NCAA Tournament Continues
March 26, 2015
March Madness marches on. The pretenders are gone and we now have contenders. It took just 96 hours to eliminate 48 schools. We are down to the Sweet 16. The contenders. The first week of the NCAA Tournament is always when memories are made and surprises occur. It happens every year. But week one is over now and the real hunt for the national title is on.
We are left with an exceptional Sweet 16. Leading the way are the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky is four wins away from a perfect 40-0 national championship season.
Is there anyone out there that can beat the Wildcats? That has been the question of the tourney since Selection Sunday. I believe there are a few schools left who can.
The Sweet 16 this year features annual title contenders, legendary coaches, tournament-tested teams, and some new blood to the select group of elite programs.
I can see Wisconsin, Arizona, Duke, Utah, and Gonzaga giving Kentucky a game. And I would not count Wichita State, Notre Dame, or North Carolina upsetting the Wildcats.
Figuring out who will get their shot at Kentucky is the tough question. The depth and parity of the Sweet 16 will give us several hard fought matchups between even teams. Even the two remaining No. 7 seeds could easily make the Final Four.
Michigan State, a No. 7 seed, is making 13th Sweet 16 appearance in 20 years under Tom Izzo. The Spartans have been to the Final Four six times with Izzo. Of course, they could make it that far again. The other No. 7? Wichita State. The Shockers are the new blood I am talking about. Two years ago, Wichita State rode a No. 9 seed past heavily favored Gonzaga and Ohio State en route to the Final Four. Last year, the Shockers took their first loss of the season, after a 35-0 start, in the NCAA tournament. If you watched Kentucky edge Wichita State last year, you know you watched a classic. Rest assured the Shockers could find themselves back in the Final Four.
Xavier, a No. 6 seed, adds even more quality to the Sweet 16. This is the school’s fifth Sweet 16 appearance in eight years. More of that new blood I was talking about. How about North Carolina State? The Wolfpack are still alive with their No. 8 seed. How can you count out a program that beat both Duke and North Carolina this season? No one has ever done that and beat a No. 1 seed like the Pack did last week against Villanova.
You have to like the coaches vying for the 2015 national title. It is a who’s who of coaching. The coaches are a pack of Hall of Famers. You have Mike Krzyzewski and his 1,000-plus wins. Roy Williams, of UNC is now tied with Dean Smith for all-time tournament wins. Rick Pitino of Louisville knows how to win titles. Mark Few of Gonzaga is always in the tournament. Lon Kruger of Oklahoma is the only coach to take four different schools this far in the tournament. I already spoke of Tom Izzo.
And then there is John Calipari. Kentucky’s coach has also netted three Final Fours, two national title appearances and one national title. His current team is 36-0 and chasing history.
The ACC is looking strong thus far. Duke blew Robert Morris out and made a really good San Diego State team look bad. If Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow keep playing at a high level, the Blue Devils will make the Final Four.
North Carolina has been accused of underachieving all season. The Heels have the best scoring guard left in the tournament in Marcus Paige. He will have to come up big if UNC is to beat No. 1 seed Wisconsin.
Notre Dame is not playing well. They got a scare from Northeastern and edged Butler in overtime. The Irish can score with anyone but also can struggle stopping people.
Louisville and North Carolina State round out the ACC schools still playing basketball. They play each other and I have to go with the Wolfpack. I am basing that on what I spoke of earlier. The fact that they have beaten Duke, UNC, and Villanova.
Personally, I only have two schools (Kentucky and Arizona) left in my Final Four bracket. I told you my Final Four picks would not work out. Time for me, and you, to just sit back and enjoy the games.
Chris Borland of the San Francisco 49ers shocked the NFL world last week when he announced his retirement. As a rookie last season, Borland led the 49ers in tackles. He finished the season uninjured.
Yes, Borland turned his back on millions of dollars and actually gave most of his signing bonus back to the team. His explanation is that the game is too dangerous.
Logically, how can one not agree. Every single game has at least one concussion now. This was not the case a decade ago.
The NFL tacitly agreed when they reached a $765 million settlement with 4,500 former players who claimed they should have been warned about the potential for crippling brain trauma.
Unlike the rest of the human body, there are no exercises to increase the thickness of the skull. Players may be able to turn their bodies into muscle and avoid injuries through sheer strength, but the only thing a player can do to protect his brain is to try and keep his head out of harm’s way. That is not going to happen.
Football will never be a safe sport. Yet, Americans love it. Still, I have to wonder what the game will look like in 25 years.
Will athletes still be motivated to risk serious long-term disability for fame and fortune. The fact that a promising young football star, Borland, is opting out of the fame, glory and riches of the NFL with safety concerns could open some eyes with parents out there who are deciding if they want their child playing football.