Blog Archives

Red Sox wins; Cardinals seeing red

The Red Sox did what I thought they would last night. They closed out the Astros in Houston and clinched their fourth American League pennant this millennium. Boston now awaits the Dodgers or Brewers in the World Series.

MLB executives, especially commissioner Rob Manfred, have to be having multiple orgasms over the probable Dodgers-Red Sox World Series. They were loathing a potential Brewers-Indians or Brewers-Athletics World Series when the postseason began. Now, they have one of their three most desirable matchups (Dodgers-Yankees and Cubs-Yankees were the others).

The Red Sox and Dodgers have played only once in the World Series–way, way, WAY back in 1916. That’s before the Curse of the Babe. Ruth was a 21-year old hotshot left-handed pitcher for that year’s Red Sox, and Boston easily won the series in five games.

Two interesting things about the 1916 World Series.

First, the first two games were in Boston, the next two in Brooklyn, then it was back to Boston for the clincher, not the 2-3-2 we are used to seeing. The format was presumably 2-2-1-1-1, the same as the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.

Second, the Red Sox opted to play their home games at Braves Field, home of the future artists known as the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. The Sox moved their games out of Fenway to shoehorn more fans into Braves Field, which opened in 1915. In 1914, when the Braves swept the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series, the National League team played their home games at Fenway due to the decrepit condition of their rickety old stadium, the South End Grounds.

I am very pessimistic about the Brewers tonight. Hopefully there’s a game tomorrow. But I have my doubts.

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Speaking of decrepit, that would accurately describe the Arizona Cardinals. They were demolished 45-10 by the Broncos last night in Glendale, and frankly, it should have been worse.

Denver led 35-3 at halftime, and State Farm (nee University of Phoenix) Stadium sounded more like Mile High or whatever it’s called these days. It was a throwback to the days the Cardinals played in front of tons of aluminum and a few fans (mostly visiting team, especially when the Cowboys were there) at Sun Devil Stadium on the other side of the Phoenix metro.

I knew the Cardinals were seriously screwed when they hired Steve Wilks. Wilks has no business being a head football coach at any level, especially the highest level of football.

This buffoon was a head coach just once before moving to Arizona, and that was in 1998 at mighty Savannah State, a perennial punching bag for Power Five teams willing to exchange a few hundred thousand dollars for the right to win by 70 to 80 points. When Wilks coached there, Savannah State was Division II. And the team went 5-6 under Wilks’ leadership.

Wilks’ professional playing experience consisted of one year in Arena Football with the Charlotte Rage. Are you kidding me?

Ron Rivera, who was Wilks’ boss in Carolina before the latter was hired by the Cardinals, conned Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim good. Then again, Steve Keim is a known drunk, so it wasn’t hard to pull the wool over his eyes.

If the Cardinals wanted an African-American coach, why not hire Herm Edwards? He got a job in the Phoenix area not long after Wilks when Arizona State hired him to succeed turd Todd Graham. Edwards’ failure with the Chiefs was not all his own doing; he had a lot of help from terrible drafting, free agent signings and trading by Carl Peterson, who clearly was awful without a strong personality as a head coach like Jim Mora with the USFL’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City.

Josh Rosen threw not one, but TWO pick-sixes in the first quarter. Geez, the Cardinals could have brought back Ryan Lindley, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb or Stan Gelbaugh to do that instead of wasting the tenth overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Then again, Rosen has zero protection. The Cardinals have had a woeful offensive line for their entire stay in the desert. In my opinion, it has been really, really bad since the glory days of Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Tom Banks and Tom Brahaney in the 1970s, when Don Coryell led St. Louis to NFC East titles in 1974 and ’75.

Arizona’s defense is Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and a whole lot of crap. Peterson and Jones deserve better than this. They are true professionals and would be All-Pros if they played on a halfway decent defense.

Larry Fitzgerald, WHY did you come back for this? Your professionalism and dedication to the Cardinals is admirable. But you could have easily rode off in to the sunset. All you’re doing is pushing back your Hall of Fame induction.

