It seems like a good time to do my Two Cent College Basketball Preview.

Yes, I see the calendar. But, COVID!

They were going to play, then they didn’t. Then they did. Cancelled. Postponed. Delayed. Played. Paused.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the college basketball season. Obviously it didn’t seem to make much sense to try and make Two Cents out of it early on.

Now the groundhog is about to make his forecast for the next six weeks, which also means the Madness is right around the corner. So I think the time has come to give my fanatics my Two Cents on the college basketball season. Postponements and pauses be damned, my Two Cent Cracked Crystal Ball is out of the shop and ready to go.

So start saving up your spare change, and get your bookie on speed dial. 

Best Bet

The safest money would be to take Gonzaga and Baylor vs the field. These two teams sure do appear to be on a collision course for early April. The better bet might be whether one or both show up for that potential clash undefeated. I think Gonzaga certainly enters the tournament undefeated. Baylor most likely gets tripped up in a really good Big 12. Either way it is a game basketball fans should want to see.

Let’s go coast to coast to the hoop.

ACC

This is a particularly down year for a usually powerful conference. Despite their lousy performances on Saturday, two teams stand slightly above the others. 

Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton is perennially the most underrated coach in the country. The Seminoles have their typical array of tough, athletic players that can shoot a little. As usual, the Seminoles are extremely deep. They had a Covid pause of their own, and have been lights out since returning to action. Well, up until Saturday night. I would not want to see them in my favorite team’s bracket.

I give the Seminoles a slight edge over that toothache you just can’t get rid of. Virginia. The Cavaliers always put you on lockdown with their defense. This Tony Bennett team shoots the ball far better than usual. The shooting came via the transfer portal. Rice transfer Trey Murphy and Marquette transfer Sam Hauser fill it from three at 49% and 43% respectively. Big man Jay Huff also shoots it at over 40%. The only downside for Virginia is their tournament history. They won it all two years ago, but often flame out.

This is far from a vintage year on Tobacco Road. Duke looks as though they have figured things out at least a little, and North Carolina has also been better. I look for both to do enough to earn a tournament berth. 

Pitt is a team that is much improved, and may have the best player in the league with Justin Champagnie. Before Saturday night I thought Pitt was trending in to the NCAA tournament field. After, ahem, losing(that’s being nice) 84-58 to a bad Notre Dame team at home I must change my trend line. And, boy, are the Pitt fans ever coming for Jeff Capel. Check down in Fort Worth to see how the guy you all long to have back is doing.

Louisville and Virginia Tech will get bids barring collapses, which isn’t out of the question for Louisville. Syracuse, Clemson, and Georgia Tech will hope to bubble into the field. Georgia Tech is so close to being a tournament quality team.

Big East

Villanova has been off for so much time it is hard to get a feel for the Wildcats. I know they are good. I know Jay Wright is still their coach. That is enough for me to favor the Cats in a weaker than usual Big East. 

The team I am most interested in seeing come March is Creighton. Even though they are in the Big East, the Blue Jays are a team flying under the radar. Don’t hesitate to ride the wings of these birds. There is a bonus chip with Creighton. They have a veteran team, which pays off come March.

Xavier will probably have the numbers to get a bid, but Seton Hall and Connecticut better get some good wins to help shaky overall numbers. Other conferences may very well swoop in and steal these bids. 

SEC

For at least one year this conference isn’t the Kentucky Invitational. The Wildcats have managed ten losses already. If this were the Kentucky Derby, the Wildcats would be 100-1 long shots to make the tournament. 

Alabama dominated the SEC, and everyone else for that fact, in football. The Crimson Tide hoops team is trying to keep that dominance going on the hardwood. Two seniors, John Petty and Herb Jones, lead the way. Nate Oats is one of the best young coaches in the country. 

Based on NET rankings, Tennessee, Missouri, LSU, Florida, and Arkansas should all easily make the tournament. 

Tennessee is the best of that bunch, and proved it Saturday when they manhandled a good Kansas team. The other four teams could be sweet sixteen teams or first round losers. Consistency has eluded all of them. 

