Category Archives: College Basketball

Cajun chicanery

Forty-five years ago today, the National Collegiate Athletic Association had one of its shining moments.

At a special meeting at Chicago’s world-famous Palmer House hotel, Walter Byers’ association shut down the dirtiest college basketball program of the time, and one of the dirtiest to ever disgrace the NCAA.

The University of Southwestern Louisiana, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, saw its basketball program (only the men were sanctioned by the NCAA at this time; the NCAA did not sanction women’s programs until 1981-82) given the death penalty (the term wasn’t used until Southern Methodist’s football program was shut down in February 1987 for one season; the Mustangs self-imposed another season of dormancy before returning in 1989) for two seasons, the only time the NCAA has ever shut down a sport at a member school for more than one season.

The Cajuns were Louisiana’s top college basketball team following Pete Maravich’s departure from LSU in March 1970. Maravich gave LSU respectability for his three seasons on the varsity, scoring 3,667 points, a record which stands 48 years later despite freshmen being ineligible to play in Division I until 1972-73, and the introduction of the shot clock (1985-86) and 3-point field goal (1986-87).

Once Pete went to the Atlanta Hawks, daddy Press had two poor seasons before being fired in March 1972, opening the door for an unknown North Dakota native, Dale Brown, to take over.

Meanwhile, 60 miles to the west, Beryl Shipley had built a powerhouse in relative obscurity. The Ragin Cajuns didn’t even compete in the NCAA until the 1967-68 season, but before that, Shipley recruited blacks to USL, something that was strictly forbidden at the time at LSU. Shipley played blacks in 1966-67, five seasons before Kentwood’s Collis Temple Jr. became the Bayou Bengals’ first black varsity athlete in any sport.

In 1967, the Cajuns reached the quarterfinals of the NAIA tournament. However, the next season, USL’s first in the NCAA, the program was placed on two years’ probation (1968-69 and 1969-70) for payments from an outside organization to players, including the black ones.

Even though USL was on probation in 1968-69, Shipley hit the mother lode by plucking a transformational player from Ohio State’s backyard.

Dwight “Bo” Lamar went on to score nearly 3,500 points in four seasons (freshmen were eligible in Division II, where USL played in its first four seasons in the NCAA) and took over the spotlight Maravich vacated, becoming Louisiana’s best college basketball player, and by extension, the best basketball player in Louisiana, since the NBA wouldn’t come around until 1974.

If many in Columbus, including legendary Buckeye coach Fred Taylor, who coached Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek when Ohio State won the 1961 national championship, were wondering how one of there own could go to a tiny school in the south, they weren’t alone.

Lamar had plenty of better options if he wanted to play in the south. Louisville and Kentucky were just across the Ohio River. Tennessee had a great program under Ray Mears, and Roy Skinner had built a strong unit at Vanderbilt. Heck, even Alabama, now led by former Olympic gold medalist C.M. Newton, was proving to be more than a idle distraction during Tuscaloosa winters.

By all rigbts, Lamar should have been a Buckeye. That he ended up a Cajun had to raise a red flag.

In 1971, Lamar earned Division II All-America honors and helped the Cajuns finish third nationally. The next year, the Cajuns moved up to Division I and joined the Southland Conference, where they dominated and won the league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.

USL won its first tournament game in 1972 over Marshall before losing in the regional semifinals to Louisville and their rookie coach, Denny Crum. One year later, USL knocked out Guy Lewis’ Houston Cougars before losing again in the regional semis, this time to Jack Hartman’s Kansas State Wildcats.

In between his junior and senior seasons, Lamar played for the United States Olympic team in Munich, the one which had the gold medal stolen from them by a corrupt Hungarian referee, who helped the Soviet Union hand the Americans their first-ever loss in Olympic basketball.

If they thought the communists were cheating, they had nothing on what was going on in Lafayette.

The NCAA had a fatter dossier on USL than the CIA could ever have hoped for. USL was going to be banned from the postseason in 1972-73, but the Cajuns won an injunction in the federal court for the Western District of Louisiana to continue to be eligible for the postseason. The case was eventually dismissed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals due to lack of jurisdiction.

The NCAA had the goods to put USL out of business, namely more than 120 violations of its rules.

Cash payments to players, players borrowing the cars of Shipley and boosters, buying clothes and other material things for players was bad, but USL certainly wasn’t the only program which engaged in this.

However, there was something much more damning.

Academic fraud.

Shipley and his assistants were doctoring transcripts to make them appear eligible when they really weren’t. In some cases, assistant coaches were forging the signatures of principals. Boosters were arranging for surrogates, namely honor students who were classmates of recruits, to take entrance exams.

With the court case dismissed, the NCAA was free to act.

And boy did it act.

Not only was USL handed a two-year death penalty, but NCAA Committee on Infractions wanted to take a step further and expel the university from the NCAA.

The Cajuns were spared that fate, but USL was banned from competing for conference championships in all sports for the length of the death penalty against the basketball team. Also, USL could not vote at the annual NCAA convention for three years.

Some in Lafayette blamed the new coach at LSU for ratting out USL. However, I have not seen anything to remotely suggest Dale Brown did this. Of course, in 1986, when Brown testified before the NCAA at its headquarters in Kansas City, USL supporters went nuclear when they found out LSU would not be penalized for violations which may have occurred during Bob Brodhead’s tenure as LSU athletic director from 1982-86.

USL was the second school at the time to receive a death penalty. The first was Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp’s program was shuttered in 1952-53 for a point shaving scandal which involved All-Americans Ralph Beard and Alex Groza.

