Archive | NCAA basketball RSS feed for this section

NFL18 Cherry Picks W9: Patriots and Red Sox Making New England America’s Region of Champions

4 Nov

Traditionally, after the War, it was b-ball (Celtics) and hockey (Bruins) that gave Bean-Towners their steady source for sportful community pride.

It’s when names like Bobby Orr, Cousy, the Joneses, Esposito, Kev McHale, Bill Russell, Cheevers, DJ, Chief Parish, Hondo, Bird and Red Auerbach made those cold Noreasters just slightly more bearable.

Today the tables have turned, in a good way.

Besides a singular season in the sun (Celts 08; Bruins 11), the Hub City has become the mecca for America’s two top entertainment venues, able to claim superiority in both the MLB and the NFL, the defending yet struggling Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) being of little consequence.

The New England Patriots of Foxborough and the Boston Red Sox have won collectively, nine (9) world championships since 2001, Bill Belichick’s Pats hoisting the Hardware in 2002, 04-05, 10 and 17, the BoSox, under three different managers, in 2004, 07 (Francona), 13 (Farrell) and in 2018 (Cora), nearly sweeping the Dodgers, 4-1. Those World Series titles to add to previous five (5) championships in the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Both clubs show no sign of fading from the title picture anytime soon.

So how do the other metropoli and national regions stack-up in the image department when it comes to tumultuous merriments?

Gotta’ start with the Big Apple (NYC-NJ), but that doesn’t look too shiny these days. The New York Yankees have had their share of World Series titles of late (2009 + 4), but the Mets, Knickerbockers, Nets, Islanders, Rangers (94), Jets and Giants since 2012 (08) have been pretty dog-gone pathetic.

As for Philadelphia, the 76ers and Flyers have been bad since Bobby Clarke and Julius Erving left town while the more recent championships seem to happen in the one-hit-wonder variety (Eagles: 2018; Phillies 2008). In the Western part of Pennsylvania, the Pirates, like Milwaukee, are beset with frugal ownership which, unless you’re talkin’ about the 2014-15 Kansas City Royals, usually translates into no titles. But the Steel City does have Big Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers: 2006, 09) and Sidney Crosby (Penguins: 2009, 16-17).

Heading south, it’s been the collegians who’ve given fans something to cheer about: Duke in men’s basketball where Mike Krzyewski has taken up where Adolf Rupp left off in winning five (5) NCAA titles during his 39-year tenure, the last in 2015, and, since Florida football hit the skids and LeBron bolted Miami, it’s been mastermind Nick Saban at The University of Alabama scoring big, where his Crimson Tide have garnered five (5) national titles, the last in 2017.

Then there’s NFL owner Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys who had their 2nd run as America’s Team (1993-94, 96). Now they look done.

Out West, the Los Angeles Dodgers win Pennants (2017-18) but no more World Series (88) and the Lakers these days are just dreamers. But the Steve Warriors (Kerr and Curry) of the NBA’s San Franscico Bay area representative and Pete Carroll, first at USC (03-04), now at NFL Seattle (2014), are the leaders who’ve been carrying the Pacific time zone banner of greatness.

Continuing clockwise and heading to the Midwest, the St. Louis Cardinals still win on occasion (2011, 06) while the Detroit Red Wings were Hockey-Town for a time (2008, 02, 97-98) but have turned into a weigh-station.

The Old Northwest Territory’s biggest metropolis, Chicago, has been doing itself almost as proud as Boston has in the sporting venues, the Cubs finally breaking through again in 2016 with their first World Series title in over 100 years (1907-08), the White Sox winning the fall classic in 2005 (last in 1917), the Blackhawks recently winning three (3) Stanley Cups in six seasons (2015, 13, 10) and the Michael Jordan Bulls taking their final of six (6) NBA titles in 1998. Only the once proud George Halas’ Bears going long without a championship since their remarkable Super Bowl win in 1986 under Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan.