Kentucky is the real mystery here. It seems John Calipari finally came up empty with his one and done recruiting. Even big time transfer Olivier Saar hasn’t lived up to his billing. The last time John Calipari didn’t coach in the tournament was 2013. The last time he didn’t win at least 20 games was 1991. The last time a Calipari team finished under .500 was 1990. It happens to the best of them, and to Calipari, too.

Big Ten

Brutal. The Big Ten is brutal. 

Minnesota, Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Nebraska make up the bottom half of the conference. All but Nebraska would be in the top 6 or 7 in the ACC. 

Thirteen teams still hold out hope for a tournament bid.

Nebraska is out.

Northwestern will need a fantastic February.

Michigan State’s reputation could get them in. It will have to, because they don’t appear capable of playing their way in.

At 9-8, Maryland simply needs wins. They have quality wins, but too many losses.

Penn State also needs wins. The Nittany Lions are a tournament caliber team. They don’t have a bad loss, but only three quality wins. They will have plenty of opportunities over the next month. 6-3 down the stretch would be enough in my opinion. Would that be enough for Jim Ferry to keep the head coaching job? AD Sandy Barbour certainly hasn’t given him a ton of support.

Everybody else is a sweet sixteen caliber team, with three teams having Final Four possibilities. 

Iowa needs to pick it up on defense, but certainly has enough offense. More importantly they have Luka Garza, a star who can carry a team for six games in the tournament. 

Michigan may be the most complete team in the league. They are a story of young and old with 7’1” freshman Hunter Dickinson and sharp shooting senior Isaiah Livers. Head coach Juwan Howard knows how to get to the Final Four. 

The team I think has the best chance to make a Final Four run is Illinois. Brad Underwood has the most athletic club in the Big Ten. Ayo Disunmu is the best guard in the Big Ten. He can do it all. Kofi Cockburn is the most powerful big man in the country. Those two can be unstoppable. Illinois does slip off into lapses. That can’t happen come tournament time.

Big 12

Seven of the ten teams in the Big 12 are really good. Two are really bad. One is coached by Jamie Dixon.

Baylor is going to win the Big 12. It is simply a matter of which team is going to upset the Bears. I think they lose one game. Baylor has always been athletic. Baylor has always been tough. This year Baylor is really good offensively. In past years they would win games scoring 55 points. With the shooters the Bears have now they regularly hit 80. The big three of Jared Butler, Macio Teague, and Davion Mitchell are better than anyone else’s top three in the country.

Shaka Smart pushed the patience of the Texas Longhorn boosters—who demand coaches heads on a platter quickly—to the limits. He finally seems to have a team that he promised when he was hired. A deep tournament run will be needed to ease off the oil tycoons. They may just get such a run.

Texas Tech is really well coached and Georgetown transfer Seth McClung’s shooting keeps them in games. Kansas is still Kansas, although maybe not a vintage Bill Self team. Oklahoma is on fire, and has an athletic bunch. Oklahoma State may be sporting the number one draft pick in the next NBA draft, do it all stud Cade Cunningham. West Virginia will play harder than everyone else because Bobby Huggins demands it. I’m just not sure about a goateed Bobby Huggins.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 is floundering in football. Basketball is a smidgen better, but not by much. 

UCLA is leading the conference, but I can’t convince myself to think they are a good team. Mick Cronin always gets the most out of his teams. I just don’t think this team’s most is much. 

USC has the best player—arguably in the country—in Eric Mobley. Mobley needs a little more assertiveness, especially with the game on the line. The Trojans should run their offense through Mobley, but head coach Andy Enfield doesn’t always do that.

A coach that does use all his parts correctly is Oregon’s Dana Altman. The biggest issue for the  Ducks is they have stopped and started more than any team in the country. I reserve the right to change my mind on Oregon if they ever get to play for a long stretch.

Colorado and Stanford should get in as well. Colorado is too much McKinley Wright and not enough anyone else. A couple weeks ago I mentioned Stanford as a team to watch. They have kept their head above water playing without three starters, including top three NBA draft pick Ziaire Williams. They feel like a team that could pull a 12-5 type of upset in the tourney.

