Articles By Rich Mcvey
Here are some of our favorite jokes about Washington Huskies' biggest rivals.
• The Foo Fighters are playing Martin Stadium this fall. They're 10-point favorites.
• How many Wazzu football players does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but he gets four academic credits for it.
• What's the difference between a litter of puppies and Oregon fans? Eventually puppies grow up and stop whining.
• What do you get when you cross Washington State with a groundhog? Six more weeks of bad football.
• What do you call a beautiful woman on the arm of a Washington State fan? A Tattoo.
• What happens when Lane Kiffin takes Viagra? He gets taller.
• What do you call 20 Wazzu fans skydiving from an airplane?
• Did you hear that Washington State’s football team doesn't have a website? The Cougars can't string three "Ws" together.
• How does a Wazzu fan count to 10? 0-1, 0-2, 0-3, 0-4…
• Why do Oregon football players like smart women? Opposites attract.
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You've got to love crazy sports fans with colorful poster boards, fat magic markers and no fear of public humiliation. Apparently there are a few in Phoenix, who gathered for the Suns post-game show to display their love for their team and Steve Nash, who may have played his final game as a member of the Suns. Fans made signs that included "Go Suns," "Let's Get Nashty" and a giant penis drawing. Well done, Phoenix. Well done. Video is below.
If you want to grab a beer at a ballpark you better bring your wallet, especially if you're heading to Boston. Fenway Park has the highest coster per ounce of sudsy brew and a 12 oz plastic cup will set you back $7.25. By comparison, Chase Field—home of the D-Backs— charges $4. Look below to see the rundown of every MLB team across the country. Cheers!
Each week Athlon Sports looks back at the previous week's best baseball players in the American and National leagues, and recaps the most outstanding pitching performances. Here are last week's—April 16-22—standouts.
AL Player of the Week
Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
The Rangers’ bats have been lively this season, to say the least, and Hamilton is leading the charge. Last week he hit .462 with a 1.324 OPS. He had three home runs, 11 RBIs and scored five times.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Phil Humber, Chicago White Sox
As if a perfect game weren’t enough, Humber put together two good starts last week, with an 0.63 ERA and WHIP. He pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history, and now has one complete game in his career. In fact, that was the first time he had ever pitched into the ninth inning.
NL Player of the Week
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves are hot. With Michael Bourn getting on base and running, Freeman is enjoying hitting with runners in scoring position. Last week, Freeman drove home 14 runs with his .478 average. He hit three homers and five doubles.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres
Luebke has been one bright spot for the Padres this season. He won both starts last week, tossing 15 innings and allowing just eight hits and three walks. He struck out nine and posted an ERA of 0.60.
The newest trend on college football fields is the use of Twitter hashtags. Three teams have added hashtags to their field in recent times. The newest is the University of Arkansas, who joins Michigan and Mississippi State. Check them out below. (It's hard to believe universities would be so self-serving. By the way, follow us @AthlonSports.)
The University of Arkansas just added #GOHOGS to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in time for their spring game.
Mississippi State painted #HAILSTATE in an end zone during a game against Mississippi last fall.
Michigan painted the hashtag #GOBLUE in two places on the field for its annual spring football scrimmage.
The 2012 NFL schedule for the Dallas Cowboys has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.
Week 1—Sept. 5: @ New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 2—Sept. 16: @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 3—Sept. 23: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 4—Oct. 1: Chicago Bears, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 5—Oct. 7: BYE WEEK
Week 6—Oct. 14: @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 7—Oct. 21: @ Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 8—Oct. 28: New York Giants, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 9—Nov. 4: @ Atlanta Falcons, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 10—Nov. 11: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 11—Nov. 18: Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 12—Nov. 22: Washington Redskins, 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 13—Dec. 2: Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 14—Dec. 9: @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 15—Dec. 16: Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 16—Dec. 23: New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 17—Dec. 30: @ Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
The 2012 NFL schedule for the Philadelphia Eagles has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information for football fans.