And while they can only claim two world championships since Vince Lombardi parted company with Green Bay faithful in 1968 (1997, 2010) and must concede the Titletown moniker to their opponent this Sunday nite in the Tom Brady-led Patriots, the Packers have enjoyed one heck of a quarterback run in the persons of Brett Favre (1992-2007) and Aaron Rodgers (2005-present). Never in the history of the NFL has a franchise, for over 25 straight seasons, entered so many games with such hope for victory as have the fans of the green and yellow.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 9

Bears @ Buffalo: 11.4 Fox 1:00: Bills
Buccaneers @ Carolina: Fox 1:00: Bucs
Chiefs @ Cleveland: CBS 1:00: Browns
NewYork @ Miami: CBS 1:00: Jets
Steelers @ Baltimore: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Detroit @ Minnesota: Fox 1:00: Vikings
Atlanta @ Redskins: Fox 1:00: Falcons
Houston @ Denver: CBS 4:05: Denver
LosAngeles @ Seattle: CBS 4:05: Hawks
LosAngeles @ NewOrleans: Fox 4:25: NO
GreenBay @ NewEngland: NBC 8:20: NE

Record: 34 – 24

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject 2011; T.Brady, wc.cca, 8.28.09, K.Allison; cherries, 6-2011, wc, picdrome; Jim-Otto, Topps-Chewing-Gum, 1970
Posted: 11.4 @ 1:11aE (edit 6:05p (PA)); Copyright © 2018


NBA16: Curry Tres and How the ABA Got the Last Laugh

31 Mar

Poison Pill

A metaphorical meeting between the official ABA (Spaulding) and NBA (Wilson) game balls sometime in early 1976:

NBA: ‘Hey, ABBA, you look kinda’ down, like you need a needle & air but bad. You must’ve heard the news. It’s in the hopper, the merger’s set.

ABA: Merger? That’s cute. More like leveraged buyout, no? I’m just sick over it, like I was bounced around a discothèque for days. Ten years, good times, sustainable profits, the Nets could take Rick Barry and those Warriors easy, hell, the Celtics in six. What was it all for?

......ABA.J.Hadnot.1967.wc.323k.Oaks.thmNBA: For? Are you kidding me? So we could close off avenues of profit and pick your bones clean for expansion, that’s what for. You know the score, competition will not be tolerated. Look at baseball, the WFL, it’s the American way: Monopoly. Didn’t you see Rollerball? The Suits & Skirts in DC are trained seals, the Robes, too. Throw ‘em some smelt ($), give ‘em a bouncy ball to perch on and it’s all set.

ABA: What about the Founding Fathers, The Wealth of Nations (A.Smith), competition in the marketplace, Lincoln, FDR, democracy?

NBA: That‘s political. This is business, baby. Whoever has the jack gets to make more jack. And the faux fan, he doesn’t even care. And he’s majority. They wouldn’t make a peep if it meant missing McDonald’s or a Starsky & Hutch. Laverne & Shirley, maybe. When’d you fall off the rubber truck?

ABA: At least some of us will ♫ survive ♫. Of all four clubs, Spurs, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, I figure the Nuggets…no, the Nets…the Nets will really shine in the National. They’ve been a dynasty here since 1974. Watch n’ see.

NBA: Maybe. That Dr. J is something else, David Thompson, too.

ABA: Could you do me one favor, Nash, it’s no biggie.

NBA: Name it, amigo.

.....ABA.R.Taylor.wc.thm.WA-Caps.1969ABA (Sniffle): Could you take something on, something we in the American have really taken pride in, something that set us apart.

NBA: The ball, that red, white & blue pom-pon? You gotta’ be kidding? Sorry, no offense, ABBA, you know I love you, all balls, any shape, size or color, but c’mon.

ABA: Are ya’ done? Geez. No, not the ball.

NBA: What then!?

ABA: The 3-point shot. It’d mean alot to us. And it’s kitschy.

NBA: Kitschy, huh? Kind of a gimmick I‘d say…hey, take it easy, ABBA, here’s a Kleenex®. Okay, I’ll pitch it to Larry (O’Brien). He doesn’t even watch. Loves The Rockford Files and Kojak. But I’ve got his ear. If I want it in the game, it’ll happen. Bank on it (‘79).

