As we close out the Final Four tonight, here are my four final thoughts from the mad, mad world of college basketball.

4

North Carolina is looking for a new basketball coach for the first time in 19 years. 

The coach the Tar Heels will be replacing is a legend in the coaching ranks. There are only two coaches with more wins. Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, who are still active but close to the end. 

Bobby Huggins probably doesn’t fit into those three coaches’ category, but is close. Huggy is also getting older and won’t last forever. 

John Calipari and Rick Pitino are next in line on the active list. At this point both of those coaches are in the top 15 of all time wins which cements  them as two of the greatest ever.

Bill Self is ranked 19 on that list and is young enough to rack up many more wins along the way. Self is one of the best coaches in college basketball already, and may become one of the best ever. He just signed a lifetime contract with Kansas, despite an ongoing NCAA investigation.

Calipari, Pitino, and Self all have some shady to them.

 Calipari had a Final Four stripped away while coaching at UMass, and he then had one taken away while at Memphis. Clearly the guy is a successful coach, but he is not always on the up and up.

Pitino has an entire array of incidents that still haunt him from his days at Louisville. From Restaurant Sexgate to Strippergate to being involved in a potential pay for play scandal, Pitino’s success at Louisville comes with a huge black eye. Louisville is still awaiting possible penalties from the latter incident. 

Self, likewise, has been caught on tape dealing with agents and runners trying to obtain the services of recruits. Much like Louisville and a handful of other schools, Kansas awaits its fate at the hands of an infractions committee.

I’m not sure much, if anything, happens to Kansas. Certainly Kansas doesn’t think so, considering they offered Self that lifetime contract.

All of these guys are getting older. Pitino is closest to the end. You would think Calipari still has 8-10 years left, and Self could have 12-15 years left. 

Once these guys, along with Coach K, Huggins, and Boeheim, hang it up who will become the next great set of coaches? Or have we seen the last of the “legends”?

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, we used the word legend a lot. College Football had Joe Paterno, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, John McKay, Ara Parsegian and more. College basketball was coming off the John Wooden era, and had Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Denny Crum, and the start of the Coach K/Roy Williams era.

College football still has Nick Saban and possibly Dabo Swinney. 

Does the current makeup of college basketball allow for another legendary coach to emerge?

I would argue, in addition to Bill Self, Mark Few is another guy that will move to legendary status after tonight. Once Few gets a national title his resume gets elevated, and like Self has plenty of coaching years ahead. I also think he has the ability to adapt to the changing landscape in the sport.

Few has managed to turn little old Gonzaga into a national power. He is only 58, and if he coaches for even 12 more years, will find himself near the top in all time wins. Plus, don’t bet against him winning more titles. Check out a great story from Mike DeCourcy on how Few built Gonzaga, and why he is more than content to stay put.

https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-basketball/news/gonzaga-mark-few-final-four-ncaa-tournament/dn8t4xwd9tl61ehj9zw0t711k

By the time Self and Few are ready for retirement, maybe a new group of coaches will emerge. Then again, maybe things like the transfer portal will put an end to legendary coaches.

3

The transfer portal in college basketball is currently overflowing. According to VerbalCommits.com there are approximately 1,200 players in the portal. 

That. Is. Crazy.

One of the reasons we may never see another legendary coach is the transfer portal. There have always been transfers, but rarely did that type of thing happen at Duke, Kansas, or North Carolina.

If they pass the rule—and they will—that players get one “free of charge” transfer the landscape of recruiting will forever change. Some coaches will adapt to it and others will crumble under the weight of uncertainty with player commitment. 

I’m not sure this will be good for the sport, but it only seems fair that players can get a free move just like their coaches. 

How do you think the Texas Tech players that gave their blood, sweat, and tears for head coach Chris Beard feel seeing him jump ship to his dream job at Texas? Former Longhorn coach Shaka Smart did it to his Texas players. Porter Moser did it to his Loyola kids. And the list goes on and on. 

Those coaches are looking to better their situation, both financially and professionally. Some are looking for a bigger challenge. So, why is it so frowned upon when the players do it?

I’ve written here before that kids should make college decisions based on the school, campus, and other things aside from the coaching staff. But if it were that simple, then coaches would never have to hit the recruiting trail. So I know that is pie in the sky thinking. 

I hate the thought of every time a player isn’t guaranteed playing time or a starting spot that they are going to scamper off to somewhere else. On the flip side, I love that the grad transfer rule has allowed players who took care of their academics and want to showcase themselves on a bigger stage have been given that opportunity.

Regardless of how you feel about the portal, you better get used to it. It appears to be here to stay. More importantly, coaches better figure out how to navigate this new landscape. Some will. Others will burn out on the whole process. 

This new era may prevent us from seeing a new wave of legendary coaches. The system seems more likely to create parity. It will be much more difficult to create a dominant program. 

The Blue Bloods created dominant programs because they got the best recruits year in and year out. The portal allows more teams the chance to build a winner. It also allows players more opportunity to find playing time somewhere other than on the stacked roster they find themselves on.

One thing is clear. The portal is creating a brave new world.