Wilks is by far the worst Cardinals coach I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. And I can remember all the way back to Jim Hanifan (1980-85). Dave McGinnis was mocked and went 17-44 in three and a half seasons, but his teams never looked as absolutely awful as the Cardinals have under Wilks. Buddy Ryan was pretty bad, but at least the defense was fierce in 1994. Too bad he hated offensive players and had no clue what to do at quarterback.

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Starting next year, Wimbledon is implementing the tiebreak in the final set when the score reaches 6-6.

I will only watch tennis if someone pays me a ton of cash, and that hasn’t happened. And I will NEVER watch Serena Williams. But I think this is dead wrong.

I understand why the All-England Club is doing this. They want to avoid marathon last sets like the one between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut in 2010 in a match that took 11 hours and three different days to complete, with Isner winning the fifth set 70-68.

I totally disagree with doing this in what is supposed to be tennis’ signature event. This is a grand slam event, the most prestigious championship on earth. It should be EARNED. And if it takes 138 games in the final set to do so, so be it.

If Wimbledon wants to implement the tiebreak in the final set, it should not be at 6-6. It should be at minimum after 8-8, maybe 10-10 or 12-12. And that rule should be in all five sets for men or three for women.

The Australian and French Opens, the other grand slams, have not announced they will. implement a tiebreak in the final set. However, I’m certain they will be under enormous pressure to do so now that the U.S. Open and Wimbledon have them.

Using a tiebreak in the final set at Wimbledon is the same as The Masters using a sudden death playoff if there is a tie for the low score after 72 holes.

The Masters bills itself as the premier event in golf, although I will always believe it is The Open Championship. If The Masters is so high and mighty, why not make those tied play a fifth round? If it’s television they’re worried about, there are enough cable channels which would salivate at the chance to televise a round from Augusta for 18 holes. Besides, The Masters rarely allows full 18-hole coverage anyway, so how hard would it be to cut in for the last nine? Also, I’m sure CBS could pre-empt The Price Is Right, The Young and the Restless, and The Bold and the Beautiful for one day.

The U.S. Open was the last golf major to require a full 18-hole playoff if there was a tie after 72 holes. Last year, that ended and it became a two-hole playoff, which wasn’t necessary when Brooks Koepka won it outright. That’s even worse than The Open (four holes) and PGA Championship (three holes). All majors should be the full 18-hole playoff. Sudden death is just fine for a regular tournament in late October, mid-January or early August. But not for the majors.

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I’m guessing ESPN is going to try to force the officials to speed up the Mississippi State-LSU game in Baton Rouge tomorrow night. That’s because the network is scheduled to show the Rockets-Lakers game from Los Angeles at 2130 CT (1930 PT), which will be LeBron’s first regular season game at Staples Center. It would probably anger the suits in Bristol, as well as two of America’s four largest metropolitan areas, if a trivial football game in the Southeastern Conference goes overtime.

LSU and Mississippi State are not teams which throw the ball on every down. I hope 3 1/2 hours is enough time to get the game in, because college football games drag on and on and on! I remember non-televised games when I was attending LSU could last as short as 2 1/2 hours. But every game in the SEC is now televised, so that’s not happening. Not unless the NCAA wants to return to the terrible idea of starting the clock after the ball is spotted on a change of possession, an experiment which failed miserably in 2006. Not stopping the clock after a first down would be a good start. Maybe that rule could be limited to the final two minutes of the first half and final five of the second, much the way the out-of-bounds timing rules change in the NFL in those periods.

CBS is notorious for forcing the games in the late window (1525 CT on doubleheader days; 1505 on non-doubleheader games) to speed up in order that 60 Minutes starts on time, either 1800 or 1830 CT. Fox doesn’t care, because it never airs new episodes of The Simpsons (JUST END IT ALREADY!) on Sunday nights before 1900 CT.  Actually, Fox prefers longer games in the late window when it has the doubleheader, so it can switch to bonus coverage, then Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy can drone on and on until 1900.

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I have a runny nose this morning. Using lots of tissues. Need to stop by the store before I leave Kansas City.

Just saw I was close to 1700 words. Time to end it.

LSU getting new company?

The 72nd edition of the MEN’S (that’s the NCAA insisting the women be given equal footing) College World Series has been plagued by rain. Omaha isn’t New Orleans when it comes to precipitation, but it gets quite a bit more than some locales (Hays and Russell come to mind first for me), and there is a chance Mother Nature will intervene.