ABA: Thanks, friend (wink).’

Curry Conundrum

This gimmick, some’ll call it an innovation, has never been bigger than in 2016.

With reigning MVP and NBA champ Steve Curry sinking 3-pointers as often as you’ll hear ‘awesome’ uttered in a 24-hr time span, and a finesse heretofore unseen in World NBA, the shot that turned the game into a near non-contact sport has never been more matterful to players & coaches and noticeable to those who monitor basketball’s ebb & flow.

.....Curry.wc.4.6.14.N.Salzman.thmbBut on-the-whole the game’s b-ball beacon has never luminated on such a weak signal. And for that you can thank the tres.

For starters, it’s a long-distance launch that for all practical purpose is almost indefensible. The phrase ‘defending the 3-point’ is downright oxymoronic.

The Curry conundrum is a mindset of indecision: Defender either plays the 3-pt shooter tight, creating back space big enough for a tractor-trailer while risking the 4-pt play (and momentum swing) too easily afforded in these quick-whistle / phantom phoul times; or, he / she opts out of trying to stop the tres altogether after running the cost / benefit analysis which, to the Curry class, is an open invitation with near 50% likelihood of success. Excellent odds for a fat swish.

Steve found his niche and perfected the play (his coach Steve wasn’t too shabby himself). Credit Curry for that. He and others before him took the manner of game given and after a few decades of practice are making the most of it. Now every kid on the block can be a hero. And isn’t that wonderful?

And we’re moving closer to apples & oranges in species of basketball.

The former game fashioned by founder Jim Naismith (1891) was exciting enough to keep fans fascinated for five generations. At it’s core fueling the fun was the symbiotic “association (The Triangle, 1.15.1892 (JN))” between inside – outside games: Power & positioning around the basket contrasted with daring drives to the hoop and swish artistry from the perimeter, all of equal value.

.....Naismith.wc.Evdcoldeportes.thmIt’s now given way to a new millennial form of play termed by this writer as ICBM: Inter-Continental Ball-istic Mode where the 3-point threat pulls most the action away from the frontcourt (paint & post) and into the back, out on the arc (wings) far from the rim and into a nether region of uncertainty. The tres may account for under a third of a game’s total point output but impacts the entirety.

The big guys don’t really know where to post anymore: Up top, down low, somewhere in between (no-man‘s land). Because of that we’ll never know just how good LeBron James could’ve been in the true power-forward position.

Is this what Commissioner Larry O’Brien & Co. foresaw for the NBA when they instituted the 3-point shot in the ‘79-80 season, a basketball game where the once celebrated center spot has lost so much significance it doesn’t even rate mention on the annual All-Star ballot? At first blush I’d answer, no, they did not.

On deeper reflection, however, the prevailing mood amongst guardians of the game may’ve been to seek a change in tempo and temper

In wake of the devastating punch Lakers’ Kermit Washington threw at Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in a 1977 on-court fracas, a slug so severe it collapsed his face and required multiple surgeries to repair the damage, NBA owners may’ve been seeking a means to calm the game, to a degree, by rule change.

Whether that was a true motive or not it’s calming effect has been so certain it turned the game prosaic where the defensive pulse is so weak the doctor would pronounce the basketball patient comatose.

.....Horse.carosuel.12.30.12.Dinkum.wc.thmSide-effect has been an activity that more resembles a game of running H.O.R.S.E. than a battle on the boards, where every trot down court is merely set-up for matching long-range lift-offs: Low contact, no designed plays, create a space, feed me the ball and watch it fly. Whoop-dee-frickin-do.

Surprisingly, or not, it’s the women’s game (WNBA / college) that is the truer form of roundball in 2016. The strength and torque, as it were, are lesser with the ladies but the synergy between shooter skill and physical fortitude in the paint still thrives to maintain a harmony and a verve that bests the big boys.

Clearly, NBA overlords did not fully consider the gradual but inescapable game-changing impact this ABA osmosis would have on the National and b-ball in general, to the great detriment of the tremendous inside – outside dichotomy that had defined the game from its inception and made it a captivating show.

