Northwestern continues to impress

Situated in third place in a mostly down year for the Big Ten Conference has the Wildcats in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the very first time

Chicago has seen many droughts come to an end since the start of the Blackberry era:

  • The White Sox lost only one postseason game and led wire-to-wire in winning the 2005 World Series in four very close games against a future American League opponent nonetheless in the Houston Astros.
  • The Blackhawks erased 49 years of frustration and near misses with the “Phantom Puck” shot by Patrick Kane in Philadelphia to win the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup in six games.  The Hawks would go on to win again in 2013 over Boston and in 2015 over a gutsy group of Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • And this past November saw the ultimate end to the longest drought in the history of American sports with the Cubs finally emerging victorious 8-7 in ten heart pounding innings against Cleveland in the most dramatic Game 7 of any World Series ever.  Even Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts brought the Commissioner’s Trophy for all of the crowd to see.  Yes, 108 years is a mighty long time and it nearly feels that long for the Northwestern Wildcats in Evanston.

Which brings me to Sunday night…

The Wildcats dominated Indiana in one of the rare reversals of fortune.  For several y years, it was the other way around as the Hoosiers used Northwestern as target practice and a mostly cupcake effort across the Central Time Zone.

The guys in purple won 68-55 and it was not even close for much of the contest.  Indiana only shot 32 percent from the field (17 of 53), while Northwestern shot 23 of 56 for 41 percent in winning their sixth straight game.

Leading the way for Northwestern (18-4, 7-2 in the Big Ten) was Bryant McIntosh who scored 21 points to go along with 8 assists, Sanjay Lumpkin had 15 and Scottie Lindsey ended up with 12.  Vic Law led the Wildcats with 12 rebounds.

CBSSports.com brought up this great pair of stats to consider:

This is the Wildcats’ longest win streak in Big Ten play since way back in 1932-33 when that team won seven games in a row during the height of the Great Depression.  Their 7-2 conference start is their best since 1937-38.

They currently sit a half game behind both Maryland and Wisconsin.  Maryland is 19-2 overall, while the Badgers are 18-3.  The Cats’ RPI is a healthy 29 (up eight digits prior to Sunday’s game), while their next opponent Wednesday night on the road is the Purdue Boilermakers is a few notches lower at 26.

And yes, they managed to crack the Associated Press Top 25 poll–which has been a long time coming for the program.

Matt Norlander laid out some really interesting points in a cool article I hope you can check out when you get extra time:

http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/northwestern-might-be-the-best-college-hoops-story-nobody-is-talking-about/

After that, Northwestern will get some time off before they return home to Welsh-Ryan Arena on February 7 to take their intrastate rivals from Illinois.  The next pair of games will then have a major impact on where they will be seeded in the Big Ten Tournament in New York City–Sunday, February 12 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on BTN at Wisconsin and three nights later on Wednesday, February 15 at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2 against Maryland.

In years past, the Big Ten would get anywhere from five to seven teams into the Big Dance.  This year, it looks like only four schools will have their tickets punched, unless Tom Izzo brings on that fire and passion that he has been famous for in Februarys past.  But as you will find out in my next edition of Under The Microscope, you will see that replacing a National Player of the Year candidate in Denzel Valentine is no easy task.

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Gonzaga is the new Number 1 in the polls

The nation’s last unbeaten team finally climbs to the top of the AP rankings

The Bulldogs received 46 first place votes, followed up by Baylor (6 votes), Kansas (9 votes), the last team to be number 1 since December in Villanova (the 4 remaining votes), and Arizona rounded out the top five.

It will be interesting to see how long Gonzaga can keep this run up.  Depending on how their opposition gears up to play them, especially come March–it will be interesting to see how Gonzaga reacts to being in a tightly contested game.

But for another school in the Big Ten nestled north of the home area where the current World Series baseball champions play in the Chicago Cubs, there is a school hoping to finally break a tournament hex of their own.

