Archive for the ‘college basketball’ Category

Steve Fisher has retired as San Diego State basketball coach and it certainly is the right time for his departure.

His final team wasn’t all that good — 19-14 to snap a streak of 11 straight 20-win campaigns — while playing in a Mountain West that was mediocre at best and now firmly entrenched as a one-bid league when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

Several times this season, I tossed out social media comments that it would be Fab Five Fish’s final season. It just had that feeling about it.

Longtime assistant coach Brian Dutcher — one of the most genuinely nice people in college basketball — takes over the program.

Fisher, 72, went 386-209 in 18 seasons with the Aztecs and posted 12 20-win seasons and led the program to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a string of six straight.

Making six straight NCAA Tournament appearances was surreal for a program which was among the worst in the nation when Fisher was hired.

Remember, I was covering that awful program when Fisher was hired and he was far from the preferred target.

I broke the story that then-Utah coach Rick Majerus interviewed for the job and Majerus was close to taking it a few days later before he said no. Fran Fraschilla also was offered the job (nope, I didn’t break that one) as was then-Gonzaga coach Dan Monson (yep, broke that one and was waiting at the airport for his Sunday night flight to arrive and when he didn’t come out of the jet way, I knew that was a problem for San Diego State).

At that point, then-athletic director Rick Bay turned to Fisher, who was desperate to get back into college coaching. He had been fired at Michigan a few years earlier and I still remember how stunned I was upon meeting him that he had gray hair in 1999, just a few years after having a full head of brown hair while coaching the Wolverines.

The Aztecs were putrid in his first season and went 5-23 and then Fisher booted five inherited players off the team to free up scholarships.

Two seasons later, led by junior-college transfer Randy Holcomb, the Aztecs made the NCAA Tournament. Credibility had arrived for a program that previously had none.

Eventually, the 20-win seasons became an annual thing but there was still the matter of the program having ZERO NCAA Tournament wins. And you really don’t have a program if you’ve never won an NCAA Tournament game.

Finally, the Kawhi Leonard-led Aztecs had the best season in program history in 2010-11 with a 34-3 mark — a season that will still be the best in school history in 2117 if the world exists.

San Diego State finally got that elusive NCAA tourney win by beating Northern Colorado and eventually lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Aztecs also topped 30 wins when they went 31-5 in 2013-14 and again reached the Sweet 16 before falling to Arizona.

If you haven’t figured it out, 30-win seasons aren’t supposed to be accomplishments achieved by the San Diego States of the college basketball landscape.

Last season’s final hurrah was not a good one for Fisher but he certainly elevated the program to heights nobody foresaw. Dutcher has been his right-hand man for all of those 18 seasons so the program philosophy won’t change.

The challenge for Dutcher is to have last season’s subpar campaign be an aberration. Once programs like San Diego State fall back into being just another mid-major program in a poor basketball league, it becomes harder to rise back up. Isn’t that right, UNLV?

But know this: Dutcher steps into a far better situation than the one Fisher inherited. The days where nobody cared that San Diego State even had a basketball program seems like centuries ago.

It was a good run for Steve Fisher but good for him to recognize that it was time for him to depart.

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They played college basketball’s national championship game on Monday night and it was a foul-fueled disaster.

Referees Mike Eades, Verne Harris and Michael Stephens apparently thought we tuned in to watch them blow their whistles.

The trio of officials prevented either team from developing a flow in the second half before North Carolina played better down the stretch to register a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga.

The championship is the sixth in Tar Heels’ history and the school will certainly cherish it after losing to Villanova in last season’s title game.

But nobody is going to remember this game as a classic, primarily with the referees calling 44 fouls.

Gonzaga’s chances of winning were diminished when freshman 7-footer Zach Collins was saddled with his fourth foul and eventually fouled out. Losing Collins was a blow with center Przemek Karnowski going 1-of-8 from the field and missing close-range shots like that tall awkward fourth grader in the elementary school league.