Perusing my 1983 paperback edition of The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball (Z. Hollander), the NBA 3-pt shot was slowly mastered and adapted into play where 100 attempts was fairly rare for most shooting guards in the early 80s and the top takers like Mike Bratz (CLE 138a – 46 (82)), Mike Donleavy (SA 194 – 67 (83)), Joe Hassett (214 – 71 (82)) and Darrell Griffith (257 – 92 (85)) only rarely reached the 200 plateau. The championship clubs of the day like the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons (80s), Bulls and Rockets (90s) were still seriously symmetrical working both inside and outside games.

Might the 3-pointer go the way of the dodo bird? Doubtful. Love it and leave it (in place) probably says it best. It’s now the central component to today’s distant cousin of the Naismith game, even as fan interest ebbs low. Sad to think for those who love the rich, full flavor basketball that had thrived for 100 years.

.....straight_shooter.thmbSteven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: ABA, Darden-Moe, wc.cca, 1970; ABA, Oakland, J.Hadnot, 1967, wc; ABA, R.Taylor, DC-Caps, 1969, wc; S.Curry, 4.6.14, N.Salzman, wc; horse-carousel, Paris, MoFA, Dinkum, wc, 12.30.12; J.Naismith, wc, Evdcoldeportes; J.Naismith, wc; Straight-shooter, produce-label;
Posted: 3.31.16 @ 12:24pm EST; Copyright © 2016


Krzyzewski Unseats Wooden With Title #5

13 Apr

It’s an adjective that seems tailor-made for the likes of John Wooden. It fits the legendary UCLA basketball coach like a pair of well worn wing-tips: greatest.

For the man who built Bruins basketball (1948-75) into the collegiate powerhouse and standard of excellence by which all roundball programs are judged by way of 10 NCAA titles, .804 win-% and player greats like Hazzard, Walton, Goodrich, Wicks, Alcindor (Kareem) and Meyers, the superlatives never grow tiresome.



But while it may be blasphemy to write, after Duke‘s latest NCAA triumph over gritty Final foe Wisconsin (68-63), it may be time to bump the Wizard of Westwood from his seemingly permanent place atop college b-ball’s all-time greatest coaches perch in favor of the near nonpareil that has become Mike Krzyzewski.

It’s a roost where John’s towered over a pantheon of greats that include the names Rupp, Iba, Knight, McGuire, McCracken, Smith, Pitino, Donovan, Crum, Haskins, Calhoun, Jucker, Allen and many more, including careers that pre-dated the NCAA tourney (‘39) or side-stepped it all together (early NIT (Bee)).

Here’s why Krzyzewski should now be considered college basketball’s top dog amongst high caliber coaching canines. Metaphors and alliteration rock.

While Coach K’s five (5) NCAA titles are only half as many as the Wizard’s ten (10), consider the time span they cover.

After taking the reins at Duke in 1980, the first title trophy would be had in 1991 in a legendary run that included a semi-final upset win over defending champion (‘90 v DU) and undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels enroute to a final win over perennial power, Kansas. That was followed by the validating victory over the so-called Fab Five of Michigan (’92) to complete the back-to-back reign.

The third championship would come nine year later (‘01 / UA), the fourth nine years after that (‘10 / Butler) and fifth in 2015 (UW). A 25 year span. Call it the extended dynasty and it’s in vogue (See: Popovich (NBA) and Belichick (NFL)).

And Mike’s not done, not by a long shot. Though, at the rate he’s going, he’ll need another 30 years to match John’s massive mark of ten NCAAs championships.

But quantity is not always everything (See; Bonds v Ruth & Aaron).


I take nothing away from the fact Wooden’s achievements occurred in an era that some might distortedly describe as a period not far removed from the peach basket days.

John topped the best programs of his time while his schemes & players would without a doubt, out maneuver most of today’s mind & muscle. I simply give high praise to Mike’s splendid span of success.

And what Krzyzewski has done in adapting to change is almost incomparable.

