We begin our weekly mailbag with an East Coast native who pledges fealty to a West Coast team.
Avert your eyes, Charles Barkley. The Big East has produced five of the Sweet Sixteen teams in the women's tournament, including top overall seed Connecticut, which stormed through its first two games as expected. (The Big 12 is next with three teams, including Baylor and Texas A&M.) Among the Sweet Sixteen games of note: Feisty Wisconsin-Green Bay (32-1), which has won a nation's-best 25 straight, meets Baylor and Brittney Griner in Dallas. Top-seeded Tennessee has a tricky game against a sizzling Ohio State in Dayton, and the winner of Gonzaga-Louisville in Spokane will be stunningly one game away from the Final Four. Here's a quick reset of the tournament:
After more than two decades of marriage, Rhonda Hayes, at 55 with two grown children, didn't expect to be single again.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Sitting in the back of the Saint Mary's locker room at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, maybe 30 minutes after his Gaels had held off Villanova to advance to the Sweet 16, a drained Randy Bennett was asked to comment on the meaning of his team's victory.
You just can't help but appreciate Connecticut's record-setting season. The Huskies have continued their historical run toward perfection the same way they went through the regular season and Big East Tournament. They've dominated. Connecticut, which holds the longest winning streak in Division I women's basketball at 74, won each of its first two NCAA tournament games by more than 50 points.
Of the many things Junior dos Santos takes with him to fight, compassion isn't one. That, said the 25-year-old heavy-fisted Brazilian, is reserved for sparring partners. And even then, not so much.
You got questions, I got answers. Selection Sunday is only three days away, so here's a primer on what you can expect:
With just 19 days left until Selection Sunday, it seems like a good time to clarify a number of bracketing and bubble questions that have been pouring in via e-mail and Twitter.
NEW YORK -- Three things we learned from No. 7 Duke's 76-41 blowout of No. 15 Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden:
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina He was not the most talented player this decade, and if some other players had stayed in college for four years, they would have likely earned this honor. Hansbrough, however, kept giving it the old college try, thrice turning down the chance to be a first-round draft pick and compiling one of the most storied careers in history. By the time he left Chapel Hill in the spring of 2009, he was the leading scorer in ACC history, the only league player to be named first team All-America four times, a Naismith and Wooden Award winner as the national player of the year, and of course an NCAA champion. Last but not least, he was a college graduate. That's a pretty good four years.
Kentucky-Indiana was the history headliner on last Saturday's national college basketball card -- between them they claim 12 NCAA tournament titles. With a 17-point win in Bloomington, the precocious Wildcats (10-0) informed a national television audience they're capable of competing for their eighth.
Every major-conference team that I'd consider ranking in a preseason top 25 -- well, every team other than Mississippi State -- has made its 2009-10 schedule public, and I spent the last few days poring over them.
SI.com: So what happened to Duke?
Feeling Sweet, Hoopheads? Of course you are. It's our time of year, and this is another week to soak it up. I'm sure devoted readers of this space are not surprised the Sweet 16 includes all the number 1, 2 and 3 seeds for the first time in tournament history. I've been writing for weeks that, for all the tumult at the top of the polls, this was still a very top-heavy season in college basketball. It's too bad there aren't more Cinderellas to spice up the dance, but there's a payoff ahead as we get a weekend full of games played by the most powerful and recognizable brands in college basketball.
The day after Xavier was knocked out of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals on March 13, assistant coach James Whitford booked a $1,300 plane ticket to Tampa to scout a recruit the next day. This might seem unrelated to the Musketeers' eventual advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, but according to coach Sean Miller, "It means everything."
Some have wondered if this might be coach Mark Few's best team yet. "They say that every year," says Matt Santangelo, a guard on the '99 team. "But I do like this team. They can play with anyone in the country." (A sturdy challenge awaits against top-seeded North Carolina on Friday.)
MORE RESETS: West | Midwest | East
It seems everyone saw this one coming except, perhaps, President Obama, who picked Illinois to beat Western Kentucky when he filled out his bracket a few days ago. ("It's his home state, so I can't blame him," says Western Kentucky junior guard A.J. Slaughter.) It's hard to know if the outcome would have been different had Chester Frazier, the Illini's senior point guard and best perimeter defender, not been sidelined with a broken hand.