Best of the Rest

Gonzaga is 1 to Baylor’s 1A. Or maybe it is the other way around. It really doesn’t matter. 

Mark Few has been a fantastic coach for a long time. He has presided over some great teams in the Great Northwest. This Zags team is his best. It is possible Few and the Zags would have won the whole thing last season. They will enter the tournament with a vengeance. Senior Corey Kispert leads Few’s talented bunch. Nobody will touch them in the regular season. From there it will be a six game sprint to the finish line.

Houston is another team, led by Kevin Sampson, that can make some noise come March. Sampson has a track record of success and a talented Cougar team to which people need to pay attention. 

The Missouri Valley Conference has two teams in the NET top 25. The Drake Bulldogs are undefeated and ranked 9. Barring upsets, Drake will no doubt be in the tourney. Coming in at 25 is 13-3 Loyola. The famed Sister Jean prayed the Ramblers to a Final Four a few years ago. At age 101, she may still have another miracle in her. The Ramblers can’t slip up from here on out. The MVC may not be in position to claim an at large bid.

Other teams to keep an eye on between now and early March: San Diego State, Saint Bonaventure, BYU, Boise State, Saint Louis, Utah State, Liberty, Winthrop, Western Kentucky, and Belmont.

Selection Sunday is March 14, but the week and a half leading up to that will be Championship Week(and a half). Fans or no fans it will still be exciting to watch every team take their last best shot at a tournament bid. 

So keep your fingers crossed that teams can avoid COVID-19 as much as absolutely possible. Last year we lost out on the greatest sporting event of the year. No way do I want to see that happen again. The NCAA has a system in place in Indianapolis that gives teams the safest approach to participating in the tournament.

Since this is my pseudo Two Cent College Basketball Preview(HEY…COVID!), here are my Final Four choices.

 

Look, it’s in his contract that he makes a certain amount of appearances each year. As you can see, he is feeling good about himself. #TCCCB

Anyway…

Gonzaga.

Baylor.

Illinois.

Villanova.

Two Cent Takes

Golf

~Our favorite rules fudger, Patrick Reed, was at it again Saturday. He picked up what turned out to be an embedded ball before a rules official got there to okay it. Apparently he didn’t violate a rule, but shouldn’t have picked up the ball until someone came over to oversee it. He isn’t playing at the local club on a Tuesday afternoon. When you have a reputation like Reed’s maybe better safe than sorry should be your approach. Nick Faldo and all of the CBS crew who were former players concurred, and they really didn’t hide their disgust for Reed’s propensity for violating rules. To add insult to injury, Reed won the tournament.

MLB

~Have the Pirates traded anyone today?

Here is a look at early arrivals at Pirates spring training.(NSFW)

Pirates fans better have a good sense of humor this year. And next year. And the year after that. And…

~The Phillies showed they will continue to spend money by signing JT Realmuto to the biggest contract in baseball history for a catcher. The Phils also retained shortstop Didi Gregorious. As my resident Phillies expert, Eric Notestine, stated, “It takes a lot of money to finish .500”. Hopefully they saved some spare change for more bullpen help.

~The Colorado Rockies are the latest “non-small market” team to wave the white flag. The Rockies traded the best third baseman in the game, Nolan Arenado, to the Cardinals for a whole lot of “maybes”. Oh, and just to be fair they threw in 20 million in cash to offset Arenado’s huge contract. And once again the Cardinals will be right in the thick of things.

~The trade mentioned above, the Pirates futility, the Indians plight, the A’s and Rays frustration, and other big market teams like the Cubs not spending shows that COVID-19 has maybe…finally…brought baseball closer to a salary cap. If baseball wants to survive, and God forbid thrive, this is a mandatory step.