This ability is most recognizable in adjusting to the now common early exit of under-classman to the pro ranks (seven of John Calipari’s Wildcats declared last week for the 2015 NBA draft) which makes continuity in player appreciation (of game plan) and rapport (with co-workers) so much harder to achieve.

Because rosters in many of today’s top school’s are in a constant state of flux, a coach’s duties in recruiting and stratagem must be frequently fine-tuned with great precision. The recruiting and ‘edge’ games (as in, finding one) are played out 12 months a year. It’s just one of the many job developments Mr. Wooden might find entirely exasperating.

In short, it’s harder to be a coach today: more change, more opinions, more rules, more duties, more expectations and more competition. And John would agree.


As to in-game strategies, if there was one guy who could prevent Wisconsin from fulfilling what looked to be a destiny with greatness in 2015 by replicating Duke’s 1991 championship run, it would be Michael Krzyzewski, the Great Exploiter.

Holding your opponent to 68 is good defense but in the Final, against b-ball’s standard-bearer school (DU), you’ve gotta’ be better than good, for the distance.

Badgers lacked the zest they displayed against the favored Kentuckians, and while Kaminsky played a blinder, Dekker was a bit short in 2H. Mike will exploit any mistake, any fade-away in game like no other college coach in history.

Did the officials tilt the contest East? Maybe, by chance, but that’s just fine whine. Teams, schools looking to break through into the upper echelon of juggernaut programs will overcome adversity (See; Duke ’91) and don’t make excuses.

And it’s why the biggest stars in today’s college hoops are coaches, not the highly-touted players who often exit not long after they arrive on campus and are just as quickly forgotten when the new high school recruits arrive to fanfare

Early departures for greener pastures are no good for gurus and fans, but if you could ask that great Marquette coach and forerunner to today’s adaptable coach, Al McGuire (‘77 NCAA title (d. ‘01)), he might say something like this: ‘More power to those kids who exit early for big bucks. Life’s short and you should ‘grab the gusto’ while you can.’

That’s in opposite of the guy who’s building his own cult of personality out West in Madison, Badgers’ coach Bo Ryan (FF ‘14 & ‘15) who’s from the ‘finish what you start’ School of Thought, i.e.,‘one & done’ be darned.

Wooden or Krzyzewski? You can’t go wrong whomever you seat upon the throne for the greatest men’s college basketball coach (Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma just claimed his 10th NCAA on the ladies side). But if you don’t tab Mike, you better find Mr. Duke a big chair to power-share with the Wizard. Swish!


Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: Krzyzewski, 2013, Glantzman, wc; Krzyzewski, 4.6.6, WD.Moss, wc; Wooden, 72, UCLA-S.Campus, wc; Wooden, UCLA-(SC), 65, wc; Krzyzewski, wc, 1.12.12, CJCoS(Cullen); Straight.Shooter. produce.label
Posted: 4.13.15 @ 6:35pm; edit 10:37 EST

Krash Kentucky, Bucky? Think Duke-UNLV ’91

1 Apr

March Madness is crazy for upsets.

More than any other sport festival, college b-ball’s pink carnation affairs (men’s & women’s NCAA Division I Basketball Championships) seem predicated on the high probability that powerhouse schools will get unplugged by some small-college upstart on their way to being fitted for Cinderello’s glass sneaker.

Bookies & business-types lose sleep thinking about it but fans can’t get enough.

Shockers aren’t the only defining trait of Madness. Writer Frank Deford ( / “What Makes March..” / 3-9-11) believes “single-elimination” is what makes the tourney a winner.

My own diagnosis: it’s the tournament’s inclusiveness which gives it a lovable lunacy.

The NCAA holds a big dance and (nearly) everyone’s invited.

Unlike the hoity-toity cotillion which is college football’s CFP championship, the men’s and women’s parties are where new stars are found and dreams can become reality. It’s not exactly a “Delta Tau Chi” bash (Animal House) but more like that dorm party the first week of classes: come one, come all.

Apart from a national crisis, no event does more to unify the 50 than Selection Sunday. Excitement-wise, it’s up there with the Triple Crowns, final five in the Super Bowl, last lap at Indy.500 and atlas stones lift in World‘s Strongest Man.

