Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.

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Reigning champs ousted by Iowa St.

From Comcast SportsNet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Jim Calhoun and Connecticut didn't expect their season to end this way. Their future is equally unpredictable. "We're talking about tonight's game. We're not talking about me," Calhoun said after Iowa State stunned the defending national champions 77-64 in the NCAA tournament Thursday night. "I'm going to get on the plane tomorrow, go home and do what I usually do and meet up with the team on Monday. My own personal thing, I don't think it has any relevance, to be honest with you." Chris Allen led four Cyclones in double figures with 20 points, and Iowa State scored its last 14 at the free-throw line to beat UConn, the first time since UCLA in 1996 that the defending champs have lost in the opening game. Calhoun didn't even wait for the final buzzer, heading for halfcourt with about four seconds left to congratulate Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. It is only the second loss in the opening game of the NCAA tournament for UConn under Calhoun. "I'm surprised as anybody, clearly," Calhoun said. "I imagine our players are, too." For the eighth-seeded Cyclones, meanwhile, it's their biggest victory in a season of them, having knocked off Kansas and Baylor during Big 12 play. Royce White had a double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Scott Christopherson also had 15 for the Cyclones. Iowa State shot 48 percent from the floor and had a whopping 41-24 edge in rebounds. "I feel like just we wanted it more," Allen said. "I felt like we was doing everything we needed to and played hard." Next up for Iowa State: Overall No. 1 seed Kentucky in the third round of the South Regional on Saturday. The Wildcats routed Western Kentucky earlier Thursday. For the Huskies, the future is far less certain. This could be Connecticut's last tournament until at least 2014, with the Huskies facing a ban on tournament play next year because of past academic problems. Although Calhoun insists he hasn't made any retirement plans, he's had a history of health problems -- he's a three-time cancer survivor and missed a month this season with back pain -- and he turns 70 in May. "This game was a disappointment; this season was not a disappointment to me," Calhoun said. "I knew this team could be really good, but we just didn't reach that level." Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 22, and Jeremy Lamb had 19. But Connecticut could never get into a rhythm and had no answer for the quicker, more aggressive Cyclones. "It's very disappointing to have to end the season this way," Napier said. The Cyclones arrived in Louisville with no shortage of swagger, smirking when asked if they were intimidated by the defending national champions. And they wasted no time backing up their big talk, jumping on the Huskies from the opening tip. It took Calhoun less than two minutes before he'd seen enough, jumping up to call a timeout. "We wanted to attack the boards more and whatever 3s we got, we took," Allen said. "At the end of the day, we were trying to get it in, get rebounds and do all the little stuff." After leading by as much as 22 in the first half, Iowa State (23-10) withstood a UConn rally in the second half. Ryan Boatright went on a one-man tear, making three straight baskets to pull Connecticut within 58-52 with 8:24 to play. "Once we cut it to six, I felt like if we dug down a little deeper maybe it would crack," Boatright said. But the Huskies (20-14) couldn't get any closer, missing their next four shots and going scoreless for more than five-and-a-half minutes. Iowa State, meanwhile, got a big layup from Bubu Palo and an even bigger bucket from Allen. Allen has played more NCAA tournament games than any player in the 68-team field after making back-to-back Final Fours with Michigan State in 2009 and 2010, and his experience showed. He chased down his miss on a 3 from the corner and went up and under the basket, scoring to put Iowa State back in front 63-52 with 4:15 to play. "Scoring in clutch situations always boosts your team's momentum," Allen said. "That's what I felt like it did and helped us just get back on track." UConn could never make another run, and all the Cyclones had to do was convert their free throws. As the game wound down, White pointed at Iowa State's radio crew and said, "I told you, didn't I?" NCAA investigations and questions about Calhoun's future have clouded the glow from UConn's third national title all season. Calhoun sat out the first three games of the Big East season for failure to maintain control of his program when it was charged with NCAA violations. Boatright missed nine games, including six at the beginning of the season, after an NCAA investigation found he and his family took more than 8,000 in impermissible benefits before he enrolled at Connecticut. Despite the turmoil, the Huskies won 12 of their first 13 games. Then things fell apart, in spectacular fashion. UConn lost 11 of its next 16, including a 21-point blowout by Louisville followed by an 18-point rout at the hands of Syracuse. Back problems forced Calhoun to take a monthlong leave, and the Huskies went 3-5 in his absence. He returned for the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh after back surgery, and UConn responded with three straight wins before losing a close one to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Though Calhoun talked about having a second chance in the tournament, Iowa State put a quick end to that. "You saw the game," Calhoun said, "we played very poorly. We deserved to lose the game."

Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

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Patriots named Super Bowl LI favorites despite Brady suspension

Is the Patriots roster so loaded that Tom Brady can be suspended for four games, and they're still the favorites to win it all? 

Apparently so, according to odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.

Not long after the completion of this year's draft, the Patriots were favored at 6-1 to win their fifth Lombardi Trophy even though their quarterback is scheduled to miss the first month of the season after his Deflategate punishment was recently reinstated by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady plans to appeal that ruling. 

Next on the list of favorites are the Seahawks, Steelers and Packers, all of whom are tied at 8-1. The Panthers, who fell in Super Bowl 50 to the Broncos, have 9-1 odds to redeem themselves after last season's defeat and walk away winners. 

The Patriots are, of course, favored to win the AFC (3-1) and the AFC East (4-9), and their season win total projection has been set at 10.5.

Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

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Felger: Is the praise for Jacoby Brissett too good to be true?

Three mid-week thoughts for your perusal . . . 

-- I was 100 percent behind the drafting of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. And then I read comments about the kid from Charlie Weis and Bill Parcells in Karen Guregian's excellent story in the Boston Herald on Tuesday.

Now I'm down to about 80 percent.

"He's a Curtis Martin-, Willie McGinest-, Troy Brown-type of player,'' said Parcells. "That's the kind of guy he is. That's what New England is getting. Those kind, those Tedy Bruschi types, those players who've been successful -- he's very similar in his personal life to those kinds of guys.''

"Let me tell you,'' added Weis, "this kid, from the time he was in high school, is the Pied Piper . . . He was definitely the leader of the pack. In the quarterback position, I think that's a critical factor. And that's what he was.''

Added Parcells: "He has zero personal issues.''

So why would glowing reports cause me to like the pick less? File under: Too good to be true.

I read those quotes and get the feeling I'm being sold something, which shakes my confidence a bit. Plus, it's a little too much on the intangible element. Character is certainly important at the position. In fact, it's crucial. But if intangibles were the only thing that mattered, Tim Tebow would have been an NFL QB. And we all know how that turned out.

Bottom line: I still like the pick. I still want the Pats drafting and developing quarterbacks. I just smell a bit of bull crap.

-- Chris Mannix nailed it regarding what it would take for the Celtics to lure Kevin Durant to Boston.

"Boston's ability to lure him is going to come down to who else they can get. You can't walk into a meeting with Kevin Durant and say, 'We've got Isiah Thomas and 97 draft picks; we're going to be good in a few years','' he told Toucher and Rich Tuesday morning. "Kevin doesn't want to hear that . . . What he wants to hear is that we're ready to win now . . . They have to come to the table with a Jimmy Butler, with a Bradley Beal, with an Al Horford. They can't just come with Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge and a bunch of draft picks.''

In other words, the pieces on the current roster aren't nearly as good as they looked in the regular season. And, no, Thomas is not a franchise player. And, finally, don't get too attached to those picks, no matter where the ping pong balls land.

-- I wonder if the Bruins look at the current landscape in net across the NHL playoffs and consider how wise it is to pay their goalie, Tuukka Rask, $7 million a year.

Still alive are guys like the Islanders' Thomas Greiss ($1.5 million cap hit), the Blues' Brian Ellliott ($2.5 million), the Sharks' Martin Jones ($3 million) and Penguins rookie Matt Murray ($620,000). Out are 8 of the top 10 highest-paid goalies in the league, a list including Henri Lundqvist, Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller and, of course, Rask.

Please note: No one is saying you can get away with shoddy goaltending in the playoffs. It's an unassailable fact that you need elite play in net to contend for Stanley Cups. The question is what you have to pay for it. 

And in that regard, this year is no aberration. Sometimes you have to pay through the nose for it, and sometimes it just falls in your lap.

Can the Bruins get away with trying to survive in that second camp? Good question. This much I know: Paying Rask $7 million a year to miss the playoffs two straight years isn't doing anyone any good.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN.