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

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

Brady spikes his helmet in frustration during competitive day of practice

FOXBORO -- It could have been that he's been splitting first-team reps with Jimmy Garoppolo. It could have been that he had just thrown a pass that was batted down by a ball boy holding a paddle. It could have been that he's simply operating at a low boil at all times knowing that he has to serve a four-game suspension. 

Whatever the reason, Tom Brady was hot. And he took it out on his helmet Friday, slamming it to the turf -- with ear pads exploding out upon impact -- after the final snap of the 7-on-7 period at Patriots practice. 

It was the most noteworthy show of frustration during what appeared to be a highly-competitive day of work for Bill Belichick's club. Just two days into practice, and one day before the first day of work in full pads, there was a visible emotional edge exhibited by several players on the team -- not only Brady. 

"That's just football," tight end Martellus Bennett said. "It is what it is. I like guys that have an edge, and I think a lot of guys on this team have an edge. When they have that edge, it makes you bring it up a notch, too."

Bennett may have helped to amp things up when he caught a touchdown pass over Patrick Chung from Jimmy Garoppolo. He used his 6-foot-7 frame to go up and over Chung and then kept his balance as he corralled the ball with Chung down around his feet. When the play was over Bennett almost dropped the ball on Chung while Chung was on the ground. 

Later in the practice, Rob Gronkowski caught a touchdown on a back-shoulder throw from Garoppolo with Jordan Richards in coverage. Gronkowski promptly threw the ball in the air in celebration, which seemed to irk Dont'a Hightower. The linebacker quickly retrieved the ball and chucked it at Gronkowski's back. 

Brady's helmet slam came on a short pass that was batted down by one of the paddles made to simulate long-armed defensive linemen. He hadn't looked very shaky leading up to that point, completing 7-of-9 passes, though one of those attempts resulted in a Duron Harmon interception. But two incompletions to finish his 7-on-7 stretch led to the helmet slam that drew an audible reaction from surprised fans in attendance. 

Brady's reps and their timing drew considerable attention yet again. In a switch from Thursday's practice, it was Brady who took the first-team reps during 11-on-11 work, while Garoppolo was the first on the field during the 7-on-7 portion of practice. Each player got 10 snaps in 7-on-7 work and seven snaps in 11-on-11 work, so the workload was once again split evenly. 

In analyzing the results for both quarterbacks, Garoppolo went 9-for-10 in 7-on-7 work, while Brady went 7-for-10 with an interception during the same period. In the 11-on-11 portion of practice -- after the helmet spike -- Brady went 5-for-7. Garoppolo went 4-for-7, and Jacoby Brissett went 4-for-7 with an interception made by linebacker Kevin Snyder on a deflection from corner Darryl Roberts. 

It's not unusual for competitive moments -- and accompanying emotional outbursts -- to transpire during camp. That it's happening already with the Patriots could foreshadow weeks of such moments, which, given the talent level the team currently boasts on its roster, perhaps should be expected. 

When both sides of the football have as many accomplished players as the Patriots do, and when both sides are executing, the level of play tends to rise. With that, the competitive juices often do the same. 

"Every single day I've been here since OTAs it's been very competitive," Bennett said. "Everyone here does their jobs so well, and everyone's competing. You just gotta bring it every single day."

That may not be good news for the equipment staff that has to deal with the fallout of busted gear. But for coach Belichick, who has long called training camp the "competition camp" (as opposed to OTAs and minicamp, which is more of a "teaching camp"), it's probably music to his ears. 

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

Bennett, Gronkowski are students of each other's games

FOXBORO – It’s nothing but bliss so far for Martellus Bennett in New England.

The humongous and irrepressible Marty B. met with the media after practice Friday. Fresh off a workout in which he picked a red-zone pass off the top of Patrick Chung’s helmet and did a little, “Lemme just leave this right here . . . ” placement of the football at Chung’s feet, and otherwise continued to stand out in all the right ways, Bennett spoke about his developing relationships with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

Bennett, Gronk and Brady have been working as a unit during a few quick side sessions. It’s an annual occurrence with Brady and his leading targets. Bennett shared an interesting detail though that refers back to something Brady spoke of with Gronk in 2015:

Body language.

“I think for Rob it’s a little different than for me (working with Brady),” Bennett explained. “He’s been with Brady so long and he knows the body language. And we move differently. Even though people think we’re a lot alike, we run our routes different. Understanding the body language of how I go into my cuts and where I like the ball might be different than when he throws to Rob, so we’re just trying to build as much chemistry as possible. It’s just conversations in motion.”