It’s why President Obama’s so keen to publicize his tourney picks. Savvy man.

If you can’t find a team to root for you’re not trying.

The Selection gets our attention, the upsets keep us talking.

And talk we do, as there’s usually no shortage of top seeds (#s 1-4) who handle their votes-of-confidence as if they were hot potatoes. The shockers include Texas Western (El Paso) (v UK ‘66), NC State (v HOU ‘83), Villanova (v GTwn ‘85), Princeton (v UCLA ’96) and Mercer (v Duke ‘14). Doozies.

But this year the Pepto-Bismol® stayed in the medicine cabinet as the queasy catastrophes proved relatively rare with most #2 seeds playing fairly deep into the tourney and three #1s making it to the Showcase (Final Four).

That makes Saturday’s Wisconsin (35-3) v Kentucky (38-0) NCAA semi-final (Indianapolis @ 8:49pm EST (TBS) all the more intriguing.


For the Badgers (4-1 odds), pulling off the upset of the undefeated and favored Wildcats (2-3) will require an effort of gargantuan proportions and near flawless execution.

Wooden Award aspirant Frank Kaminsky (6-11) will need to emulate Christian Laettner (play to exhaustion) in hopes of leading his UW men to the Final on Monday where either Michigan St. (27-11) or Duke (33-4) await (@ 6:09)).

Kaminsky must score upwards of 25 (29 v UA) and dominate on the boards by exhibiting a rebounding prowess not displayed in the win over Arizona (6).

For the team’s part, a continued adherence to coach Bo Ryan’s smart play (few fouls) and cleavage away from what’s become an over-reliance on 3-pointers are keys to victory.

But most important to Wisconsin’s forward progress in NCAA 2015 is a willingness to bang inside with the Bluegrass big men. If not control of the tempo, having an equal say. A sustained presence in the paint will also open up the shooting lanes, mid-range and long (3s), not unlike establishing the run game in pro football to set up the pass.

And carving out a presence under the basket is exactly what Laettner and his Duke teammates did to stay in it against their own unblemished and defending champion opponent UNLV in the historic 1991 semi-final.


It was the Blue Devil’s masterful performance in toppling the Runnin’ Rebels in what could be called NCAA’s all time greatest game that is now template for any team who’s presented with what appears an insurmountable obstacle, i.e., an unbeatable foe.

Not part of that template is the fact the Blue Devils, unlike the Badgers, were quite familiar with their Vegas opponent, having suffered the worst shellacking in Final history the year prior, 103-73. That embarrassing loss fostered a summer of soul searching and a sense of revenge that found an outlet in next year’s Final as the two squared off again. It was mission time for Mike Krzyzewski & Co. and we all became converts.

An advantage Wisconsin holds that Duke did not is that they face an undefeated Kentucky team that needed a bit o’ luck of the Irish to get by a hasty Notre Dame squad last Sunday (68-66) who let a win slip from their tenuous grasp.

There are chinks in UK’s armor and it’s why UW should prevail Saturday.

There’s no revenge-factor in play for the Madisonians but not having won the NCAA since Ann Sothern and Mickey Rooney were top box office (‘41), while keeper coach Bo Ryan (.742) still looks for his first title, all might serve as sufficient motivation for the guys in red & white.


But what may serve Badgers best in prepping for the balanced Kentucky attack might be a video session of Duke’s incredible 1991 win over UNLV (See; pointers).

March 30th marked the 24th anniversary of the Duke’s highly improbable victory and remains in this writer‘s memory the most exciting, sublime game in college basketball history. It is the gold standard by which all other NCAA contests must be measured.

Why such high praise for a college b-ball semifinal game? Simply put, this David and Goliath match-up had everything.

For starters, it was an upset of the first order. UNLV was undefeated, showcased Player of the Year Larry Johnson, were riding a 45-game win streak and faced the same school they’d easily brushed aside in the 1990 Final to win their first NCAA basketball title.