Week 1—9/9: @Cleveland Browns 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 2—9/16: Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 3—9/23: @ Arizona Cardinals 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 4—9/30: New York Giants 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 5—10/7: @ Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 6—10/14: Detroit Lions 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 8—10/28: Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 9—11/5: @ New Orleans Saints 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 10—11/11: Dallas Cowboys 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 11—11/18: @ Washington Redskins 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 12—11/26: Carolina Panthers. 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 13—12/2: @ Dallas Cowboys 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 14—12/9: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 15—12/13: Cincinnati Bengals 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Week 16—12/23: Washington Redskins 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 17—12/30: @ New York Giants 1 p.m. ET, FOX
The 2012 NFL schedule for the Washington Redskins has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.
Week 1—9/9: @ New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 2—9/16: @ St. Louis Rams, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 3—9/23: Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 4—9/30: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 5—10/7: Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 6—10/14: Minnesota Vikings, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 7—10/21: @ New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 8—10/28: @ Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 9—11/4: Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 10: BYE WEEK
Week 11—11/18: Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 12—11/22: @ Dallas Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 13—12/3: New York Giants, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 14—12/9: Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 15—12/16: @ Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 16—12/23: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 17—12/30: Dallas Cowboys, 1 ET, FOX
The 2012 NFL schedule for the New York Giants has been released. Here's a weekly look that includes dates, times and television information.
Week 1—9/5: Dallas Cowboys 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 2—9/16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 3—9/20: @ Carolina Panthers, 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Week 4—9/30: @ Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 5—10/7: Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 6—10/14: @ San Francisco 49ers, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 7—10/21: Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 8—10/28: @ Dallas Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 9—11/4: Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. ET CBS
Week 10—11/11: @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 11—Bye Week
Week 12—11/25: Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 13—12/3: @Washington Redskins, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 14—12/9: New Orleans Saints, 4:15 p.m. ET FOX
Week 15—12/16: @Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 16—12/23: @ Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Week 17—12/30: Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. EST, FOX
Last week Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino got in hot water after he wrecked his motorcycle and didn't mention to school officials that he had a hot 25-year-old blonde riding on the back. The blonde had been hired by Petrino to work at the university and was also having an "inappropriate relationship" with the old, married ball coach.
To mark the occasion of massive stupidity/awesomeness, someone has created a T-shirt. The front says, "Bobby Petrino Motorcyle Club" and the back says "Fayetteville, AR — For Now," noting the likelihood that Petrino could be out of a job.
Personally, we think the back should say, "If you can read this, the blonde fell off." T-shirts are below, and can be bought for $32 here.
September's Tweet This Caption (PLAY NOW)
Can you think of a funny caption for the photo above? If so, follow us on Twitter @AthlonSports, tweet a funny caption with the hashtag #athloncaption and we'll select our favorite to win a $200 Athlon Sports Collectibles gift certificate.
August's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Phillip Freeman Jr. who won August's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
Even dropping players from planes could not stop Newton & the Panthers that day.
July's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Rich Nestor of Chicago who won July's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
The side-effects of painting your football field blue
June's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Phillip Thomas Duck of Red Bank, N.J., who won June's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
Who would've known Mitt Romney had such bad seats...
May's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Paul Matthies of Gatesville, Texas, who won May's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
"Say it ain't so, Shirtless Joe!"
April's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Dedric Boys of Chicago, who won April's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
"My head's just not in the game."
March's Tweet This Caption Winner
Congratulations to Brad Hughes of Jonesboro, Ark., who won March's Tweet This Caption contest in Athlon Sports—the nation's largest sports magazine.
The winning caption:
"Hey Tony, this guy said he was your father!"
The Masters officially kicks off today. Where else can you see a group of grown men stressing out while hitting a little round ball for days on end, all in search of a green jacket that their significant other will never let them wear in public? Still, we'll be tuned in the entire time. But to get us in the right frame of mind, we put together some of the most gorgeous girls golfing (or at least pretending to golf) that we could find on the internet. And fortunately, not one is wearing a green jacket.