However, the Zags also sabotaged their own chances with 14 turnovers while North Carolina committed just four. Gonzaga simply didn’t do enough to win, shot just 33.9 percent from the field and unraveled in the final 90 seconds.

The Tar Heels also had trouble dropping the ball in the ocean as they shot just 35.6 percent from the field and went 4-of-27 from 3-point range.

North Carolina guard Joel Berry II scored 22 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He was just 9-of-33 shooting in the Final Four, which should give you a pretty good idea about the lack of quality performances in Monday’s title game.

Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson missed all nine of his 3-point attempts while scoring 16 points on Monday.

Gonzaga was in the NCAA Tournament title game for the first time ever and its season finale will prompt mixed memories down the line. But make no mistake, a 37-2 campaign is a terrific accomplishment.

Bulldogs coach Mark Few got the Final Four monkey off his back and recently passed 500 career wins. He’ll eventually make the Hall of Fame.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is already in the Hall of Fame. Amazingly, he was won more national titles (three) at North Carolina than legendary Dean Smith (two).

Who knows — maybe the result would have been different if the refs had not taken over and gone whistle crazy.

Then again, probably not, the officials were just as poor for North Carolina.

The Tar Heels (33-7) finished the game better than the Zags and deserved their title. But none of us will remember the 2017 title game fondly.

Somehow it is already time for the NCAA Tournament championship game. Seems like the season just started.

Time flies way too quick these days but I won’t spend too much time dwelling about that as I do know why you are here.

You haven’t forgotten that it was me who nearly hit the final score of last year’s game on the head.

While the so-called experts were all falling over themselves to pick North Carolina, I not only selected Villanova as the winner but I almost nailed the final score on the head.

The final score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 74. My predicted score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 73.

Here is the proof: http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-villanova-northcarolina-preview-idUSMTZEC443VZQAB

Not easy to predict a college basketball score, let alone nearly hit both ends of the NCAA title game.

Perhaps it is those 16 years as an award-winning college basketball beat writer helping in a cause like that. Perhaps it is just nothing but blind luck.

That said, the big tilt between Gonzaga and North Carolina is just hours away. I wrote the national preview on Sunday and I came up with the winner and final score you have been waiting to see.

So did I pick the veteran North Carolina team that has several players back from the team that lost in last season’s title game? Or did I pick all the Gonzaga transfers who have their school in the national title game for the first time?

Either way, I think it will be a terrific game … I think it will be close down to the final minutes … may even come down to another dose of late-game heroics (don’t forget Kris Jenkins’ game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer last season) … I can see the postgame scene in my head and I have decided upon the winner and the final score.

You can find it here … http://news.lakana.com/sports/preview-gonzaga-vs-north-carolina/109634570

Pretty sure I will hit it exactly this time.

Weekly links … NCAA Tournament style

 

Reminiscing about last week’s NCAA Tournament games and I can’t help but think how fun it was to watch South Carolina defeat Duke.

Of course, it is fun anytime Duke goes home the first week of the tourney but it was especially fun because all the Duke excuse makers were out in full force.

You see, it was somehow unfair for Duke to have to play South Carolina in the state of South Carolina.

But for some reason, it never is unfair for Duke opponents to have to play the Blue Devils in the state of North Carolina. How many times has Duke had two quasi-home games in the NCAA tourney?

Yet somehow it was really unfair for Coach K and his team to have to play in a different state.

Duke couldn’t play in the home state this year because the tournament was pulled from North Carolina due to that weirdo transgender bathroom law.

Do they have guards outside the bathroom checking your gender before you are allowed in? What a dumb law.

Anyway, South Carolina and star guard Sindarius Thornwell outclassed Duke. And Frank Martin outcoached Coach K.

South Carolina became America’s Team for a night as most people around the nation enjoyed watching another Duke early exit.

Go Mercer! Go Lehigh! Go South Carolina!

Isn’t Duke an elite program? Well, elite programs should be able to win anywhere.

End of story.