2

Officiating a college basketball game has grown increasingly more difficult. The players are bigger, stronger, and faster. They also lack the fundamentals that existed in players 30-40 years ago. 

Still, a foul is a foul is a foul. 

There is such a lack of consistency within games from officials. Things that are fouls one time are not another. That makes it really difficult for players to get adjusted to how much they can get away with. 

Additionally, there are more phantom calls happening these days. On the flip side, more contact in end game situations is being allowed.

Check out the replay of the women’s semifinal where a Baylor player was fouled by two Connecticut players on the last shot of the game.

No call.

Again, no consistency. 

Lastly, the block/charge call needs refined. Everything should not be a charge. Officials seem to get duped by guys taking big flops upon minimal contact. This coming after the flop warnings were instituted. News flash, the warnings aren’t working.

I’ve officiated at a low level. I was always told not to go looking for fouls, because that leads to you assuming there will be one when maybe it never happens. I was also told something extremely simple. When you see a foul, call the foul. Find the level of contact you deem acceptable and keep it consistent. Then call the fouls you see based on that.

Maybe college officials should get back to basics.

1

Man, did I miss March Madness.

After a COVID-19 created hiatus, March Madness came back with a bang. From Oral Roberts to Sister Jean, story lines abound once again this year. Three weeks of excitement seems like three days. Tears of sadness for the losers and hugs aplenty for the winners.

Yes, we still have one game tonight for all the marbles(and a little side cash for some). We get the preseason numbers one and two—Gonzaga and Baylor—facing off against one another. That is a rarity, but it should make for a really good basketball game.

It will, however, pale in comparison to the national semifinal played Saturday night between Gonzaga and UCLA. I’m not quite prepared to jump on the best game ever bandwagon, but it certainly is in the conversation. 

UCLA was an 11 seed. The Bruins had to escape in overtime from a First Four matchup with Michigan State. They had to overcome a 30 foot buzzer beater by Alabama to sent that game to overtime, where the Bruins dominated. Then there was the 51-49 fist fight survival against one seed Michigan. The Bruins survived when Michigan missed three times late in the game. 

The same team that lost to a bad Washington State team in mid February and carried a four game losing streak into the tournament, had survived everything. The Bruins entered their game against Gonzaga having survived overtime games, high scoring games, low scoring games, buzzer beaters, you name it.

UCLA couldn’t survive this.

Back in 1985 Villanova beat powerhouse Georgetown as an 8 seed to win the National Championship. They played what was dubbed “the perfect game”. UCLA nearly pulled off the perfect game Saturday night.

It is time Mick Cronin gets the credit he deserves as one of the top coaches in the country. His Cincinnati teams weren’t always the most talented, but they were the toughest. He is in the process of transforming UCLA into that tough minded type of team he loves. Wait until he adds a bit more talent to the mix.

UCLA played a nearly perfect game. Gonzaga did not, but they are just that good. The Zags were flustered for the first time all year, and at times didn’t react well to the Bruins pressure. They couldn’t find a level of defense that could stop UCLA from making shot after shot. But in the end, Gonzaga had enough talent to overcome near perfection by an opponent. 

Don’t get me wrong, Gonzaga was good, too. Good enough. 

A game played at an unbelievably high level. An 11 seed. An undefeated top seed. Tough shot after tough shot. Guys who are usually just guys stepping up to meet the challenge. Overtime. A tremendous put back to tie the game with three seconds. A 42 foot buzzer beater. Celebration on one side. Dejection, yet admiration, on the other side. 

Whether it was the best college basketball game ever played can be debated. Look, I still get goosebumps watching a highlight of Lorenzo Charles dunking that basketball back in 1983. The Nova perfection in 1985. Louisville losing to Houston in a 1983 national semifinal where the athletic display hasn’t ever been matched since. Christian Laettner in 1996.

It really doesn’t matter.

A game that makes fans with no rooting interest scream at the TV and jump out of their seat—that wasn’t just me, right?—is the epitome of March Madness.

Please never take my March Madness away again.

Two Cent Takes

College Basketball

~I’m hoping that the long wait between semifinal games was COVID-19 related and only for this year. Yes, it turns out the wait for the second game was worth it. But c’mon. Miley Cyrus? Then another pregame show. Let’s get back to just playing the games.

~Clark Kellog needs to stop talking so much. It appears he thinks people are tuning in to hear him. He is long winded, talks over his colleagues, and is tremendously awkward. Im aware I already stated this a couple of weeks ago. I’m just confirming I’m correct.

~It is so refreshing to turn over to ESPN to listen to the guys that actually covered college basketball all year. CBS could find people that actually covered the sport, but instead go with their usual suspects.

~Grant Hill serves no purpose. Like the others, he didn’t watch more than five minutes of college basketball then comes in to do games with two guys that don’t need him.

~Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, and Andy Katz were really good. They provided excellent information while being very entertaining.

~Jim Nantz manages to come over to call college basketball games and flawlessly gels with Bill Raferty. Raferty, at age 77, is still fantastic.

~One positive about UCLA getting eliminated is no more sideline shots of Beavis and Butthead preppy version.