More on that in my next blog coming soon to an inbox near you.

Kansas edges out Kentucky, even Florida State and North Carolina lose

SONG SELECTION:

“Clearest Blue”, by Chvrches

On the Every Open Eye album, released in September 2015 by Goodbye Records

Florida State and North Carolina lose on the road to unranked teams

At the Carrier Dome, Florida State managed to get within two points at 72-70 with 1:48 left to play.  However, the Orange squeezed out a major victory and their fans stormed the court after a shocking 82-72 win.

Syracuse was led by Andrew White with 24 points, fifth year senior transfer John Gillon chipping in with 21 points while matching a career high with 11 assists in the process.  This after Wednesday’s hair scratching 78-56 defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech and you have the Seminoles losing consecutive games for the first time all season.

In Miami, the Tar Heels could not stop Bruce Brown as the Hurricanes raced out to a 39-22 halftime lead and never looked back winning convincingly by a 77-62 count.  Brown finished with a game 30 points, but only managed to take 11 shots.  Yes, you read that right–11 attempts from the field on 8 made field goals while hitting 10 of his 13 shots from the foul line.  Guard Ja’Quan Newton had 18 points.  For North Carolina shot only 35 percent from the field (21 of 6o).  Next up for the Hurricanes, a huge game against in-state rival Florida State on Wednesday.

Georgia Tech edges Notre Dame at the buzzer

Josh Okogie’s layup as time expired lifted the Wramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech to a 62-60 upset of Notre Dame.  The Fighting Irish squandered a 10 point late in the first half and never led in the final 15:41 of the contest.  Tadric Jackson came off the bench to lead Georgia Tech in scoring with a game high 25 points, while the Irish had a team high 23 from V.J. Beachem.  His three point basket tied the score at 60 with 2:45 remaining, but Mike Brey’s team failed to score again.

Consider this stat–in Notre Dame’s first five ACC games, they won all of those games by an average margin of 4.6 points.  In their most recent pair of defeats, they lost by a total margin of only five points.

”When we won those five games to start league play, every one of them was like this, only we stole them.  They got it today.  They deserved it today.  They played better longer.”

Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey in postgame comments to the Associated Press

Last year in the same McCamish Pavilion, it was Marcus Georges-Hunt spoiling the party with two seconds remaining on the clock.  Similar to Virginia always having Notre Dame’s number every year and Gonzaga always beating St. Mary’s.

Georgetown wins at Butler, and Kansas comes up huge in Kentucky

Led by L.J. Peak’s 22 points, along with Jessie Govan and Rodney Pryor each chipping in with 20, the Hoyas came from behind to upset Butler at venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse 85-81.

In a mostly back-and-forth contest, it was a few key plays on the Hoyas offensive end that made the difference.   Pryor scored 11 straight points for Georgetown, including three straight treys on contested shots.  The last of those triples gave the Hoyas a 72-65 lead with 7:07 to play.  However, Butler managed to knot the game at 74 after Kethan Savage converted on back-to-back hoops of his own.

A few seconds later, Govan managed to break free for a layup and Peak knocked down a 3 to make it 79-74 with 3:31 left.  Avery Woodson cut the deficit to two at 79-77 with a long distance shot.  After five straight trips coming up empty handed for both teams, Govan’s three beat the shot clock that extended the lead to 82-77.  From that point, it was enough to pull away.  Butler was led by Kelan Martin’s 22 points as the Bulldogs lost for the first time in five games.

For Georgetown, it was a nice win on the road against a quality opponent.  They are out of the basement in the Big East having split their first six contests against Top 25 foes.  Clearly, they are thinking about the future in Washington (and not just for obvious reasons in the comings and goings at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).  For Butler, they will get another chance to get back on track when they welcome Creighton for a huge FS1 game on Tuesday night.

