16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 2


16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 2

By Rich Levine

Welcome back for Part 2 of 16 Thoughts on the Sweet 16

Hope everyones been well.

9. Its time for GusThe day was April 1, 1991.

New Jack City was still in theaters. Coming out of the Dark by Gloria Estefan was No. 1 song in the US (those were the days). Jeff Bagwell was still a week away from making his Major League debut.

In Indianapolis, Duke beat Kansas 72-65 to win their first ever National Championship, and on that day, CBSs Jim Nantz was in the booth to call his first ever title game.

Hed go on to call every Final Four for the next 20 years, and this April will make 21.

Obviously, Nantz has built up a ridiculous resume over that time. He also has 20-plus years of hosting The Masters. Hes done 20-plus years with the NFL. Hes done the NBA, college football, and everything short of the ADAA Dodgeball Open. Like him or not, the guys a legend, and hes only 51. Who knows how much longer hell keep cranking out Final Fours, Super Bowls and traditions unlike any other.

But, as far college hoops is concerned, I hope the end comes soon, because we cant keep Gus Johnson from his destiny for much longer. He needs to take over the Final Four!

There are so many factors, hurdles and all sorts of frustrating politics that stand between Gus and his rightful place on the tournaments biggest stage, but with every passing year, the truth becomes far more obvious

Gus is the best play-by-play guy college basketball has.

Yeah, maybe he turns into a raging lunatic when the game gets close, but for the most part, hes actually relatively cool and level-headed and loves to talk about the hoops. He understands the game, and the players, and how to say as much as he can in as few words as possible. Then things gets tight and Gus blows a gasket, but its always genuine, its always about the game. And even when he steals the show, you never feel like hes trying to. It just sort of happens. And everyones better for it.

Anyway, when it comes to the Final Four, you can certainly do a lot worse than Jim Nantz, but it doesnt get much better than Gus Johnson, and hopefully someday (soon) hell have the chance to prove that.

Exclamation point!

10. Upsets
(First off, I dont count a nine seed beating an eight as an upset, so for the sake of this section, they wont be counted.)

With that being said, there were only six upsets in the first round this year, which obviously isnt a ton, but isnt completely out of the realm of what weve come to expect. There were eight in 2010, eight in 2009 and, again, six in 2008. So while Cinderella didnt party too hard in the first round, she was at least a little buzzed, and with a quarter of the Sweet 16 teams rocking a double-digit seed, theres still a chance for a classic underdog to emerge especially when you consider that three of the four are in the same region, alongside always-vulnerable Kansas.

But even if that doesnt happen, well be all right. One of the benefits of fewer upsets is the fact that three of four No. 1 seeds are still alive, so are three No. 2 seeds and two No. 3 seeds. Even if college hoops isnt as deep with talent as it used to, the top talent is still there, and will put on a good show.

(OK, Im hoping for a Cinderella too.)

11. Block PartyHoly Mutombo, have you seen all these blocks? Every single game of the tournament so far has featured at least one, often times two and three and four unbelievable blocks. And not that awkward looking Mark Eaton kind of rejection, but were talking explosive, athletic; the kind of block that must make Theo Ratliff feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And its not only the big time ballers who are delivering these erasures. In round one, BU's 6-8 senior center Jeff Pellage went Olajuwon on the No. 1 seeded Jawhawks.

Fine, he only had two blocks, but they were ferocious. He sent the ball out of bounds (Dwight Howard LOVED it!), and you dont see that very often in the college game. But in this tournament, its been more prevalent than jokes about Marv Albert's toupee

12. The NBA on TNT on the NCAA on CBS
(Kanye voice) Charles Barkley doesnt care about college basketball.

I think thats the main takeaway from Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson invading to the NCAA stage, and the main reason why the coverage doesnt work like it does in the Association. Barkley just doesnt care about college hoops. Its so obvious. Hes never been much for subtleties. He cant hide it.

Not that we can blame him. Chucks an NBA guy of the highest order. Can we really expect him to watch the diluted college game and pretend that hes in any way impressed? Of course not. Otherwise, he wouldnt be Sir Charles.

Every once in a while, ESPN will pull that switch where they have Dicky V announce an NBA game, while Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson head to college for the night, and thats pretty cool. Its a nice change of pace, and interesting to see how their different perspective add (and detract) from the coverage. But to stick Charles in a college basketball studio for four days wasnt right, or at least not as entertaining as were accustomed to. Id have rather listened to Charles try to pronounce Terriers for two hours every afternoon, but whatever. Not a huge deal.