~Officials are human, too. Think Jeff Anderson didn’t know how big this shot was?

NHL

~Whoever is running the Flyers marketing department should be fired.

Unless it is this guy.

He is a keeper.

~How long will Philly flounder before cutting ties with head coach Alain Vigneault? The Flyers came into this season as a possible Stanley Cup favorite. Now, they will have to have a surge just to make the playoffs.

~The Pittsburgh Penguins lost Saturday, but have been fantastic for a month. They are winning with an injury riddled roster. It does beg the question of whether new GM Ron Hextall would entertain offers for Evgeni Malkin. I think the odds are extremely slim, but the chemistry without him has been great. Malkin’s play had picked up, especially after being paired with Kasperi Kapanen.

~After wondering if Pens coach Mike Sullivan would survive the season, he quite possibly will be coach of the year.

Baseball

~Baseball stepped up and made the decision to move the All Star game out of Georgia. Georgia passed a voter suppression bill and the call immediately went out to sports, TV, movies, and corporations to take a stand. Baseball did, and now Pittsburgh could be a possible destination for the All Star game. Good for Rob Manfred, who doesn’t make a lot of good calls. Situations like this put sports in a tough spot, and it isn’t always easy to make a call like this.

~Fans back in the stands. Get ready Houston. You’re gonna get it now!

~It has been brought to my attention via the strike zone box on my TV that some Major League Baseball umpires should never be allowed behind home plate to call balls and strikes. C’mon fellas…I do not want computerized strike zones so you’ll have to do better.

~ATT Sports Pittsburgh is trying to personalize the baseball experience this year. First names only.

Wait…what? Adam is his last name? Not Adams? He couldn’t get Pirates hitters out so I’m guessing I won’t have to know him for long anyway.

Golf

~Spring has officially sprung. Which means…

Just put that on in the background while you work today and thank me later.

~Anyone that thought The Masters was going to be boycotted by anyone remotely associated with golf just doesn’t get it. It would have been a potent message, but was never going to happen. These are the best four days of spring from one of the most beautiful places on earth.

~Some guys got in to town early for some practice.

Most notable in that picture is Brooks Koepka. Some suggested he had no chance to play in The Masters because of injury, but here he is. It will be interesting to see how competitively he can play.

~I would like nothing more than for Phil Mickelson to put it together for one more week in Augusta.

Shades on. Hitting bombs.

~Jordan Spieth won this week, and boy are his odds ever dropping for The Masters. Here is a look at the odds as of Sunday.

If you are planning on dropping a couple bucks on this year’s tournament stay away from Dustin Johnson. The favorite hasn’t won The Masters in the last ten years. The winner usually comes from a bit further down the board. According to Jason Sobel of Action Network the average winning odds from the last ten Masters is 27/1.

~I am taking Justin Thomas to win The Masters this year. He is playing as well as anyone this side of Spieth. If you are looking for a bit more of a long shot I would watch Colin Morikawa, Tony Finau, and Xander Schauffele. Morikawa seems like he would be unfazed by Augusta. Finau is playing well, and is bound to win a major at some point. Ditto for Schauffele, who always seems to play well in majors. If you are looking for a long shot then go with Webb Simpson at 43/1. Simpson has finished 20, 10, and 5 in the last three Masters.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Three games.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have played three games, and already I know this will be the least I’ve paid attention to baseball since I was approximately 15 years old.

As I said last week, I know GM Ben Cherington is doing the right thing. I’m more pissed that the team was allowed to crumble to these depths. I promise not to make this a bash Bob Nutting segment. Forget the blame and just look at the current product.

There is literally one player truly worth watching in Ke’Bryan Hayes, and he is already on the IL. Adam Frazier and Jacob Stallings are easy to root for, as are some others. They just aren’t very good.

Colin Moran hit a home run yesterday, but even his lazy home run trot is annoying. Some guy named Evans, who I don’t really care if he has a first name, left a ground ball go directly under his glove at third. Anthony Alford made enough base running blunders in three days to last a season. It’s bad baseball being played by bad baseball players.

The pitching was okay this weekend, but there doesn’t look like much to get excited about. Mitch Keller has been bragged up for years as he made his way through the farm system. He stinks. He appears afraid to throw the ball across the plate. So the one pitcher to get excited about stinks.

Then there is the king of stink: Gregory Polanco.

Polanco is easily the biggest bust in the last 40 years of Pirates baseball. For unknown reasons, the Pirates are paying him over 11 million dollars. Then they will have to pay him 3 million to buy him out next year. They would have to find the sucker of all time suckers to take Polanco in trade. He is predictably off to an awful start, going 1 for 10 and 4 strikeouts. Also predictably, the Pirates will keep running him out there.

If the lack of talent isn’t enough to make you switch the channel, the lack of fundamentals will definitely do the trick.

As a fanatic I always stick by my team. I’ll always be a Pirates fan, but the organization has finally allowed the team to deteriorate to a point where I don’t feel like watching. This is what it has come to.

Oh, who am I kidding. I’m a glutton for punishment so I’ll still watch. Maybe I’ll even learn some of the players names before they get cut.

Thanks Nutting!

Just my two cents…