The ultimate knockout competition in American sports gets underway Thursday, with the first of 48 games over the next four days. As office drones throughout the country scramble to make those final revisions on their brackets, here's an alphabetical look at the people, places and things which make the next three weeks one of the nation's most vital sporting experiences.
He is a 6-foot-11 shooter with the genes of an NBA father. How could Austin Daye not grow up to be a first-round pick?
Underrated: No. 4 Gonzaga The Zags flopped the last time they were in a high-profile game, losing by 18 to Memphis in Spokane on Feb. 7, and severely damaged their national rep. But Mark Few's team also went undefeated in the West Coast Conference, has one of the country's best combo guards in 6-foot-5 junior Matt Bouldin, and -- most importantly -- is the only club in the country to finish in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Zags' defense is ranked higher than that of North Carolina (the South's one-seed), Oklahoma (the two-seed) and Syracuse (the three-seed).
SI.com caught up with Seth Davis, who's serving as a CBS studio analyst during the tournament, to get his impressions of the bracket.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson's left hook was once again his most formidable weapon at UFC 96 on Saturday night, and though it put Keith Jardine on the mat throughout the night, it couldn't keep him there. A game Jardine battled the former champ for three hard rounds but couldn't find the answer to Jackson's impressively technical striking attack, en route to a unanimous decision loss.
Saturday's UFC 96 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, lacks a blockbuster bout at the top, yet intriguing clashes in several weight divisions make the company's latest pay-per-view offering a sleeper.
Five mid-major conference tournaments to keep an eye on as Championship Week unfolds.
With Selection Sunday less than two weeks away, SI.com's Andy Glockner projects the field.
With Selection Sunday less than three weeks away, SI.com's Andy Glockner projects the field.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- When a situation grows dire and panic starts to set in, Gonzaga coach Mark Few likes to reboot his team's mindset with two simple words: "Saw wood." The phrase serves to remind his troops to stay focused on the immediate task at hand, one possession at a time, rather than contemplate the greater implications of what might be happening.
The tanking numbers on the NASDAQ got you down? Tired of seeing your 401(k) turn into a 201(k)? Had enough of that bald guy in the vest on CNN speaking about a financial panic?
On Saturday, CBS broadcast a quartet of matchups that was as good as any the network has aired during my six years working there: Duke-Xavier, Texas-Michigan State, Purdue-Davidson and UConn-Gonzaga. All of those games had two things in common. First, and most delightfully, they each featured two ranked teams.
When the NCAA passed legislation in 2006 that repealed the "two-in-four" rule -- which had limited college basketball teams to playing in only two exempt, early season tournaments over a four-year span -- the biggest casualty was the value of the word "classic." The legislation opened the floodgates on what the colorful wordsmiths behind the NCAA Division I manual call "Multiple-Team Events," which provide teams with an exemption to sneak in two extra regular-season games, upping the max allowed from 29 to 31. Thus there are 50 of of these tournaments scheduled for 2008-09, and no fewer than 28 of them have "classic" in their title.
Steve King and I couldn't get connected in time to include his perspective in Tuesday's story about early basketball commitments, but we had a long chat Wednesday. King is uniquely qualified to speak on this subject. His son, Taylor, committed to UCLA shortly before starting ninth grade in 2003. Taylor's commitment didn't last; he ultimately signed with Duke and has since transferred to Villanova.
Five things we learned while wondering if it's appropriate to talk about drinking the San Diego Kool-Aid:
Just after Stephen Curry had completed the most sublime shooting performance of this NCAA tournament, hitting a three-pointer to give Davidson a lead it would never lose, he pointed over to the first row of the Davidson cheering section.
Gonzaga basketball coach Dan Fitzgerald brought his third assistant into his office one day in 1993 and made an offer. Fitzgerald, also the Bulldogs' athletic director, knew Bill Grier could barely scrape by as a restricted-earnings coach (salary: about $5,000). Fitzgerald also knew he needed a coach for his new women's golf team, which he'd created to keep the school Title IX compliant.