 

Interesting tidbit I dug up: Wisconsin has won more NCAA Tournament games than anyone else over the past four years.

The Badgers are looking for their 14th NCAA win in that time span when they face Florida on Friday.

Normally, I wouldn’t care who wins a game like this. Especially since my bracket has already met the shredder (thanks, Villanova).

Oh yeah, it was Wisconsin causing my bracket to become full of red ink with its impressive victory over Villanova.

But I now realize it is time for the Badgers to go home. Not their fault but I learned that the slimy politician guy named Paul Ryan is from Wisconsin.

Ryan is the dingbat who is somehow coming up with a worse health care plan than the disaster known as Obamacare (the one time Donald Trump is right). I wouldn’t trust that Ryan clown to correctly put English muffins in the toaster. Heck, my mom calls him a jackass.

Go Gators! Make Paul Ryan have a horrible Friday night.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/wisconsin-looks-to-keep-run-going-versus-florida/

 

Thursday is the night that all of those Gonzaga fans will become really sad.

The Bulldogs don’t have enough ball-handlers to deal with the “Press Virginia” defense that West Virginia is famous for. The Mountaineers have forced 724 turnovers — nobody else even has 600 — and I see them creating havoc all game long.

Gonzaga also is the team with all the pressure on it. The Bulldogs have never reached a Final Four and even coach Mark Few admitted that the Final Four thing will continue to hang over the program until it reaches one.

Well, I don’t see Nigel Williams-Goss and his teammates even reaching the Elite Eight. I see Gonzaga’s season coming to an end on Thursday.

Here is the stellar preview — http://newsok.sportsdirectinc.com/basketball/ncaab-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAB/matchups/g6_preview_19.html

 

 

 

Weekly links out of hibernation …

 

Has it really been 29 years ago since Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national title?

The Jayhawks are usually a high-seeded team that underperforms in March Madness. Think of all that tradition and the high number of great players and then ponder that the school has won just three national championships.

But Kansas was a major overachiever the year “Danny and the Miracles” won the national title. The Jayhawks were a No. 6 seed and weren’t even ranked in the final regular-season Top 25 poll.

The team that was 20-10 entering the NCAA Tournament crashed the Final Four. While everybody else pondered whether Arizona, Duke or Oklahoma would win the title, Manning carried Kansas to the crown. First the Jayhawks beat Duke in the Final Four and then they outlasted Oklahoma in the national championship game.

This famous occurrence is on my mind after writing the Wake Forest-Kansas State preview for Tuesday’s First Four game in Dayton.

Manning is Wake Forest’s coach and he has a long history with Kansas State. And it wasn’t always so memorable. Especially when you close your eyes and imagine this visual:

“One of my first games at K-State, that’s a very heated rivalry, they were throwing live chickens at us,” Manning said on Sunday. “I remember going in there and ducking some live chickens, also some not-so-live ones out of a KFC bucket or whatever.”

Yikes … live chickens landing on the court? … how about people bringing their buckets of chicken and slinging thighs and wings at Manning and his teammates?

That sure doesn’t happen in today’s college basketball world. And you know, I kind of miss the 80s era of college basketball.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Kansas-St-vs-Wake-Forest-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6181489433207/

 

One thing about March Madness is you learn some things you otherwise wouldn’t.

Like where the heck is Mount St. Mary’s? How would they match up with big-time schools?

Or the Pelicans aren’t the only basketball team from New Orleans? We got some Privateers crashing the big dance.

Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans play each other in Tuesday’s First Four and there is no other time that any of us would even care if they played one another.

The winner gets to move on to Buffalo, where it gets to be trampled by defending-champion Villanova. But regardless, the winner gets to brag that it won an NCAA Tournament game. It will be the second in school history for the winner.

Mount St. Mary’s is located in Emmittsburg, Md. I’m not saying it is a town in the boonies (well, yeah I am) but it is closer to Gettysburg, Pa., than any town in Maryland you’ve heard of. Surely, they talk Civil War more than hoops.

