A Grip on Sports: For the first time ever, the four Elite Eight games won’t have a No. 1 seed participating
Sat., March 25, 2023
A GRIP ON SPORTS • Our little corner of the world was hit with snow late yesterday afternoon. Big, fluffy flakes falling from a sky that darkened in minutes. Odd. Where’s the lamb we’re promised about this time of March?
• Could it be the old sayings we’ve banked upon for years are, goodness gracious, not true? What’s next, old wives’ tales being nothing but lies? Or, even worse, we won’t be able to use the term “old wives” because, well, you know? Obsolescence seems closer every day.
Thank goodness for college basketball. Where such old standbys as quickness wins or size matters still holds true. Where defense wins titles and transition offense is king.
What, what? You’re telling us those truisms are going the way of lamb-like end-of-March days? Please don’t.
Next thing you’ll try to sell is NCAA seeds are about as useful as, well, my dad had a saying about a bull’s anatomy but we’re not about to get canceled for using it. Turns out, seeds aren’t what they are cracked up to be.
Here we are, in the tournament’s Elite Eight, named because of the alliteration. But, also, to get here, one must be playing at an elite level. Not just think you are elite. This year’s Elite Eight? It doesn’t contain any No. 1 seeds. One No. 2, a couple No. 3s, sure. And a 9 (Florida Atlantic). But no No. 1 seeds.
How often has that happened? Never.
Heck, only four times since seeding began in 1979 has there been just one No. 1 in the Elite Eight. One of those was last season. And now there are none. Funny, as college football, with its ultra-exclusive playoff system, has moved further and further from parity, college hoops, the sport with an open playoff system that takes about 19% of the eligible schools, has become Parity Central. Wonder if there is a correlation?
We know fear is no longer a factor. Seeded 16th and playing a team with a 7-5 All-American in the middle? Big deal. The defending national champion? Who cares. The top seed? Let’s see them penetrate our defense. The favorite to return home for the Final Four? Let’s give it our best shot.
Purdue, Kansas, Alabama and Houston didn’t make it to this weekend. Florida Atlantic did.
That’s college basketball for you. What was true 10 years, five years, heck, five months ago, isn’t true today. Few, if any, schools have consistent success anymore. Well, there is that school in Spokane, though it carries around the can’t-win-the-last-one burden. But other than that, hoping for consistency is foolish. And unrewarded.
Gonzaga followers are banking on it. Connecticut looked like the nation’s best team Thursday in its rout of Arkansas, last year’s Zag nemesis. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were down, up, down and up in its 40-minute Sweet Sixteen battle with UCLA. On paper – and among the oddsmakers – UConn looks like a big favorite this evening (5:49, TBS) after winning its first three NCAA contests by at least 15 points.
But who knows? Maybe it will snow in Vegas. Or the Zags’ guards, underachieving all season, will snow the Huskies under with 3-pointers and dimes to Drew Timme. Maybe Anton Watson will clean the boards and Julian Strawther will ride the momentum of his game-winning shot to a 30-10-10 performance.
And in a little more than a week, in a tournament of firsts, the Zags will head home from Houston with its first national title trophy. It would seem appropriate. A lot more than what is blanketing the ground outside our house this morning.
WSU: Kyle Smith has done an admirable job of attracting athletic big men to Pullman recently. Probably better than any Washington State coach since at least George Raveling. And, maybe, someday he’ll be able to look at his roster and see four or five of them together for a year or two. Not now. Not after Dishon Jackson decided to enter the transfer portal following a season lost to injury. Colton Clark has all the details in this story. … Jon Wilner has a mailbag in the Mercury News which spends most of its time on the media-rights deal. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college basketball, though beat-up UCLA fell to Gonzaga, the Bruins returned to prominence recently due to the efforts of the seniors. … Oregon is losing a backup guard. … Among the women, if their NCAA tourney was treated the same financial way as the men’s, Pac-12 schools could make decent change off the tournament. … Though neither of yesterday’s participants, Colorado nor Utah, got past the Sweet Sixteen. The Buffs fell in Seattle to Iowa and the Utes dropped a close one to LSU in South Carolina. … Caitlin Clark was electric in the win over Colorado, as was Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith in her homecoming against Ole Miss. … UCLA gets its chance to knock of the top-ranked Gamecocks in their home state today. … Washington rallied to defeat Kansas State in the WNIT. The Huskies will host Oregon next. … In football news, spring practice continues at Colorado and Arizona. … USC has a different group of receivers. … California has a more-athletic quarterback this spring. … Utah has a clear No. 1 quarterback. … There are answers available to your questions about Oregon State.
Gonzaga: With the Final Four on the line, the Zags face the hottest team in the tournament. Theo Lawson handles the preview duties with Connecticut as well as the key matchup, which just happens to be down low for once. … Theo also offers today’s most-fun story, his telling of the relationship between Malachi Smith and former NFL receiver Terrell Owens. … Dave Boling also has a fun column outlining a new TV show based on the relationship between Mark Few and Timme. We have a possible title for Boling’s fictional show: Dumbass and the Short Man. No? Well, we’ll keep trying. … Jim Meehan has the duty to look back at the win over UCLA, including his ranking of the importance of Strawther’s shot in GU lore. … Jim also has this notebook centered upon San Diego transfer Joey Calcaterra, who will be trying to defeat Gonzaga for the first time. … GU will be doing the same in the Elite Eight with UConn, the school that ended the Zags’ first big run. Jim Allen has Few’s comments about that game as well as a chat with Gonzaga fans. … Friday’s other games featured underdogs biting their higher-ranked opponents. … Most of the prognosticators like UConn today. Can’t blame them but, you know, the odd nature of this year’s tournament might be the deciding factor.
Preps: As always, we can pass along a roundup from Friday’s action.
Chiefs: In Spokane’s penultimate game of the season, the Chiefs fell at Tri-City 7-4. They host their final game tonight in the Arena starting at 7.
Mariners: We passed along a story yesterday in the Times about the pitch-clock rules changing a bit. But we want to link it again today when it ran in the S-R. Why? Get to the last paragraph. If that doesn’t make you laugh, we’re not sure what will. … Jarred Kelenic’s spring is a topic of discussion in this mailbag. … J.P. Crawford banged a ball of his foot and may be injured.
Seahawks: We can offer another view of the high-profile week looking at college quarterbacks.
Kraken: The playoff pursuit continues.
Sounders: The road hasn’t been kind for Seattle lately. The Sounders are in Kansas City today.
• We will be back tonight with a TV Take. One nice thing about the latter rounds of the NCAA Tournament is the broadcasting groups are better. Fewer clichés and obvious statements and more actual analysis of the game as it unfolds. Until later …
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