nick Wiggins.  Albeit over 70 percent of their scoring is back for 2014-2015, I just don’t know if the Shockers will be going as deep as they did in 2013.

Well, we can call it the way either the draw was initially set up or the fact that other teams had great scouting reports and everyone was mostly caught off guard.

Bottom line, that is why we watch the games.  People make plays, and whichever team scores more points in a forty minute period (or more) deserves to move on and advance.  One and done is so harsh, I know.  It was just fun and thrilling to watch one of the best seasons in college basketball and yet, there are still 15 more games to go.

Onto the Sweet Sixteen.

 

 

 

Dayton survives Syracuse, UConn gets past former Big East foe Villanova

Half of the third round games on Saturday were double digit blowouts.

Dayton’s suffocating defense forced Syracuse to miss 10 shots from behind the arc.  Tyler Ennis was called on before to hit the game winner, just like he did in Pittsburgh.  This time however, his final shot clanked off the upper left side of the rim and Dayton earned their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1984 with a hard fought 55-53 win.

Also in that same Buffalo pod, UConn finally solved the riddle again over Villanova.  Just like old times, right?

Shabazz Napier came to play in the second half.  He led all scorers with 25 points, 21 of them in the second half.  But it was him being almost a man possessed in hitting three consecutive 3-point shots which gave the Huskies a 54-45 lead with 6:08 remaining.  Napier was limited to 8 minutes in the first half mostly plagued by foul trouble, and he avoided a major scare when he briefly left the game after hurting his right shin with 4:01 left to play.  Similar to Michigan State’s Brandon Dawson injuring the same hand in Spokane that he did during the regular season, it will be interesting to see how these injuries might shape up going into the latter part of this coming week when they next play again.

Big Ten schools cash in

Both Michigan State and Wisconsin advance, but not without facing some serious challenges from both Harvard and Oregon, respectively.  With due respect to the Flagrant 1 foul late in the Milwaukee pod, both the Spartans and Badgers simply made the big plays when it counted most.

This is what separates the great teams from the middle-of-the-road teams.

Anyways, here is the schedule for Sunday, as again most of the key action will be taking place once CBS reverts back to its’ familiar Sunday night prime-time slate:

12:15 p.m. CBS
(2) Kansas vs. (10) Stanford, St. Louis
Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson
2:45 p.m. CBS
(1) Wichita State vs. (8) Kentucky, St. Louis
Jim Nantz, Greg Anthony, Tracy Wolfson
5:15 p.m. CBS
(3) Iowa State vs. (6) North Carolina, San Antonio
Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
6:10 p.m. TNT
(11) Tennessee vs. (14) Mercer, Raleigh
Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols
7:10 p.m. TBS
(4) UCLA vs. (12) Stephen F. Austin, San Diego
Andrew Catalon, Mike Gminski, Otis Livingston
7:45 p.m. truTV
(3) Creighton vs. (6) Baylor, San Antonio
Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager
8:40 p.m. TNT
(1) Virginia vs. (8) Memphis, Raleigh
Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Miller, Rachel Nichols
9:40 p.m. TBS
(1) Arizona vs. (8) Gonzaga, San Diego
Andrew Catalon, Mike Gminski, Otis Livingston