Saturday night's NCAA semi-final games did not have the drama and the tension of last weekend's Round of Eight games, but they were still worth every
minute it cost to watch them. It does seem to me that the national media fell in love with Illinois' guard, Deron Williams, about two weeks ago and
now they can't see any possible flaws in him.
For the record, Williams is very good player; lots of the national media raved on him so much that he was deemed to have risen to that exalted status
where he could be one of the top three players taken in the NBA draft in June. Hey, that could happen; LaRue Martin was taken with the first overall
pick once; he was a stiff before the draft and he was a stiff after the draft. The abysmal 76er team of the early 1970s once took Dana Lewis with its
first draft pick; they thought he was a stud; it turns out he played basketball like a horse. Draft position is not always a measure of innate
After Saturday' night's Illinois win over Louisville, the commentators seemed compelled to go out of their way to tell me what a great game Deron
Williams played. I watched every minute of that game without any distractions and I didn't see it. He shot 2-7 for the night and had 5 rebounds.
Normally, his strength is his tenacious defense but he was marginally effective at best against Louisville's Francisco Garcia and Illinois had to make
defensive switches during the game to maintain control. This is not a knock on Deron Williams; I agree he is a fine player and certainly ought to be a
lottery pick in the NBA draft, but his game on Saturday night was not outstanding or subtle. The more truthful way to describe it was "sub-standard".
At the other end of the spectrum on Saturday night was Illinois' Roger Powell Jr. If he could actually play every night the way he did on Saturday
night, he would be the best player in the country. I've seen Illinois play about half a dozen times this year and that was so far and away Powell's
best game that if you took the names and numbers off the jerseys, I might not have recognized who was doing all that stuff on Saturday night. Powell
is a Pentecostal minister who says he prayed at halftime and asked God for help. I have no insight into the workings of The Almighty, but something
made Powell play a whole lot better than I had ever seen him come close to playing in the past. He was the star of the game and he is the reason
Illinois will play UNC tonight.
UNC is simply a better basketball team position by position than Michigan State is. That is not a knock on Michigan State; it's just a fact. That's
why UNC will play Illinois tonight.
By the way, ESPN.com got about 3 million entries in its contest to pick a perfect NCAA tournament bracket. Not a single entry of those 3 million had
the Sweet 16 exactly right and only 15 entries in the whole contest had 15 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16. In case anyone here thinks that the way to
win that contest is to keep entering until you have all the possibilities covered, some math guy with a lot of time - or computational power - on his
hands calculated the number of possible brackets based on the 65-team format. That number is - according to him because I did not even consider
checking his math:
Over in the women's tournament, there is a nice feelgood story evolving with Baylor who has made the final game. You can read a very good article by
Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post (April 3) on Baylor coach Kim Mulkey-Robertson.
Baylor is a school that has suffered athletically in the Big 12. The story goes that the way Baylor got into the Big 12 was that a former governor of
Texas was an alum and demanded that Baylor be included in the movement to form the Big 12 from the old Southwest Conference and the Big Eight or the
other Texas state schools might not be allowed to join either. The Big 12 has been around for about a decade; Baylor is 6-66 in conference play in
football. Usually the conference has three teams that win six conference games in a single season. In men's basketball, there was the horrendously
awful situation where Patrick Dennehy was murdered - allegedly by a Baylor teammate - and former coach Dave Bliss tried to obfuscate the situation by
defaming the dead victim. [Aside: To anyone who says that John Chaney's "send in the goons" play was the nadir of collegiate athletics in this new
millennium, let me suggest you review the Dave Bliss dossier...] But the rise of the Baylor women's basketball program is a real success story in Waco
and ought not to be ignored.
With the baseball season upon us and with Juan Gonzalez on the DL proving that all is as it always is in the cosmos, the Cubbies set out to break
their curse and follow the lead of the last year's Boston Red Sox. If their pitching staff does not heal quickly, that's not gonna happen, but just in
case all their pitchers get back to fully healthy status quickly and stay that way, they will need to find a way to break through the horrid jinx that
rests upon the team. They've tried blowing up the Bartman ball and even cooking it into pasta sauce and eating it. That's lame. The way for them to
break the curse is staring them in the face and there is perfect evidence that it worked last year. What the Cubs need to do is to trade Nomar
Garciaparra just before the trading deadline. It worked in Boston last year.
The first positive steroid test came back and it was a Tampa Bay Devil Ray. You know I am not big into conspiracy theories, but if you wanted to
script a scenario where all of this was orchestrated from somewhere in the mahogany offices of MLB and/or MLBPA, this is a good first start. The first
positive test is for a singles-hitting Devil Ray who is late of the Detroit Tigers. He is going to appeal the findings and claims that he took nothing
other than over-the-counter "energy shakes". So this could be a false-positive test as the first one out of the gate. I think there might be another
Congressional hearing in here somewhere...
Bernie Lincicome predicted that the Colorado Rockies would lure Sadaharu Oh and Ron Cey out of retirement and sign a rookie named Carmen Canusi giving
then an infield of Oh, Cey and Canusi so that when every double play is announced, everyone in the stands will have to stand up. That wouldn't be so
awful, would it?
Finally, a comment from Peter Schmuck in the Baltimore Sun:
"It was revealed recently that Miss Delaware USA, Sheena Benton, 23, was arrested for driving under the influence in 2004.
"Which left me wondering which title she would be more qualified to hold - - Miss USA or Mrs. Sidney Ponson."
But don't get me wrong, I love sports...
Copyright The Sports Curmudgeon