USL would not be the last Louisiana college basketball program to run afoul of the NCAA.

Centenary in Shreveport was hammered by the NCAA when it was discovered superstar Robert Parish, who prepped at the city’s Woodlawn High, had not taken the proper standardized college entrance exam. Instead, Parish and several teammates took another test and had their scores converted to the NCAA scale.

Centenary claimed the test scores were valid, the NCAA said otherwise and ruled Parish and four teammates ineligible to play for the Gentlemen (yes, that is Centenary’s nickname). The NCAA would allow the five players to transfer and resume their careers after sitting out one season, but all refused.

Instead of handing Centenary the death penalty, the NCAA did something even more esoteric.

It basically wiped Centenary off the map. The Gentlemen disappeared into a black hole as far as the NCAA was concerned, banning any of its players from appearing in its statistical records.

Parish, who of course went on to be one of the greatest centers in NBA history, dominated the competition and supposedly led the nation in rebounding and blocked shots his senior season. However, nobody could tell, simply because Centenary was not allowed to report its statistics to the NCAA.

In the 1980s, Tulane found itself embroiled in a point shaving scandal which landed numerous players in front of a grand jury. John “Hot Rod” Williams, probably the best player to ever suit up for the Green Wave, was acquitted, but the resulting bad press prompted Tulane president Dr. Eamon Kelly to shutter the men’s basketball team in April 1985.

Not only was men’s basketball gone at Tulane, but the Green Wave was soon expelled from the Metro Conference, a move which severely hurt Tulane’s strong baseball program. Not long after that, the football program. which had recently hired Mack Brown as coach, was nearly shut down, too, but it was spared the ax.

Kelly wanted to make the ban permanent, but he finally relented and allowed its return in 1989-90.

Many of the same issues which led to USL’s death penalty cropped up again when SMU’s football program was banished 13 1/2 years later.

However, no other Division I team has faced the death penalty, although several programs came very close (Kansas men’s basketball, 1988; Kentucky men’s basketball, 1989; Ole Miss football, 1994; Alabama football, 2002; Penn State football, 2012).

USL got what it so richly deserved in 1973. Too bad the NCAA lacks the guts to do it now.

Why did I watch?

When I last posted Sunday, I stated I would not watch the NCAA men’s basketball championship game between Michigan and Villanova, fearing the Wildcats would toy with the Wolverines.

However, I did, simply because I was in a Wichita hotel room with limited television options and no way to plug my iPad into the TV. I was in Wichita to pick up an online order and shop at Target, something I cannot do in Russell or Hays. Also, there was work going on in the bathroom downstairs, so I wanted to give the workers free rein without distraction.

Michigan started well, but by the middle of the first half, it was obvious the national championship would reside on the Main Line of Philadelphia for the second time in three seasons.

Final: Villanova 79, Michigan 62.

Jay Wright has probably cemented his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., if he had not already. Wright is one of just 15 coaches to win multiple championships since the first NCAA men’s tournament in 1939.

The Big Ten has not produced a men’s basketball national champion since Michigan State in 2000. The Pac-12’s drought is longer, going back to Arizona in 1997. As bad as that is, both of the “Rose Bowl” conferences have had precious little success in women’s basketball as well–the Big Ten won its only title in 1999 with Purdue, and the Pac-12 last won with Stanford way back in 1992.

I’m done with basketball for the rest of 2018. I don’t care about the NBA–unless the Bucks would make a deep playoff run, which isn’t happening–and I don’t watch early season college basketball. Too many mismatches.

Major League baseball is suffering from a rash of postponements, which happens when there is bad weather in the northern latitudes. The Royals saw last Sunday’s home game vs. the White Sox snowed out, and it was too cold for them to play Wednesday in Detroit, so there will be two doubleheaders later this month. Next up is a trip to Cleveland, which isn’t exactly a tropical paradise.

MLB needs to stop with this idea that every team should have a home opener within the first two weeks of the season. If it’s too cold in Boston, New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis and Chicago, then they have to play on the road in April. The schedule will even out in July and August. Besides, who really wants to play in Atlanta in August? Even St. Louis is miserably unbearable. The Florida teams and Houston don’t count because they have retractable-roof stadiums. Milwaukee was smart enough to put a retractable roof on Miller Park, so why didn’t other teams in the Great Lakes region? Wrigley Field is one thing, but there was no reason the White Sox shouldn’t have done it. Or the Tigers. Or Twins, which played indoors for 28 seasons.

The NHL playoffs start next week. I am absolutely loathing Tampa Bay, Nashville and Vegas all having good chances to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. I will never, ever agree with the idea of hockey in southern locales. I’m glad New Orleans had a team when I was living there, because it would have been awfully tempting to go. It’s up to the Bruins and Maple Leafs to carry the flag for the Original Six, because the Rangers, Red Wings, Canadiens and Blackhawks are long gone.

Seven days until I depart for the native land.

Back on the blog

If you thought I had passed on into the afterlife, I don’t blame you. But March was a pretty bad month for me, so I figured it best not to chronicle just how bad it was. However, I did post some very nasty things on social media which I really am hating myself for.

I am so happy March Madness ends tomorrow night. I have had it with basketball. Enough already. I’m not watching the championship game.

If Michigan keeps it close, it will be a miracle. I can’t remember Michigan being this big an underdog in a major athletic event in my lifetime. Probably the last time it happened was the 1969 football game vs. Ohio State when the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 24-12 to end Ohio State’s 22-game winning streak.