And its worth mentioning that Barkley did redeem himself a little once Rick Pitinos hair joined the fray. Barkleys Big East takedown (essentially his way of saying for the 1,500th time that college hoops stinks) in front of Pitino was classic, as was the fact that it pressured The Coach into a guaranteeing a Notre Dame win and ultimately looking even more ridiculous.

Troy Murphys not walking through that door, Rick! Luke Harangodys not walking through that door!

13. The NBA click back
On the topic of Sir Charles and Co. is one especially unique March Madness phenomenon: The NBA click back. Or whatever you want to call it. Basically, this is the feeling you get when youve watch six straight hours of college hoops, flip over to an NBA game and . . . Boom! Its hard to believe youre even watching the same game.

Its at the same time simpler and more complex, more explosive but under far better control. It gets you every single time. The difference is shocking.

Its a reminder of why Barkleys anti-college hoops sentiment may not be misguided, but also why it doesnt have much of a place on the March Madness stage.

14. Gone to soon
Here are three random guys who I enjoyed watching, but will unfortunately have to wait until next year to see again:

Isaiah Thomas, Washington: Yesterday, we talked about how he got his name, today its just about his game. Thomas is often compared to Nate Robinson, mostly because of the school he plays for, his size, and his frantic style. But Thomas is much more of a natural point guard than Nate will ever be (wordaapp!). Robinsons more of a freakish athlete than he is a basketball player, Thomas has the rhythm to his game that you cant teach. The fact that he earned his name as the result of his Dad losing a bet was enough to initially catch my interest; once I really began to watch him play, it intensified. And once I saw him try to dunk in traffic over 6-10 John Henson, I was sold. It was a glimpse of Allen Iverson at Georgetown (a glimpse, I said) and I liked it.

The obsession with Thomas is a dangerous one. As much as he captivates you with his flash and energy, he can kill (hey, Nate Robinson!) his lack of composure. In fact, his inability to control the tempo had a lot to do with the Huskies blowing a winnable game against the Heels.

Still, it was a lot of fun watching him do it.
Joshua Smith, UCLA: Ive got a fever, and the only cure is an obese big man with soft hands. Okay, maybe thats being unfair to Smith. Obese isnt the word. Hes just big boned; hes just enormous. And that size, combined with touch and dexterity, makes him a lot of fun to watch. We can only imagine what's going to happen once he gets a little older, and wiser and adds a few tricks to his low post arsenal.

He's going to be a star.

Evan Smotrycz, Michigan: This is a pretty absurd mention here. After all, Smotrycz played 16 and 14 minutes, respectively, in Michigans two games, and had a total of 21 points and five rebounds. The freshman averaged only six points a game for the entire season, and probably wasnt a priority on many Big 10 scouting reports.

But the 6-9 forward from Reading, MA caught my eye in that Duke game. In the first half, he was one of the few Wolverines who didnt look intimidated. He fought with the Blue Devils, even antagonized them a little (one time aggressively blocking a shot after the whistle, a la KG), and helped keep them a float until the rest of the team snapped out of it.

In the end, it wasnt enough, and ultimately, his effect on the game, and this tournament will be forgotten. But it was nice to see a local kid mixing it up with the best, and holding his own in the process. And hes definitely got a future.

15. Overproduction.
I like different camera angles. I like that technology allows us to watch the game in certain ways and see things that were once lost in the limits of TV production.

You want to switch to a "behind the basket" shot as a guy inbounds the ball from under his own hoop? Sure. You want to give us that lying down on the sidelines view or the one where it looks like the cameramans standing at half court while the team runs their offensive set? Awesome. Keep it up. It feels a little weird now, but Im sure we can get used to it, and eventually fully appreciate its awesomeness.

But for now, lets make a rule: In the last two minutes of a close game, just stick with the normal shot.

For one of the key possessions in the TempleSan Diego State, TNT came out of a timeout with some awkward looking angle, and I spent the first five seconds finding my bearing and then another five wondering: Wait, is this even live?

16. The New Champ
I had Pitt winning it all, in case you couldnt tell from my literary sob fest over the Butler game. But while my brackets already busted, theres still time to further murder my pride, so Im taking another crack at picking the champ.

And the second chance lock for the 2011 National Championship is

Ohio State.

On one hand, this might seem like the obvious pick since theyve clearly been the tournaments most dominant team. But they also have the toughest road to Houston with Fridays date with Grease Calipari and the Wildcats, followed by a potential match-up with Droopy Williams and the Tarheels. It wont be easy, but nothing is. Will the Buckeyes be challenged more? Yeah, but if anything that will only better prepare them for what the Final Four will bring.

I apologize in advance to all Buckeye fans.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?


BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players. 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.