Three years ago, Stanley Burrell, a 6-foot-3 guard at Xavier, scored 12.7 points per game, making him just the third freshman in school history to lead the team in scoring. As a sophomore, Burrell raised that average to 14.4. Last season, it was 12.4. Now, however, Burrell is scoring just 9.9 points per game for the Musketeers, the fewest of his career. So he's having an off year, right?
Underrated: Butler. The Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed last year, then went 29-3 this season ... and were rewarded with a No. 7 slot in the same pod as Tennessee.
For the past few weeks, we've been hearing about what a wide-open bubble picture we were going to have this year. Well, that picture got a little bit smaller this week, with two teams with at-large profiles from mid-major conferences -- Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference and South Alabama in the Sun Belt -- lost in their conference tournaments. The bubble picture got a little bit smaller, and it will continue to shrink as the week goes on.
The message boards buzzed when Kalispell, Mont., forward Brock Osweiler committed to Gonzaga two years ago. Would Osweiler, then a high school freshman, make it to Spokane, Wash., before changing his mind or doing something to make Gonzaga coaches change their minds? Now, as Osweiler nears the end of his junior year, he may indeed choose a school other than Gonzaga.
The game of the year will take place in New Jersey on Wednesday night as No. 1 St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) puts its undfeated record on the line against bitter rival St. Patrick (Elizabeth, N.J.) at Rutgers.
Call me crazy, but I don't think there's going to be all that much bubble suspense come Selection Sunday. The bracket is already fairly tight -- there were only six open spots this week once I placed all the "gimmes" -- and several of those will disappear when a few surprise teams inevitably win their conference tournaments. The last few teams that did get in this week -- UMass, West Virginia, Villanova -- have fairly weak credentials that won't stand up two weeks from now unless they make deep conference-tourney runs.
Both St. Benedict's (Newark, N.J.) and Academy of the New Church (Bryn Athyn, Pa.) ended their seasons with wins last week, but the rest of the Top 25 are still battling for section, county and state titles.
Sports Illustrated came out with five regional rivalry covers for the college basketball preview back in November; in retrospect, we probably would have been fine printing just one: Memphis-Tennessee. In 2007-08, no regular-season game has mattered -- or will matter -- as much as the one that will take place on Saturday night at FedEx Forum.
With most top 25 teams easing into playoff cometition against lower seeds, the current rankings remain intact for the most part.
Selection Sunday is 46 days away, and there will be plenty of jockeying on the bubble among members of the 10 major conferences (six BCS, Atlantic 10, Conference USA, Mountain West, Western Athletic). For the rest of the college hoops world, February is about building momentum and improving seeding for the all-or-nothing conference tournament that ultimately holds the NCAA fate of almost every mid-major team.
The Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area trio of Gonzaga, Mount St. Joseph and Montrose Christian continues to rise. Last week, Gonzaga's Max Kenyi, who will play at Harvard next season, hit nine three pointers and scored 43 points in two victories. Gonzaga will face a tough test against Philadelphia's Neumann Goretti at Villanova on Saturday.
On the morning after the longest game of the year -- 226 points, 106 free-throw attempts, 210-plus minutes of real time, 65 minutes of clock -- we keep it short and sweet. Sixteen teams. And Baylor is one of them.
Ultimate Fighting Championship 80 featured six fights that ended by TKO or KO, one that ended by submission, and only two that went the distance. With a plethora of early stoppages, viewers were treated to an unheard-of eight fights during the UFC 80's pay-per-view telecast (with apologies to Sam Stout, whose unanimous decision victory over Per Eklund was deemed unworthy by the show's producers.)
College hoops rankings sans a Bluegrass-state team or a subversive agenda ...
The Ultimate Fighting Championship opens 2008 with its first pay-per-view card of the year coming just three weeks after UFC 79. The promotion takes its show to Newcastle, England, after the UFC held two events in the country last year. UFC 80 begins a very busy stretch for the UFC -- one that includes a UFC Fight Night the Wednesday after UFC 80 and UFC 81 just two weeks later.