Villanova isn’t as big a favorite as Georgetown was vs. the Wildcats in the 1985 final, but it’s close. With the way the Wildcats dismantled Kansas, there’s no reason to think the Wolverines will come any closer, even though Michigan is riding a 14-game winning streak.

Michigan is 1-4 in previous title game appearances. However, the one the Wolverines won was against Seton Hall, a Catholic school from the Big East, just like Villanova. Unfortunately for John Beilein, Glen Rice has been out of eligibility since that night in Seattle 29 years ago.

Kansas got its comeuppance last night. Jayhawk fans had been talking trash all tournament, crying about the lack of respect  and whatever else they could complain about. They can shut up until November.

Notre Dame just hit a buzzer beater to defeat Mississippi State in the women’s championship game.

The good news: UConn didn’t win the title. Again.

The bad news: Notre Dame won.

I do not like Irish coach Muffet McGraw. Not after she whined and bitched and complained about Geno Auriemma constantly during the 2014 Final Four, when the Huskies beat Notre Dame in the final. I am not an Auriemma lover by any means, but McGraw sounded like a shrill shrew.

I also found reason to dislike McGraw after she allowed her players to wear t-shirts supporting Black Lives Matter before several games in recent years. That has no place in sports. Period.

I also have heard in a few places McGraw is pro-abortion, which if she is, should disqualify her from being employed by Notre Dame or any other Catholic university. Then again, many pro-aborts have been featured speakers at Notre Dame, so it would not shock me if McGraw fell in line with that view.

I was very angry with Saint Louis University when it employed the late Rick Majerus, who was outspokenly pro-abortion. Majrerus not only coached at Saint Louis, but also at Marquette, another Catholic institution. Do administrators at Catholic universities do their homework? I’m beginning to believe not.

There was some good news from the sports world this weekend. The Royals lost twice to the White Sox, while the Padres, led by their $147 million man, former Royal Eric Hosmer, were swept by the Brewers. The Reds were also swept–by the Nationals–so MLB opening weekend was pretty god in my book.

I slept until 12:40 this afternoon. Maybe that wasn’t the worst thing.

Grant UConn its independence!

Connecticut’s women’s basketball team is undefeated and ranked first in the Associated Press and coaches’ polls.

YIPPEEE!

Tonight, the Huskies play South Carolina in Columbia. The Gamecocks, the 2016-17 national champions, are ranked seventh, but they have never beaten UConn, nor have they ever beaten a team ranked #1 in the AP poll. Remember, UConn lost in last year’s semifinals to Mississippi State in overtime, and the Gamecocks beat their SEC brethren in the final.

UConn hosts Mississippi State Monday. The Huskies have to play these kinds of non-conference games, simply because the American Athletic Conference is horrible in women’s basketball outside of the Huskies and maybe–MAYBE–South Florida.

The bottom of the American–East Carolina, Tulsa, SMU and Wichita State–have no business playing Division I. Most of the other teams in the American would finish at or near the bottom of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.

If the NCAA and the American were smart, they would release UConn from the obligation to play a full conference schedule and instead let the Huskies play as an independent. That way, the teams in the American would have legitimate dreams of a conference championship, and UConn would be able to play every major power it wished and not fill its schedule with teams which drag down its RPI.

Of course, RPI doesn’t matter when a team keeps going undefeated like UConn, but there could come a year where the overall weakness of the American could cost the Huskies a top seed. It has happened to Tennessee, Stanford and others through the years.

I’ve looked at attendance figures from when UConn visits its conference opponents, and there is no appreciable increase for many schools. Also, there are empty seats showing up at Husky games in Storrs and Hartford. It’s the same as Alabama playing Mercer or Chattanooga, or Kentucky’s men’s basketball team playing some of the non-conference cupcakes on its schedule. Heck, I witnessed it first hand with LSU baseball.

I don’t know if it would be possible for UConn to play high-profile opponents in the middle of their conference seasons, but South Carolina and Mississippi State are both playing the Huskies in February, so it would not be out of the question.

If teams in the American wanted to continue to play UConn, it could be arranged, similar to the way ACC football teams play Notre Dame.

Women’s basketball is the real reason UConn has tried and tried again to get into the ACC. Football is terrible. Men’s basketball has won four national championships, but the Huskies would consistently be behind Duke and North Carolina in the ACC, and many others. If UConn played women’s basketball in the ACC, there would be many more challenges and Geno Auriemma would not have to create ways to motivate his team to not overlook someone. Heck, UConn’s bench could beat East Carolina, Tulsa, Wichita State and many other American teams.

I know it will never come to fruition. But it is worth thinking about.

College basketball starts anew

It isn’t an official holiday in Lawrence, Kansas, but I’m certain many, many, many people are finding excuses to skip work or classes at the University of Kansas.

The Jayhawks begin the college basketball season tonight when they host Tennessee State.

Yahoo. (Sarcasm)

I really don’t care much about college basketball. I will watch if there’s nothing else on, or I’m in a location where it’s on all the televisions and I have no choice but to watch–unless I want to blindfold myself. Otherwise, no thank you.

I don’t know why I fill out a bracket during the NCAA tournament. I guess it’s just to do something fun. I really don’t give a darn who wins.

LSU has been awful at men’s basketball for the better part of the last 20+ years, save for a trip to the Final Four in 2006 and scattered NCAA tournament appearances.

I don’t expect one of those scattered appearances to occur in 2018.