As for the big boys, Mount St. Mary’s started 1-11 this season against a slate that included NCAA Tournament teams West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan, Arkansas and Bucknell.

New Orleans recorded a road win at Washington State and the fact that the school is in the NCAA tourney is a stunner to the locals, who barely pay attention to the school’s team.

But that’s OK because both the city and university were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and both have recovered. There were no expectations of the Privateers being part of the NCAA field because they went 10-20 last season. So nice turnaround indeed.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Mount-St-Marys-vs-New-Orleans-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6381489438322/

San Diego might no longer have a NFL team but it gained an impressive new sports legend.

Poway native Kelsey Plum scored an out-of-control 57 points on Saturday to become the all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball history with 3,397 points.

Plum broke the record held by legendary Jackie Stiles — one of the few instantly recognizable names in women’s college basketball history.

Now Plum holds that record and she will raise it to a level that should make it last a long time before her senior season at Washington concludes.

Probably the most enjoyable part of Plum’s scoring spree is she outscored the entire Duke men’s team (50 points) on Saturday.

Coach K is sure to come down with another sore back once that news reaches Durham, N.C.

Plum leads the nation in scoring with a 31.6 average — proof that not all the best players end up at Connecticut.

Oh yeah, someone you know put together a quick story that ended up on this website among others: http://www.scoresandstats.com/breaking-news/basketball/wncaab/washingtons-plum-scores-57-sets-ncaa-womens-career-record/170162/

An interesting tidbit is that former LSU great Pete Maravich is the only Division I player — man or woman — to score more points than Plum. Maravich scored 3,667 points in just 83 games between 1967-70.

That is an incredible 44.2 average over three college seasons. They didn’t let freshman play back then and they also didn’t have a 3-point line.

Maravich would have scored over 5,000 points if allowed to play four seasons with a 3-point line.

The best comment of the day when it came to Plum’s record was made by Boston Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge.

Congratulations @kelseyplum10 for becoming the best scoring 5’8″ player in UW history. Amazing accomplishment.”

Priceless. You see, the Celtics’ best player is All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas. He happens to stand 5-8 and played for Washington.

Boom.

Back to Plum … she starred in high school at La Jolla Country Day in San Diego County. That is the same small school that produced former Stanford star and WNBA player Candice Wiggins and football player Rashaan Salaam, the former Heisman Trophy winner at Colorado who committed suicide in December.

She also has good athletic genes as her father Jim was a big-time multi-sport star at Helix High – the school that produced basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton and prominent football players Reggie Bush and Alex Smith — and played football and baseball for San Diego State.

Another thing to note is that Plum said she wasn’t feeling very well during Saturday’s monster outing and was eating applesauce during timeouts.

What I take from that is all budding young girls’ basketball players should start eating applesauce. Gallons of it.

Weekly links is back and what a weird week for San Diego football fans.

Dean Spanos is finally taking the Chargers to Los Angeles and he has become a national laughingstock. It felt like only San Diegans were aware of what a dork the guy is but the announcement of the move displayed that all football fans are fully aware.

Even other pro sports team were mocking the Chargers … ouch. And you could almost hear that spineless public relations director yelling “Take a chill pill” if you recall that silly incident from the 2012 season.

My favorite thing I ran across was some Los Angeles writer giving a rundown of the organization and wondering if the move to Los Angeles could affect the Chargers’ on-field play in 2017.

Ummmmmm, they are 9-23 over the past two seasons, dude. And they were the only team in the NFL to lose to the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

If moving to Los Angeles is going to affect the record, the Chargers will BE the Cleveland Browns.

Happiest team about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles is the soccer team that will share the StubHub Center with the Chargers.

That’s because the LA Galaxy are guaranteed to still be the highest-scoring team playing in that venue.

 

OK, on to the links.

It will be interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys fare against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-best 1,631 rushing yards) haven’t looked like novices during a 13-3 season. But how will they handle the playoff pressure?