Kyle Stanley had come oh-so-close. He had the 2011 John Deere Classic in his hip pocket after a final-round 66, only to have Steve Stricker pick that pocket with a spectacular bunker shot on the 18th hole. And then, in even more heartbreaking fashion, Stanley saw the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open trophy slip through his fingers with a playoff loss to Brandt Snedeker. But persistence pays off, as Stanley proved with his stunning come-from-behind win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Behind by eight shots when the final day began, Stanley shot a stunning 65 to overtake Spencer Levin and earn his first PGA Tour win. Shot by shot on a magical Sunday, Stanley transformed his tomorrows.
“You go from a very low point to a high point,” Stanley said after the biggest day of his young career. “I’m not sure I expected to maybe recover this quickly. ... I think the biggest challenge was seeing if I could put last week behind me. I think I did.”
Stanley stands at the vanguard of young players on the verge of PGA Tour dominance, players who challenge fairways and attack flags with style and confidence.
A former ACC Player of the Year at Clemson, the 24-year-old Stanley did everything but win last season. He had four top 10s and nine top 25s. He finished 55th on the PGA Tour money list and earned more than $1.5 million.
There will be adjustments in 2012. Stanley lost caddie Bobby Brown, who went back to his former boss Dustin Johnson. But one thing won’t change — Stanley’s commitment to winning.
“The biggest thing is I really, really care about what I do out on the golf course,” he said, “and sometimes I care to a fault. I’ve just got to relax a little bit and trust in my preparation.”
Rickie Fowler is another of those “Young Guns” loaded for bear in 2012. Fowler already is a well-known name, with his colorful attire, his 2010 Ryder Cup appearance and his “damn the torpedoes” approach. A Walker Cup teammate to Stanley in 2007, Fowler was the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2010 and became the youngest U.S. player ever to compete in the Ryder Cup. He shared some spotlight again last summer when he finished fifth at the British Open. All the notoriety and accomplishments notwithstanding, he is still chasing his first PGA Tour win.
For the former Oklahoma State star, seeing young players like 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley crack the shell offers inspiration. “It’s a bit of motivation for myself to kind of stand up and get my game where I want to it to be and be in contention,” Fowler, 23, said. “I feel like that’s the reason why a lot of us play, is we love being in contention and winning golf tournaments.”
Bud Cauley, 21, is another newcomer hoping to parlay a fearless game into professional success. A three-time All-American at the University of Alabama, Cauley defeated Fowler, then the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, at the 2009 U.S. Amateur.
Cauley turned pro after the NCAA Championships last spring and earned $735,150 in eight starts, good enough to skip Q-school and go directly to the PGA Tour. But Cauley knows that distinction simply opens the door. He has to be successful to stick around, and he is headed in the right direction with three top-30 finishes in his first three starts of 2012.
There were 14 first-time winners on the PGA Tour last season. In 2012, there could be at least three more. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but obviously with what the guys did last year, a lot of the rookies had a lot of success,” Cauley said. “You go out there and everyone has the same opportunity to win and just everyone does their own specific things in their games to try to be successful.”
As Stanley proved, for Fowler and Cauley, it’s only a matter of time.
Nike, the NFL's official new apparel provider, didn't take long to shake things up. The most notable change so far being the Seattle Seahawks' new uniforms, which were revealed today, along with the rest of the league. Seattle's uniforms got the most significant revamp with new colors and styling from top to bottom. Check out more photos at the team's website.
To see all 32 new team uniforms, click here.
CBS Sports flashed a headline this morning mocking Kentucky sensation Anthony Davis' now famous uni-brow by proclaiming: "Take A Brow." We had to share it. The screenshot is below.
by Dustin Long
Kasey Kahne is not panicking about the start to his season. He’s relieved, in a way, heading into this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway even though he’s 27th in championship standings.
Kahne feels better after a season-best 14th at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday. A poor finish might have dropped him outside the top 35 in the car owner standings, meaning he would not have been guaranteed a starting spot at Martinsville.
“I was a little worried at California,” Kahne said Tuesday afternoon. “If we had one more bad race there, we would have been fighting for a (starting) position at Martinsville, which would have been unheard of for us.”