LSU is picked 14th–DEAD LAST–in the Southeastern Conference. By contrast, Missouri, which finished tied for last in the SEC with LSU last year and lost to the Bayou Bengals AT HOME, is ranked in the preseason polls and is expected to make the NCAA tournament, thanks to new coach Cuonzo Martin and a stellar recruiting class, led by Michael Porter Jr., widely regarded as the nation’s top prep player of 2016-17.

The. Bayou Bengals have a new coach, Will Wade, who came from VCU, where he conintued the Rams’ run of success began by Shaka Smart, now at Texas. Wade has brought needed enthusaism and discipline to a program lacking both under Johnny Jones, but Wade has a tougher task ahead of him than what Dale Brown did when he came to LSU in 1972.

I hope Wade succeeds. I want my alma mater to do well, like most graduates want to see their schools thrive. But i can’t see it happening this year or next. LSU must be patient with Wade. It has to give Wade at least four years to get this thing on the right track. I’m not saying beat Kentucky every time. The top half of the SEC year in and year out would be a major improvement.

Kentucky is the favorite in the SEC. As it should be. Until someone can consistently knock off the Wildcats, the title will remain in Lexington. John Calipari has adapted so well to the “one-and-done” phenomenon. You may hate the guy, but nobody can deny he can fuse together a whole new group, get them to play cohesively, send them off to the NBA, where most will be high draft picks, then start all over again.

When I frequented Ivar’s, the sports bar near the LSU campus where I spent hundreds (maybe thousands) of days, one of the first things I noticed was a bumper sticker behind the bar. It read:

Kentucky Pervert–a man who enjoys sex more than basketball.

Very tue. It’s not just that way with the Big Blue, but at Louisville, Western Kentucky, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky, too. Basketball, horse racing and bourbon are all Kentucky traditions, traditions which should be cherished. It makes the Bluegrass State one unique place.

Kansas will win the Big 12. Again. For the 14th consecutive season. Arizona will win the Pac-12. Duke the ACC. Wichita State should roll in its new conference, the American Athletic Conference, but how much of an upgrade from the Missouri Valley is it really? The Big Ten should be interesting, but look for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans to come through.

Wichita State fans have been begging and pleading to play Kansas (and Kansas State) in the regular season. Bill Self refuses to bite. Cuold a Shockers-Jayhawks match take place in San Antonio at the Final Four? Maybe.

Let the games begin. Just don’t expect me to be watching too much.

Half-hearted rivalries 

In this morning’s Kansas City Star, there was an article with comments from former University of Missouri president R. Bowen Loftin about the possibility of the Tigers resuming their athletic series with the University of Kansas. 

Kansas and Missouri began their football series in 1891, only 30 years after Kansas became the 34th state. The Tigers and Jayhaks played 120 times, making it the oldest NCAA Division I rivalry west of the Mississippi River. FYI, the oldest NCAA football series is Lehigh vs. Lafayette, which bgan in 1884.

Loftin stated only one reason why Mizzou and Kansas have not played since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

Bill Self.

Loftin blamed Self, the Jayhawks’ men’s basketball coach who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year, for not wanting to play Mizzou, at least in football and men’s basketball. In recent years, Mizzou has reached out numerous times to Kansas about playing football games at Arrowhead Stadium and basketball games at Sprint Center, but each time, the Jyayhawks have said no way. 

Self, of course, denied Loftin’s premise. He emphatically stated he had nothingt to do with football scheduling. 

Loftin speaks from experience about dormant rivalries. In 2012, he was president at Texas A&M when the Aggies joined Mizzou in leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. A&M wanted to continue its rivalry with Texas, but the Longhorns refused. 

In his comments, Loftin believed the Longhorns and Aggies would continue their rivalry before the Tigers and Jayhawks do. 

I know about in-state rivlaries going dormant, but Louisiana really isn’t comparable to Texas, or to Missouri-Kansas, either. Tulane has never really been at LSU’s level, and the gulf has continually widened since the Green Wave dropped out of the SEC in 1966. LSU discontinued its annual rivalry with Tulane on the gridiron after the 1994 season; the teams played four consecutive years from 2006-2009, but LSU then bought out the remaining six games on the contract. In men’s basketball, Dale Brown dropped Tulane in 1981 because he felt the Greenies were non-competitive. Tulane dropped its program for three years in the 1980s due to a point shaving scandal, but the Tigers refused to play Tulane until 2003, seven seasons after Brown retired. LSU and Tulane only compete in women’s basketball and baseball, as well as a few minor sports. 

As much as I’d like to see LSU and Tulane play every year in football, Tulane must shoulder a lot of the blame. Why not play in Baton Rouge every year, or four out of every five years? The Greenies are going to make far more in Tiger Stadium than they ever will at Tulsa, SMU, East Carolina or another American Athletic Conference school, and certainly much, much more than playing at UL Lafayette or Louisiana Tech. As for LSU, it would be much more financially prudent to play Tulane than to pay Troy or Chattanooga an exorbitant sum to come to Death Valley as it is doing this season. It would have been much better in 2017 becuase LSU has only six home games, since the Florida game was switched to Gainesville after last season’s Hurricane Matthew flap. 

On the flip side, if Tulane wants LSU to come to New Orleans, it is going to (a) have to give LSU a larger cut of the gate and (b) play in the Superdome. Yulman Stadium only seats 30,000. I understand the idea of playing on campus, but in this case, it would be unreasonable for LSU to do so. If Tulane is worried about LSU fans overrunning the Superdome, then that’s too bad.

