16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 1


16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 1

By Rich Levine

Sixteen random NCAA thoughts as we head to the Sweet 16, including a plot to kidnap the Napa Know How guy . . .

(Part 1 (first eight) today, Part 2 tomorrow . . . )

1. Butler 71, Pitt 70

Im sick of people trying to downplay the PittButler disaster.

First, we all know that Pitt did plenty of things to blow the game before the referees sent Matt Howard to the line.

You can blame Gilbert Brown for missing the free throw, Nasir Robinson for making contact, Jamie Dixon for not having his team mentally prepared, or any number of plays where, had Pitt executed, it never would have had to come down to that ridiculous whistle. They were the No. 1 seed. They were the bigger, stronger and more talented team. If Pitt had taken care of business, the final moments would have been spent killing the clock, not exposing everyone to the most drawn out, cringe-worthy 1.4 seconds in tournament history.

But they didnt get it done. They put themselves in a position to lose, and paid for it. (Cue LeBrons tiny violin).

But even if you want to argue that Pitt deserved to lose, that doesnt justify the tragic way that loss unfolded.

Their season (and some careers) ended on a make-up call. Thats awful.

Im not saying that Robinson didnt foul him; he obviously did. But if it hadnt been for the previous foul on Butler, the refs never would have called it. Never. And that sucks. Regardless of who deserves to win, no one deserves to lose like that. Theres way too much on the line. And ultimately, whether or not it was technically the right thing to of, its just bad for college basketball.

Despite four days of amazing games, the PittButler disaster is what well remember most.

2. NAPA Know How
With the tournament being carried on four channels, youve got a lot more control this year, but theres no escape from commercial hell.

Here are five that haunted your weekend:

1. Napa Know How: Theres no feeling to describe the moment when you click away from a NAPA Know How commercial to a channel thats also playing a NAPA Know How commercial.

The closest thing I can come up with is if youve ever pulled the move where you wake up hung over, take a swig from a glass of water in the kitchen, and then realize its vodka from the night before.

Anyway, with the NBA playoffs on the way, Im actually pretty scared. Im not sure that this thing is just going to die after the tournament, yet I dont think we can survive another flurry. Someone has to take action. My votes for MacGruber.

2. Sprint: Were really supposed to take a company seriously when their CEO needs to look up limitless in the dictionary?

3. Liberty Mutual: LMs latest ad is one of those Pay it Forward deals where one random act of kindness sets off a domino effect of people going out of their way to help strangers. In one scene, a woman hops off the bus to help an old man who dropped some papers. In another, a man lets an overwhelmed mother cut him at the grocery store. Its nothing crazy, but everyone is definitely throwing out some extra effort. So commercial goes on, keeps building momentum, and in the tense final scene we see this girl approach the front of a building, pause dramatically and . . . holds the door open for a blind woman?

Thats basic human decency. You really need inspiration to decide that youre going to hold the door for a blind person? Like Chris Rock said: "This what you're supposed to do . . . "

These are things you start to thinking about in the 10-15 viewings range.

4. Dominos Chicken: I cant wait for them to reveal the results and then discover that my apartments actually in the middle of a cow pasture.

5. McDonalds: Dwight Howard and LeBron dont know what Larry Bird looks like? I guess that could be realistic. But whats not is that Dwight would go to McDonalds an not order a Happy Meal.

3. Brad Stevens becomes Brad Stevens Heading into March, even though he took Butler to the title game last season, a lot of casual college basketball fans still only knew Brad Stevens as that real young coach at Butler. But after this weekend, Brad Stevens is now officially Brad Stevens. No need for any other description.

Its not just that theyre winning again, or maybe its because theyre winning again, but he has a much greater presence this time around. The way he walked off the court after the Pitt game and nailed the postgame interview, then went into the locker room and started chest bumping his players, and was clapping and dancing in the middle of the huddle like the scrappy senior point guard. He was like Coach K and Wojo wrapped in one (Seth Davis just passed out), but far more likable.