While Kahne has not had the results in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports, his car has shown speed. That provides hope. Success will come when he can avoid trouble.
His season, so far, has been a litany of misfortune.
His Daytona 500 ended early because of a crash and he placed 29th. He hit the wall early at Phoenix and limped to a 34th-place finish. He crashed early at Bristol and finished 37th. His best finish before Sunday was 19th at Las Vegas.
Even after Sunday’s finish, Kahne wasn’t thrilled, writing on Twitter: “Pissed I ran bad. Happy my car is in one piece.”
Kahne, who started fifth at Auto Club Speedway, began sliding back in the pack shortly after the green flag flew.
“I started off really loose and was sliding around a lot and the race got over too quick,” Kahne said. “We didn’t have enough time to get the car right. By the end of it we were running probably seventh-place lap times, but we were so far behind because of all the green-flag laps. We were getting better. We had made a lot of gains. We just needed 200 laps. The rain came and we didn’t get it.”
He finished and that’s something considering his early woes.
Kahne heads to Martinsville 68 points out of 10th place in the points — the last spot guaranteed to make the Chase. A year ago, Brad Keselowski was 50 points out of 10th at this point. Keselowski fell further back during the summer and still made the Chase via the wildcard.
So there’s no reason yet for Kahne to panic.
“I’ve handled it pretty well,” he said of his struggles. “The biggest reason why is how fast our cars are and the way they feel. I think everything is there. The engines run incredibly good compared to what I have had in the past.
“I knew going in just because I was going to Hendrick Motorsports didn’t mean I was going to start winning more races. It’s still a huge team effort. There’s still a lot of things you have to do right in order to run up front and contend for those wins. It takes a little bit of time. I think we’re pretty good as a team. Hopefully, we can start running in the top 10.”
NEW FORMAT The Sprint All-Star race, which will be held May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, will have a new format this year.
The 90-lap race will be divided into five segments. The first four will be 20 laps each with the final segment 10 laps.
Gone is the 10-minute break before the final segment. Instead, there will be a mandatory pit stop — with a twist.
The winners from the first four segments will move to the front of the field and be the first four cars to enter pit road for this stop. They’ll be followed by the rest of the field. The move was made to encourage drivers to race more for a win in the previous segments.
So the winner of the first segment will enter pit road first, followed by the winner of the second segment and so on. Should there be a repeat winner of segments, the second-place finisher in that segment moves up. Thus, if a driver wins the first two segments, he’ll be the first car in pit road (for winning the first segment) and the second-place car in the second segment will be the second car on pit road.
There will once again be a fan vote to add a driver to the All-Star Race. Also, the pit crew challenge on May 17 again will determine the order teams pick their pit stall for the all-star race.
by Matt Taliaferro
1. Tony Stewart Stewart and crew chief Steve Addington already have scored two wins this season — and in only five races. Hey, wins count above all else here.
2. Greg Biffle The points leader’s only misstep — and it was a only a small hiccup at that — was a 13th at Bristol. He’s been sixth or better in the other four events.
3. Kevin Harvick Happy and his retooled No. 29 team have been nearly as good as Biffle. Their worst performance thus far are a pair of 11th-place runs. Otherwise, they’re seventh or better every week.
4. Jimmie Johnson Things couldn’t look better for Johnson and Team 48. Not only have all suspensions and point penalties been rescinded, but they’re rolling through top 10s even with blown engines.
5. Matt Kenseth Kenseth is either top 3 by day’s end or forgotten somewhere in the mid-teens. Still, this is one of a handful of teams that can win on any given weekend.
6. Brad Keselowski See: Kenseth, Matt. The only thing that kept either from a top-10 result at Auto Club Speedway was pit road penalties and a rain-shortened event.
7. Carl Edwards Edwards and the No. 99 gang have two fifth-place runs in the last three weeks. Inexplicably, though, this group has yet to lead a single lap all season. That needs to change.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Yes, Earnhardt is still mired in a winless skid that dates back to 2008, but top-15 finishes in every race this season — including second- and third-place runs — find him trending in the right direction.