LSU has tried to make too many other SEC schools their “rival”, but the other school would not reciprocate. The series with Ole Miss has largely been irrelvant since Johnny Vaught retired as Rebel coach in 1970 (save for a brief return in 1973). Alabama could care less about beating LSU unless the Tigers are at or near the top of the polls. As Bear Bryant put it, “I’d rather beat the cow college (Auburn) once than Notre Dame ten times”. Nick Saban has turned this so-called rivalry into a laugher. Auburn and LSU didn’t play every year in football until 1992, and Auburn might be going to the Eastern Division anyway. 

LSU has played Arkansas for the Golden Boot since 1996, but the Tigers resisted it with every fiber of their being until then-SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer finally prevailed upon LSU to play along.  The game has always meant much more in Fayetteville than in Baton Rouge.

Back to the Border War. 
Kansas’ non-conference football schedule this season is an out and out JOKE. Southeast Missouri, Central Michigan, Ohio University. The game vs. the Bobcats is in Athens, Ohio, which is a coup by Ohio coach Frank Solic in getting a Power Five school to travel to Athens and play a Mid-America Conference school. 

The trip to Ohio begs the question: why not play Missouri at Arrowhead and get a huge gate? It would be mutually beneficial. It would allow Mizzou to fulfill the SEC requirement to play a Power Five opponent in non-conference, and Kansas would not have to embarrass itself playing a lower level team like SEMO. 

I cannot say for sure Self is personally responsible for Kansas not wanting to play Mizzou. But the Jayhawks are wrong on this one. Why would Kansas pass up a chance to play in Kansas City, only 45 minutes from its campus, to go to places like Ohio U and Memphis? 

The Texas-Texas A&M series is not something I’m really worried about. Texas has enough in-state rivals (Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU) in the Big 12, and A&M is content making Arkansas and LSU its big rivalry games. 

In the grand scheme, it’s only college sports. It could be worse. The fact the Jets and Giants play only once every four years in the regular season is sad. The NFL is missing the boat. 

Now, the hard part for Mississippi State…

Mississippi State ended Connecticut’s 111-game women’s basketball winning streak late last night.

That’s the great news.

The bad news?

Now the Bulldogs must turn around and beat a Southeastern Conference foe which defeated them twice prior to the NCAA tournament.

State plays South Carolina tomorrow at 5 p.m. Central for the national championship.

Certainly, nobody will term the Bulldogs’ season a failure if the Gamecocks prevail.

However, it will undoubtedly be a little disappointing for Vic Scaheffer and his charges, especially daughter Blair, a junior guard.

There is precedent which should give State optimism.

I can recall three specific instances where a team had to come down from an impressive victory and do it again 48 hours later.

Three words: Miracle on Ice.

Anyone who knows a little bit about sports probably knows the story of the United States’ 4-3 victory over the powerful Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament.

Mike Eruzione’s goal with 10 minutes remaining against the Red Army turned out to be the game-winner.

However, it did NOT win the gold medal.

The Americans had to come back two days later, on a Sunday morning, and defeat Finland to win the gold.

If the Americans fell to the Finns, who were led by  Jari Kurri, who would go on to be the Hall of Fame right winger on the Edmonton Oilers’ NHL dynasty of the 1980s, they might leave Lake Placid without a medal.

Sure enough, the Americans were down 2-1 through two periods.

According to Eruzione, coach Herb Brooks told his players if they lost, they “would take it to their graves. To their F***ING graves”.

Well, the Americans got the point, scored three goals in the third period, and won 4-2. As Al Michaels famously exclaimed, “This Impossible Dream comes true!”

There are two examples relevant to college basketball, too.

The more recent was in 1991.

UNLV came into the Final Four 34-0. The Runnin’ Rebels were the defending national champions, and the overwhelming favorite to repeat, led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony.

The Rebels’ semifinal opponent was Duke, making its fifth trip to the Final Four in six seasons under Mike Krzyzewski.

Despite the Blue Devils’ success in the first four rounds of the tournament under Coach K, plus historical success under Bill Foster and Vic Bubas, Duke had zero national championships when it arrived in Indianapolis on Easter weekend.

In the 1990 championship game, UNLV eviscerated Duke 103-73, the largest margin in a title contest. That mark still stands as we sit six hours from the start of the 2017 Final Four.

Yet the Blue Devils gained their revenge, 79-77.

Some thought Duke would not be able to turn around and defeat a fine Kansas team coached by Roy Williams, but the Devils won 72-65. They repeated in 1992, and have added titles in 2001, 2010 and 2015.

Another Atlantic Coast Conference team was involved in the next example.

UCLA came into the 1974 Final Four seeking its eight consecutive national championship in what would be the final go-round for Bill Walton, who may be the greatest college basketball player ever. He certainly would be on my starting five, along with Lew Alcindor, Pete Maravich, Oscar Robertson and Bill Bradley.

The Bruins came into the 1973-74 season with a 75-game winning streak. It reached 88 before they lost 71-70 to Notre Dame in South Bend. UCLA later lost back-to-back games in Corvallis and Eugene to Oregon State and Oregon, but regrouped and easily made it to Greensboro.

In December of that season, the Bruins easily defeated North Carolina State 84-66 in St. Louis. The Wolfpack, who went 27-0 in 1972-73 but was on probation and thus could not play in the NCAA tournament, featured David Thompson, one of the ACC’s all-time greats; 7-foor-4 center Tom Burleson, a 1972 Olympian; and Monte Towe, who stood only 5-foot-7, but was one of the nation’s best point guards of 1973-74.

