Grip on sports: Gonzaga basketball bustin’ up brackets like it’s 1999.
Saturday: It seemed like old times yesterday afternoon. Gonzaga, that plucky little squad from Spokane facing a Midwest powerhouse in its opening NCAA game. And the valiant Zags battled through adversity to pull out the win. How 20th Century of them.
Honestly, there probably was as little expected of this Gonzaga squad around here in the NCAAs since the Elite Eight run of 1999 that started this whole Zagmania thing.
When the brackets were announced last Sunday, just about every talking head from here to Bristol congratulated GU on a great season that was about to end against the woefully underseeded Cowboys.
Oops. No wonder there is no one still alive in the billion-dollar bracket contest.
There have been a handful of Zag teams in the past 16 years who could win with their B-game. This isn’t one of them. But when they play their A-game, something they did right out of the gate yesterday, they can play with just about anybody.
The reward for Friday’s win? A Sunday evening showdown with Arizona, quite possibly the best team in the tournament. At the very least one of them and a team that is coldly efficient on defense.
The Wildcats have their own foibles, however, and have been known to disappear on the offensive end at times. So it’s not like the Zags will be facing the Heat, though it will be warm in San Diego thanks to an arena packed with Wildcat fans that made the jaunt up Interstate 8. But it really doesn’t matter, does it? The expectations have been tamped down so firmly that Sunday’s game seems like a bonus.
It’s kind of a nice feeling, isn’t it?
Friday: There is a move afoot, brought to you by our friends at Budweiser, to make the opening day of baseball season a national holiday.
Publicity stunt? Sure. Heck, baseball’s Opening Day isn’t even the most important day in American sports these days. It’s probably a poor third.
In my eyes, if any day (or days) deserves national holiday status, it is today. And/or tomorrow. Call them Cinderella Days.
Then the males of this country wouldn’t have to schedule surgical procedures earlier in the week just to be able to enjoy them.
Thursday: Sizzle is a word WSU athletic director Bill Moos likes and the sizzle had gone out of the Washington State basketball program. So how does Moos get it back? The names that have been bandied about, the Leon Rices, the Ernie Kents, even the Ben Howlands, really won’t strike the cord with fans that Moos wants.
I have another suggestion, but I’m pretty sure it will be ignored. If Moos wants to drag the Cougars out of their deepest depths since the Paul Graham-era ended, he should follow the formula that worked then. Hire a veteran coach who has been out of the college game for a while, let him bring along his college assistant son and designate the younger one as the successor.
It worked well for the Bennetts (Dick and especially Tony) and Washington State back then. Why wouldn’t it work again? OK, lots of reasons, but hear me out.
I’ve been told Kelvin Sampson longs to get back into college coaching. He’s won at Washington State before. He knows the territory.
Yes, he broke NCAA rules at Oklahoma and Indiana and was sanctioned for it, hit with a five-year show-cause penalty. Guess what? Those five years are up. They ended in November. The rules Kelvin broke, the ones about too many phone calls? They were so stupid even the NCAA changed them.
And Kelvin has a son, Kellen, who has worked his way up the ladder, serving as a graduate assistant, strength coach and assistant coach, now at Appalachian State, while his father plugged away in the NBA. Yes, Kelvin is older. But he should be re-energized. He’s been a good college coach – if you ignore the whole fast-and-loose-with-the-rules thing – who has won everywhere he’s been. And he knows Pullman in and out.
I know Sampson carries more baggage than a New York bellboy, but so did Mike Leach. And his baggage has seemed to disappear, or at the least gather dust in the corner. So why not try a proven formula again?