She did this week, forcing the winner’s bracket games of Monday (Mississippi State-North Carolina) and Tuesday (Arkansas-Texas Tech) to be pushed back a day. The CWS is back on track after Oregon State defeated the Tar Heels last night to send UNC back to Chapel Hill.

The Beavers now must defeat MIssissippi State twice to advance to the championship series. Last year, Oregon STate was in the driver’s seat in bracket one, only to lose twice to LSU, the team the Beavers beat in the second round.

Arkansas holds the upper hand in bracket two after defeating the Red Raiders. The Razorbacks are 2-0 in their Southwest Conference reunion tour, having defeated former archrival Texas Sunday. The Hogs await Florida or Texas Tech tomorrow.

If the Bulldogs and Razorbacks each advance, it will guarantee the SEC will crown its sixth national champion in baseball. The winner would join Georgia (1990), South Carolina (2010, ’11), Vanderbilt (2014), Florida (2017) and some other school which has won six. Of course, the Gators could also repeat and keep the crown in the SEC, but keep the number of schools to win it at five.

That school which has won six is, of course, my alma mater. The Bayou Bengals won it all in 1991, ’93, ’96, ’97 and 2000 under Skip Bertman, then added the sixth in 2009 under Paul Mainieri.

Arkansas and Mississippi State, like the other four schools in the SEC West NOT named LSU, have none. This is particularly galling for Texas A&M, whose two most bitter rivals, LSU and Texas, have six apiece.

The Bulldogs reached the championship series in 2013, only to be swept by UCLA. It is surprising to a lot of people State hasn’t won it all given the school’s rich baseball tradition. Baseball in Starkville was a huge deal long before the other nine schools got with the program. LSU got with it when Bertman arrived in 1984, and then the rest followed suit, although it took the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt into the new millennium to finally be up to full speed.

Mississippi State’s run this year has been nothing short of sensational. The Bulldogs suffered an embarrassing sweep by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg to open the season, and less than 48 hours later, coach Andy Cannizaro, a former LSU assistant who played in the CWS for Tulane in 2001, was forced to resign.

It was revealed Cannizaro carried on an affair with a female staffer in the Bulldogs’ football office. The woman apparently dropped the bombshell after she left Starkville to join her boss, Dan Mullen, at Florida.

It was bad enough Cannizaro cheated on his wife. It was much, much, much worse that he cheated on his wife while she was pregnant. Geez, keep it in your pants!

Gary Henderson, who once was in charge at Kentucky, was named interim coach by State athletic director John Cohen, himself a former Bulldog coach and standout player. The Bulldogs had a losing record through the first half of the season, but recovered well, ending the regular season by sweeping Florida in Starkville.

The Bulldogs were one-and-done in the SEC tournament courtesy of LSU, then lost 20-10 to Oklahoma in the first game of the regional at Tallahassee.

However, State came all the way back through the loser’s bracket, then won a scintillating three-game super regional at Vanderbilt, scoring four runs in the top of th 11th of the deciding game.

In Omaha, the Bulldogs won 1-0 vs. Washington, scoring the lone run in the bottom of the ninth, before pounding the Tar Heels 12-2.

The Razorbacks had a strong tradition in the Southwest Conference under Norm DeBriyn. For most of the late 1970s and 1980s, the Razorbacks, Longhorns and Aggies held the SWC lock, stock and barrel in baseball, with the others far, far behind. It became so hopeless SMU dropped the sport in the mid-1980s, not long before the NCAA handed the Mustang football program the death penalty.

Once Arkansas left for the SEC in 1992, the fortunes of the rest of the SWC, especially Rice, went up, while the Razorbacks struggled mightily against LSU and Mississippi State in the SEC, and were also well behind Auburn. Alabama soon caught and passed the Razorbacks when it hired Jim Wells in 1995, leaving Arkansas battling Ole Miss for the bottom of the West.

Dave Van Horn, who led Nebraska to the College World Series in 2001 and ’02, returned to Fayetteville, where he played for DeBriyn, and immediately returned Arkansas to national prominence. Arkansas has been a consistent presence in Omaha since 2004, but has yet to break through and reach the finals.