NC State almost missed the 1974 tournament, too.

The Wolfpack had to survive one of the greatest college basketball games ever played in the ACC tournament championship game vs. Maryland, which featured All-Americans Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas.

In 1974, only the conference champion was eligible for the NCAA tournament. While almost every conference determined its representative through the regular season, the ACC held a tournament, which meant NC State would be out in the cold if it lost to the Terrapins.

The game was only televised in ACC country, meaning those in Los Angeles, Lawrence and Milwaukee, not to mention everywhere else, never saw it until ESPN Classic finally televised it in the late ’90s and again throughout the 2000s.

The Wolfpack prevailed in overtime, 103-100.

Exactly three weeks after that thriller, NC State returned to the site of the battle, the Greensboro Coliseum.

The Wolfpack did not have to leave the state during the 1974 NCAA tournament. The regional was in Raleigh at Reynolds Coliseum, and then NC State had to migrate only 80 miles west on Interstate 40 for the next step.

Only NC State and Marquette, which defeated Kansas in the first game of the 1974 Final Four, stood between the Bruins and tying the Boston Celtics for the most consecutive basketball championships in history.

The Wolfpack had other ideas.

The game went into a second overtime, and UCLA grabbed a seven-point lead. So long State, right?

Nope.

In one of college basketball’s most stunning turnarounds, the Wolfpack outscored the Bruins 13-1 the rest of the second overtime and won 80-77.

Two nights later, the Wolfpack had little trouble defeating Marquette. Al McGuire would get his championship in 1977, when his Warriors defeated the Wolfpack’s archrival, the Tar Heels of Dean Smith, in the final in what would be McGuire’s last game as a coach.

As for the ladies from Starkville, the bad news is they have lost twice to South Carolina.

However, both games were in the Palmetto State, once at Columbia and once at Greenville in the SEC tournament final.

State should have the crowd on its side after the victory over UConn. Dak Prescott will be leading cheers for the cowbell crowd.

State and Carolina are all too familiar with a Goliath in their midst.

For the longest time, SEC women’s basketball was Tennessee and everyone else. Georgia had some good teams, LSU made five consecutive Final Fours, and Alabama, Arkansas and Vanderbilt all got to the big stage, but the Lady Volunteers were too good.

Pat Summitt, who won over 1,000 games and led the Lady Vols to eight national championships, had a lot to do with that. God rest her soul. She was taken from us too soon.

Tennessee also had some damn good players. Chamique Holdsclaw. Tamika Catchings. Candace Parker. Holly Warlick, who is now the Lady Vols’ coach. Not to mention the role players who were so crucial, including my all-time favorite, Abby Conklin.

Today, the SEC is much more competitive. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs are the upper crust of the league, but Tennessee is still there, Texas A&M has a championship banner in Reed Arena (albeit in the Big 12), and Kentucky’s women are much more than a time killer waiting for the next men’s game.

There’s one flaw with UConn: the American Athletic Conference is very weak beyond the Huskies. When Louisville and Notre Dame left the old Big East for the ACC, it became UConn and a bunch of nothing in the new AAC.

Tulane nearly beat the Huskies in New Orleans in February, but that was more a fluke than an indication the Green Wave are on their way to being a consistent winner.

As much as I would like to see Tulane succeed, the Wave will always be a distant second behind LSU in my homeland. On the other hand, Tulane has certainly passed Louisiana Tech for #2 in the Bayou State. Tech once was right up there with Tennessee and Stanford amongst the sport’s blue bloods, but without Sonja Hogg, Leon Barmore and Kim Mulkey, it hasn’t been nearly the same in Ruston.

I’m guessing Dawn Staley has scheduled everything so she and her team can watch the Gamecock men play Gonzaga at 5:10 tonight. But something tells me that there won’t be two celebrations in Columbia.

I don’t think there will be one.

State wins tomorrow.

Coronation canceled

I was WRONG.

If you read the blog post before this one, I stated the belief the Connecticut Huskies could not be stopped en route to their fifth consecutive national championship and 12th under Geno Auriemma.

Instead of a press conference and a closed practice to prepare for Sunday’s championship game vs. South Carolina, the Huskies will be on their way to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport later today to board a plane which will ferry them to Bradley International Airport near Hartford.

The queen is dead. UConn’s 111-game winning streak is history.

No parades through Hartford and Storrs.

Mississippi State 66, UConn 64.

Not only did the Bulldogs take down the seemingly unbeatable Huskies, they did so after an egregiously bad call.

With under 20 seconds remaining in overtime and State ahead 64-62, the Bulldogs were called for a flagrant foul.

If that was a flagrant foul, then Don Denkinger’s call in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series was 1,000 percent correct.

Of course, the flagrant foul was nowhere near “flagrant”. It was only “flagrant” because it came in a game involving mighty UConn.

To nobody’s surprise, ESPN analyst Doris Burke said repeatedly the flagrant foul was the right call.

Come on, Doris. Anyone who knows anything about your background knows you harbor a secret crush on Geno. You live in New England and have lived and breathed UConn basketball (men too) for the last 30 years.

ESPN has shoved UConn down our throats for the last 22 years you want to vomit. Who’s their leading expert? REBECCA LOBO, who continues to be an unabashed shill for the Huskies. I’m sure Diana Taurasi has a job lined up at ESPN once she retires from the WNBA.

Katie Lou Samuelson, UConn’s unanimous All-American, sank two free throws to tie the game.