9. Clint Bowyer Bowyer’s solid start with the surprising Michael Waltrip Racing operation shows an average finish of 12.8 with sixth- (Vegas) and fourth-place (Bristol) runs highlighting the early spring.
by Jay Pennell
As the hours tick down to enter Athlon's Bracket Breakdown game, we decided to give you a peek into the minds of players who've already set their brackets.
We crunched the numbers from thousands of entries to give you a look of how people are picking. Here are the results.
MOST COMMON FINAL FOUR CHOICES
1. Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and North Carolina
2. Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio State and North Carolina
3. Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse and North Carolina
4. Kentucky, Missouri, Syracuse and North Carolina
5. Kentucky, Missouri, Florida State and North Carolina
MOST COMMON NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH-UPS
1. Kentucky and North Carolina
2. Kentucky and Kansas
3. Kentucky and Syracuse
4. Kentucky and Ohio State
5. Michigan St. and North Carolina
MOST COMMON NATIONAL CHAMPION PICKS
2. North Carolina
3. Michigan State
MOST POPULAR UPSET PICKS
1. Wichita State over VCU
2. Long Beach State over New Mexico
3. Harvard over Vanderbilt
4. California over Temple
MOST COMMON LOW SEED TO WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
1. Texas (11 seed)
2. Colorado (11 seed)
3. Purdue (10 seed)
4. California (12 seed)
5. Ohio (13 seed)
The idea is simple: take a group of seasoned sports experts (we're talking about us, by the way) and pit our knowledge of college basketball against some of the greatest prognosticators known to man. See how Athlon Sports editors stack up against a psychic, a Magic 8 Ball, a quarter, and a pooping chicken in predicting the NCAA Tournament's Elite 8, and ultimate National Champion.
Magic 8 Ball
Methodology: We named the top seed in each match-up and then asked the Magic 8 Ball if they'd win. Near the end, we named one team in the match-up and asked if they'd win. Of course, we cursed and shook the 8 Ball violently every time it told us to "Concentrate and ask again." Thoughts on the picks? Shockingly, they're not too bad.
Methodology: We called a psychic hotline and spoke with Nancy, who said she was a "certified psychic." And yes, we laughed when she said it. After several minutes of her telling us she didn't know anything about basketball, we told her to "put up or shut up" on her psychic abilities and start picking some teams. Upon further reflection, we probably should have told her the names of some teams. Thoughts on the picks? We love that she kept saying Kansas over and over, but then picked the Seahawks to win it all.
Methodology: Uh, we know someone with a chicken. We had the chicken poop on the winning team's college logos. Surprisingly, it didn't take long. Apparently, chickens poop a lot. Thoughts on the picks? They seem like a longshot. But if they turn out right, we're buying this chicken and moving to Vegas.
Methodology: Basically, the top seed was heads, the other was tails. Near the end, we just named one team in the match-up and said "heads they win, tails they lose." We flipped until there was a winner.
So you've been pulled into your office's NCAA Tournament bracket picks game and you have no clue which teams to choose. Athlon Sports is here to help. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks—starting with the Sweet 16 on down—from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humilation of picking Norfolk State to win it all.
Mitch Light's Picks
Braden Gall's Picks
Nathan Rush's Picks
Think you've got what it takes to make the right picks in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament? If so, Athlon has the game for you. No drafts. No rosters. No trades. Simply pick the winners of each game and start earning points. Everything you need to help with your decision is right at your fingertips, including the Athlon Sports StatCast™ - which gives you real-time statistical data on team matchups and who the rest of your competition is picking. PLAY NOW!
by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)
An unfortunate fact for college basketball is that many fans are just getting acquainted with the sport around tournament time.
Athlon Sports won’t judge.
For those about to get a heavy dose of college hoops over the next three weeks, we’ll help you get caught up. We broke down the NCAA Tournament field A to Z, highlighting some key teams, coaches, players, statistics and trends to watch.