NHL

~Pens GM Jim Rutherford just up and quit this past week. The Pittsburgh media, which has turned into a soap opera, is split on the reason. Some feel it is as simple as Rutherford being irked that his contract wasn’t extended. Others think there is more to it, including a rumor that Rutherford was actively trying to trade Kris Letang—a good thing in my opinion—but ownership said no. I have to think there was more to it than contract. You don’t just quit in the middle of a season.

The new GM won’t have it easy. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aging, you want to give them one more chance to win. At the same time, you need to look at the future. Rutherford built two Cup winners, but seemed to lose his fastball of late. He certainly drained the club of a lot of draft picks.

~Carter Hart broke my Two Cent jinx by having back to back good outings in helping the Flyers win three straight. Maybe someone should jinx Tristan Jarry. The Pens need far better goaltending than the dead last ranking they’ve gotten so far. Before anyone complains, Matt Murray is ranked just one spot ahead of Jarry and got pulled Sunday night.

College Football

~Remember when signing day was like Christmas Day for college football fans. The early signing period has ended that feeling. Only 8 of the top 150 players on the 247Sports recruiting site are unsigned.

~The dreaded transfer portal will still provide intrigue for college football fans. Many teams have been active, and more will jump in. One team that may get active is Penn State. The Nittany Lions have lost two quarterbacks to the portal, including backup Will Levis. That moves young Ta’Quan Roberson up the list and may prevent incoming freshman Christian Veilleux from redshirting.

College Hoops

~Legendary Temple coach John Chaney passed away. I won’t be able to say anything quite as eloquent as some writers penned these last few days. I do want to say two things.

First, Chaney deserves every accolade he gets for his demanding disciplinary style with a side of love. It all worked, from the famous 5 AM practices to demanding his players get an education. Chaney took countless kids off inner city streets and pushed them to success on and off the court. He knew how challenging it was for these kids and fought hard against Prop 48 so these kids would have an opportunity to better themselves. Just ask current Temple coach Aaron McKie how important his education was. He made it to the NBA, but always speaks about getting that diploma.

The other thing I remember most about Chaney is that matchup zone he had his teams play. That zone baffled coaches and teams with more talent. Chaney never made it to a Final Four. The first time I ever won money in a March Madness contest was 1991. I took 10 seed Temple to make it to the Elite Eight. They did just that, and fell three points short against 1 seed North Carolina of making a Final Four.

That famous press conference where he threatened to kick John Calipari’s *ss is still one of my favorite moments. Anyone that threatens to do that to Calipari is good with me.

NFL

~Matthew Stafford was traded to LA for Jared Goff and some number one draft picks. The Rams are going all in with that great defense by picking up an older, but better quarterback.

~Goff whined on his way out the door, saying he wasn’t wanted in LA. This despite being “given” $81 million. Detroit seems like a perfect place for Goff. Stafford has always been tough and gutty. Goff, on the other hand, has always been soft. This is such a Lions move. I’m sure they will screw up the draft picks, too. Oh well, their new coach will be busy biting off kneecaps so what does he care?

~I thought DeShaun Watson would end up in Miami, with the Dolphins sending Tua and some draft picks to Houston. Now that Stafford isn’t going to Indianapolis, I think Watson could go there. The Colts are really close, and probably just need a quality quarterback to get to the next level.

~One team that apparently will not be in the quarterback market will be the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger has made it known he will restructure his contract to ease the salary cap issues the Steelers may face. Ben says he wants to take one more crack at winning it all. In reality he is another athlete that doesn’t know when to call it a day. He will be lucky to make it through another season, and this will prevent the Steelers from getting a jump on their future quarterback. The Steelers organization has become very questionable. Remember when they said upon releasing Bruce Arians that he was retiring. Maybe they should check out who is on the sidelines coaching in Tampa Sunday night.

~Super Bowl Sunday…oops, am I allowed to type Super Bowl? Eh, I’ll take my chances even though I’m going to offer betting advice. Here goes:

  • The Chiefs offense is darn near unstoppable.
  • Patrick Mahomes is the most uniquely talented quarterback the NFL has seen in a long time.
  • The Chiefs defense can be had.
  • The Bucs are chillin’ at home. That matters at least a little.
  • Tom Brady knows his way around a Super Bowl.
  • The Bucs defense doesn’t get enough credit.
  • It would be fun listening and watching Bruce Arians celebrate.