Arkansas is now one win away from its first championship series, and its first trip to the final since 1979, when DeBriyn’s Hogs lost 2-1 to Cal State Fullerton, which was coached by a young fellow named Augie Garrido.

The Razorbacks’ road to Omaha wasn’t as dramatic as that of the Bulldogs, although Arkansas had to win a third game in its super regional vs South Carolina.

I’ve postulated about whom LSU fans would root for in an All-SEC championship series. If it’s State vs. Florida, I’d say the Bulldogs, because (a) State is in the West and Florida the East and (b) the Gators beat the Bayou Bengals in last year’s final. If it’s the all-west final, I don’t know, but I’d lean to State. Some LSU fans still wish Arkansas would have gone to the Big 12 instead of the SEC. But that cat is out of the bag.

LSU fans should stand and cheer if either Arkansas or Mississippi State (or even Florida) wins it all. It would again reinforce the SEC as college baseball’s sine qua non. Then again, Oregon State did outscore LSU 26-1 in two regional games. Unless Texas Tech somehow pulls it off, the Bayou Bengals can take pride in knowing they’ve gone up against the best once again in 2018.

The SEC’s toothless tigers

Two of the three Southeastern Conference football teams nicknamed Tigers are finding out the cheap hire is often the wrong hire.

Missouri is a dumpster fire. Barry Odom is in over his head. He might have been a fine coordinator under Gary Pinkel, but as the man in charge, he is trying to navigate the Missouri River in a canoe.

The Tigers looked absolutely pitiful yesterday in a 35-3 loss at home to Purdue. Yes, the Boilermakers have been in the Big Ten since the conference was formed, but when was the last time Purdue was mentioned consistently among college football’s elite? Hmmm….I want to say it was when Jack Mollenkopf was coaching, and last I checked, he retired after the 1969 season, seven years before I was born.

The Boilermakers won the Rose Bowl after the 1966 season, when Bob Griese was a senior. Since then, Purdue has made it to Pasadena ONCE (which is still one more time than Minnesota and the same number of times as Indiana and Northwestern in the last 51 seasons), and that was with Drew Brees.

Purdue plummeted like a rock once Brees departed. The school from West Lafayette has been in the lower division of the Big Ten every year since 2000, and the Boilermakers were absolutely dreadful under Darrell Hazell, who was 9-33 in three and a half seasons before he was fired at the mid-point of the 2016 campaign.

Jeff Brohm, a former standout quarterback at Louisville under Howard Schnellenberger and then a very successful head coach at Western Kentucky, has got Purdue going in the right direction. The Boilermakers gave Louisville a major scare in the season opener, and have now destroyed Ohio (more on the Bobcats later) and Missouri. Purdue isn’t going to be a factor in the Big Ten race this year, but it should be a consistent bowl team under Brohm.

Missouri is going in the opposite direction as Purdue. The Tigers have been a hot mess since racial tension on campus two years ago, which led to Pinkel’s resignation. Odom’s defenses have been nothing short of awful. Rockhurst High in Kansas City has a better defense than Mizzou.

Odom has got to be on the hot seat. If athletic director Jim Sterk is not seriously vetting candidates, then shame on him. The longer Odom lingers at his alma mater, the better the chance Mizzou relapses into pitifulness, which was the state of the program for much of the 1980s and 1990s.

I fear the Tigers will slip to the point where they were under Woody Widenhofer (1985-88) and Bob Stull (1989-93), which was fighting like hell to stay out of the Big Eight cellar. Mizzou teams of that era routinely were destroyed by Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma, were dominated by Oklahoma State (prior to 1989, when the Cowboys were severely sanctioned by the NCAA), and had trouble with Iowa State and Kansas. Kansas State was the one punching bag the Tigers routinely beat, but that all changed under Bill Snyder, who turned the tide completely in favor of the Wildcats in the series by 1991. \

After consistently going to bowl games under Dan Devine (1958-70), and then making semi-regular appearnaces under Al Onofrio (1971-76) and Warren Powers (1977-84), Mizzou went 13 seasons (1984-96) with no bowl games. NONE. Larry Smith, the former Tulane, Arizona and USC coach, took the Tigers to minor bowl games, but Mizzou was back at rock bottom in 1999 and 2000.