While Duke was no stranger to the Final Four (their fifth under Mike Krzyzewski, ninth overall), each appearance had ended with a loss. In losing to UNLV in the 1990 Final by a lopsided 103-73 margin, the Blue Devils’ game appeared out of step with the times.


Before tip-off it had all the signs of another massacre.

While the contrasting racial make-ups of the Texas Western / Kentucky squads gave that game serious social overtone, Duke / UNLV was not without its own psycho-drama.

It was ivy-covered halls vs. desert developers; old money vs. Sin City. More weighty was the appearance of favoritism when UNLV was given a pass by the NCAA Rules Committee and allowed into the tourney to defend their title.

Two years earlier Kansas had been denied defense of its own title by rule infractions. The normally no-nonsense NCAA and their new open-door policy for a similarly-situated UNLV smacked of some serious hypocrisy. But then, new money’s as green as the old.

On the surface the Blue Devils conveyed the student-athlete ideal. In reality & interview, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner appeared no more studious or articulate than the Vegas bunch and emanated the same boyish arrogance as the coming Fab Five.


As for the sideline strategists, when separated from the claims of NCAA Rules police, Jerry Tarkanian was as likeable and skilled as his Dukian counterpart Coach K.

It was on the court where the real difference existed. Duke was ball-control and fundamentals, UNLV was run & gun and dominated inside with strength.

Though a fan of neither team I wasn’t exactly neutral. Like many, I pulled for the underdog Duke. Besides that, the Rebels were a regional rival to my own school, the University of Arizona who was looking for their own breakthrough moment.

In the end, it was Duke’s relentlessness and ability to impose its style on much of the game-tempo, while managing to compete with the Rebels inside that gave the Blue Devils the narrow 79-77 victory.

UNLV didn’t lose the game, Duke won it. This was no mistake-prone Colts team stumbling against a confident Jets squad in 1969 (SB3). The Rebels played with skill and with heart. A more hard fought, back & forth battle I never witnessed. Maybe Duke just wanted it…needed it more.

Like the USA’s 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team (USSR / Finland), Duke’s ability to summon the strength and close the deal against Final opponent Kansas (72-65) gave their Semifinal triumph a special place in history.

The Blue Devils have remained one of the nation’s premiere programs while UNLV has fallen into mediocrity. But both schools can look back with pride on that glorious night in Indianapolis when an epic battle raged and grit, not a miracle, made a champion.


Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credits: B.Ryan, 1.2.12, wc, R.Hurd; Bucky-Badger, 12.1.07, S.Cain, wc; C.Laettner, wc, Buyanksky, 3.21.14; M.Krzyzewski, wc, 4.6.06, WD.Moss; B.Ryan, 1.2.12, wc, R.Hurd; L.Johnson, wc, 10.10.09, B.Horowitz; UNLV-Rebel.Girl, 3.4.06, wc, EK.Vaughn; Straight.Shooter, produce.label.
Posted: 4.1.15 @ 2:28pm; edit 11:46 EST

Kentucky and the Myth of Perfection

7 Mar

Like the lure of the siren’s song, never what it appears to be, but who among us can resist (J.Seinfeld)?”

And so it is with the lure of a perfect season in sport.

Oh, how wonderful it would be to hoist the hardware without nary a single loss. So we fans and those in the press who cover the merriments, believe.


But ask someone who’s accomplished the feat. They’ll give you the low-down.

That would include a member of the 1972-73 Super Bowl winning Miami Dolphins or Bob Knight’s undefeated, NCAA champion Indiana Hoosiers (‘75-76).

Those were heady, by-gone days.

The question & answer might go something along this line: Q: ‘What’s it like to go undefeated for an entire season? A: It’s great, but not that big a deal. It’s the championship that makes it special, the icing on the cake, so to speak.’

The Patriots almost found that perfect place in history.

They ran the table in the 2007 regular season (16-0), won their playoffs (2-0) but then lost a close one late to the Giants in the big game (14-17 (SB42)). It’s a run New England (and NYG) should be proud of but proves the point: it’s the title, not perfection along the way that gives the achievement, the journey, the memory, that extra-special aura.