Prescott has handled everything well while going from projected third-stringer to making Tony Romo forever irrelevant. But the playoffs are a completely different animal and things can go wrong quickly.

You might recall Dan Fouts’ first career playoff game as the leader of the Don Coryell Chargers. He threw five interceptions and the heavily favored Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers.

If a Hall of Famer like Fouts could fall flat on his face, so can a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State.

Not to forget that Aaron Rodgers is hotter than lava (you bet lava made it into my lead) and is an experienced veteran of the playoff wars. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes without being intercepted over the past seven games.

Here is the stellar Packers-Cowboys preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/NFL/2017/01/12/Green-Bay-Packers-vs-Dallas-Cowboys-Aaron-Rodgers-Dak-Prescott-under-the-microscope/9991484249346/

 

Now that it is mid-January, it is time to start figuring out which college basketball conferences are good and which ones are pretenders.

I haven’t yet figured out where the SEC stands but I know what direction I’m leaning.

Kentucky is pretty talented but we saw South Carolina collapse late last season to be relegated to the NIT so it is hard to take the Gamecocks seriously.

Which brings me to Florida.

I’ve had to watch the Gators play a few times lately and write about them because I’m paid to do so and their record (13-3, 4-0 SEC) appears to be better than the sum of its parts.

In Tuesday’s 80-67 victory over Alabama (now that school is a pretender), it was Florida’s ninth-leading scorer playing the hero. Some guy named Keith Stone and his 14-point effort improved his scoring average to 4.6.

You can say it is a good quality when a team can have its ninth-best player lead them in scoring. But the other fact is that teams like this typically start displaying their true colors in mid-February.

They don’t tend to get better — and often will decline.

Florida has one good scorer in sophomore KeVaughn Allen. Senior Canyon Barry (son of Rick) provides scoring punch off the bench but it isn’t a team that scares anyone.

The Gators play Georgia (I’m leaning toward pretender for the Bulldogs) on Saturday and I will be watching closely.

Here is the stellar Georgia-Florida preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/no-23-florida-goes-for-7th-straight-vs-georgia/

 

The Los Angeles Rams hired a coach who turns 31 years old on Jan. 24.

That’s correct — 31 years old. Not 41. Not 51. Not 61. Heck, not 71.

Sean McVay was hired by the Rams to turn around their fortunes and perhaps he’s too young to know that’s nearly impossible. And since Kroenke the Donkey owns the team, is there anybody anywhere that wants to see the Rams win?

McVay is the youngest coach in NFL history as I’m sure you figured out. He was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

The fun part about stories like this is you see a report and you start writing and reporting like a madman. It took just 15 minutes to write this breaking news and that includes doing all the research on McVay’s background and searching for statements from McVay and the Rams.

This story was out on the national wire 20 minutes before the Rams even released the news themselves.

That is part of the fun as you never know what you might have to write on a moment’s notice.

So now I’m well-versed on Sean McVay.

Oh, there is a player on the Rams who is older than McVay. Now that’s funny.

Here is the stellar breaking news story — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=60&story_id=156335

Time for Weekly Links and hopefully these hot stories heat things up.

You see, it is minus-7 degrees on this Friday night and feels even colder. When my phone said feels like minus-17 last night, I really wanted to throw it out in the cold so it could find out for itself.

Oh yeah, went out to start my car tonight so the engine wouldn’t die. Too late, it was already dead. #PolarBearWeather and I don’t really get along too well.

 

So off to the links and I drew the preview assignment for the College Football Playoff title game between Alabama and Clemson.

I’ve been saying Alabama would go undefeated since early October so no reason to change now. Clemson has a ton of solid players and should make it a game — just as the Tigers did last season before losing 45-40 in the title game.

The Crimson Tide has NFL players everywhere. Lucky for Nick Saban, he doesn’t have to fit them under a salary game.

And Saban sent offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin packing after the semifinal win over Washington. Maybe we can change his name to Lame Kiffin.

Fits pretty well.