Finally in Rupp Arena, Kansas won for only the eighth time in 30 tries against Kentucky.  Following in the footsteps left behind by Carlton Bragg’s suspension (please read my prior blog for more details), Frank Mason III had 21 points and Josh Jackson managed to compile a double double with 20 points to go along with 10 rebounds as the Jayhawks held off Kentucky 79-73.  Three point shooting was the difference in this contest, as Kansas shook off a rusty start firing blanks in their first 8 attempts from deep but Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk returned in a huge way in the second half silencing most of the raucous crowd hitting on five huge treys in 11 attempts.

Kentucky blew a 20-10 lead just 9 1/2 minutes into the game, but Kansas managed to stay close only trailing 32-27 at the break.  Another key was converting Kentucky’s turnovers as John Calipari’s bunch failed to take care of the ball.  The Jayhawks forced 17 turnovers and made 21 points off of those turnovers.  Kansas also dominated inside the paint, normally Kentucky’s strength winning that battle 44-34 in hitting 50 percent of their shots for the game (32 of 64).  This was Kentucky’s second home loss to a ranked team this season, the other was back in December which I blogged about and described briefly in a podcast when UK was run out the gym by UCLA.

Wednesday night will be one game to circle on your calendars as the calendar flips over to February.  I mention this date since the top two teams in the Big 12 will lock horns as Baylor pays a visit to Allen Fieldhouse for a huge game on ESPN.  If that game is similar to what Oklahoma gave the nation and made Kansas sweat a lot longer than what most observers originally anticipated during that anticlimactic 2016 matchup, this game should promise to be a barnburner.

Please enjoy the rest of your weekend and I will see you all next week.

 

 

Carlton Bragg, Jr. suspended by Kansas

Backup power forward was one of two key cogs in Jayhawks run towards the Final Four

Kansas Head Coach Bill Self announced late Thursday night that Carlton Bragg, Jr. has been suspended indefinitely for “a violation of team rules”, according to a release from the school.

NBCsports.com mentioned in a short article that, “this violation is not connected to the alleged incident in McCarthy Hall on December 17th.”  Bragg is currently a witness in an investigation of an alleged sexual assault that involved a 16-year old girl which happened in the dorm on the Kansas campus where the basketball team lives.

This will hurt the Jayhawks both short term in their long-awaited Big 12/SEC showdown at Kentucky on Saturday and possibly getting back to the Final Four.  Bragg was one of their key men that clogged up the lanes inside.  But without him there for the foreseeable future, look for Landen Lukas to shoulder much of the load inside.

Coach K revokes team access to Duke’s locker room

Move also cites players’ lack of leadership and true identity

According to ESPN.com, all of the Duke players were summoned to Coach Mike Kryezyewski’s house on Tuesday night where he revoked all access to their locker room inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Also of note, Duke players are not allowed to wear any athletic gear anywhere on campus.  I guess the era of incognito has begun.

 

CBS to debut an NCAA Rankings Show

Follows in the popular footsteps of what ESPN does with college football on Tuesday nights

The NCAA along with CBS on Tuesday announced an NCAA Tournament Rankings show.  This was something that I called on in one of my prior blogs a while back.

The show will air on Saturday, February 11 with Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg, and Seth Davis dissecting each of the four regions and the top four seeds that will be revealed at that time.  Consider the timing of it being six days after Super Bowl LI, that is when most casual fans finally begin to stand up and take notice of what is happening in the college basketball universe.

The show IMHO will serve two purposes:

  1. It will give several teams something to strive for.  No longer will we have to guess simply by the 20 win, be .500 in the conference, and come up huge in your conference tournament formula.  Rather, it will be a barometer on where teams stand and why they are positioned in certain upper portions of the bracket.
  2. It will give bloggers like me and other fans something to talk about.

For example, if you use Jerry Palm’s CBS Sports mock bracket as a guide, he has North Carolina pegged as a four seed playing in the Orlando Pod ahead of West Virginia.