Its rare to see a coach like that with his players, especially one whose also so calm and focused on the court, but maybe thats just Brad Stevens. Im sure the Butler faithful knows that well, and now the rest of the country is about to find out.

The only question is where he ends up. Somethingeverything tells me that we wont see the end of his recent 12(!?)-year extension.

4. The President
Like most people, the right side of President Obamas bracket is in trouble.

But unlike most people, he got a secret service escort to the bathroom this morning: What do you think about that?!

Anyway, even though things have begun to unravel for the President (wouldnt be surprised if the refs from PittButler are all audited) he held it down for those first few days; 29-3 in the first two rounds! Can you imagine how annoying he must have been? Yes, Mr. President. We saw your bracket . . . "

5. Reading the Aztecs
San Diego State started the tournament as a wild card. They were the unproven contender from a lesser-known conference, with not as much experience and the burden of playing for a program that had never won a tournament game. They played out west, far away from the spotlight, and only got the national recognition when theyre were facing off with JIMMER.

The untraditional No. 1 or 2 seeds are always candidates for an early exit, and SDSU fit the mold. A lot of people had a hard time believing . . .

So many people, in fact, that San Diego State eventually became a sneaky pick. They were the team that had people thinking Hmm, bet every one else has them losing early . . . why not take a chance? Theyre better than people think. Theyre tough. Theyre athletic. They held their own against JIMMER! And slowly but surely, they started building a little bandwagon. Now . . . who knows what to think?

I think theyre done. There was something about the way they handled themselves down the stretch against Temple that didnt sit well. They had the final shot to win in regulation and the first overtime, but wasted both chances. They threw a ridiculous number of questionable passes in the backcourt, and just didnt look comfortable in the spotlight.

Against Temple, talent won out. But when it comes to Thursdays game with UConn, thats probably it.

6. The All-Tournament Name Team
There arent any God Shammgods in this years crop, but college hoops is always good for a few good names:

Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan: Are we supposed to just automatically root for the children of our favorite athletes? I couldnt resist with Hardaway Jr.

Momo Jones, Arizona: We need to hear Gus Johnson call a Momo Jones buzzer beater.

Blaise Ffrench, St. Peters: Crazy thing is hes actually from Qqueens

Isaiah Thomas, Washington: Ill have more on him tomorrow, but cant get over the source of his name. If you didnt hear the story, Thomas was named after the Pistons point guardKnicks saboteur, but not because his dad was a Pistons fan. Instead, his dad was a Lakers fan who bet a friend that if the Pistons beat the Lakers in the 1989 Finals, hed name his first kid Isiah. His mom added the extra a in Isaiah to give it a more biblical vibe.

Aziz NDiaye, Washington: Because every good NCAA tournament needs an NDiaye.

7. The extended family of networks
March Madness was never about working the remote.

Back in the day, you set your TV on CBS, forgot everything else and spent the next few weeks hanging with Greg Gumbel (doesnt sound as fun when you think of it that way). It was very low maintenance; it was very contained. CBS controlled everything and all you could do was hope that they treated you right. It didnt always happen, but we dealt with it, because we didnt know better, and took solace in the fact that there was someone out there being paid to make sure we saw the best action.

Over the last few years, they started offering the games on the computer, which added another little wrinkle. But this year, it was on. Three channels: CBS, TBS, TNT and then something called TruTV. Every single game. All over the tube.

With more access, it felt a little more overwhelming. When you didnt have to worry about changing the channel, you didnt have to worry about anything. If something got good, they sent you right there. Now you had to work for it.

And I cant believe Im bitching about this.

Four channels are unbelievable. Its definitely given the tournament viewing experience a different feel, but different isnt always bad.

Lady Gaga taught me that in that song she stole from Madonna.

8. South by Southwest
Imagine if they moved the Packers into the NFC West next season that would be your Southwest bracket, with No. 1 Kansas now fighting for a Final Four birth with No. 12 Richmond, No. 11 VCU and No. 10 Florida State. Not bad.

