NCAABB

After the Champ was Crowned, Do You Feel Satisfied?

There are not enough adjectives to describe the inept, underwhelming showcase of basketball during the NCAA National Championship.  Sure, a champion was crowned, but at what cost to the fans’ entertainment value?

Many of us jumped on the bandwagon of “the little school that could” Butler. However, the power of Big East stalwart Connecticut resembled Goliath, and “David” was missing his slingshot.

Better yet, Butler appeared to be shooting the basketball with a slingshot instead of their palms, wrists, legs and elbows.

Butler made 12-shots the entire night. To add to that number, the Bulldogs managed to net only three two-point baskets, a credit to the muscle of UConn.

Oddly enough, Butler actually led at halftime 22-19, while also opening the second half with a 3-point basket.

The story of the night was the awful shooting from both teams. Luckily for the Huskies, they proved to be the bigger dog in the fight.

While the Butler Bulldogs kept building a house of bricks from everywhere on the court, Connecticut smartened up and scored in the paint.

Butler couldn’t contend with the size and production inside, while UConn star Kemba Walker had just enough firepower to pull away.

Walker’s 16-points led all scorers in the championship game, but he was far from his typical 30-point showcases of the previous ten-straight wins.

Fans tuning in for a high scoring, up and down the court free-for-all, instead watched two physically drained teams miss shot, after shot. Connecticut’s 53-points was the lowest total by a winning team since 1949.

Back then, there was no shot clock. Last night, it might have been more entertaining to watch the championship contest with no shot clock. With that theory in place, maybe a physical brawl would have unfolded.

Perhaps fans would have received their money’s worth.

Published on April 4, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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March Madness: Will Cinderella Runs Provoke Even Further Expansion?

Anyone who believes that the NCAA Tournament field is watered down has not turned on a single game during March. With expansion wrapping its arms around many of this country’s beloved sports, the NCAA did not resist that notion.

Even though rumors swirled about possible tournament expansion from 64 teams to 96 or more, five new recipients were ushered in over the past two seasons.

Early remarks about the new “First Four” airing on truTV were laughable. However, Virginia Commonwealth was one of the last four teams in the field featured in the “first round” games on the supposed unknown network.

With the VCU Rams’ successful run through the big dance and making an improbable run to the Final Four, fans in Richmond, VA are the only ones laughing now.

Change is not always a concept that should be thrown to the wolves. If growth was not part of athletics and the spirit of competition, none of us would be exposed to the ever-changing game of football.

Just think of the NFL without all of the former American Football League teams that merged with the NFL in 1970 and even in the ten years prior. Some of the most memorable moments in sports history would not exist if these match-ups did not occur. No dynasty for the New England or the then Boston Patriots. The city rivalry between the New York Giants and the Jets or Titans back then, would not exist.

And potentially worst of all, no Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders, or the great Al Davis to fill our lives with light-hearted sports humor.

The point is that change, growth and expansion all improve the overall product of the games we watch.

For college basketball, the slight addition of one team last season and four new bids this spring, both enhanced viewer appeal and the overall atmosphere of the tournament. Plus, Turner Entertainment received lucrative deals to broadcast the extra four games.

Honestly, who doesn’t like the single-game elimination format?

Each and every game in the tournament is an “end-all, be-all” circumstance. So, even further expansion should not be out of the question. The “watered down” theory would become more prevalent, however, the contrary might be true.

Everyone’s fear of twenty-point drubbings and thirty-point thrashings in the early rounds might come true, but that already occurs in the tournament. Top-seeded Ohio State crushed UT-San Antonio by 29. Florida dismantled UC-Santa Barbara by 28 points.

But it is not just the heavyweights knocking out the lowly featherweights, Michigan beat Tennessee by 30, albeit with the NCAA hovering over Knoxville.

Blowouts will inevitably happen with or without, further expansion, but if you like nail-biting finishes, buzzer-beating heroics and CBS play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson enhancing even the oddest matchups into unforgettable television, then more teams, more games and more rounds is music to your ears.

More teams also means more schools taking on the role of Cinderella when it matters most.

Few envisioned the Connecticut Huskies to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, even after being crowned Big East Champions. Normally, a ninth-placed team in a conference has no shot at winning the national championship, but in the “Big Dance,” anything can happen.