It took Pinkel a couple of years to turn Mizzou around, but once he did, the Tigers became bowl fixture. In 2007, the Tigers ascended to number one after beating Kansas in the regular season finale, but they fell to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

Mizzou is not going to a bowl game this year unless something turns around right now. I can’t see the Tigers winning an SEC game, not with Kentucky and Vanderbilt much improved, and with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee all well above Mizzou. Not happening.

Now on to my alma mater.

There was a team wearing LSU’s uniforms last night in Starkville. The names on the players’ jerseys were the ones which were listed on the roster released by the school.

Yes, the Bayou Bengals were there in body. In spirit? No way.

I expected LSU to have a very difficult time with Mississippi State. I went in feeling the Bulldogs had a great chance to win. The Bayou Bengals went in having won eight consecutive games in Starkville, and I figured the Bulldogs were overdue.

State had a huge advantage at quarterback, where Nick Fitzgerald was an All-SEC selection last year. LSU’s Danny Etling is competent and nothing more. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is an acclaimed offensive mind, having helped Florida win the 2006 and 2008 national cahmpionshp and molding Tim Tebow into a Heisman Trophy winner. LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been as popular as his boss, Ed Orgeron, since his hiring earlier this year, but I was skeptical. Still am skeptical.

The game which unfolded bore out every point I listed above.

Not only did State win, it embarrassed LSU. Bulldogs 37, Bayou Bengals 7.

How bad was it? State’s largest margin of victory EVER over LSU.

The Bayou Bengals and Bulldogs have been playing each other since 1896, and continuously since 1944. Counting last night’s game, LSU has played Mississippi State–once known as Mississippi A&M–111 times, more than any other opponent.

Last night was State’s 35th win in the series, compared to 73 for LSU, with three ties.

The Bayou Bengals had two touchdowns called back by penalty, although they got one of those back two plays later. In the second half, two defensive players, Donnie Alexander and Neal Farrell, were ejecting for hits to the head of Fitzgerald.

LSU was penalized nine times for 112 yards. It is on pace to commit 120 penalties for over 1,000 yards.

If Orgeron is as committed to discipline, he will suspend Alexander and Farrell for the entire game vs. Syracuse this week, not just for the first half as mandated under NCAA rules.

Regardless of what happens, Orgeron was a very disappointing hire for a team which has one of the largest budgets of any university.

LSU does not want for cash. It doesn’t have as many deep-pocketed donors as some schools, but it is the flagship university, the only one in a Power Five confernece, and there are big fans from every corner of the state. LSU consistently is deep in the black and pays its coaches handsomely.

Orgeron’s hire falls squarely on the shoulders of athletic director Joe Alleva, whom I believe should never have been hired in the first place.

The way Alleva severely mishandled the Duke lacrosse case when he was the Blue Devils’ athletic director should have precluded him from getting any other job as an athletic director, much less at a power school like LSU. I don’t know what LSU saw in him, unless Mike Kryzewzski convinced the administration Alleva was the second coming and was the only person worth hiring.

Alleva hired LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell-Fargas, who I do not like. If Alleva were smart, he would have gone to Waco and had a blank contract for Kim Mulkey, who has been at Baylor for nearly two decades now. Alleva would have asked Mulkey to fill in a dollar amount. LSU could certainly afford it.

LSU women’s basketball was a dominant program in the middle of the last decade, reaching the Final Four five consecutive years (2004-08), although it did not win a single game.

Now, the Bayou Bengals are at best a middling program in the SEC. They have been passed and lapped by Mississippi State and South Carolina, have fallen well behind Kentucky, and are still way behind Tennessee, even though the Lady Volunteers are not the superpower they were under the late, great Pat Summitt. LSU also lags behind the SEC newcomers, Texas A&M and Missouri.

Had Mulkey been hired, I’m certain at least one national championship banner would be hanging from the rafters of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center right now.

As for Pistol Pete’s old program, it is as low as the Marianna Trench right now.