It’s an exhaustive list, so some hardcore college basketball aficionados may learn a thing or two as well.
Alaska. With South Dakota State making the field by way of the Summit League’s automatic bid, Alaska and Maine are the only states never to have a team in the NCAA Tournament. The Dakotas were two of the last three states in the Lower 48 to join the field with North Dakota State earning a bid in 2009. The wait for Alaska to join March Madness may be a while, though. Alaska does not have any Division I basketball teams.
Burgess, Bradford. A year after advancing from the First Four to the Final Four, VCU won’t catch anyone off guard. Neither will its prolific wing Burgess. A year ago, Burgess averaged 15.7 points and 7 rebounds during the Final Four run. Like the rest of the Rams, Burgess got hot from 3 on the way to the national semifinal, hitting 17 from beyond the arc in six games. He’s one of two starters back to defend the Final Four along with center D.J. Haley.
Charity stripe. Any Memphis fan can stress the importance of free throw shooting in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers that year were one of the worst teams from the line in the country in 2008, a deficiency that bit Memphis in the finals seconds against eventual national champion Kansas. Be nervous watching these teams from the free-throw line: Cincinnati (64.1), Kansas State (66.6), Connecticut (66.1). On the other hand, teams to like at the free-throw line: Missouri (76.5 percent), Indiana (76.2), Wichita State (75.1), Baylor (75.1) and Harvard (74.6). As for John Calipari’s current team, Kentucky led the SEC by shooting 72 percent from the line.
Defense. Be cautious of teams vulnerable on defense in the NCAA Tournament. Some teams that worry us include: Creighton (101.8 points allowed per 100 possessions according to kenpom.com, 183rd nationally), Davidson (98.7 points), Florida (98.3 points) and Saint Mary’s (97.4 points).
Eustachy, Larry. The return of Larry Eustachy to the NCAA Tournament is one of the major redemption stories for the coach and his program. He left Iowa State in disgrace in 2001 after he was photographed with beer in his hand among students at a campus party in Columbia, Mo. The AP National Coach of the Year admitted he had problem with alcohol and set out to solve it. He landed at Southern Miss in 2004 and rebuilt the program for its first Tournament appearance since 1991.
Fathers. Where would Creighton and Detroit be without good genes? Both teams’ star players – Doug McDermott at Creighton and Ray McCallum at Detroit – happen to be the sons of their head coaches. Both took different routes to play with their fathers. Greg McDermott, then the struggling head coach at Iowa State, didn’t think Doug had the size to flourish in the Big 12. The McDermotts reunited in the Missouri Valley where Doug became the league player of the year. Elsewhere, Ray McCallum Jr. could have played just about anywhere but he ended up in the Horizon League. The son spurned Arizona, Florida and UCLA to play for his father Ray McCallum Sr. at Detroit.
Green, Draymond. Few players in the country are as NCAA Tournament-tested as Michigan State forward Draymond Green. He came off the bench for the Spartans’ Final Four runs in 2009 and 2010 and had his best career tournament game in his only start last season with 23 points and 11 rebounds in a round of 64 loss to UCLA. In 12 NCAA Tournament games, Green has averaged 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds. Look for him to exceed those averages as the centerpiece for the Spartans this season.
Harvard. Between Jeremy Lin and Ryan Fitzpatrick, Harvard has had a couple of opportunities to brag about its alums in the sports world. Finally, the Crimson can brag about current players in the NCAA Tournament. After falling short in a one-game playoff with Princeton for the Ivy League title last season, Harvard avoided such drama this season by winning the Ivy and earning its first NCAA Tournament since 1946.
Injuries. A handful of injuries could dampen teams’ hopes in the Tournament. Start with a torn ACL for Indiana point guard Verdell Jones. North Carolina also will be concerned with a wrist injury for ACC defensive player of the year John Henson. Injuries to Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Duke’s Ryan Kelly and Florida’s Will Yeguete will put pressure on role players for each team.