Here is the stellar preview of Monday’s national championship game — http://sun-sentinel.sportsdirectinc.com/football/ncaaf-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAF/matchups/g8_preview_2.html

 

My NFL preview for the week is the AFC wild-card game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Dolphins defeated the Steelers 30-15 in the regular season when running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted twice.

I say quarterback play will be the bigger factor in the rematch. Roethlisberger will be making his 18th postseason start – he has won two Super Bowls – while Miami journeyman Matt Moore will be making his first career playoff start.

Not saying Moore won’t step up but it also won’t surprise me if he puts together a disastrous Brock Osweiler-like performance either (translation: rotten).

The Dolphins were badly hoping Ryan Tannehill would be recovered from his knee injury to play in this game but he appears to be another week or two away.

Here is the stellar Dolphins-Steelers preview — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20170108023&home=23&vis=15&action=click&contentCollection=football&region=supplemental&module=sports-stats-module-nfl&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront

 

I was asked recently what is the best assignment to draw and that answer was easy: College basketball remote writethrus.

They pay 2 1/2 to three times more than the previews. Heck, they pay better than most live assignments I’ve handled since living in Boise.

Not leaving the house to write about college basketball and getting paid better than covering a live college hoops game from courtside is pretty amazing. Who needs to deal with snow and sliding on icy roads? Not me.

So here is how it goes: I file first-half running copy with notes at halftime, I file a first lede about two minutes after the game concludes and I finish up with the write-thru with quotes about an hour later.

And I don’t even have to deal with the egos of any coach. Perfect.

 

So this week, I learned that Hall of Famer Rick Barry has a son who plays for Florida. (Yeah, I did the math too).

Oh sure, he shoots free throws underhanded just like his famous father.

Canyon Barry matched his season best of 20 points on Tuesday as the Gators knocked off Ole Miss to land my story angle.

Here is the stellar Ole Miss-Florida remote writethru — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=60&story_id=155582

 

In my other one, I really didn’t learn anything new. Already knew Gonzaga was really, really good. And the Zags beating up on San Francisco is a twice-yearly tradition.

But wow, Bulldogs junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss keeps getting better and better. He had been sick earlier in the week but he was making the Dons feel awful with his play as he established career highs of 36 points and 11 rebounds on Thursday.

Williams-Goss was a fine point guard at Washington for two seasons before departing. He sat out last season as a transfer and now looks like one of the top players at his position in the country.

His superb performance led to him landing the angle on my story.

Here is the stellar Gonzaga-San Francisco remote writethru — http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-gonzaga-sanfrancisco-writethru-idUSMTZED16CBWTCJ

A lot of people in the sports world predict which team will win a game.

Not too many try to predict the final score.

It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in a sport like basketball.

This is on my mind because one of those situations came up this week that truly impresses me.

Wait, are you allowed to say you were impressed over something that you yourself did? Is that what the modern folks mean by #humblebrag?

As if that word itself isn’t confusing.

So let me be humble and let me go brag — yeah, that makes sense — about my prediction of Tuesday’s NBA game between the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves.

I saw this score “Spurs 105, Timberwolves 91” and I thought ‘That sounds kind of familiar.’

I went online and found my preview … scrolled to the bottom and there was my pick:

PREDICTION: Spurs 105, Timberwolves 92 (here’s proof at the bottom of the stellar previewhttp://www.reuters.com/article/bkn-spurs-timberwolves-preview-idUSMTZECC6RIRQ1U

Soooooo close — if Andrew Wiggins could have gone 2-of-3 from the line instead of a porous 1-of-3, I nail that score right on the head.

Just know that close call is way closer than most of the predictions. Could make a good laugh to keep track of all of them and check the scores because most of the time you will be far away from the actual score.

So when you are close, toot your horn … like I’m about to do over last season’s NCAA championship game.

Remember how that powerful North Carolina team was supposed to roll through the Final Four?

Well, I picked Villanova to win the national championship game … and I just missed nailing the final score.