Alleva is on his third men’s basketball coach, Will Wade, who came from VCU, where he succeeded Shaka Smart after he left for Texas. The 35-year old has brought youthful energy to the Bayou Bengals, but will that energy translate into victories? It won’t in 2017-18, but if it doesn’t in 2018-19 and beyond, then it will be another bust, right up there with Wade’s predecessors, Johnny Jones (2012-17) and Trent Johnson (2008-11).

LSU has won ONE NCAA tournament game with Alleva as athletic director. In 2015-16, the Bayou Bengals had Ben Simmons, regarded as the greatest basketball player to step on campus since Shaquille O’Neal. Simmons could not get LSU to the NCAA tournament, then skipped school and became the #1 overall pick of the 76ers in the 2016 NBA draft. Last year, LSU tied Missouri for dead last in the SEC. This year, LSU will likely occupy the cellar by itself, since Missouri has brought in a stellar recruiting class under Cuonzo Martin, who took over for Kim Anderson, who like Odom and Orgeron, was grossly in over his head.

Alleva cannot take credit for baseball coach Paul Maineri, because he was hired by Skip Bertman, Alleva’s predecessor who built LSU baseball into college baseball’s Death Star, winning five championships from 1991-2000 and 870 games in 18 seasons (1984-2001). Maineri led LSU to the 2009 national championship and the College World Series championship series earlier this year.

Orgeron was hired as LSU’s defensive line coach in 2015, and was elevated to interim head coach after four games in 2016 when Les Miles, hired by Bertman to replace Nick Saban in early 2005, was fired. Ironically, Orgeron’s first game in charge at LSU a 42-7 victory over Missouri in Baton Rouge.

Oregeron is not currently in dire straits like Odom (or Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Bret Bielema at Arkansas or Butch Jones at Tennessee), but if Orgeron goes 7-5 this season, the grumbling will be heard long and hard in the bayou.

Yes, Orgeron is Louisiana through and through, growing up in Larose, playing for a state championship team at South Lafourche High in 1977 and then playing in college briefly for LSU and more extensively at Northwestern State in Natchitoches. Orgeron was the most popular hire LSU has made in recent memory, much more so than Nick Saban was when he came from Michigan State and Miles when he came from Oklahoma State.

Alleva was ready to hire Tom Herman when Texas moved quickly to fire Charlie Strong. The Longhorns are the one program which can pay a higher wage than LSU, and paid it to swipe Herman from Houston. With Herman out of the picture, Alleva simply waved the white flag and took the “interim” off of Orgeron’s title.

Nobody doubts Orgeron is a great defensive line coach and recruiter. He coached Warren Sapp at Miami. He coached some great players at USC, including two-time All-American Shaun Cody. And he was recruiting very well at

As a head coach, Orgeron just doesn’t cut it. He was brutally bad at Ole Miss, going 10-25 over three seasons, including a pathetic 3-21 mark in the SEC. The Rebels bottomed out under Orgeron after winning 10 games in 2003 under David Cutcliffe. Ole Miss bounced back under Hugh Freeze, but that was because Freeze broke more than a few NCAA rules to build his teams.

Alleva should have hired Brohm or someone proven as a head coach. If Orgeron didn’t like it, he was free to find another job. I’m sure Pete Carroll would have offered Orgeron a position with the Seahawks had Orgeron not been able to find a college job.

There is no excuse for Alleva’s laziness. NONE. LSU should never have hired Alleva in the first place, but the Bayou Bengals have got to get someone new in the athletic director’s chair, or LSU may rot from within.

The Saints are down 20-3 to the Patriots at the end of the first quarter. It’s not a good weekend to be a football fan in Louisiana.

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.

 

 

 

 

Easters past 

We are 28 minutes into Easter 2015, at least in the Central Time Zone. Easter arrived earlier today at other points across the globe.

In Rome, it’s 7:30 a.m., meaning Pope Francis will deliver his Easter message from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City shortly. Pope John Paul II could not deliver his final Easter message in person, as he was near death on March 27, 2005; he would pass away six days later. 

A few Easters of mine involved LSU baseball. 

In 1999, the Bayou Bengals lost 4-3 at Knoxville to Tennessee. We flew back that night, going from Knoxville to Atlanta to New Orleans to Baton Rouge, with the last leg, of course, on a bus. At least all of the luggage arrived with the plane at New Orleans, which was not the case earlier in 1999, when half the luggage on a flight back from Arkansas got delayed and didn’t arrive at the Baotn Rouge airport until the next afternoon. Some of my luggage was among that which did not make it. 