My take, West Virginia has had some stellar wins this season–winning over Baylor who was ranked #1 at the time and Kansas on Tuesday when they ranked #2.  North Carolina has struggled at times, but the full body of work is starting to take shape.

That is just a small sample size.  I cannot wait to see it all unfold.

Brent Musburger rides off into the Sunset

Longtime ESPN/ABC broadcaster and prior to that announced for CBS will be remembered doing many big-time sporting events for Americans everywhere

Born May 26, 1939 in Portland, Oregon, young Brent Musburger after being a minor league umpire would later have two transgressions involving not following the rules of driving properly.

Once he came off scott-free, he decided to give newspaper reporting a shot after studying at the famous Medill School of Journalism on the campus of Northwestern University.  Working for the now-defunct Chicago’s American, Brent was a night sports editor for the afternoon edition.  The paper lasted until two other name changes finally ended the era on September 13, 1974.

During that time, most Chicago commuters heading home by train or the El platform would either get their news from the wraparound editions or listening to his reports on the newly fledged WBBM Newsradio 780.  The once popular talk format that blossomed starting in 1964 gave way to people wanting their news quickly.

This was in an era where there was no Internet, blogs, or any type of social media for that matter.

Whenever a big story happened, Brent was always there.

Within a year from the station’s May 6, 1968 launch, Brent Musburger was the first Sports Director and covered the afternoon shift.  He was one of a handful of people hired by legendary General Manager Bill O’Donnell.

The list also included, according to radio historian Chuck Schaden’s 1988 book on the history of WBBM Radio:  Yesterday and Today the News and Programming Director Van Gordon Sauter, who would later become President of CBS News.  Other people brought on for the 24-hour all news format were Carole Simpson, who would later work at ABC News, Dick Helton–longtime WBBM Newsradio anchor, Sherman Kaplan–more famous for his “Restaurant Reviews” and other cultural things taking place in and around the Chicago Loop until his retirement in the early 2000’s, and longtime business reporter Len Walter.

Here is a link to a Chicago Tribune article from December 4, 1969 when he talked about keeping a wire service in his home to file as many as four reports per weekday.  Please remember to tap or click on the Read Selected Text link at the top right corner to read a more legible, typewritten copy instead of the slightly smudged print from the actual paper:

http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1969/12/04/page/80/article/radio#text

A few years later, WBBM Channel 2 would make him their Sports Director.  If you look for a website simply called FuzzyMemories.tv, look for a clip from July 28, 1972 labelled Number 4 and you can see that his folksy delivery was just taking shape.

Brent would forever be remembered for the many times at CBS Sports

CBS Sports would hire him first to do play-by-play on NFL and NBA games.  He would also join future CBS News anchor Connie Chung on KNXT (later KCBS) in Los Angeles to co-anchor the nightly news for two years.

Once the groundbreaking pregame show The NFL Today began on September 21, 1975–the viewing public took notice.  In the early days, Brent was paired with Hammond (Ind.) High School legend Irv Cross and one-time Miss America Phyllis George.  Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder would be hired the following year and stay with the network for a dozen years.

And he also did baseball games and NFL recaps on CBS Radio.  Here is Brent doing halftime recaps during Week 9 of the strike-shortened 1987 season:

One year after ESPN Radio launched in 1992, he did short snippets under the banner of ESPN Sportsbeat.

Yes, it would be my grandfather that would introduce me to Brent after one of his weekly walks to Sunday Mass.  And what an opening segment it was.

Later on, the likes of Jayne Kennedy, Dan Dierdorf, longtime Boston Globe reporter Will McDonough, and legendary Chicago Bears linebacker from the 1960’s Dick Butkus would join in on the fun each and every fall Sunday afternoon.