Yes, I almost predicted the correct score for the most important college basketball game of the season.

PREDICTION: Villanova 77, North Carolina 73

Final score of the game: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74

Again, here is the proof at the bottom of the stellar NCAA title game preview — http://www.reuters.com/article/bkc-villanova-northcarolina-preview-idUSMTZEC443VZQAB

OK, done humblebragging (is that a word?). The point has been made. It doesn’t happen often but it feels good to almost hit the score of a basketball game.

I know, I know — now you will be expecting me to tell you the correct score of the 2017 NCAA title game.

Now that you are paying attention, I’ll probably miss by 30.

 

Let’s consider the Spurs-Timberwolves preview as part of the ever-popular Weekly Links.

Here is another one — San Diego State vs. Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.

I see a lot of whining that Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey wasn’t a Heisman Trophy finalist. And then the failure to win the Doak Walker Award is somehow a sign of DISRESPECT.

Really? Pumphrey plays at San Diego State. Just the fact he was getting some Heisman talk was impressive. That he was one of THREE finalists for the Doak Walker Award (top running back) is a true sign of RESPECT.

Texas standout D’Onta Freeman won the Doak Walker Award and I see nothing wrong with that. He played fewer games than Pumphrey and had more yards. And did it against a tougher schedule.

End of conversation.

While we’re talking about Pumphrey, he has 6,290 career rushing yards and is 108 yards away from passing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne as the all-time leading rusher in college football history. But the real truth is that Pumphrey needs to rush for 836 yards against the Cougars if he wants to keep the record.

The NCAA is a silly entity to begin with but one of the more ridiculous things is that bowl game stats count for the current players but not for the all-time greats from last century.

At some point, this nonsense will be fixed — most Big Ten schools already have added the past bowl game stats to their own record books. When it happens, Dayne’s total will grow from 6,397 to 7,125 and the record will once again be his.

Not Pumphrey’s fault but how awkward will it feel for him two or three years from now when the NCAA catches up to modern times and learns that updating statistics from the past isn’t all that hard.

They will be like, “Mr. Pumphrey, your record just disappeared like all those vinyl ones from the past.”

Here is the stellar bowl preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaaf/event/2016/64201/preview/top25/

 

Here is an NFL preview to finish off this edition of Weekly Links.

The Washington Redskins are 6-5-1 and might need to win each of their last four games to reach the playoffs.

So you think a four-game winning streak to end the season sounds preposterous?

That’s exactly what the Redskins did last season to qualify for the playoffs.

It also let us know for sure that Kirk Cousins was a bona fide NFL starting quarterback as he was on fire down the stretch of the season. Cousins is having a solid campaign this season but now gets the chance to step it up again.

Funny how football works.

The Redskins play the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and how odd is it that Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson fancies a return to Philadelphia?

He was sent packing by former Eagles coach Chip Kelly three seasons ago. You may have noticed Kelly was booted from Philadelphia and now coaches in San Francisco.

It will be quite a statement if the Eagles take Jackson back … squarely putting the blame on the former control freak coach.

Here is the stellar Redskins-Eagles preview (not using New York Times this week for the link because I’m giving love to one of the entities that leaves my byline on — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/NFL/2016/12/08/Washington-Redskins-look-for-finishing-kick-similar-to-last-year-vs-Philadelphia-Eagles/1091481221332/

Melvin Gordon wasn’t very impressive as a rookie so naturally a lot of people wondered whether he was on his way to being a bust.

Pretty sure that topic has been squashed by the performance of the San Diego Chargers running back this season.

Gordon has already passed last season’s total for rushing yards (646) and ranks third in the NFL with 768 yards entering Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins.

Even more eye-opening is that he leads the NFL in touchdowns with 11 (nine rushing, two receiving).

Do you remember all those touchdowns Gordon scored last season? Can you recall even one?

You certainly can’t because Gordon didn’t score a single one. It was like Donald Trump built a wall and nobody with the last name of Gordon was able to gain access to the end zone.