After all, the beauty of March Madness is watching “Cinderella” try on her glassy slippers and see how far they take her. Butler University is back again for a second shot at cutting down the nets, without Duke in their way.

Hands down, Virginia Commonwealth has surprised the sports world.

VCU has won more games, (five), than anyone in the entire tournament and many fully expected the University of Southern California to oust the Rams before the “real party” started. In fact, many ESPN experts gawked at the idea of extending a bid to the Rams, at all.

Now, the Rams are not only crashing the party, but come Monday night, VCU could be the award-winning guests of honor.

Either way you cut it, the country will have another “David vs. Goliath” college basketball entertainment spectacle.

The power conferences are represented by Kentucky and Connecticut and the so-called “Mid-Majors” or underdogs in the bout are the aforementioned VCU Rams and Butler Bulldogs.

Our country loves a true underdog story or a fairy tale journey by witnessing it live and in a National Championship setting, it’s even more exhilarating.

Remember the Boise State Broncos in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma?  Fans from across the country joined together and praised the “little school that could, and did”. However, that was not for the title of National Champions.

Either Butler or VCU can see their journey through to the finish and become champions of the college basketball landscape.

Are you ready to crown one of them “the best of 2010-11”?

If you are, then hop on the expansion-bandwagon, because Monday night’s contest could be their launching point.

College basketball purists, pull the wool over your eyes, because your worst nightmare might come true.

Published on March 30, 2011 

“Kris Francis on Sports”

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March Madness 2011 Predictions: Who Will Have Their One Shining Moment in March?

It is clear, no matter what changes are made to the NCAA tournament field, the product on the floor remains consistent. As the tournament field expanded from 64 to 68 teams in two years, not many knew what to expect with the addition of the First Four or the first round games.

When many considered these games more of the play-in style, the end result still felt like the Big Dance. Last gasp efforts and buzzer-beating shots ushered in March Madness.

Of course, the upsets did not take long to surface. Unless, of course, you predicted Virginia Commonwealth University to beat the mighty USC Trojans.

Even so, the minority predicted the Morehead State Eagles to pull off the unthinkable upset of Louisville. Better yet, Virginia Commonwealth continued their hot streak and beat Georgetown and Purdue by 36 combined points, on their way to the Sweet 16.

The glamorous last second triumphs have continued to be prominent in March Madness. After all, that is what makes the Big Dance adored by fans across the entire country.

Last year, Butler University wore Cinderella’s glass slipper, until the Duke Blue Devils ended their tournament run like many others before. However, the Butler Bulldogs are not a one-hit wonder. Brad Stevens’ squad is battle tested from last season’s tournament, and thus far, has survived two games by three points.

Butler beat Old Dominion on a last-second layup by Matt Howard, and again, Howard saved the Bulldogs from elimination with a free throw against top-seeded Pittsburgh.

This year’s tournament has delivered all the excitement, improbable upsets and heart-stopping moments. In all actuality, the tournament field is still represented in all forums.

Perennial powerhouse programs and championship favorites like Duke, Ohio State, Connecticut, Kentucky and North Carolina are still alive. Fans that pull for David, rather than Goliath, still have hope with the aforementioned Butler Bulldogs and the VCU Rams, as well as, the Richmond Spiders.

The NCAA tournament truly allows any school across the country an opportunity to win the national championship. Unlike Division 1-A college football, computer rankings do not determine who squares off for all the marbles.

One player, one team and one community can rally and ride the wave of momentum all the way to the Final Four in Houston.

By that time, there are sure to be plenty more upsets and drama-filled moments to solidify the field.

Undoubtedly, someone’s shoulders will grow heavy from the pressure of the moment. However, March Madness rewards legendary performances.

Each year, one player, one team rises above the rest and carries their school to victory. At this point, anything can happen, and no one knows who will have that “one shinning moment.”

Published on March 20, 2011

“Kris Francis on Sports”

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This Game Ended Early! St. John’s vs. Rutgers

Some of the greatest reoccurring shots in college basketball are the last-second buzzer beaters. Each and every year, the team that nails the shot erupts into unbridled jubilation.

The subsequent sights that ensue are some of the most memorable highlights of all-time.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were merely deprived of an opportunity to attempt such late game heroics.

With just under five seconds left in the game, Rutgers trailed St. John’s by two points in the second round of the Big East tournament. An inbounds play was designed, but not executed by the Scarlet Knights.