Jayhawks. Kansas continued the longest active streak for NCAA Tournament appearances at 23 straight years in the field. Since losing to Bucknell and Bradley in the first round in back-to-back years, Kansas has won at least one game in the last five Tournaments, including the 2008 national championship. Mid-majors, though, still seem to have a hex on Kansas as the Jayhawks lost to VCU in the Elite Eight last season and Northern Iowa in the second round in 2010.
Kentucky. The Wildcats enter the tournament as the prohibitive favorite after losing only a buzzer-beater to Indiana on Dec. 10 and Vanderbilt this past weekend. Kentucky reached the Elite Eight in the first season under Calipari and the Final Four in the second season. Big Blue Nation is expecting the next step with good reason: Kentucky is stocked with future NBA talent, and it might have the best player in the country in Anthony Davis. Still, youth is a concern with freshmen and sophomores making up six of its top seven players. Kentucky won’t out-shoot many teams from 3-point range, either.
Lopsided losses. North Carolina is on the short list of teams capable of winning the national title, but the Tar Heels still have the 33-point loss to Florida State from Jan. 14 on their resume. Here are the worst losses for other top title contenders: Kentucky (by 7 points to Vanderbilt), Syracuse (9 points at Notre Dame), Kansas (10 points to Kentucky in Maui), Michigan State (15 points at Indiana), Ohio State (11 points to Kansas), Duke (22 points at Ohio State), Missouri (16 points at Kansas State).
Majerus, Rick. This season will mark the return of Saint Louis to the NCAA Tournament. The Billikens have been absent since 2000 under now-Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. This is also a return to the Tournament for Rick Majerus, who last coached in the Big Dance with Utah in 2003. The coach who led the Utes to the national championship game in 1998 left Utah citing health reasons partway through the 2003-04 season. After working with ESPN, he took the USC job for four days before leaving the Trojans due to health concerns.
New Orleans. The Final Four returns to New Orleans for the fifth time in the last 30 years, a fact a handful of top teams hope brings good mojo. North Carolina won the title twice here in 1982 and 1993. Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a championship in the Superdome in 2003. The Orange also played for a title in New Orleans in 1987 when they lost to Indiana. Kansas has reached the Final Four twice in New Orleans (2003, 1993). Kentucky has done it once (1993).
Orange. Syracuse first fought through the Bernie Fine scandal to start the season. Then came the Yahoo! Sports story that indicated Syracuse since 2001 played at least 10 players who failed tests for banned substances. Distractions don’t seem to be a problem for this group, though. If there’s another potential distraction to add: Since the 2003 championship, Syracuse has been eliminated by lower seeds in four of its last six appearances, including to sixth-seeded Marquette in the round of 32 last year.
Patsos, Jimmy. The NCAA Tournament is a great vehicle for drama and nail-biting, but it’s also a great vehicle to introduce basketball’s most interesting personalities to the mainstream. Loyola (Md.) coach Jimmy Patsos will be one of those this season. He picked up part-time work as a bartender while coaching under Gary Williams at Maryland, he loves the Grateful Dead, and he’ll talk and talk and talk. He can coach a bit, too. Loyola went 29-140 from 1999-2000 through 2004-05, his first season. This year, Loyola won 24 games and won the MAAC tournament for the Greyhounds’ first NCAA bid since 1994.
Quincys. Pierre Jackson is Baylor’s leading scorer, and Perry Jones is Baylor’s biggest star. That said, Baylor wouldn’t be the contender it is without its Quincys, particularly Quincy Acy. The forward is Baylor’s heart and motivator on the floor. The freshman Quincy Miller is far from a finished product, but he’s valuable contributor.
Rants. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and Lamar coach Pat Knight weren’t shy in delivering blunt assessments of their teams in front of the cameras. They must have been just as effective in the locker room. Cincinnati’s brawl with rival Xavier was one of the low points of the season, but the Bearcats turned around their season after Cronin clearly expressed his embarrassment after the incident. The Bearcats lost that day, in addition to losing to Presbyterian and Marshall weeks earlier. Cincinnati went 19-7 and reached the Big East tournament final after the brawl. After a Feb. 22 loss to Stephen F. Austin, Knight evicerated his seniors. Lamar went 6-0 since, winning the Southland tournament for the school’s first Tournament bid since 2000.