Brady mentioned last year how he’s able to watch Gronk running with his back to him and still read subtle cues as to when Gronk is going to cut, slow down, accelerate, etc., and then time his throw accordingly. Brady is in the early stages of learning Bennett’s subtleties.

And Bennett is learning from watching the other two. Dripping sweat after the workout in humid, cloudy conditions, Bennett got animated talking about the process.

“I was able to play with [Jets receiver] Brandon Marshall for a long time and I learned a lot of my game from him,” said Bennett. “Now to be with another great player like Rob, he does so many things well, when you watch tape (you can’t see all of it) but when you’re right next to him, you’re like, ‘Man this guy’s really, really good. Hey Rob, how’d you do that? How’d you do this? Man, show me that. Come to the side real quick and show me how you did that move.’

“It’s just give-and-take, sometimes he asks me, ‘Hey man, you did this today, I like that. Show me that,’ " he explained. “So we’re just working trying to make each other better and I think that’s what the whole tight end room is trying to do.”

Bennett’s been pigeonholed a bit as a quirky guy with great talent but intermittent intensity. Right now, the intensity’s been flowing freely.

“I ended up on IR in like November [last season] so I really haven’t had that much football for a long time so it’s really, really good (to be on the field),” he said. “It’s like when you break up and get back with the girl that you love in the first place, so it’s been great to be back out there.”

Can Bennett, who has one year left on the deal he signed with Chicago before the Patriots traded for him, see himself sticking in Foxboro past 2016?

“Yeah,” he began before adding. “I’m not thinking about next year right now. I’m just trying to have as much fun as I can this year. Football can be taken from you at any time. I didn’t get to finish the season last year. To me it’s just a joy to be out there playing and enjoying the game and enjoying the process. I’m just worried about my todays.”

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

McAdam: Red Sox at a loss after excruciating defeat

There are still two full months of games left on the schedule and who knows what might happen in that time, or what else might befall the Red Sox.

But for now, it's no stretch to suggest that Thursday's excruciating 2-1 setback in Anaheim constitutes the worst loss of the season to date. The point hardly seems debatable.


THE TIMING: This was the start of the longest, and in many ways, most challenging road trip of the season, with 11 games in 11 days. It comes immediately after a homestand that was highly disappointing, featuring a mere split with the last-place Minnesota Twins and a sweep at the hands of the otherwise mediocre Detroit Tigers.

There's been a great deal of attention focused on how many road games the Sox have to play through the rest of the season. Winning the opener -- and snapping a three-game losing streak in the process - would have felt like a strong statement that the club was ready and able to meet the challenges of the schedule.

THE STARTING PITCHER: The loss wiped out a standout performance by David Price, who may well hold the key to whether the Red Sox grab a playoff spot this fall.

Price has been woefully inconsistent in his first season with the Red Sox, alternating between brief stretches of dominance and periods of underwhelming outings.

For a change Thursday night, Price seemed on the verge of winning one of those "statement'' games, when he would make one measly run in the third inning stand up. There have been too many times, given his standing as the team's No. 1 starter, in which Price has pitched just well enough to lose -- like the pitcher's duels in which he came up short against the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Chris Tillman.

But on Thursday, Price didn't buckle. And never mind that he was matched against an aging and depleted Jered Weaver. Price had next-to-nothing with which to work, but he protected the 1-0 lead with a determination he has seldon shown in Boston.

And for his effort to go wasted sets an inauspicious marker for this demanding trip. There was something symbolic about having Price set the tone at the start with a low-scoring, must-have game.

He did his part. Unfortunately for Price, that wasn't enough.

THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAPPENED: Walk-off losses are never pleasant, whether they come on a homer, or a base hit up the middle.

But considering that the Red Sox had the ability to turn Daniel Nava's tapper to first into a game-ending double play, and instead, saw it result in a two-run throwing error on the part of Hanley Ramirez, makes it all the more crushing.

Brad Ziegler, who gave up a go-ahead game-winning homer in the final game of the homestand Wednesday, essentially did his job in the ninth. He got Mike Trout to hit a chopper, which resulted in an infield single. And he kept the ball on the ground and in the infield, with the Sox bringing the infield in with the bases loaded and one out.

Better execution, and the Red Sox walk away with a thrilling 1-0 victory to begin their West Coast trek. Instead, they walk off the field, heads down, with the wrong precedent being set.