And he kept fumbling the ball to make matters worse.

But coach Mike McCoy has gone from being a doubter to a full-fledged supporter of Gordon, who announced his budding star status with 196 rushing yards against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

That output ranks ninth in Chargers’ history. The great LaDainian Tomlinson holds the single-game record of 243.

Speaking of 200-yard rushing performances, Miami has an emerging star as well in Jay Ajayi, also in his second season. Ajayi has a college-like 529 rushing yards over the past three games, including becoming just the fourth player in the NFL history to rush for 200 yards in back-to-back games.

Sure made an easy preview angle for me, I can say that. Here is the stellar Dolphins-Chargers preview (and let’s say that I had no idea my work was running in the New York Times. Wow.) — http://nytimes.stats.com/fb/preview.asp?g=20161113024

 

 Feels weird to type this but the Los Angeles Clippers have been the most impressive team in the NBA over the first two-plus weeks of the season.

The Clippers (7-1) were hard-pressed to win seven games in two-plus months during most of their San Diego tenure.

But coach Doc Rivers has them playing superb defense and that is translating to victories heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers are allowing just 88.3 points per game and everybody is buying in. Chris Paul is healthy and playing solid defense. Blake Griffin is healthy and enjoying playing defense. And DeAndre Jordan, of course, is playing superb defense.

Way too early to predict whether or not the Clippers are finally going to hurdle their playoff hiccups but know this: They routed the San Antonio Spurs by 24 points in San Antonio last Saturday. You might recall the Spurs went 40-1 at home this season.

The Clippers try to avenge their lone loss of the season when they visit Oklahoma City. Here is the stellar Clippers-Thunder preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/nba/event/2016/944815/preview/

 

Michigan has a promising quarterback in sophomore Wilton Speight and it is time to share an interesting story that I have heard a few times this season.

In the spring of 2015, shortly after Jim Harbaugh took over as coach, HBO was filming a special and Harbaugh brutally ripped one of the quarterbacks.

Oh, they blocked out the kid’s face and number but that didn’t help too much in this case. You see, Speight is 6-foot-6.

Michigan only had one tall quarterback like that.

The worst line from Harbaugh was this: “If you want to look at me with that look, go (expletive) somewhere else.”

Speight thought really hard about doing that all summer long. He eventually decided against transferring.

Now fast forward to 2016 and Speight is playing tremendous football for a 9-0 squad ranked third in the nation.

Sometimes the best move a kid can make is to, well, not make a move. He stayed put and it worked out well.

You can find more detail in the stellar Michigan-Iowa preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Football/2016/11/09/Michigan-vs-Iowa-College-football-game-preview/2041478697219/

  

Somehow it is already college basketball season and the campaign commences on Friday night.

One of the numerous tip-offs involves No. 13 Gonzaga, a program that lost stars Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis from a 28-8 team.

But no worries, the transfer wagon paid Spokane, Wash., a visit and dropped off three pretty good players. So instead of a transition season in which the Bulldogs would roll through their weak conference but stumble against more powerful foes, Gonzaga is in terrific shape.

Former Washington standout Nigel Williams-Goss is the new point guard, former California 3-pointer bomber Jordan Mathews will be the new shooting guard and former Missouri power forward Johnathan Williams will be a fierce inside threat.

I remember being surprised Williams-Goss was leaving Washington. He was one of the top players in Pac-12 as a sophomore. Point guards on overmatched opponents such as Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Portland are probably already worried about guarding him.

Then the Zags have 7-foot-2 center Przemek Karnowski back. His career was supposed to be over last season but a back injury that required surgery limited him to just five games and he received a medical redshirt season.

Those four players combine with sophomore guard Josh Perkins to give Gonzaga a pretty solid lineup. The Zags won’t be taking a step back this season. Mark Few will once again have a good team.

Here is the stellar Utah Valley-Gonzaga preview — http://www.usatoday.com/sports/ncaab/event/2016/946360/preview/top25/