Here is one I distinctly remember–12:30 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, September 3, 1989:

By this time, Brent had called eight straight NCAA Tournaments and five straight Final Fours after taking over from Gary Bender to call Villanova’s near perfect game effort against once mighty Georgetown in 1985.

whatalegend

Captured during 1986 Final Four pregame show outside old Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas–thanks to YouTube

Other key events he would cover were the Belmont Stakes, the 1987 Pan Am Games from Indianapolis, the Masters golf tournament, NASCAR Daytona 500 and when Jeff Gordon won his 500th career race, U.S. Open tennis, college football including the 1984 Doug Flutie Hail Mary contest and the 1988 “Catholics vs. Convicts” game when Notre Dame edged Miami, and dozens of NBA games would fill his non-NFL calendar during the rest of the 1980’s.

However, a power shift inside the Tiffany Headquarters in Manhattan sent the biggest April Fool’s Day shocker of all-time.  When I first heard the news on WBBM Newsradio that Sunday afternoon when word came down across the wire services that Brent was being fired from CBS after nearly 17 years, I was in total shock.

I recall reading articles from USA Today on a periodic basis during my long bus rides home from high school saying Brent would be the number one announcer to cover the 16 regular season games that year in Major League Baseball and was slated to be the prime-time announcer for CBS’ coverage of the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France.

Once Brent shared his final thoughts in Denver’s former McNichols Arena after UNLV crushed Duke 103-73 for the 1990 NCAA title, he would surface four nights later on April 6 during ABC News’ newly minted weekly news program Primetime Live.

I recall watching the show at my grandparent’s house and distinctly remember this quote after answering one of a handful of difficult questions from Sam Donaldson:

“I am not your typical broadcast monster.”

Within a few weeks, ABC and ESPN would hire Brent mainly to do college football and basketball.  He would later cover the Rose Bowl, the former BCS title game for a number of years, handle the NBA on ESPN Radio, the Little League World Series, the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba, two World Cup soccer tournaments, and the Indy 500.  He also called parts of two seasons of the ill-fated Baseball Network, which included the memorable five-game 1995 American League Division Series when 2016 Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr. made his mad dash for home as Seattle came from behind to stun the New York Yankees.

Yes, the comments about playing for “all the Tostitos” in 2011 was mild in comparison to why he could not get enough of talking about Jenn Sterger in September 2005 and later on speaking so glowingly about Katherine Webb during the 2013 BCS college football title game.  He even cited that the recent insensitive comments about Oklahoma football player Joe Mixon during the Sugar Bowl definitely rubbed some people the wrong way, but it was not the primary reason he was stepping down.

His final assignments are in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday when Florida plays Oklahoma at 2 p.m. Eastern, as Dick Vitale will be by his side and Kaylee Hartung patrols the sidelines.  The curtain finally comes down during the Georgia/Kentucky college basketball game alongside Jay Bilas on ESPN Tuesday night.

According to ESPN’s social media accounts on Wednesday, Brent had signed a multi-year extension earlier in 2016, but backed down on giving a firm retirement date.  Rather, it was not known internally until ten days prior to the Sugar Bowl.

Moving on–it may surprise some of you what his final act will be.

According to his brother and longtime agent Todd Musburger, Brent will be a part of a sports handicapping business based in Las Vegas.

And yes, we were all definitely looking live–but ESPN Senior Vice President of Studio and Production, Stephanie Druley had some very interesting thoughts about him on and off camera:

http://www.espnfrontrow.com/2017/01/espn-salutes-brent-musburger-calls-final-event-jan-31/

Whenever the history books will write about the greatest broadcasters in American sports history, you can count the names on two hands:

Curt Gowdy, Ray Scott, Pat Summerall, Jack Buck, Jim McKay, Dick Enberg, Marv Albert, Bob Costas, Al Michaels, and Brent Musburger.

EPILOGUE:  During his final broadcast on Tuesday, January 31, the University of Kentucky and Head Coach John Calipari gave Brent a really cool retirement present at halftime.

The first clip is from KentuckyWildcatsTV and the second one from Campus Insiders shows his final words before signing off for the final time at ESPN after Kentucky knocked off Georgia 90-83 in overtime:

What a legend.  So long, Brent.