LSU was supposd to host Mississippi State in baseball on Easter Sunday 2002, but a torrential downpour overnight prompted Ted Stickles, LSU’s Director of Game Management, to call off the game at 9:30 a.m. that morning. 

Mississippi State coach Ron Polk was happy to get out of town early. LSU coach Smoke Laval was pissed at Stickles for calling the game so early, and with good reason. His team won the second game of the three-game series Saturday and had the momentum going into the rubber match. 

Bill Franques and I were equally perplexed as to why the decision was made so quickly to call a Southeastern Conference game. We thought Stickles could wait a little longer, especially since Mississippi State did not have a travel limit and was going back to Starkville on a bus, not flying out. 

This was out of the umpires’ control. Prior to the beginning of the game, the home team has total control of whether or not to begin the game, call it because of weather, whatever have you. Once the first pitch is thrown, that contorl shifts to the umpires. 

The exception in college baseball to these rules are in postseason tournaments, particularly the College World Series. At the CWS, the chairman of the NCAA Division I baseball committee, in consultation with both coaches and the umpires, makes the decisions. 

Sure enough, by 11:30 that morning, the sun broke through the clouds. 

This wasn’t the first time it had happened. In 1997, Stickles gave in to Auburn coach Hal Baird, who wanted to get out after his team lost the first two games of a series in Baton Rouge. Same thing happened: the sun was shining by time of the scheduled 1 p.m. first pitch. 

The next year, Easter was in Nashville, where LSU beat Vanderbilt to avoid a three-game sweep against the Commodores. Vanderbilt was playing its first season under Tim Corbin, who has built the only private school in the SEC into a baseball superpower, but at that time, nobody could see it coming. 

Most Easters in Kansas were uneventful, until 2013, when I was in Columbia for LSU’s baseball series vs. Missouri. The Bayou Bengals swept. 

This year, LSU played its serires at Alabama in Birmingham Thursday-Friday-Saturday. Its bus should be somewhere between Hattiesburg and the Mississippi-Louisiana state line on Interstate 59. The Bayou Bengals would have been home by now, but the game went 13 innings, meaning it didn’t get over until after 7 p.m., and add in the extra hour of travel from Birmingham instead of Tuscaloosa (Alabama’s stadium was torn down and is undergoing major reconstruction), meaning it will be a longer night than expected. 

As for me, I’m so wired right now I could probably drive straight back to Russell.  Maybe I will. 

Gone, gone, gone

Dak Prescott is doing it again. He is tearing up another SEC defense and leading MIssissippi State to yet another statement victory for a program which has had very few of them in over a century of playing football.

With eight minutes left, the Bulldogs from Starkville are about to hand Texas A&M its first loss of 2014. Prescott has run for three touchdowns and passed for two more to propel the Bulldogs to a ridiculous 48-17 lead. Mississippi State is about to improve to 5-0, break into the top 10 of the polls, and now must be considered seriously for the college football playoff.

Prescott should be wearing purple and gold.

He was an All-State quarterback at Haughton High, a Shreveport suburb. Had Les Miles offered Prescott a scholarship following the 2010 season, I’m sure the kid would have come crawling south on Interstate 49 and east on US 190 to Baton Rouge to play in Tiger Stadium.

Instead, Miles had this pipe dream he had the next NFL superstar, a kid who had been booted from the Georgie program and had to go to Butler Community College in El Dorado (Kansas, not Arkansas) to get right. Zack Mettenberger had a great 2013, but before that, he was useless.

The one great weakness of LSU’s 2011 team? Quarterback. I’m not saying Prescott would have been the complete answer, but he would have been far better than the two LSU had that season, Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Lee was better than Jefferson that season, but Miles felt some sort of loyalty to Jefferson, leading to the disastrous decision to start Jefferson in the 2011 BCS national championship game vs. Alabama. The Bayou Bengals then went out and gained 92 yards in a 21-0 loss.