The region the Jayhawks face off with in the Final Four? Yup, the one region that's already without its No. 1 seed. Everything's coming up Kansas!

It really feels like all the stars once again appear aligned for them to choke against a double-digit seed and fall way short of expectations.

We'll be back tomorrow with Part 2.
Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday (and, like this week, sometimes Tuesdays) on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Kimbrel ninth-inning meltdown doesn’t alarm Farrell


Kimbrel ninth-inning meltdown doesn’t alarm Farrell

NEW YORK -- John Farrell isn't necessarily alarmed by Craig Kimbrel's poor outing Wednesday night, viewing it as an aberration. But just the same, he'd like to get his closer into a game on the final weekend to flush the bad taste of Wednesday's ninth.

Until the clincher, Kimbrel had allowed just two hits in the previous 23 at-bats (.087) since Sept. 4. And since being re-instated from the DL on Aug. 1, Kimbrel was 13-for-13 in save opportunities with 32 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched and a .113 batting average against.

Kimbrel was brought into the game in the bottom of the ninth and allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner before issuing three straight walks, the last of which forced in a run.

He threw 28 pitches and didn't record an out before being lifted in favor of Joe Kelly, who allowed Mark Teixeira's walk-off grand slam in a 5-3 Yankees victory.

"He was erratic, there's no doubt,” said Farrell. "The command was not there. The power was there, obviously, but the command was not. It turned into a situation where he gets to [almost] 30 pitches. Could we have let him go further, or could the decision have been made to leave him in the game? Sure

"But [Wednesday] night was more of an aberration. Certainly, since he's come off the DL, he's been stingy in those situations. That was a one-time outing last night [given the unusual circumstances].”

Farrell said it's "important” to get all of the Red Sox relievers into games before the season ends Sunday.

"How often, how high stress...the games will dictate that,'' Farrell said. "But yeah, it will be important to Craig back on the mound before we end, regardless of whether it's a save situation.”



Bruins coaches: Czarnik a ‘Belichick-type hockey player’


Bruins coaches: Czarnik a ‘Belichick-type hockey player’

BOSTON – Austin Czarnik is off to a good start at Bruins training camp.

He’s got points in each of the first two exhibition games and just the fact that he’s cracked the B’s lineup in both games tells you that the coaching staff wants to get a long, good look at the undersized forward.

But the 5-foot-9, 167-pound Czarnik brings more than simply a touch of the Napoleon complex after always being told that he was too small to make it to the elite levels of hockey. The 23-year-old clearly can score after posting 20 goals and 61 points in his first pro season in the AHL in Providence last season. He plays with heart, energy and a dogged determination when he’s hunting pucks on the fore-check.

But former P-Bruins head coach and current B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy says that Czarnik also brings something a little extra that New England Patriots fans will certainly appreciate.

“As far as being a player goes, he would be, to me, that [Bill] Belichick-type player that you could use in a lot of different situations,” said Cassidy, in clear reference to intelligent utility guys Troy Brown, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman and others that all filled different roles in their time with New England.

“He’s got a very, very high IQ, he’s a quick learner and very coachable,” Cassidy said. “So, he’s a guy you can move around, and he can play with different players. He can play on the penalty kill, he’s good on the power play and especially on the point.

“So there are a lot of different things. I think from night-to-night if you wanted to, you could move him around in your lineup and he could be effective for you. I know he’s a center, but it would be interesting to see if he could play the wing and be effective. That’s something we haven’t really seen. Is that something we maybe attempt down the road? I don’t know. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he could handle it. He even played for us 6-on-5 as a defenseman with the goalie out. He’s just a smart player, and he understands the game very, very well.”

So, Czarnik is off to a good start in training camp with the Bruins, but we also saw the same thing from him last year as a rookie to pro hockey. 

Now, it’s about seeing whether a smaller player can finish strong as the competition heightens deeper into the preseason, and perhaps he can bring that versatility and feistiness to the NHL level in Boston.