The Johnnies’ Justin Brownlee wrapped his hands around the basketball, and evidently, the game.

All Brownlee had to do was hold onto the ball and dribble out the clock. Heck, he could have secured the ball and held it like a teddy bear. Either way, he would have left no doubt.

However, neither of those scenarios unfolded. As the clock was ticking down to double-zeroes Brownlee began to celebrate.

After casually dribbling at mid-court, Brownlee then took a tip from his coach, Steve Lavin. Once Brownlee secured the ball, Lavin started his trot to shake hands with Rutgers head coach, Mike Rice.

Brownlee nearly bulled over Lavin, as he picked up his dribble, stepped out of bounds, and heaved the ball into the celebrating hometown crowd.

Yet moments later, as everyone in attendance, and sitting in the comfort of their homes realized, there was still time on the clock.

Although, the zebras instantly jetted straight for the Madison Square Garden changing room.

All three referees missed the three infractions that St. John’s committed, and Rutgers was left holding their head in their hands.

Normally, a college basketball game is 40 minutes in duration, but the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were deprived of the final 1.7 seconds of the Big East Conference tournament game.

The NCAA’s system for crowning a national champion is fool proof. All the results along the way are decided on the court, not through computer generated standings like Division 1 college football.

However, there is one key guideline that must be followed, the games have to be played to completion, even if a six-overtime game is necessary.

Rutgers did not receive the full 40-minutes of a college basketball game. Someone wearing zebra stripes should have blown a whistle with 1.7 seconds left.

Keep in mind; the ball would have been awarded at mid-court. Stranger things have occurred in March Madness, so, Rutgers launching a final buzzer-beater to beat the Johnnies is not out of the ordinary.

However, ending the game early in the most pivotal time of year, with the season on the line, is a one-in-a-million occurrence.

Published on March 11, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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ASU Basketball: Sendek and Sun Devils Need To Rehash The Basics Of Roundball

Thumbing through the Pacific 10 Conference standings, at first glance, the Arizona State Sun Devils’ unattractive position at the bottom has been uncommon recently in Tempe.

After three straight seasons with at least 21 wins, Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils are at the halfway point of the conference season with a distasteful 9-12 record, including a frustrating 1-8 Pac-10 record.

Certainly, any losing record would leave any fan with “bitter beer face,” but the staggering 1-8 record within the conference is cringeworthy.

However, the Sun Devils have not lost their competitive fight.

With UCLA wrapping up the weekend visit by the Los Angeles schools, Arizona State completed the two-game homestand with two losses by a combined three points.

Close losses and nail-biting finishes are not rare for ASU athletics recently, especially after the 2010 Sun Devil football season.

Perhaps the Sun Devils had no business even being within shouting distance of the third-place Bruins after a 15-point deficit twice in the game, yet Sendek’s ASU squad kept battling back.

After only scoring 19 points in the first half, ASU responded with 42 points in the second stanza at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

The normally electric three-point shooting of Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott was virtually nonexistent in the first half. Kuksiks could not find his shooting touch and Abbott spent only seven minutes on the court in the first half due to foul problems.

As the Sun Devils began to slowly chip away at UCLA’s lead, ASU began to make the necessary stops on defense and turn away the Bruins’ second chances with solid rebounding.

But when a rebound was needed most, three Sun Devils jumped in the air, only to collide with each other as the ball fluttered out of bounds.

ASU looked to secure a precious rebound and have one last chance to win the game in regulation, but it was not meant to be.

The 7,000 fans present witnessed the Sun Devils lose another game in the waning moments. This time, the Bruins won 73-72 in overtime.

With all due respect to both the UCLA Bruins, and for that matter, USC on Thursday night, if ASU connected on even 65 percent of their free throws, the Sun Devils would have two more victories in the win column.

Between the Sun Devils’ two games this week versus the Trojans (63-61 loss), and Bruins, ASU connected on 27 of 49 attempted shots from the charity stripe.  Free throws are supposed to be the easiest shot in the game, unless you are Shaquille O’Neal.

As the Sun Devils’ losing skid now reaches seven games, a look back on the fundamentals that propelled ASU to three straight postseason tournaments is in order. If not, this losing streak looks to extend through the Devils’ upcoming road trip to the Bay Area.

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