As of this write the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team stands at 30-0, having pulled their fat outta’ the fire in a nip n’ tuck road win in Athens earlier this week, where the host Bulldogs gave the Wildcats all they could handle in a 72-64 visitor’s win.

Though the 2013-14 Wichita State Shockers entered last year’s NCAA as an undefeated (34-0), this John Calipari Kentucky team has a feel that’s closer to the 1990-91 defending national champion UNLV squad, coached by the recently deceased Jerry Tarkanian, also started the tournament undefeated and looked near unbeatable.

.......Rupp.arena.1.2.13.c.malder.thmbThe common ground is not in the scoring punch.

Those Runnin’ Rebels often buried opponents with scoring barrages.

But in the point parade, these Wildcats practically bring up the rear, nationally ranked 30th in PPG (75), a chilly 41st in field-goal % (.471) and top scorers Aaron Harrison (11.3) and freshman Dev Booker (11) barely averaging double-digits. Another frosh Karl-Anthony Towns is balanced best at 9.6 ppg and leads the team in rebounds at 6.5 per contest.

It’s on defense where Kentucky emulates those terribly terrific Tarkanian Vegans.

Nobody puts the clamps down on opponents like these bluegrass b-ballers. Most won’t clear the 60 mark (PAPG (#2): 53.2), due in large part to a miserly field-goals allowed % (FGAP) that would make Ebenezer Scrooge proud (#1 / .344).

Contribution, in a broadly shared responsibility, seems the watchword for UK.

The prevailing myth amongst sport fanatics is that a team with perfect record is best prepared to capture the NCAA crown. Run-the-table in the regular season slate (UK v. UF, 3-7 (2pm EST)) and sweep through the largely meaningless, money-grab, conference tourney. Seems reasonable enough.

And that’s why myths are for the movies and Harry Potter novels.

It didn’t turn out as planned for Wichita State in last year’s NCAA, nor those Runnin’ Rebels in 1991 who sought to build a dynasty in the Silver State.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry (Burns).”

........Burns.Robert.wc.ccaBeginning 1991 NCAA tournament play as defending national champs and sporting a sparkling 30-0, UNLV must’ve salivated with anticipation in eyeing Duke as their semifinal opponent, the team they’d dismantled just a year earlier, 103-73, to claim their first title in the most lopsided championship score in tourney history.

But the Blue Devils proved prepared and pulled off one of the great upsets in history, going toe-to-toe with the titanesque Rebels and grabbing the 79-77 victory, and then going on to top perennial Kansas in the final (72-65) to claim their own first crown.

A regular season loss, or two, along the way to the NCAA are not all bad.

A well played but losing effort can stoke the mettle forge that’s needed to run the talent laden gauntlet come March Madness, pin-point weak spots and help deflate over-pumped egos (2 psi?) that grow large with perfection. Makes for a safer driving state.

I’m not saying Kentucky aught lose a game intentionally (tank) or play anything less than their best ball. Heck, no. That’s something Earvin Johnson may advocate and a topic of high-spec in NBA and NHL, but strictly bad play for those with heart and sporting soul.

It wouldn’t help anyway. Mess up the mojo. Besides, the Cats crave el perfecto.

What I am saying, is that if the Wildcats happen to suffer a loss before the big dance, it’s not the end of the world. It may in fact work to their benefit, act as a healthy dose of preventive medicine.

The sporting gods have grown stingy. We haven’t had a perfect season in quite a spell. They were always rare but have become as uncommon as Haley’s Comet. Maybe we’re due for one, or maybe they’ve decided to do away with ’em all together. One can never know these things.

Whether Kentucky has what it takes to make a perfect season, a championship run or some other team’s stars align in mid-March, whatever the fates hold, the gods will crown a winner the night of April 6th and that’s as certain as spring.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: J.Calipari, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; J.Calipari, wc.cca, 11.5.14, K.Allison, MD; Rupp.Arena, wc.cca, C.Malder, 1.8.13; R.Burns, wc.cca; Straight.Shooter.brand, citrus.fruit
Posted: 3.6.15 @ 11:28pm EST