When the late Paul Dietzel coached LSU to its 1958 national champion and Billy Cannon to the 1959 Hesiman Trophy, his recruiting goal was simple: “I want to make every boy in Louisiana come to LSU”. Charles McClendon preached the same mantra. Louisiana is a fertile recruiting ground. LSU is the only major college football program in the Bayou State. Why should any of the top 50 prospects not want to come to LSU:? Sure, they can’t all come to Baton Rouge, but all who want to should at least have the chance.

Too late. The die has been cast. And LSU came out on the wrong end.

Negative State-Ment

LSU will play for a college football national championship one day. It probably won’t be in 2014.

The Bayou Bengals were thudded back to earth last night in their own lair, as Mississippi State rolled up 570 yards and built a 24-point lead before holding off a furious fourth quarter rally to prevail 34-29. It was the Bulldogs’ first victory in Tiger Stadium since 1991, Curley Hallman’s first year as LSU coach, and the first for State anywhere since 1999, Gerry DiNardo’s last in Baton Rouge. Nick Saban was 5-0 vs. State at LSU; he lost to the Bulldogs in his first season at Alabama. Jerry Stovall was 0-4 during his tenure vs. the Starville Dogs; no wonder he got the axe after losing 45-26 to State in Death Valley in 1983.

The worst part for LSU had to be Dax Prescott, the State quarterback who completely befuddled the Bayou Bengal defense, should be wearing purple and gold, not maroon. He was an All-State performer at Haughton High, a Shreveport suburb. If Prescott would have signed with LSU, the Bayou Bengals would have had a viable alternative to Zach Mettenberger the previous two seasons, and he certainly would have beaten out Anthony Jennings this year. Instead, he’s got State poised to break out and enjoy its biggest season since it won the SEC West in 1998.

I would much rather see State succeed than Ole Miss. I cannot stand Ole Miss. I am sick and tired of the national media, and especially those in Mississippi, thinking the Rebels are the end-all be-all of football in that state. To me, Ole Miss is a bunch of highbrow elitist snobs who think they are a class above the rest of the SEC, and Oxford is a enlightened place, in contrast to “redneck” Starkville, Auburn, Fayetteville and Gainesville. Ole Miss probably wishes it was in the ACC where it would fit in with other snob schools like Virginia, North Carolina and Duke.

I’ve been to Oxford, Mississippi enough to know without Ole Miss, Oxford would be no better than Natchez, Laurel, Meridian, Columbus or any other Mississippi city of 10,000 to 30,000. At least there’s a four-lane highway extending from Interstate 55 to Oxford, which is true of most places in Mississippi. You wouldn’t think it, but Mississippi’s roads are far more modern than you would find anywhere else in the south. I would venture to say Mississippi is now fourth in terms of time spent within the state, following Louisiana, Kansas and Missouri, although I’ve been to far more places in Mississippi than Missouri, where my experience is limited to Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis, save for passing through the northwest corner of the state from KC to the Iowa state line.

LSU now has to pick itself up off the mat. It will have a tune-up next week against a bad New Mexico State team, but then it has back-to-back trips to Auburn and Florida. Lose those two, and the Bayou Bengals could be very well staring down the barrel of their first losing season since 1999. Les Miles has had only one losing season as a head coach, and that was his first at Oklahoma State,, where he inherited a very bad team from Bob Simmons. That team went 4-7, but he beat Oklahoma in Norman.

Today it’s about the NFL. I’m at Buffalo Wild Wings, which is starting to fill up, but the crowd might be a little light early since the Chiefs and the Broncos don’t start their games until 3:25. The Saints are looking for their first victory, and if they don’t beat the Vikings, shame on them. I hope everyone pummels the Vikings, who are paying Adrian Peterson $692,000 a week to do nothing. Peterson is a child abuser whom I hope goes to prison for a long time. This monster has no business around children. Period.

I also am rooting hard against the Ravens. I have never liked the Ravens, thanks to (a) Art Modell just ripping the Browns out of Cleveland so he could pay off his hundreds of millions in bad debt and (b) employing perjurer and likely murderer Ray Lewis, but now with the Ray Rice scandal, there’s another reason to despise them. It’s typical of Baltimore, which is a crime-infested rathole. The Orioles are owned by Peter Angelos, a trial lawyer who has given tens of millions to left-wing wackos.

Okay enough ranting. On to the games.