The Huskies got the ball back with the chance to win the game, but incredibly, they turned it over with 12.7 seconds left. Gabby Williams drove the lane, but she was cut off by Mogan William, State’s phenomenal 5-foot-5 point guard who scored 41 points in the regional final vs. Baylor. UConn wanted a foul, but incredibly, the officials swallowed their whistles and gave the ball to State.

State had trouble finding an open shot, but as time was about to expire, WIlliam pulled up from 15 feet just to the right of the lane.

Swish.

Just like that, Mississippi State, the school with the lowest all-time winning percentage in the Southeastern Conference heading into the 2016-17 season, brought down Goliath.

This means two schools best known for baseball will be playing for the women’s basketball national championship Sunday. Not surprisingly, former baseball coaches are now the athletic directors at both schools: Ray Tanner at Carolina and John Cohen at State.

Sunday’s game will be the first All-SEC final since 1996, when Tennessee beat Georgia.

Friday’s shocker was UConn’s first loss to an SEC team in 10 years.

The last SEC team to beat UConn? LSU, in the 2007 West regional final in Fresno. What, UConn actually had to play in a regional outside the northeast? Unheard of today.

The Bayou Bengals’ coach the night of March 26, 2007? Bob Starkey, who was elevated to interim head coach following a scandal which forced LSU to fire Pokey Chatman in the week between the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

LSU beat UConn that night 73-50. In the Bayou Bengals’ next game, they set a Final Four record for futility by losing 58-35 to Rutgers.

Mississippi State is 1-0 in the women’s Final Four. LSU is 0-5. In fact, LSU has a dubious record: 0-11 in all Final Fours, men’s and women’s.

For all of the success State has enjoyed in baseball, it has never left Omaha as champion. Now, the Bulldogs can leave Dallas with a championship trophy on their first try Sunday.

If State wins Sunday, maybe the parade should stretch down Mississippi Highway 25 from Starkville to Jackson. Sure, the Ole Miss fans would bitch, but who cares?

State was not the biggest winner last night.

It was women’s basketball, period.

It had gotten to the point where the tournament was a mere formality, where 63 teams were basically playing for second place.

Now, other teams have hope. And not just Baylor, Stanford, Notre Dame and South Carolina. But the up and comers, too.

Starting in Starkville.

 

 

 

 

48 hours and change until UConn’s latest coronation

The NCAA Division I women’s basketball Final Four is taking place tonight in Dallas’ American Airlines Arena, home of the Dallas Mavericks and their crybaby owner, Mark Cuban, who complains more than either of the women, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Grenier, on Shark Tank

Did I say Final Four? More like another coronation for the University of Connecticut. 

While several teams have a realistic chance of winning the men’s national championship each and every year, the women’s game has no such parity. 

There are 64 teams in the tournament, but really, 63 of them are playing for second place. 

Connecticut enters tonight’s game vs. Mississippi State riding a 111-game winning streak. If it doesn’t reach 112, then Geno Auriemma ought to retire right then and there in Dallas. 

The Huskies have made a farce of the women’s game with their dominance. Some of the regular season games UConn plays are grossly unfair. Auriemma has built up such a machine that the players on the end of his bench could beat most opponents’ starting fives. 

ESPN has jammed UConn down the throats of America year after year after year, telling us there is some pressing need to watch the Huskies slaughter some overmatched team by 50 to 60 points. 

Last year, UConn defeated Mississippi State 98-38 in the Sweet 16. That’s a SIXTY point margin for those who are mathematically challenged. Does anybody outside of Mississippi realistically expect the Bulldogs to put up much more of a fight tonight? If there are believers out there, I’m guessing they’re limited to Starkville, Columbus and other communities in east central Mississippi. Of course, I’m certain many in Oxford and Hattiesburg would love nothing more than to see State get slaughtered again. 

Stanford and South Carolina play the first semifinal. Two fine women’s basketball teams, led by two fine ladies Tara Van Derveer has won over 1,000 games with the Cardinal. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley was an All-American playing for Virginia, an Olympic gold medalist in 1996, and has been a very successful coach, first at Temple and now at South Carolina. 

Yet Stanford and South Carolina are playing for the right to probably get beat badly by the Huskies Sunday. I would expect the game to be closer than the 38-point beatdown UConn laid on Oregon Monday in the East regional final, but if UConn doesn’t win by at least 15, I would be surprised. 

I’ll give Auriemma this: he doesn’t shy away from the media, unlike Bill Belchick, Nick Saban and Gregg Popovich, all of whom would rather the media leave Earth and exist on Uranus if at all possible. Auriemma will speak his mind and not back down from his comments. 

However, Auriemma has been known to say some stupid things, like claiming men’s basketball was “unwatchable” in comparison to the women’s game a few years ago. 

I’ll agree with Geno on this point: most basketball is unwatchable. I am so glad Caitlyn is done with playing basketball, because high school games are so intolerable with officials who refuse to call blocking in the low post. College women’s games feature too many blowouts. And the NBA? Is that real basketball, or just a shooting contest? 

Barring something unforeseen, UConn will leave Dallas with its 12th championship trophy. There will be another huge parade somewhere in Connecticut. And few outside the Constitution State will care. 

Another Friday far away from home

For the second straight Friday, I’m in Kansas City. I didn’t expect to be here this morning, but as I was driving home the previous Sunday, the low oil pressure light in my car came on and off several times. It never stayed on for long, but it was a little disconcerting. 