Okay, with all of that crack analysis…

 Wait, twice in one column? Oh boy…

Remember what I told you a week ago, and I’ve tried to tell my podcast partner Jed Donahue the same thing. DON’T BET AGAINST TOM BRADY. This whole thing may be rigged(just joking…maybe).

***Tampa Bay 31 Kansas City 28***

A Penny For My Final Thought…

My local school district’s board of directors spent over an hour at their most recent meeting debating what to do about winter sports athletes competing in state playoffs.

The crux of the issue is that our school district is requiring players to wear masks while competing. Officials are also required to wear masks during the events.

Other school districts have a similar policy, while some districts don’t require masks at all.

Why the inconsistency?

Look no further than the weak, incompetent PIAA.

Allow me to back up a step. When deciding whether to even have winter sports everyone waited for Governor Wolf to make a call. Or should I say the dictator. Or socialist. Or communist. These are just the names I feel comfortable typing here.

Wolf has tried to keep the citizens of his state as safe as possible while navigating the gaping potholes of the pandemic. He surely has made mistakes along the way, some of which I’m sure he would acknowledge. I certainly haven’t liked every decision, but have tried to realize this hasn’t been an easy road for any Governor.

But enough about rational people, I’m talking about the torch and pitchfork crowd. They wanted Wolf to stand aside and let the PIAA make the decision.

So he did.

After receiving letters from the state’s principals association and two other leadership groups stating their wish for the cancellation of winter sports, the PIAA refused to take a vote and make a decision. Now, if the PIAA doesn’t answer to school administrators and directors, to whom do they answer?

The decision was deferred back to the dictator, er, Governor Wolf who postponed the season until January 4. At that point it was left to each individual school district to approach the winter season as they saw fit.

Guidelines were offered from the Department of Health. As with so many of the pandemic guidelines, they are just that…guidelines.

Some districts chose to follow the guidelines, while others did not. Crickets from PIAA, other than to say they weren’t enforcing anything.

In other words, you guys figure it out.

I would argue that if you are requiring competitors to wear a mask during the competition along with officials, who in some cases are in their 50’s and 60’s, the season probably should have been scrapped. It would have been disappointing, but every kid—not just athletes—are losing out on things.

No way was the PIAA—a non profit organization according to their website(wink, wink)—going to pass on a chance to have their playoffs. No fans, yes, but TV money, TV money, TV money.

That brings us back to the original point of this. My local district isn’t interested in ending their mask requirements. Other districts have received waivers on wearing masks from school solicitors. My districts solicitor along with the district physician would not sign off on such a waiver. Nor do they think other solicitors should have gone that route.

All of that leaves some athletes wearing a mask and some not. A disadvantage? An uneven playing field?

Surely, for the integrity of their precious playoffs, the PIAA would want an even playing field. When the Mid Penn Conference—one of the biggest, most influential conferences in the state—contacted the PIAA about this issue here is the reply they received.

“They said ‘not our problem, you guys figure it out.”

Maybe they have that quote on their answering machine.

At this point districts following the rules want to know why everyone isn’t. They want an answer from PIAA. The PIAA doesn’t appear to do answers. The PIAA looked to the Governor, and didn’t like his answer. They continued to look at him anyway. They looked at the individual districts. They looked everywhere but in the mirror.

Much like the NCAA, maybe it is time for the PIAA to go away. Form a new organization to oversee inter scholastic athletics. Surely it is time for new leadership. Executive director Bob Lombardi needs to step down.

If you were writing a handbook on how NOT to handle difficult situations, these are your go to people.

Tough situations require tough decisions. I’m sure a famous general said that. Maybe MacArthur. Maybe Patton. Maybe General Bobby Knight. I know one of them said it.

Unfortunately there aren’t any generals in the PIAA, just a bunch of bean counters only worried about their bottom line.

Just my two cents…