For the first time in these rankings, a father, Bob Hurley, has replaced his son, Dan Hurley, as coach of the nation's top team. The elder Hurley, whose St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) lineup boasts six Division I signees, will travel to Springfield, Mass., this weekend as the Friars and nine other teams in the Top 25 participate in the HoopHall Classic.
There's a new No. 1 in the college hoops world, but it's not North Carolina's fault. With Saturday's suffocation of Georgetown, Memphis supplanted the undefeated Tar Heels in the Power Rankings' top spot.
As much as I'd like to believe our entire readership has been with this college hoops season from its basic-cable opener (Gardner-Webb over Kentucky, Nov. 8!) and its Pay-Per-View debut (Florida over North Dakota State, Nov. 9!), I am aware that is not the case. As bowl season fades away, casual hoop fans come trickling in with dire need of a catch-up course. The Power Rankings are here to provide it, tuition-free, in three parts per team:
College hoops turns the corner into the conference home-stretch this evening, and as much as we think we've learned from the first two months of the season, it's not enough. The final Associated Press poll of December 2006 is evidence of just how worthless early-season assessments can be. No one considered that Top 25 to be a total abomination at the time, and yet there was one future NIT team (Alabama) in the top 10 and three more (Oklahoma State, Air Force and Clemson) scattered below.
There was an eerie lack of turbulence at the top of the college hoops world for the past two weeks, partly because of final exams, partly because only one team in my last top 10 -- Butler -- lost.
There is no stronger currency in college hoops than a true road win. For the sake of these rankings, a victory on hostile hardwood is worth immensely more than any work done on a neutral court or at home. The two new teams that enter the top five this week, Texas and Washington State, earned their standing by persevering on the road. The Longhorns -- who, if not for North Carolina's breezy navigation of a tough slate, would be No. 1 -- beat UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, and the Cougars emerged from Gonzaga's Kennel with a major W in the Northwest's hottest new rivalry.
Rankings to devour if you're not busy confronting Bob Knight -- with a bad video camera in hand -- for firing shotgun pellets into your swimming pool...
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Here in this sleepy town in the Pacific northwest, a basketball hoop still hangs over the driveway of the house where John Stockton grew up on, appropriately enough, Superior Street.
So last column I wrote Gabriel Gonzaga's nickname "Napao" means "big nose" in Portuguese. I didn't say it means "titanium nose." But that's what Gonzaga could have used Saturday night in his UFC 74 heavyweight title fight against Randy Couture.
How should Gabriel Gonzaga explain his nickname? "Napao. It means in Portuguese, uh...big nose," Gonzaga says.
If it wasn't for the chiseled physique or the nicknames like Captain America and The Natural, Randy Couture wouldn't be the most convincing UFC Heavyweight Champion before entering the ring. But behind the warm smile and polite demeanor, the 44-year-old is one of the sports toughest champs. Saturday night at UFC 74, Couture will look to pull off yet another improbable victory.
SACRAMENTO -- A great deal has changed for both Indiana and Gonzaga since the 'Zags 90-80 victory over Indiana in the second round of last year's tournament, but here's one of the biggest differences: this time, the Hoosiers had their best big man available and Gonzaga did not. That helped lead to Thursday's reversal of fortune, a 70-57 victory for Indiana that propelled the Hoosiers into the second round against UCLA on Saturday.
Underrated: Gonzaga Is it possible the Zags are a better team without Josh Heytvelt, who was suspended after his arrest for drug possession? Without Heytvelt, Mark Few has been forced to give more playing time to glue-guy David Pendergraft as well as Micah Downs, the former McDonald's All-American who transferred in from Kansas and was hurt at the beginning of the year. The Zags lost a slew of games in late December, but that was the result of a brutal non-conference schedule. In Derek Raivio and Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga has a dynamic backcourt, and I really believe it will relish the role of being an overlooked underdog again.
1. Dreamgirls star Beyonce graces the cover of SI's 2007 Swimsuit Issue. Though we can't confirm that Beyonce sent 100 copies to co-star Jennifer Hudson, who critics say stole the movie, with the note, "Take that!"
The Brazilian man mistakenly shot and killed by anti-terrorist police in London last week had a false stamp on his passport and had been in Britain for two years with an expired visa, officials say.