Ergo, here I am, sitting at Morse-McCarthy Chevrolet. Oh well. I have nothing better to do today. 

I did get in a little time at Buffalo Wild Wings yesterday–six hours to be exact. I managed to avoid eating too much–only fried mushrooms and fried pickles, but simply because I was hungry and hadn’t eaten for much of the afternoon. 

I watched much of the Kansas-TCU basketball game at Buffalo Wild Wings. The Jayhawks led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but the Horned Frogs made a big comeback to take a 43-42 halftime lead. The second half was nip and tuck throughout, but when Kansas took an 80-76 lead with just over a minute to go, I figured it was over for TCU. 

Instead, the Frogs hung tough, and with less than three seconds left, the Jayhawks committed a stupid foul on a 3-pointer from the right corner. The TCU player sank all three free throws, and Kansas was headed back to Lawrence with an 85-82 loss. 

It is only the second time in 21 Big 12 tournaments the Jayhawks have gone one-and-done. Kansas has NEVER been forced to play in the first round, which means it has finished in the top four every year the Big 12 has been in existence. Of course, the Jayhawks have won or shared 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles, tying UCLA from 1967-79 for the longest streak in NCAA Division I. 

Kansas almost certainly will be the #1 seed in the Midwest regional for the NCAA tournament, but the Jayhawks are not infallible. Not much depth, and rebounding is a sore spot.

The Midwest regional semifinals and final are at Sprint Center. Jayhawk fans are praying for two games and then at least one more in Glendale, Arizona, but first, Kansas will have to survive two games, most likely in Tulsa. 

There will certainly be some cheap tickets outside Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City today from Jayhawk fans who have no desire to stick around and watch TCU-Iowa State and Kansas State-West Virginia in today’s semifinals. 

Big 12 executives and Sprint Center can’t admit to a rooting interest, but they have to be hoping Iowa State and Kansas State win today. Cycolne fans turn out in droves for this tournament, and of course, it’s an easy drive from Manhattan to Kansas City. 

By contrast, if it’s TCU and West Virginia, Sprint Center might be half empty tomorrow at 5 when the championship game tips off. 

TCU is the smallest school in the Big 12, and the Horned Frogs don’t move the needle much as far as basketball is concerned in Dallas/Fort Worth, not with the Mavericks and SMU. Besides, TCU has enjoyed far, far more success in football and baseball than it ever has in men’s basketball. Sounds like another school which wears purple and goes by an abbreviation…I think it’s in Baton Rouge. 

TCU should have been in the Big 12 in the first place. The reason why the Horned Frogs weren’t in the original Big 12 is lying in a grave in the Texas State Cemetary in Austin. 

ANN RICHARDS.

When talks between the Big 8 and Southwest Conferences were taking place in 1993 and 1994, Richards was the Governor of Texas. She demanded her alma mater, Baylor, be included in the Big 12, or else there would be no Big 12. Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech capitulated. 

If Richards had not had her way, TCU would have been in the original Big 12, not Baylor. And i don’t think the Bears would be in the Big 12 today, not with the scandal that school has gone through. I’m surprised the Big 12 stuck by Baylor after the murder of men’s basketball player Patrick Denehey by teammate Carlton Dotson and the massive cover-up by then-coach Dave Bliss, who was given a 10-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA for his egregious violations. Bliss got off easy. He should have been banned for life by the NCAA and sent to prison for what he did. 

Now, if the sexual assault allegations against Baylor football players are true, then the Bears should be kicked out of the Big 12. Art Briles has gone down the same road as Bliss, and although it isn’t murder, it may be worse, since these women have to live with the trauma of these violent acts. 

West Virginia has a rich history, but it’s a very, very long drive from the heart of Appalachia to Kansas City, or anywhere else in the Big 12. The Mountaineers wanted to be in the ACC, but the conference felt its academic profile was nowhere near what it was looking for. I believe West Virignia’s status as an economic backwater (at least among the elite) and the state’s heavy reliance on the coal industry, one which has been deemed evil by the left wing in the United States, made several ACC members, especially the private schools, North Carolina and Virginia, want to turn away. Yet why would the ACC say no to West Virginia when Morgantown is an hour away from Pittsburgh, which is in the ACC? 

West Virginia had no shot of getting into the SEC, even though it isn’t all that far from Lexington and Knoxville, and some would argue if the SEC took Missouri, why not West Virginia?  But the SEC would have had to find a 16th team if it took the Mountaineers, and that would have been difficult, if not impossible, unless Kentucky somehow found religion and would sponsor Louisville for inclusion. 

The Big Ten? If the ACC said no, then the Big Ten was going to say HELL NO. Some in the Big Ten still want to expel Nebraska after it was kicked out of the Assoiciation of American Universities shortly after the Cornhuskers were accepted into the Big Ten, but it’s too late. So the Big 12 was all that was left for the Mountaineers. 

West Virginia is a beautiful place. I drove through the state many years ago on Interstate 77, and I found it breathtaking. I don’t care what the environmental nut jobs say about coal, it can help the United States gain energy independence. I know I wouldn’t want to be a coal miner. If I thought my dad’s job at Air Products and Chemicals was dangerous, it was a picnic compared to what coal miners endure. Look at all the miners who have died in accidents in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. 

I left my iPad in my car last night when I got back to the hotel. I thought about going to get it, but I was tired and I figured it would distract me. So I left it. 

Trying to figure out the car right now. Supposed to snow tomorrow in Kansas City. Sunday looks good to get back home. My mother is cooking lasagna for lunch. Can’t miss it.