St. Bonaventure. The NCAA slapped the Bonnies with the “lack of institutional control” in 2004, setting up a major reclamation project for coach Mark Schmidt. By defeating Xavier for the Atlantic 10 tournament final, St. Bonaventure earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000 and knocked a bubble team out of the field. The country now will get to know senior Andrew Nicholson, one of the nation’s best-kept secrets. Against Xavier, Nicholson had one of the best games of his career with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight blocks.
Tigers. Missouri hasn’t made the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a trip to the Final Four. That distinction belongs to BYU with 27 Tournaments without a Final Four. Missouri is right behind with 25 appearances without reaching the national semifinals. Led by Jimmer Fredette, BYU had one of its best shots last season before falling in the Sweet 16 to Florida. Missouri is in perhaps its best position to end that drought this year with its best seeding since being a No. 1 seed in 1994 (the Tigers lost to Arizona 92-72 in the Elite Eight that season).
USF. The Bulls may be a shining beacon to the likes of UCF, SMU and others, moribund basketball powers who will soon join a basketball-centric conference. The Bulls went 1-15 in their first season in the Big East before navigating a weaker Big East schedule this year to reach its first NCAA Tournament since 1992.
Valleys. As in the Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley conferences. Since 2008, the MVC’s only tournament wins were Northern Iowa’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2010. Could the Valley make another major statement in this tournament? History says it could be. When the Missouri Valley is a multi-bid league, as it is this season with Wichita State and Creighton in the field, it tends to succeed. In 2007, Southern Illinois reached the Sweet 16 when the MVC was a two-bid league. In 2006, the MVC had four bids with Bradley and Wichita State advancing to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Ohio Valley, a traditional one-bid league, has scored upsets in the last two tournaments with Morehead State upsetting fourth-seeded Louisville in 2011 and Murray State upsetting fourth-seeded Vanderbilt in 2010. This year, the OVC will be favored in its first tournament game with 30-1 Murray State in the field.
Western Kentucky. Western Kentucky was one of the most unlikely teams to clinch a spot in the field when the Hilltoppers won the Sun Belt tournament. Western Kentucky was 5-11 when it fired head coach Ken McDonald on Jan. 6. Then-interim coach Ray Harper went 4-7 before the Hilltoppers elevated him to permanent head coach on Jan. 19 after a loss to South Alabama. That loss was the last under Harper. Western Kentucky won its final six games, including the regular-season finale against Sun Belt champ Middle Tennessee and the conference tournament. At 15-18, Western Kentucky is the only team in the field with a losing record.
Xavier Thames. San Diego State’s third leading scorer, Thames started his career at Washington State. He’s one of a handful of transfers who could make an impact on this year’s field: Mike Moser (UCLA to UNLV), Drew Gordon (UCLA to New Mexico), Matt Carlino (UCLA to BYU), Rob Jones (San Diego to Saint Mary’s), Brandon Wood (Valparaiso to Michigan State), Chris Allen (Michigan State to Iowa State).
Yarou, Mouphtaou. We’ll use this spot – and the name of the Villanova forward – to note two major absences from the NCAA Tournament. The state of Pennsylvania has two teams in the field (Lehigh and Temple), but not Pittsburgh and Villanova. Pitt had made 10 consecutive tournaments, and Villanova made seven. Both were the longest active Tournament streaks in the Big East. That honor now falls to Marquette with seven consecutive trips to the Tournament.
Zellers. Expect a handful of sick days back in Washington, Ind., with hometown favorites Tyler and Cody Zeller playing a major role in the Tournament. Tyler anchors the frontcourt of a team with title hopes in North Carolina. If that could be upstaged, at least in Indiana, Cody helped pull the Hoosiers out of the cellar with their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
—by David Fox (@DavidFox615 on twitter)
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