16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 2

197883.jpg

16 Sweet 16 thoughts: Part 2

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

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

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

podcast-gahs-ep15.png

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

screen_shot_2016-05-05_at_1.11.14_pm.png

McAdam: More firsts for Ortiz in what looks like stellar final season

CHICAGO -- It could happen Thursday night, or perhaps sometime this weekend in New York, where he always hits well.
      
But sometime soon, David Ortiz is going to tie, then surpass, Carl Yastrzesmski as the second-greatest home run hitter in Red Sox history.
      
Ortiz hit his sixth of the season Wednesday night, giving him 451 for his Red Sox career, one behind Yastrzemski. Ted Williams is, of course, the Red Sox' all-time leader with 521, safely out of reach.
      
"Know what happens when that's happening?'' asked Ortiz, when told of the approaching milestone. "I'm getting old, man. Like I always say, whenever they mention your name right next to the legends, it's something that, humbly I can tell you, is an honor.''
      
What makes Ortiz's spot on the list all the more amazing is that he has reached these heights after being discarded by the Minnesota Twins some 14 years ago.
      
He arrived as a backup first baseman, initially stuck behind Jeremy Giambi on the Red Sox depth chart. He'll retire, later this year, as one of the handful of best hitters the franchise has ever known.
      
On nights like Wednesday, the context seemed to have Ortiz himself in awe.
      
"I was just a guy who was trying to have a good career,'' said Ortiz, “and put (my) family in a better situation. Now, all of a sudden, these things are happening. It's a blessing.''
      
It's a stretch to suggest that these things are happening "all of a sudden.'' To the contrary, they're the result of a remarkable stretch of 14 seasons in Boston.
     
Only now are the numbers coming into focus. And what numbers they are.
      
Beyond Ortiz's ascension on the all-time lists for the both Major League Baseball and the Red Sox in particular are the improbable feats of a 40-year-old who is performing this season at a level that would be impressive for a hitter a decade younger.
      
Consider:
      
* When Ortiz homered off Yankees reliever Dellin Betances last Friday, he did so on a first-pitch curveball. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated noted that Betances had thrown 355 first-pitch curveballs in his career; Ortiz was the first to hit a homer on one of those pitches.
      
In fact, only six of the first 355 had even been put in play.
      
Ortiz hit his well into the Monster Seats to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory.
      
* On Wednesday night, Ortiz became the first lefthanded hitter to ever homer off White Sox lefty starter Carlos Rodon.
      
Since last July 2, Ortiz is third among all lefthanded hitters in hitting homers off lefthanded pitchers. That's quite an accomplishment for someone who was being benched as recently as last June against some lefty starters.
     
And what did Rodon learn about that particular showdown?
      
"Don't throw a fastball down the middle to Big Papi,'' said Rodon.
      
Sounds like a good strategy.
      
It's fairly amazing that a 40-year-old, in his final season, is enjoying all these firsts. But Ortiz has lasted this long, and played at such a high level, precisely because he works to get better all the time.
      
Manager John Farrell noted that Ortiz hadn't faced Rodon before Wednesday night and didn't look particularly good in his first two at-bats, grounding into a double play and hitting a flyout.
      
But Ortiz is forever making mental notes, getting ready to make adjustments and process what he's seen.
      
"His retention is great,'' marveled Farrell. "He understands what he's seeing after just one at-bat.''
      
There's still more than five months to go in the regular season and a lot can happen in that span. But after a month in 2016, it seems likely that we are in the midst of one of the greatest final seasons a player has ever enjoyed.

Bird not renewing Vogel's contract; McHale not a candidate

larry-bird-062713.jpeg

Bird not renewing Vogel's contract; McHale not a candidate

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, a good friend of Brad Stevens, is out in Indiana.

Pacers president Larry Bird made the official announcement on Thursday.

Vogel’s contract was up in Indiana and Bird elected to not renew it. That, according to Bird, was hard for Vogel to hear.

Both Bird and Vogel spoke shortly before Bird’s press conference with members of the media, and that’s when Bird gave him the news.

There is speculation now as to who will take over as head coach. With Kevin McHale removing himself from consideration for the Sacramento Kings job, there was some thought that he could become the head coach of the Pacers under good friend and former teammate Bird.

That isn’t going to happen either.